December 2, 2023

RED ZONE FILES: All roads lead to Gujranwala


Tomorrow, it all begins. The growl of trucks, cars and motorcycles flowing like a steely river, the roar of charged workers pouring into town from all directions, and the snarl of law enforcement machinery bracing for the charge of the opposition brigade — it is all happening here in Gujranwala. Welcome to a new season of the game of thrones.

At stake may be more than what meets the eye. Prime Minister Imran Khan has belittled the PDM campaign while at the same time saying his government will allow the opposition to hold rallies and jalsas. His colleagues in the cabinet are putting up a brave face behind the usual barrage of taunts and insults. The experienced ones among them know protest movements can lead to unintended consequences.

The opposition is pumped up. “Gujranwala will set the tone and tempo of our campaign,” says a senior PML-N leader. “And if they resort to arrests, this will also suit us.” He argues a government crackdown will show its panic and charge the opposition rank and file. The game is on.

Ask Khurram Dastgir. The suave bibliophile MNA from Gujranwala is leading the efforts to put together Friday’s jalsa in his city. With sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a handkerchief in hand to wipe his brow, the former PML-N cabinet minister is on the streets most of the day addressing corner meetings, supervising logistical arrangements and dealing with the local administration. He claims the people of his city will give a historic welcome to Maryam Nawaz Sharif when she reaches here tomorrow.

Her arrival, and that of PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman will mark a critical point in the post-2018 politics of the country. What happens in this city tomorrow will provide a reflection of what lies ahead in the coming months. No one knows where things will end up but everyone knows that each and every stakeholder in this game of thrones is about to be tested to his and her limits.

As the rumble begins, Red Zone watchers are looking at five distinct aspects of these political developments that could have a bearing on how the situation shapes up.

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