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January 13, 2015



The maulana’s politics

The stance of the political parties in and outside parliament during the passage of the 21st Amendment was a study in contrast. It was obvious that circumstances had forced the politicians to do things that were contrary to their stated positions.
Major parties such as the PPP and PML-N and lesser ones including the MQM, ANP and Balochistan’s ruling National Party that never tired of highlighting their commitment to democracy not only backed the amendment under which the military courts were being established but took pains to justify it. At the same time, the leadership of almost all these secular, progressive, nationalist and ethnic-based parties lamented that they supported the move with a heavy heart.
A statement that came handy and was repeatedly made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and many others was that Pakistan was facing an unprecedented situation and, therefore, unprecedented decisions to tackle the existential threat to the country’s integrity needed to be taken. The crux of their argument was that their support for military courts was necessitated by the unusual situation in which Pakistan is presently placed.
The religio-political parties considered close to the military establishment in the past are now trying to pursue an independent line. This was evident when two such parties refused to vote for the 21st Amendment and stayed away from parliament when the vote on the bill was due to take place. By not voting for setting up the military courts, Pakistan’s two biggest Islamic parties – the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami – having representation in parliament apparently emerged more pro-democracy than those normally known as democratic. It is true the leaders of the JUI-F and JI didn’t take this stand due to their love for democracy as there were other more important factors that prompted them to do so, but one would expect them to highlight their pro-democracy credentials whenever the issue of military courts comes up for debate or

in case these courts are unable to deliver.
There was a surge of emotion in parliament at the time of voting. The PPP’s Senator Raza Rabbani, who earned fame for spearheading the landmark 18th Amendment that granted unprecedented provincial autonomy to the provinces during his party’s rule from 2008-2013, broke down as he conceded feeling ashamed for voting in favour of military courts. He justified his vote for the military courts by arguing that it was a trust entrusted to him by his party. One expected Raza Rabbani to abstain from voting if it was causing him this much embarrassment, or for him to resign from his Senate seat. He could have quit the PPP if it was so difficult for him to reconcile with his party’s support for the constitutional amendment. After all, a party leadership that forces its lawmakers to vote against their conscience on a crucial piece of legislation cannot be termed a truly democratic entity.
One may like or dislike him, but Maulana Fazlur Rahman is a clever politician capable of making a smart move with a sense of timing that can take people by surprise. He automatically assumed the mantle of leadership of the Islamic lobby and even overshadowed the better organised and disciplined JI as he led the religio-political parties in criticising the singling out of madressahs as a source of militancy in the bill and sparing the kind of terrorism perpetrated by ethnic and regional-based mafias and terrorists. He promptly called a meeting of the six religio-political parties that once formed the MMA and came up with a joint position on the issue.
This was familiar ground for the maulana and his erstwhile allies and a reminder that the MMA could be revived to unify the religious lobby and vote. The MMA had achieved success in the 2002 general election and come into power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan due to the consolidation of the religious vote and because the voters wanted a change after being disappointed with the mostly secular and progressive parties.
It is necessary to understand Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s compulsions for taking such a stand – which won’t endear him to the powerful military or appease his ally Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He draws his support mainly from religious-minded people. The madressahs, primarily those run by the Deobandi clerics, are his stronghold and he has to keep their interest foremost while doing politics. He risks losing support of the religious right if he cannot represent them now when there are reports that madressahs may be specifically investigated and targeted for promoting militancy and intolerance towards other faiths and sects.
Also, one has to keep in mind that Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been attacked four times, three times by suicide bombers in Charsadda, Swabi and recently in Quetta, and once by rockets fired at his home in Dera Ismail Khan. He remains a target of a host of enemies even though no claim of responsibility was made by any group after each of these deadly attacks to eliminate him. For someone with a home in Dera Ismail Khan bordering South Waziristan and the Frontier Regions of Tank and Shirani/Darazinda and being a frequent visitor to almost all parts of KP where his party has a significant support base, it is imperative for him to stay in touch with his party workers and supporters and, therefore, expose himself to the attackers.
Unlike him and other politicians from KP and Fata who have survived assassination attempts and are easily accessible to the Fata-based militants who want to kill them, those belonging to Punjab, Sindh and even Balochistan are relatively safe and could thus say anything against the several militant groups operating in north-western Pakistan. The level of threat that Maulana Fazlur Rahman faces is arguably one of the highest among the politicians.
Only the PML-N leader Amir Muqam, who belongs to the militancy-infested Shangla district neighbouring Swat, or Aftab Sherpao who was lucky to survive two major suicide bombings come close to him for being frequent targets of terrorist attacks. ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan was attacked once by a suicide bomber in his village in Charsadda and he wisely curtailed his political activities even though his opponents accused him of cowardice and his party was deprived of his presence during the 2013 election campaign.
The militants are angry with Maulana Fazlur Rahman for not supporting their cause publicly as they expected him to side with them. Some of these militant commanders such as the late TTP deputy head Waliur Rahman Mehsud had been members of his party and were hoping that the JUI-F would plead their case in the parliament and in the streets. The maulana couldn’t have done this as he is committed to electoral politics and bringing an Islamic change through peaceful means.
The intelligence agencies too don’t like him for not always toeing their line. Civil society and sections of the media are angry with him for espousing causes that are an anathema to them. It is often a difficult balancing act for him not to antagonise one or the other. Among fair-minded people, he doesn’t get high marks because he sometimes practices unprincipled politics and is seen as an opportunistic politician – always aligning himself with the ruling parties. For the maulana though, survival and conventional politics are far more important than sticking to principles.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]