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November 14, 2019

Conclusion of Azadi March sit-in: What Fazlur Rehman achieved

November 14, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The finale of the Azadi March launched by the Jamiat Ulemae Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) just after 18 days without having any of his principal demands met, is not what its sponsors might have envisaged.

Read also: Maulana Fazlur Rehman ends dharna to pursue Plan B

With the winding up of the protest, the agitation lost its steam, and the plan B is unlikely to be as effective as this show has been for being in the centre of the federal capital. At the moment, it ispremature to say about the efficacy of the next phase.

Fazlur Rehman resisted the “face saving” that was possible by making the talks with a government team successful. But he spurned all negotiations with it. His separate dialogue with Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi also apparently met with failure.

It was never thought that the JUI-F would be fatigued in such a short time. The end of the protest is no different from conclusion of the sit-in of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in 2014. However, Allama Tahirul Qadri was very demoralized while Fazlur Rehman is in high spirits.

Opinion: Sit-in: a comparison

Also, it was never expected or predicted that Fazlur Rehman would be able to squeeze the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, which was its number one demand. Therefore, the non-realization of this demand is not surprising.

The ruling coalition government may be content, confident and happy over the wrapping up of the protest and will feel that it has remained unhurt by the protest. As the sudden announcement of closing the Azadi March emerged, the JUI-F chief kept everyone guessing about his plan as to how long he will continue his sit-in and whether or not he will move forward to the sensitive area of Islamabad.

Till the last minute, government ministers were clueless about the duration and timing of conclusion of the sit-in. Since day one, the opposition parties also had no idea about the kind of protest Fazlur Rehman has schemed. In private discussion, their senior leaders repeatedly voiced this view.

Among other highlights of the sit-in, the protesters were absolutely peaceful not only in Islamabad but throughout their long journey from Karachi to the Capital. At no stage, did they damage any private or government property.

Not only that, they were disciplined and religiously obeyed the calls of their leader. They remained present at the venue in a large number even in inclement, chilly weather. Nonviolence was a high point of the agitation. They gave no opportunity to the law enforcement agencies to use force. There was no provocation whatsoever from them. They were camped at a place from where they did not move even an inch. They observed the agreement signed with the Islamabad administration, which provided that they would move away from the designated H-9 sector.

Fazlur Rehman did not receive the kind of support from the other opposition parties particularly the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) he had hoped. At times, he politely complained about their lukewarm approach. However, these parties took the stand that they had told the JUI-F chief that they would extend only political and moral support and nothing more than that. At the same time, he kept repeating that all the decisions relating to the protest were being taken in consultation with the opposition parties.

However, the JUI-F chief gave a resounding message to all and sundry that he can’t be dismissed as a nonentity, he heads a force to be reckoned with and he is a major political stakeholder. He also conveyed to the Imran Khan government that he has the capacity to create many troubles for it than what he did by arranging the Azadi March.

Fazlur Rehman’s major achievement is that he quickly occupied the political centre stage after he kick-started his campaign. He successfully protected that the 2018 elections were manipulated and he did not accept them. He kept attacking the government making it clear that he doesn’t plan to break bread with it. He especially reserved his attack for the prime minister.

Another accomplishment of the JUI-F chief is that he elaborately mobilized his rank and file, pushing them out of the state of demoralization in which they landed after poor showing in the last parliamentary polls.

Arrest of senior JUI-F leader Mufti Kifayatullah and stripping Hafiz Hamdullah of Pakistani nationality were bad decisions taken by the government which were reversed by courts. The protesters were not provoked by these episodes.