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November 2, 2019

Support for the maulana


November 2, 2019

The Azadi March of Maulana Fazlur Rehman seems to have overshadowed every other political activity in the country. JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman had been relegated to an insignificant position after the last general elections, but has emerged as the most important politician of our time.

He is being described as someone who is challenging the most powerful elements in the power structure, to break the status-quo. Some analysts have gone to the extent of declaring him the greatest democrat of our time, asserting that his style of politics has the potential to restore the supremacy of parliament and rule of law. It seems that mainstream political parties have decided to mount a robust opposition against the government under the leadership of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and by putting all their political and ideological differences aside.

But are the democratic credentials of Maulana really strong? Did he not hobnob with dictator General Musharraf who violated the constitution and forced Mian Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to go into exile. Did he not enjoy unbridled powers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the time of the general? Was it not the first time in our history that clerics like him witnessed the biggest victory in elections held under the supervision of General Musharraf, and declared by some as manipulated?

Was it not his JUI-F led government in KP that turned a blind eye to the activities of extremist elements in Swat and other parts of KP who then emerged as a big threat to democratic future of the country? Some of these elements were also accused of assassinating Benazir Bhutto besides killing many other political workers and leaders. There were political parties that could not run their election campaigns because of fear of these extremist elements; Maulana’s party was not among them.

Before heaping eulogies on the Maulana of Dera Ismael Khan, apologists for his style of politics should also remember the misogyny that runs through some of his party leaders. While Senator Hamdullah being stripped of his nationality must be condemned, one should not forget the kind of language he had used years back against Marvi Sirmed. The agitation of the JUI-F against the release of Aasia Bibi should also be debated. Which principles of democracy and rule of law make the JUI-F defy court orders and hold protests against Aasia Bibi whose innocence has been proved in the highest court of the country? Is that not hate-mongering against a vulnerable community?

It is very disheartening to see that parties like the PPP and PML-N failed to take up this issue with Maulana, ignoring his campaign of hate against minorities. Secular political parties like the National Party, ANP and PkMAP also ignored the public gatherings of the JUI-F in the last one year against Aasia Bibi.

There are also those that have suddenly declared Maulana a great anti-establishment political figure. But they perhaps forget that Maulana failed to invite for the march some democratic voices from erstwhile Fata.

As mentioned above, the JUI-F also has a poor record on gender politics. The march did not see the JUI-F rally women to join, and it was only parties like the ANP whose women members attended the march. Why did leaders like Bilawal Bhutto and others not speak up over this? The fact is that the JUI-F and its leaders come across as male chauvinists.

One can criticise Imran Khan and the PTI for taking U-turns or making false promises. The hypocrisy of the PTI could also be censured. The financial support given by the party to the seminary of Maulana Sami Ul Haq can also be criticized. It is true that Imran Khan's party has some many conservative elements. It is also a fact that these elements are also as deeply chauvinistic.

So the PTI may have many faults but at least a number of its leaders support women’s participation in politics. In fact this is the only party that prompted a large number of women to join politics in recent years. On the other hand, can we name even a single JUI-F leader who has openly approved of women’s participation in politics? Did we ever hear Maulana Fazlur Rehman talk about the equality of men and women? Did the JUI-F ever make any efforts to amend the discriminatory laws enacted during the time of Zia? Does the party still not support the laws that minorities here consider discriminatory?

It is important to restore the supremacy of parliament. It is essential that all institutions work within their constitutional domain and for that the march of the JUI-F could be appreciated but that does not mean that this party of clerics can get away with its misogynistic policies and anti-minorities attitude. No democracy can be successful without the full participation of women in national political life and equal rights for all citizens of Pakistan. Therefore, it is important that mainstream political parties also make Maulana revisit his retrogressive policies towards the weaker sections of society before throwing unflinching support behind the politics of this maverick religious leader.

They should also ensure that the Maulana of Dera, who is known for his political acumen – or, as critics would say, political opportunism – does not strike any any deal, extracting favour for himself and his party. If our political parties are amenable to the idea of sacrificing the rights of women, minorities and other weaker sections of society, it would spell a disaster not only for the future of political parties but that of democracy and rule of law as well for which they claim to have offered tremendous sacrifices.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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