Cover Story

A Bargaining Chip

The much touted ‘Mehngai March’ by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in March 2022 is less likely to see the light of day, let alone any desired end state.

By Brigadier Saleem Qamar Butt (Retd) | March 2022

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, purposefully designated as a leader of an unnatural coalition of divergent political parties named “Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)”, reiterated on 4th January 2022, that the PDM’s ‘Mehngai March’ on Islamabad will take place as scheduled on March 23 and will not be postponed due to the second phase of the local bodies polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The word “Mehngai” or “inflation” was inserted in place of ‘long’ after desperate search for a saleable cause to make the so-called ‘Long March’ more appealing to the masses. The PDM has gone through many amateurish ‘on’ and ‘off’ phases due to inherent conflicting political aspirations, objectives, schemes and desired end state, especially between the PML (N) and the PPP, with the JUI(F) roped in as a crowd puller.

Historically, in 1934 the Communists suffered huge losses from the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. Faced with the prospect of annihilation the leaders of the Communist army chose to start what is now called the Long March. In the famous and successful Long March, Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and his 100,000 followers fled to Guomindang and they trekked 6,000 miles while they faced daily attacks. Out of the 100,000 followers only 20,000 survived.

The Long March was a symbol of Communist heroism and the march attracted many more followers to Mao. In Pakistan, the long marches and sit-ins by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (currently in government) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek during August 2014 were not unprecedented. Islamabad had seen a number of political movements over the past six decades. The most famous marches were spearheaded by the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif when both were in the Opposition.

The first major demonstration in the capital took place on July 4 and 5, 1980, when the Shia community marched on the capital to protest the enforcement of the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance by former president Gen. Ziaul Haq. It was then that the government gave in to the protesters’ demands and declared them exempt from paying Zakat to the state. Then, on August 17, 1989, during Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister, opposition parties led by Nawaz Sharif surged towards the capital to observe the first death anniversary of Ziaul Haq at the Faisal Mosque. A few years later, on November 16, 1992, Ms. Bhutto, then leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, announced a long march after declaring that the 1990 general elections were rigged. This movement forced the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was president at the time, to dissolve the first Nawaz Sharif government, though it was reinstated on Supreme Court orders on May 26, 1993.

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As a retired army officer, the writer has proficiency in military intelligence, diplomacy, strategic analyses, forecast and executive management. He can be reached at

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