ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is regarded by many as a strong-willed person. However, on Tuesday before daybreak, this man called off his much-trumpeted plan to lock down Islamabad — to the dismay of his allies and zealous supporters.
The main reason for this unexpected move, according to some sources, was Imran’s realisation that the PTI Punjab chapter’s second-tier leaders had ditched the party at the eleventh hour primarily in the face of the Punjab government’s well-worked-out strategy to stop it from mobilising public for the protest.
Also, the rally led by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak from the party’s power base on October 31 had much fewer participants than Imran had expected.
Comprehending the possible scenario on Nov 2, Imran quickly made up his mind to abandon the lockdown plan. And around 6 am on Nov 1, the PTI chief telephoned Khattak to stop the march.
Background discussions with the party’s senior leaders suggest that a hot topic of discussion at Imran’s residence in Bani Gala was the overall poor response extended by Punjab to the protest call.
“We have confirmed reports from different quarters that some regional leaders and elected provincial assembly members from Punjab offered voluntary arrests to police on October 30 and 31,” a senior leader confided.
Top leaders from Punjab present inside Bani Gala on the night of October 31 found it difficult to have exact knowledge of the whereabouts of the second-tier leadership from Punjab as cell phones of a majority of them went off as Punjab government intensified its crackdown.
“Some 2,000 party leaders and activists were arrested by the Punjab Police on Oct 30 and 31,” he said.
He said it was Imran’s decision to keep senior leadership from Punjab – Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jehangir Khan Tareen, Aleem Khan and others – at Bani Gala.
“The PTI’s Punjab plan collapsed as the senior most leaders from the province were present in Islamabad while the second-tier leadership, which was tasked to mobilise and bring the public to Islamabad, courted arrests or did not attend calls of their superiors,” he said.
“They [party’s Punjab leaders] just disappointed Imran Khan,” he said, adding that these leaders would be made answerable for their failure in the coming days.
This situation forced Imran to take refuge behind the Supreme Court of Pakistan that is currently hearing the Panamagate case, contrary to his previous announcement that the protest would go ahead side by side with the court hearing.
According to another senior leader, this was the reason why names of PTI Punjab organisers – Mian Mehmoodur Rashid, Ijaz Chaudhry, and Chaudhry Sarwar – were first not included in the list of speakers who were to address the thanksgiving rally in Islamabad on Wednesday.
“Imran Khan asked for the list of speakers prepared by his close confidants. Punjab organisers’ names were not there. He intervened and directed to include their names so as not to give a negative message to the public and media about his anger for them,” he said.
In every crisis there is an opportunity for someone. And the PTI’s K-P chapter, headed by Pervez Khattak, appeared as a beneficiary of that crisis for at least fighting and creating a scene on national level, he added.
“For that reason he was the last speaker before Imran Khan to take the podium contrary to the past practice when Shah Mehmood Qureshi used to address the public before Imran Khan,” he said.
A PTI spokesperson when contacted negated the impression, saying the PTI was united and ready to fight the atrocities of incumbent regime. “Punjab leaders planned to leave for Islamabad on November 2 morning but before that the Supreme Court intervened and defused the tension,” he said.
About the 6 am call made by Imran to the K-P chief minister, the spokesperson said Imran had asked Khattak to go back to Swabi from Burhan interchange and come back after regrouping, adding that there is no reality in the claim that Imran was disappointed with Punjab organisers.
“In speeches delivered on the thanksgiving day, leaders from Punjab were given 40 per cent share, while they can also be seen sitting in the front row on the container,” he added.
He said since day one Imran Khan was demanding that either Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down or present himself for accountability. “Our prime demand is met and now the prime minister’s case on corruption charges is under consideration at the apex court,” he concluded.