Pakistan: Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Muscle Flexing



Asif Haroon Raja

The trend of dharna in Islamabad (Isbd) to achieve political objectives was first set by Tahirul Qadri (TuQ) in January 2013, which was followed by leader of PTI Imran Khan (IK) in July 2014 to topple Nawaz Sharif (NS) govt. The 126 days dharna at D-chowk Isbd dispersed without achieving its objective. Similar was the case with TLP leader Maulvi Rizwi’s dharna at Faizabad Chowk in November 2017 which was supported by PTI. It was opined by many that this trend would become a norm in future to bring down govts. Lo and behold! IK is up against Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s (MFuR) dharna which is much more menacing than the earlier ones. People are now saying, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’.

When MFuR failed to win his seat in the July 2018 elections and his party JUI-F fared poorly, he got deprived of his Kashmir Committee chairmanship which he held since 2002. He had to vacate his official residence in Isbd enclave, official vehicles and perks and privileges. One of the reasons for becoming a non-entity was the slanderous media campaign launched by PTI against him as well as top leadership of PML-N and PPP. He was labeled as Maulana Diesel.

Flabbergasted by the election results, MFuR asked the leadership of two mainstream parties as well as other parties to reject the election results and to boycott the Assemblies. The PPP was looking forward to form its govt in Sindh, while PML-N was also hopeful of making its govt in Punjab. As such they didn’t agree to his proposal and took oaths in the national and provincial assemblies in August. They however, submitted their case in the Election Commission, complaining that the elections should be declared null and void since massive rigging had taken place. NS in particular kept blaming Khalai Makhlooq (aliens) for helping IK to win elections. The opposition leaders dubbed IK as ‘selected PM’.

MFuR after failing to keep the opposition out of the parliament looked for other options and recalled 2014 dharna in which the allied party of PAT under TuQ was instrumental in creating desired effects. PTI-PAT combine could have achieved its objective had the PPP not come to the rescue of PML-N by extending political support in the parliament, and Gen Raheel refusing to press NS to step down. He mused that if a small Lahore based party PAT could cause paralytic effects, why couldn’t JUI-F which has political tentacles and religious influence spread all over the country could do so.

There are thousands of Madrassas spread across the length and breadth of the country run by JUI-F, where tens of thousands of students are provided free boarding, lodging and religious education. In September 2018, MFuR tasked all his religious managers managing the Madrassas to motivate and train the students as well as the party followers for the Azadi March aimed at ousting the sitting govt. The narrative fed to them was that the govt was a product of Zionists and the military, IK was an agent of Jews whose mission was to de-Islamise Pakistan, and make it a compliant state of USA. They were to be motivated to consider the removal of the govt as Jihad.

The trainers were asked to harden and discipline them and prepare them to undertake long march in orderly fashion and to be able to bear hardships during prolonged dharna in Isbd and also be prepared to sacrifice their lives if required for the good cause of saving Islam. He also ordered the raising of a militant organization under the name of Ansarul Islam and to be imparted military training. All this was done unobtrusively but zealously.

MFuR’s attempt to garner support of all the parties through APC failed since PML-N led by Shahbaz Sharif adopted a moderate stance, while the PPP remained in two minds and didn’t want him to steal the show. Both took the plea of adopting a democratic course. The attempt to unseat Chairman Senate through no confidence motion on 01 August this year failed in spite of clear majority enjoyed by the opposition in the Senate. Some senators of PML-N and PPP voted in favor of Sanjrani for money. EC took no note of the horse trading.

Finding that other political parties were not coming on board, he decided to take the solo flight but invited other opposition parties to join his Azadi March starting from Sindh in last week of October. His caravan was joined by another caravan from Baluchistan, with hundreds of non-custom paid vehicles and reportedly loaded with arms. The govt team lead by Pervez Khattak after engaging with opposition’s Rehbar Committee agreed to let the Azadi marchers to hold a public meeting peacefully in Sunday Bazar ground in Isbd on 31st October instead of 27 October.

Another caravan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa comprising ANP, Sherpao Party and tribesmen from FATA joined the main caravan at Isbd on November 01. Big number of Tableeghi Jamaat members also joined them after the end of annual Ijtemah at Raiwind on October 31. Surprisingly, no untoward incident took place. The marchers remained orderly and disciplined. All came with their bags ad rations for one to three months and are being provided three times meals, tea, tents and raincoats made of plastic sheets by the organisers. The participants are making good use of standing containers as shelters for the night. To beat the cold they play games, take rides in the swings installed in parks, indulge in friendly wrestling bouts, or go for shopping in Raja Bazar.  For them, it’s a good outing.

The govt took the Azadi marchers lightly and lived under the illusion that PPP and PML-N would not join them and MFuR would not be able to gather more than few thousand people and would disperse in a day or two time. Even when a mammoth crowd of over one lac assembled in Isbd, the PTI and its fans including the intellectuals were deriving satisfaction by stating confidently that the people were not more than 13-15000. It was this over confidence which had given heart to the rulers and they allowed the marchers to enter inside the critical ground of Isbd and gain superiority of strategic orientation. Under estimation of MFuR’s strength and over confidence of the rulers has put the govt in a quandary.

