Scripts are going awry. Plans have gone astray. Events build their own course. Today, all political roads lead to Multan, where on November 30 the opposition is conducting its next jalsa.There are bumpy roads.
After their All Parties Meeting, the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition ventured on a straight and narrow course. It was a clean and fairly linear solution. They first drawn up a lengthy list of criteria that gelled goals with goals and combined them with a decent amount of expectations and wishes.
They then set out a course for their street programme, punctuated it with dates and positions, strung it up with latent results, and put a long cherry march on top. Come on Get, ready, go.
And now they’ve gone. The bumper rallies set ablaze by the fiery speeches of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif were Gujranwala, Karachi, Quetta. With the deafening sounds of defiance, the dull and desolate political world started to reverberate. The administration has been taken aback. It placed the machine on alert. Sharif had gone off the script and a new political dialogue was scorching its way through PDM.
But then the break arrived. The lengthy three-week break that had stalled the momentum and slowed down the juggernaut. Has a political blunder been made by PDM leaders? Had they allowed winter to set in and block their advance, like the German offensive into Soviet Russia in World War II? The Gilgit-Baltistan election campaign brought PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari abroad for nearly a month. Maryam Nawaz, the PML-N chief, soon followed. Like a Christmas tree, the sleepy GB elections lit up. The razzle and dazzle Multan of charged protests and a national spotlight like never before has sucked away a campaign well beyond the Punjab battlefields.
Why this GB survey obsession? The hardened PDM political leaders knew full well that GB had always gone the Islamabad way. During their reigns in Islamabad, both the PPP and PML-N witnessed this fact and shared its fruits. They also understood, as veterans of many progressive campaigns, that once shattered, momentum takes a lot of blood, sweat and treasure to get back up to speed. And then on what seemed like a treasure quest, Bilawal sped off to GB. Where was the treasure here? What more importantly, was this treasure? Whatever it was, it was not found at the end of Bilawal. He and his fellow PDM leaders, dejected, disappointed and furious, limped their way back to Peshawar to revive their movement. The missed momentum has already started to take its toll.
The tragic loss of Mian Nawaz and Mian Shehbaz’s mother added to the woes. Its influence was diluted by the lack of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz from the Peshawar stage. Bilawal upped his rhetoric, but the launch did not occur if the PDM was aiming for a rollicking start to its second wave of the campaign. The dangerous growth of the second wave of Covid-19 was what happened instead.
It is never easy for a triple whammy to survive. The PDM today finds itself in a tight situation. Watchers from the Red Zone say there is relative silence from the establishment. A stir had generated the early impetus of the jalsas and the blistering attacks of Nawaz Sharif, but the weeks lost in GB brought temperatures down to a comparatively safe pace. Certain informal communications have indeed been made, and there have indeed been some general discussions of a transactional sort, but no clear follow-up has been made. For now it is a wait-and-see strategy.
This aids the government of the PTI. It understands that at a time when Covid-19 is dangerously escalating towards a new high, the PDM would fail to find traction. The fear factor may not have kicked in yet but people would despair if the new pattern continues the way it did in the first surge, and if the regular death count passes the hundred mark (now it reaches fifty). Under the weight of the resurgent pandemic, Multan and Lahore will groan as massive and congested urban behemoths. For the opposition party, a reluctant elector would mean trouble.
The PDM may have some very hard decisions to make in such an environment. The leaders would search for signals from the other side that could be hidden by normal activities such as promotions and postings, perhaps slight clues. This is why it was a significant day on Wednesday.
A reshuffle is here. Then there is a reshuffle, which is necessary. The latter manifested itself as notified by the ISPR in a series of regular promotions and postings within the army. These adjustments at this senior level represent the high command’s goals with respect to strategic strategy and organisational outlook. They also have an impact on the situation that is normal in the region. Those who closely track these matters suggest that the high command keeps the conditions involved in these appointments in mind. In the solely military sphere, others are more focused on tactical matters, while others contain an aspect of responsibility that spills over into non-operational matters. Six three-star generals are expected to retire in December, but they will be replaced by newly promoted officers as announced. However for postings, any further three-star officers are overdue.
Under these latest appointments and the forthcoming ones, the PDM leaders are searching for signals. So are the cabinet ministers of the PTI. And still, they’ve got Multan to deal with while they wait.
This is what to look out for in Multan:
A) Will Nawaz Sharif intensify past his last speech or will the present degree of belligerence be maintained?
B) Would Bilawal proceed with his better rhetoric that he used by referring to the position of the establishment in Peshawar? If so, is this going to mean a shift in the policy of the PPP and a more hardline position?
C) Will the PML-N be able to pull out crowds that are higher than the Gujra-n-wala jalsa? Is it going to be able to stamp on its home base its political authority?
D) Is Multan going to herald a campaign slowdown or is it going to fuel it to new highs?