Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, is all set to march towards Islamabad next week. His Azadi March will begin on October 27 and enter Islamabad on October 31.
Like other opposition parties, including the PPP and the PML-N, the JUI-F believes that Imran Khan had become the prime minister of Pakistan because of an “engineering” exercise by the establishment.
Soon after the July 25 polls, Fazl wanted to launch a major anti-government drive but he was held back by the PML-N and the PPP.
Fazl, who is one of the most prominent Deobandi politicians in Pakistan, drew his power from religious seminaries. There are over 15,000 seminaries registered under the Wifaq-ul-Madaris and most of them support the JUI-F leader.
Fazl says Imran Khan was selected as prime minister and not elected. Those who have seen the JUI-F leader over the years would agree that he is angry after losing power and blames the establishment for snatching his party’s seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the 2013 elections, the JUI-F won 16 seats, while the PTI formed the government after winning 57 seats.
In 2018, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of religious parties which the JUI-F was part of, could only win 10 seats. The PTI won 63 seats and formed the government again in the province.
Fazl could not even win his home NA-38 constituency. He was beaten by PTI’s Ali Amin Gandapur.
Other opposition parties
The PPP is “morally” supporting the JUI-F’s Azadi March, while the PML-N reluctantly agreed to participate in the rally in Islamabad on October 31 after jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif made his son-in-law, Captain Safdar, announce that the PML-N will support the anti-government march.
Shehbaz Sharif, who has always been considered close to the establishment, did not want to join the JUI-F march because he believed a fight with the establishment will further damage his party.
For Nawaz, it’s his final innings and he doesn’t want to enter into an agreement with the establishment.
It is believed that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, too, doesn’t want to challenge the establishment and the government because of the ongoing corruption cases against father Asif Zardari, aunt Faryal Talpur and other party leaders.
Fazl had already made it clear that his party would not involve women in its protest. However, he added that other political parties are free to take their decision.
His power lies in religious seminaries. We have seen the big crowds he gathered in various cities of the country. And it made the government worried.
Do you remember PM Khan’s first speech in parliament? He said he would provide the opposition parties containers to organise a sit-in in Islamabad.
He has forgotten his promise. The government now wants to stop the Azadi March. Ansarul Islam, the security wing of the JUI-F, is under the watch of the interior ministry.
The ministers say the JUI-F wants to bring chaos to the capital and it would further damage the country’s dying economy.
The PPP won’t be participating in the Azadi March. It left Fazl with the PML-N.
Could he trust the PML-N? Shehbaz Sharif was supposed to be at the airport to receive his brother Nawaz Sharif and niece Maryam Nawaz when they returned from London. He could not reach there.
Maryam Nawaz, one of the most powerful leaders in the PML-N, is currently in NAB’s custody. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, too, is in NAB’s custody, while Rana Sanaullah the president of PML-N Punjab, is also in jail. He is facing a case after his arrest by the Anti-Narcotics Force.
Shehbaz Sharif may be a good administrator but he is not a crowd puller and he still wants an end of his party leaders’ legal troubles through a deal. The PML-N will find it difficult to mobilise its workers in the absence of Maryam Nawaz.
Back door dealings
A powerful figure in Rawalpindi is believed to be working behind the scenes to stop this Azadi March. This individual had reportedly met Fazl and some PPP and PML-N leaders in the first week of October.
The PPP is not a big concern because it’s just “morally supporting” the JUI-F march. Some of the PML-N leaders, including Shehbaz Sharif, are actually in favour of a ceasefire with the establishment but they can’t do anything because Nawaz Sharif doesn’t want it.
Fazl, however, seems to be reluctant to call off his protest. But one can never be sure when it’s Pakistani politics. Hint: The rise of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the Faizabad dharna and the sudden fall of the Barelvi cleric.
The march won’t be able to topple the government, that’s what most of the political pundits believe. Fazl also knows that and it is believed that his aggression is aimed not at Imran Khan but at the establishment. He wants to show his power and grab their attention.
The result of his march, if it takes place, would depend on how the government deals with the on-ground situation.