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Attempts To Persuade Maulana Fail, Long March To Begin On Oct 27

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The weeks-long wrangling by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N) group led by its President Shehbaz Sharif failed on Thursday when Maulana Fazlur Rehman announced that his march to Islamabad would start on October 27.

Earlier in the day, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, too, flanked by his party leaders; made a last ditch effort to persuade Fazlur Rehman to move his march beyond November.

Just a day earlier, PML-N delegation also called on Fazl to wait until November. The suave Maulana told them that he would convey their suggestions to his party central executive body scheduled to meet on Thursday.

On Thursday evening, Fazl addressed a press conference and told the media in Islamabad that he was not going to back out. Maulana stuck to his guns that he would march to Islamabad in October.

There was quite a confusion in Islamabad about whether or not Fazl would cave in by the pressure mounted by the leadership of the two mainstream parties.

Mainstream media gave an impression just hours before his announcement that Maulana will use the advice of the PPP and the PML-N as a face saving tactic, and postpone the march.

Media reports also claimed that Maulana was planning to send a team of his party leaders to call on Nawaz Sharif to seek his nod before the final push. Even senior analysts and reporters were anticipating that Fazl would not announce a date and postpone the march till he concludes the consultation with the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif now incarcerated in Kotlakhpat jail.

But Maulana’s announcement on Thursday brought an end to the speculations.

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The beaming Maulana looked quite confident and relaxed while making the announcement. Given the fact that on the face value, he was launching a solo flight, he didn’t look nervous or isolated. “Everybody will join us. Do not worry”, he told the reporters.

Answering questions, Fazl made it quite clear that his march would not end till the removal of Imran Khan’s government and the announcement of fresh elections, without military supervision.

October 27 was selected by Maulana keeping in view the fact that while India celebrates it as a day of Kashmiris’ (Maharaja Hari Singh’s) signing of the instrument of accession to India, Pakistan officially celebrates it as the protest day.  While Imran Khan and PTI are basking in the glory of the UNGA speech on Kashmir, the Maulana picked October 27 and said he was launching his march as the day of solidarity with Kashmiris.

By sticking to his guns, Maulana has now forced the PPP and PML-N to support him, even if it is a token support. “If they oppose the Maulana now, they will involuntarily declare that when it comes to the opposition on the streets, it is owned exclusively by the JUI-F. Naturally, they can’t do it”, said an analyst predicting the predicament of the PPP and the PML-N.

It is still a mystery why the PPP leadership led by Bilawal Bhutto and the PML-N leaders led by Shehbaz Sharif were insisting on moving the Maulana’s protest beyond November.

“Nobody buys the Dengue or the weather argument. They were clearly insisting on starting the protest after November 27, to ensure that the second tenure of the COAS starts smoothly”, said a veteran analyst requesting anonymity.

From now on, we will see how the Imran Khan government tries to stop the protest. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister has already announced that he will not allow the protesters to pass through his province. Maulana Fazal Rehman who hails from the same province and pulls most of his following from there, reacted to the CM’s statements, and said: “We will see if the CM can get out of his house”.

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The lull has broken. We will see if Maulana’s march ends in removal of the Imran Khan government or strengthening of his rule. The countdown begins now.

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