LAHORE     -   The opposition parties’ insistence on the prime minister’s resignation and need for fresh elections, and immediate rejection of both the calls by the cricketer-turned-politician and his party have ratcheted up political tensions in the country that, if not addressed urgently, have the potential to culminate into a bigger crisis of unpredictable consequences in times ahead.

The attitude and the tone of speeches of the organiser of the 1,400 kilometres march between Karachi and Islamabad – Maulana Fazlur Rehman - are very meaningful and incompatible with his long past career. It needs to be explored who is providing him the support to challenge the entire system. Another factor that needs to be examined is who is uniting the opposition parties.

The politics appears to have entered a new phase.

The Maulana had not yet started his march from Karachi when some media reports said that he had met the COAS who had told him about the border situation and that the country could not afford destabilisation at this stage. In the kind of system that we have and the impact of military establishment thereon, it is hard to believe that the Maulana could dare ignore the message given by the country’s most powerful personality.

But he went ahead according to his declared schedule.

The PPP and the PML-N adopted an ambiguous policy about his protest march. They were seen with the protesters and at the same kept themselves at a distance. They played no role in swelling the crowds. The reason was that nobody seemed prepared to take responsibility of any adverse outcome of the Maulana’s foolhardiness. The bigger parties did not want the head of a religious party outgrow them in stature.

The march was supposed to conclude on Thursday night with a charter of demands by the participant parties.

However, the caravan being led by the Maulana could not reach the venue that night. The same day there was a train inferno that caused some six dozen heaths and made it difficult for other parties to make any announcement in the absence of the march organiser.

As a result, the PML-N secretary general said the event had come to an end. ANP chief Asfandyar Wali made a speech and said his party was going back. PPP Chairman Bilawal made a brief speech to the participants and left the venue, saying he would not be there on Friday as he was supposed to address a party meeting in Rahim Yar Khan.

However, there was a totally different situation on Friday.

The PML-N, PPP, ANP leaders were there and they also made hard-hitting speeches against the government and the prime minister.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman was critical of even the establishment’s role in elections. He said he wanted the national institutions grow stronger and stronger but at the same time they should be neutral in their conduct.

This was a clear reference to the establishment’s role in helping the PTI to come to power as a result of the July 25, 2018 elections. They refer the two as selectors and the selected.

He even warned that the marchers would arrest the prime minister in case he did not step down. Such a threat coming from the head of a religious party that is confined to certain areas despite decades of its existence – was unbelievable.

This forced ISPR director general to come up with a statement that the Army supports the democratically-elected governments and not any specific party. He also urged the Maulana to clearly identify the institution he was referring to in his speech.

The ISPR chief also advised the JUI-F chief to take his grievances to the relevant forum. He also made it clear that nobody would be allowed to destabilise the country.

Apparently, ignoring the ISPR chief’s advice, the Rehbar Committee of the opposition parties on Saturday stuck to their previous demands – and added that the new elections should “not” be held under the supervision of the Army.

Until now the political parties used to demand polls under the supervision of the Army to prevent any contesting party from rigging the mandate.

The Maulana also indicated on Saturday that the possibility of the protesters heading to the Red Zone cannot be ruled out, despite an agreement with the Islamabad administration not to do so.

Rehbar Committee chief Akram Durrani, who is also a former KP chief minister, told reporters collective resignations of all legislators, shutter down strikes and road blockades across the country are also under consideration to mount pressure on the prime minister to quit.

The ruling PTI’s core committee at a meeting presided over by the prime minister took serious notice of the Maulana’s threat to arrest Mr Imran Khan and decided to take the matter to court. A petition in this regard may be moved on Monday, a step that would further heighten tensions.

Patriotism demands that the country should be steered out of the crisis, not to push it to deeper waters.

Politics enters a new phase with unpredictable consequences 

minister in case he did not step down. Such a threat coming from the head of a religious party that is confined to certain areas despite decades of its existence – was unbelievable.

This forced ISPR director general to come up with a statement that the Army supports the democratically-elected governments and not any specific party. He also urged the Maulana to clearly identify the institution he was referring to in his speech.

The ISPR chief also advised the JUI-F chief to take his grievances to the relevant forum. He also made it clear that nobody would be allowed to destabilise the country. Apparently, ignoring the ISPR chief’s advice, the Rehbar Committee of the opposition parties on Saturday stuck to their previous demands – and added that the new elections should “not” be held under the supervision of the Army.

Until now the political parties used to demand polls under the supervision of the Army to prevent any contesting party from rigging the mandate.

The Maulana also indicated on Saturday that the possibility of the protesters heading to the Red Zone cannot be ruled out, despite an agreement with the Islamabad administration not to do so.

Rehbar Committee chief Akram Durrani, who is also a former KP chief minister, told reporters collective resignations of all legislators, shutter down strikes and road blockades across the country are also under consideration to mount pressure on the prime minister to quit. The ruling PTI’s core committee at a meeting presided over by the prime minister took serious notice of the Maulana’s threat to arrest Mr Imran Khan and decided to take the matter to court. A petition in this regard may be moved on Monday, a step that would further heighten tensions. Patriotism demands that the country should be steered out of the crisis, not to push it to deeper waters.