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September 10, 2019

Maulana’s ‘solo flight’ to Islamabad


September 10, 2019

While two jailed leaders of the PML-N and the PPP; Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari were still undecided to what extent they should support Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in his ‘million march’, the JUI-F leader has decided to take a ‘solo flight’ to Islamabad and booked his seat for October.

This will be Maulana’s make-or-break’ move in politics as his party was facing a serious challenge of survival in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. So, he is going all out irrespective of the outcome but apparently ‘confrontation’ looks imminent, something which perhaps the powerful quarters would not like under the prevailing border situation.

Maulana is certainly not happy with Asif Ali Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif as he believes that they are looking for ‘relief’ otherwise they would have come with full force.

A prominent JUI-F leader on condition of anonymity said 'we are going and let’s see who will come or not.' It will be test for them too but there are some positive signals coming from Bilawal Bhutto. Let’s see and wait for his final decision or response. The dilemma of the JUI-F is that unlike its standing prior to 2013, the PTI wave had badly hurts its political and electoral standing in KP in back-to-back two general elections. Even in the recently held polls for provincial seats in former Fata, the JUI-F-backed candidates faced defeat.

Thus, Maulana knows that unless he and his party challenged the government they would not be able to make a comeback. The JUI-F in the past had remained in the government in the 70s in coalition with the former NAP, and during 2002 elections along with the JI.

The PTI in the last two elections has not only surprised the JUI-F but also the ANP, whose leadership in the recently held Central Executive Committee meeting faced internal criticism of not doing much to challenge the government.

Like the PPP and the PML-N, the ANP too was undecided about joining hands with Maulana in full force. Therefore, except the JUI-F none of these Opposition parties have passed any directives to their different wings to get ready for march to Islamabad.

However, there is a possibility that their leaders like Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto, Asfandyar Wali and others would come for showing solidarity with Maulana. The failure of APC to jointly lead the march with full strength leaves Maulana almost in isolation.

It was soon after 2018 elections that Maulana has rejected the results and advised both Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to stop their MNAs and MPAs from taking oath. He was confident that had the PML-N and the PPP taken the decision, Imran and the PTI would not have been able to form the government.

The PTI leadership on the other hand was confident that Nawaz-Zardari ‘era’ is over and it’s very unlikely they could ever return to power or even come out of prison. But what is going on at the moment in Nawaz and Zardari’s mind for the possible outcome if they decide to go all out with Maulana.

When the PPP and the PML-N decided not to resign from assemblies as they feared extra constitutional action, some of their leaders believed that their parties should have supported Maulana.

It is quite unprecedented that despite the arrest of top leadership of the PML-N, including former premier and head of party Nawaz Sharif, another former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Maryam Nawaz, Kh Saad Rafiq and Kh Salman Rafiq, PML-N Punjab chief Rana Sanaullah, former finance minister Miftah Ismail; Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif had apparently ‘ignored’ the directive of elder brother to provide all out support to Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

The PML-N leadership fears major crackdown in case they decide to go all out but they are under pressure from their local leadership of not doing much for the release of their leaders.

The most surprising reaction is coming from the PPP, which in the past was known for its agitation skills. This time, the party could not be able to even organise large scale protest after the arrest of former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur. The dilemma of the PPP has been its failure to reorganise itself in Punjab and KP, while they are in power in Sindh and thus any rallies or meetings here would be meaningless. Another factor which is keeping both Nawaz and Zardari at distance with Maulana was the possible mood of the establishment, which at presently was fully behind the government and supporting Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The IK, by taking an earlier decision on giving extension to the COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, for another three years also went well in keeping the ‘civil-military’ relationship intact and strong. The move also brought an end to all kinds of speculations about the government and Opposition standoff.

The second failure of the Opposition came during the vote of no- confidence against the Senate chairman and its outcome clearly widens the gap between the PML-N and the PPP. It was one of the biggest defeats of the Opposition as despite having clear majority they were unable to remove the PTI-backed Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani.

The PML-N circles strongly believed that the PPP like in the Senate chairman election once again indirectly supported Sanjrani and in return retained its own man as deputy chairman. Now, what possible benefit the PPP or Zardari would get out of it would be interesting to watch in the next few months provided he keeps the PPP in low key during Maulana’s ‘solo flight’.

Sources said the recent NRO kind of ‘plea bargain’ of around Rs 10 billion with some of the suspects in fake account and money- laundering cases could have possible consent of those connected with these suspects. How far Maulana would be able to sustain the movement amid Nawaz, Zardari’s indecisiveness and what strategy he has in his mind once he takes the route to Islamabad could lead to confrontation as he knows that in the absence of strong presence of the other parties and leaders it may not be easy for him to even come close to 124-day of IK’s ‘dharna’ in 2014. It would also be naive on part of the PTI to underestimate its main political rival in KP. In the last few months, Maulana and his men had mobilised its madrassas cadre and have asked their local organisers to make necessary arrangements for ‘long sit-in’. Let’s see when the ‘solo flight’ will take off and land. The JUI-F prominent leader said he has not taken a return ticket.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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