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November 1, 2019

Azadi March thrusts ‘nonentity’ into center stage with a bang


November 1, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Will Prime Minister Imran Khan give way and stand down because of the pressure mounted by the Azadi March organised by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and intensification of the protest in the coming days?

The question naturally rises as the JUI-F supremo has refused to budge from his firm stand that Imran Khan has to hand his resignation. As of today, no amount of pressure and incentives has worked to coax Fazlur Rehman into backing down. He has also not been managed thus far.

A powerful common refrain from Imran Khan and his comrades is that the premier will never quit, as there is no reason to do that. However, the demand for his exit is equally boisterous and unrelenting. During his 2014 sit-in, he had declared that if all the opposition parties join hands and this much crowd (pointing to his supporters gathered then) demands his resignation; he will take no time to oblige.

Whether or not the JUI-F leader will be able to quickly achieve his prime objective, he is the winner of the game as he has rattled the government. He has nothing to lose and has a lot to gain. He has already made a huge accomplishment by occupying the political centre stage that is a dream of every politician worth the name.

He has not only effectively solidified his political base and created his immense relevance but has also expanded his vote-bank. Whether or not “liberals” will vote for him, this class, which used to despise him is now supportive of his cause. This is no mean windfall.

Relentlessly dismissed by his principal detractor, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as a big nonentity for a long time, Fazlur Rehman and his next moves are a hot subject of discussion of all political talk everywhere in streets. The corridors of power are locked in weighing ideas how to neutralize the impact of the Azadi March.

How ominous, unmanageable the JUI-F stalwart is can be well judged from the unprecedented number of containers that have been transported to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, their surrounding areas and some other cities to contain the protest and people’s participation. Additionally, the incomparable security arrangements and massive deployment of law enforcement agencies in the federal capital are indicative of the fact that the Azadi March is his own decision and disapproved by influential quarters. The administration doesn’t want to take any chance about ensuring that the protest remains confined to its designated place and disperses.

Although the 2014 sit-ins of PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) could not squeeze quick resignation of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, yet they shattered, beleaguered and weakened his government. They amply exposed its vulnerability. Therefore, they were successful to the extent of scaring and cornering it.

Those protests were of different kind and nature in all respects including the level of participation of people and the logistics they had at their disposal from the current agitation. There was no dearth of resources as well.

To say that the Azadi March will strengthen the present government is a naïve, apolitical approach. It will certainly affect the present regime which will take time to come out of the mauling done by the agitation. Every agitation of this sort ultimately results in making governments weak. Result this time can’t be different.

Fazlur Rehman is the only politician (support of other opposition parties to his venture being nominal), who has single-handed confronted the government head-on after its 15-month rule, and thrown the first genuine great challenge to it although he was consistently put down by his chief adversary as inconsequential, who has lost the game and is incapacitated to retrieve and revive his political position.

Another indication to the fact that the JUI-F leader is the master of his own destiny and can engage in a protest on his own posing a real threat comes from the poor coverage of the electronic media. The difference can be felt by comparing it with the 24/7 visual reporting of the previous three sit-ins. Had the Azadi March been an ordinary protest, not bothering the government, it would not got the treatment from TV channels it has been extended.

Maybe, even the JUI-F supreme leader, before kicking off his instant venture, also never thought of such paramount prominence, eminence and relevance as he has secured in a matter of a few days. Month back, he prepared a plan and is implementing it cleverly. He knows how to play his cards in an effective manner. He has proved to be the most shrewd, sharp and perceptive politician who has left his counterparts far behind. The entire politics is revolving around his game-plan.

Since the start of the current protest five days ago and even before, Fazlur Rehman has challenged the government as no contemporary politician or any of his companions in the opposition parties has dared it. The threat he has posed may aggravate in case of any rash handling of the agitation.

In his entire political career spanning more than three decades, Fazlur Rehman was never confronted with such monumental derision, ridicule and scorn as Imran Khan has showered on him before and after becoming the prime minister during the past five years. The PTI always discarded him as a big nobody, who doesn’t have the political support, capacity and capability to challenge it. But he has done it.

Today, the JUI-F chief has turned out to be the biggest menace for the prime minister because of the Azadi March and the possible phases of the protest that would follow. Imran Khan’s unremitting attack on him has hardened him into a politician, who is willing to accept anyone and is ready to work with anybody but the PTI chairman as the prime minister. Fazlur Rehman’s loathing matches the unabated revulsion he has been bombarded with since a long time.

The PTI always underestimated his power and force and never thought of lowering its rhetoric against him. He has been retaliating to his condemnation but not as frequently as often he has been slammed. The diatribe has all the time been led by Imran Khan followed by other PTI leaders.

While Fazlur Rehman’s ties with deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari have experienced ups and downs over the years, he never had had any kind of relationship with Imran Khan that can be described even as working. The underlying cause behind the PTI chairman’s never-ending admonition of the JUI-F chief has been the latter’s unflinching alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo or Zardari during different eras. All the time, Imran Khan believed that the JUI-F stalwart was a hurdle in his mission to politically demolish and decimate Nawaz Sharif and Zardari.

Fazlur Rehman has a hardcore highly disciplined and organised squad of followers in the religious lobby especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Balochistan, interior parts of Sindh and some areas of Punjab. Nobody is in a position to challenge him in the sect he belongs to. His followers do not switch loyalties.