Although the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has maintained the public stance of the opposition having the right to protest, the actions of the government seem to contradict their words. Seminaries in Islamabad, the teachers and students within and leaders of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) are being closely monitored by the authorities. The riot police is training for a confrontation and even caterers and other service providers in Islamabad are being approached by the state to ensure that they do not provide the logistic support for JUI-F’s protest. At what point will the government decide that those under observation must be apprehended?

Certain government functionaries have also come out and dubbed the JUI-F anti-Pakistan for choosing to protest in the capital now and have argued for how the protest will damage the country – incidentally this is the same argument the PML-N made for PTI’s Azadi March during its rule. As the party that organised the longest sit-in in the country’s history, PTI’s own recent past of exercising its right to protest at the very least, should be reason enough for it to facilitate other parties with the same rights and liberties as well. The Prime Minister is oft quoted for having stated that he would provide containers and food for protesters against his government; why has the government suddenly changed tack now that a major protest is actually imminent?

The government is in charge and decides how to tackle this protest, but the current climate in Islamabad implies that the ruling party is in no mood to entertain a long sit-in, which not only goes against the party’s own principles and against basic rights and freedoms as well. It is still unclear whether these preparations on part of the government are a means to dissuade as many potential protesters from joining the sit-in as possible, or is this an actual attempt to browbeat religious parties in opposition?

The government’s legitimacy aside, the joint vote bank of the religious parties is not sufficient enough for its claim to be representative of a majority in the country, but this does not mean that the ruling party deals with the protest in a ruthless manner. So far, the JUI-F and its allies have maintained that this will be a peaceful sit-in; and if the government does not look to make things violent through a heavy-handed approach, this protest might fizzle out on its own if other opposition parties do not join in. PTI will only compel all of its opponents to rally under one banner if things do take a violent turn; it is hoped that the government treats this impending protest with maturity, and not with brash and ham-fisted methods to quell any and all dissent.