ISLAMABAD - As anti-government protesters head for Islamabad, the most discussed question within the political circles is this: will the agreement between the government and the opposition remain intact and protesters peaceful?

Despite an agreement reached between JUI-F and the government over the weekend on the protest venue, the latter fears that opposition parties can give a sit-in call after converging near one of the key arteries of the capital that is just a few kilometres from Islamabad’s high security Red Zone.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is leading the main convoy of marchers that set off from Karachi on Sunday, has so far kept his cards close to his chest and announced that the opposition would decide about staging or not staging a sit-in once they reach Islamabad on October 31. Maulana had told the foreign media a couple of days ago that he would not hold a sit-in or lockdown the twin cities, a claim he has now retracted.

The JUI-F chief, with the support of other opposition parties, is staging a long march against what he says the “illegitimate government” of Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking his resignation and fresh elections.

The then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was facing a similar situation in 2014 when opposition leader Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Dr Tahirul Qadri led separate marches from Lahore to Islamabad and staged sit-ins against alleged rigging in general elections. However, many in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) believe that situation is not the same as “powers-that-be” at that time were standing behind the opposition and not the government. They say the then government and other state institutions were not on the same page.

Now civilian and military leadership are on the same page—this belief also got credence on Wednesday evening when a TV anchor in his show clarified that President Dr Arif Alvi has signed a summary to give three-year extension to Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The PTI knows that two main opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — are supporting the protest march without their full participation. They want to use Maulana’s shoulders to get relief for themselves from anti-corruption investigations. Maulana is an archrival of PM Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a stronghold of the ruling party.

A million dollar question is this: what are the plans of JUI-F chief whose hardline religio-political party has no stakes in Pakistani politics unlike two other opposition parties? Whether he would only hold a rally and ask his followers to disperse peacefully and give another protest call? Whether he would give a call for a sit-in, leaving the government to face a tough situation that is already dealing with the rising inflation and trying to overhaul the country’s fragile economy? Whether he wants some relief for incarcerated opposition leaders? These are the questions, which would be answered in the next few days.

But one thing is clear: the Maulana would make his future decision keeping in view the number of protesters at the venue. If he succeeds in pulling large crowds, he would give a tough time to the government. The government’s negotiations team still has its doors open for talks with the opposition and wants to discuss all their demands except prime minister’s resignation and fresh elections. Maulana is still sticking to his demands.

Despite the fact the government has claimed many times it would take action against those taking law into their hands, it would be difficult for the authorities to use force against the protesters because it would tarnish government’s image abroad. As a precautionary measure, the government has placed containers besides main roads in the capital and other cities to deal with violent protesters.

As the Maulana stopped for a short while on his way to Islamabad, he called PM Imran Khan’s government “illegitimate” and said it should be sent packing due to its poor performance. On the other hand, PM Khan, in a hard-hitting speech this week, said that he would not give any underhand deal to the “corrupt” opposition come what may and he would not succumb to the protests like this long march.

On Wednesday, the Maulana told protesters in Lahore, stronghold of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif: “This drama should stop as this country has no room for more such dramas.”