Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday finally announced the date for his party’s long-awaited long march on Islamabad, saying he will lead it from Lahore on Oct. 28 (Friday).
“We will gather at Liberty Chowk [in Lahore] at 11 a.m. on Friday, and set off for Islamabad,” he told hastily-arranged press conference on Tuesday night. Flanked by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Khan lamented that he was being described as “irresponsible” for staging a long march amidst lingering devastation of floods and a prevailing economic crisis. He recalled that his government had faced similar long marches despite facing its own crises.
“We got a country which was economically broke. The current account deficit was peaking. Foreign reserves were down to three-week imports’ requirement. Exports were stagnant and so were remittances. As soon as we started the recovery journey, COVID-19 arrived and crippled even the best performing economies. Still four marches (two by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, one by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and another by Maryam Nawaz Sharif) were held. We did not accuse anybody of destabilizing the country or hampering economic recovery. Why us now?” he said, despite lawmakers of his party repeatedly accusing their opposition of trying to damage people’s livelihoods through public rallies during their time in government.
Claiming his government’s economic recovery was far more “robust” than currently being claimed, he reiterated allegations of a widely debunked “regime change conspiracy” damaging the economic situation. He also reiterated his claims of calling off his previous long march on May 25 to “avoid bloodshed,” stressing the upcoming long march was intended to decide who was “entitled” to rule the country.
According to Khan, the PTI would proceed to Islamabad via GT Road and would not go any further than points designated by the courts. “If any disruption comes, it would be from the other side, not ours,” he claimed, describing the demonstration as a “soft revolution.” The PTI chief also warned Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari that he would reach Karachi after Islamabad, implying the long march would not culminate in any kind of sustained sit-in and would be wrapped up in short order.
Since the ouster of his government in April, Khan has repeatedly demanded early elections, maintaining that this would be the sole point of any talks with the ruling coalition. However, on Tuesday, he said the doors for talks were “always open,” adding that he was also open to “backchannel contacts.” This despite the PTI spending the past several months claiming it would no longer accept any decisions that were taken “behind closed doors,” claiming they are a threat to democratic principles.
Khan’s comments on talks come after several confirmed reports that the PTI is negotiating both with the security establishment and the ruling coalition. During his press conference, he clarified that he did not except the talks to yield early elections, adding that this was why he had decided to launch his long march.