After much ado and even more uncertainty it seems that the nation finally has a date on which the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) led anti-government ‘Azadi March’ will leave for Islamabad - October 27th.  According to the JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the date and the intention to march is now beyond reversal; “caravans from all over the country will reach Islamabad, stay there and send this government packing”. An ominous warning that should make the federal government sit up and take notice.

However, while the date and the leader of this march has been decided, many other questions still hang in the air. Which opposition parties will join the long march? How many party workers will each send to the capital if they do decide to join? Do the marchers have any other demands apart from a complete resignation of the government? How long to they intend to protest? Will the government try to stop the protest by using state machinery? How will the opposition parties respond if they do?

Much of this will become clear as the month progresses, but Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) participation seems likely to be half-hearted at best. Despite extensive consultations the parties have remained non-committal and hesitant. It seems that both parties would rather have Maulana Fazulr Rehman take the plunge alone; hoping to reap the benefits of the pressure created on the federal government, while insulating themselves from any backlash that might be faced by the marchers. The two main opposition parties will try to keep this balancing act intact throughout the coming conflict but it cannot last, at one point they will have to throw their lot on one side of the issue.     

Meanwhile the government also has a decision to make – does it let the marchers exercise their democratic right to protest or does it try to stop them under the pretext of maintaining law and order? Seeing how destructive the pacification of the Faizabad dharna was, and how disruptive Imran Khan’s own march on the capital was, both options are not without their own pitfalls. These practical concerns go beyond the principal ones, which enjoin the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) to let the marchers march, seeing how they raged against the PML-N government for attempting to stop them during their dharna.

Will these questions be answered in yet another titanic clash in the capital, or will they government find a way to placate the protestors before that? With most opposition leaders already in jail, the parliament hamstrung, and all bridges burnt, for the moment it seems we are headed for the former.