Over 10 days have passed, and with every passing day, MFuR’s tone and tenor is becoming more threatening. He is drawing strength from the size of dedicated and charged up sitters chanting slogans ‘Go Niazi go’, and availability of weapons hid in and around Isbd. They are prepared to go to any length in deference of the orders given by their leader whom they now call as ‘Quaid’.

He knows that all the sitters are rough and tough and hardy. Majority are poverty stricken and have led a simple and hard life and have not tasted the comforts and pleasures of modern life. They are used to getting up early in the morning, reciting Quran, praying five times, doing hard labor and braving the hardships of weather and terrain. Many among them are Mujahideen who had braved war on terror and drone war for 18 years. They had left their homes and hearth whenever a military operation was launched and lived in camps or with relatives.

There are many among the tribesmen who were part of militant organisations or are members of PTM. They nurture grudges against the Army. They hold the army responsible for the destruction and deaths of so many in the war on terror. Misled by the foreign agencies and vested groups, they have forgotten the real perpetrators sitting in Afghanistan and are blaming the army for the losses they suffered.

The real merchants of deaths have now worn the mask of friendship and are pretending to be their well-wishers and are portraying the army which had made the tribal belt peaceful after rendering huge sacrifices as villain. This theme is in play since 2017, for which PTM was created and the purpose is to discredit the army and wash off its good deeds including the ongoing development works. MFuR, Achakzai and Asfandyar are also singing the same tunes.

Having been suddenly catapulted from a non-entity to a big leader, MFuR has dwarfed all other political leaders and he has risen in stature. With Religious Right firmly in his hands, and with multiple strengths he is enjoying in this timeframe, he has made his posture demanding, threatening and rigid. He is not budging from his main demand of resignation and has stated they are prepared to lift dead bodies and go to any length to achieve their objectives. He is repeatedly emphasizing that they will not resort to violence as long as the other side remain peaceful. He has allowed media persons, both men and women to interact with the sitters, but no one can have access with anyone without the presence of some senior JUI-F leader. Those trying to whisper misgivings are shunted out.

When their rosy assessment went for a six, it placed the govt on a weak wicket and mellowed down their stance. After the rains, the PM offered to provide assistance to the sitters which was declined. The govt seems inclined to offer incentives to MFuR like a share in Baluchistan govt which was also been turned down. While the army has become amiable towards MFuR as was apparent from the recent statement of DG ISPR, IK has also softened his stance towards ailing NS by facilitating his shifting from the jail to the hospital and then to his house in Jati Umra. NS is now been allowed to proceed to London along with Shahbaz Sharif (SS) for treatment. Maryum has also been given bail and might join her father. Ex PM Khaqan Abbasi has been shifted from NAB detention to the hospital for treatment. Reportedly, NS has deposited $3 billion in the national kitty from an unknown account secretly, which will be kept a secret.

Some kind of understanding has developed between Ch Pervaiz Ellahi and SS and the former could have played some role in letting NS go. Asif Khwaja, the chief whip of PML-N has been designated by the party to liaise with the Establishment. This role was earlier on performed by Ch Nisar Khan. PPP leader Zardari who has recently been moved to the hospital from jail might also be given relief provided he deposits money in govt treasury. If true, it implies the accountability of the looters and plunderers will die its own death. The accountability drive has already lost its credibility since its being viewed as selective and directed against the opposition only. The most talked of case is the foreign funding case against PTI which is lying pending with Election Commission.

The turbulence created by JUI-F in Isbd has jolted the govt. It can ill afford to resort to force against the sitters since it would entail bloodshed. Option of talks is also on the verge of collapse. Under the circumstances, other than the divine help, Gen Bajwa is the only viable option. The big question is, what incentives and assurances will be doled out to MFuR which will satisfy him and his allies to let go this golden opportunity of deposing IK which will never come again?

Kartarpur Corridor opening ceremony was performed by Pakistan on 9 November with fanfare. Sikhs were allowed to visit their holy place visa free. Linking Dera Baba Nanak with Durbar Sahib Gurdwara at Kartarpur has fulfilled the 70-year old dream of the Sikhs. It is a feather in the cap of IK and has certainly given a shot in the arm in his dwindling political fortunes. While the gesture made by the incumbent govt of Pakistan has won the gratification of the Sikhs, it is to be seen whether it will have an impact on Indo-Pakistan relations that are at lowest ebb in the aftermath of absorption of IOK into Indian Union by Modi on August 5. All depends upon the attitude of Modi, which is still filled with hatred for the Muslims and Pakistan.

The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books including two on Kashmir, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member Pakistan ex Servicemen Society and its Think Tank.



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