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October 5, 2020

Why did PDM pick Maulana as its head?


October 5, 2020

There are more than one reasons why the opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) made Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief, as its president to lead the first united anti-government movement. However, the success and failure of the PDM would depend on how Punjab, the strong base of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, will react particularly after PML-N supremo’s defiant mood, not only against Prime Minister Imran Khan but also the powerful quarters.

Unlike Maulana Din Puri, who was replaced by Maulana Fazlur Rehman as Ameer of the JUI-F three years back, he is considered within the party as reformist and the one who has command both on religious affairs as well as political matters. Maulana Din Puri was a hardcore JUI leader and often considered as very stubborn.

The JUI-F has strong pockets in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and in Balochistan, but it also has its strong presence in Sindh as well including Karachi, and is considered as the second strong party in rural Sindh after the PPP.

However, it suffered back-to-back defeats in 2013 and 2018 elections at the hands of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Imran's tsunami caused serious dent not only to the religious parties like the JUI and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), but also wiped out even secular parties like Awami National Party (ANP).

The Maulana himself was defeated in the last election, which he termed rigged, and was constantly demanding fresh elections. Son of veteran Maulana Mufti Mahmood, who in the 70s formed a coalition government with secular National Awami Party (NAP) in the KP and Balochistan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman came to mainstream politics when he went to jail during the 1983 MRD [Movement for the Restoration of Democracy].

The late Mufti Mahmood, who also led the anti-Bhutto movement as head of the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) in 1977, demanded elections within 90 days. Two or three of its leaders joined General Ziaul Haq's Majlis-e-Shoora, but according to veteran Qari Sher Afzal, the former Naib Ameer of the JUI, the party sacked them. "Yes, I took the decision in the absence of Ameer, who later endorsed it," he told the writer.

After the death of Mufti Mahmood, the JUI took a bold decision when in 1988, Benazir Bhutto-led PPP won the election and some religious parties raised the issue of accepting woman as the prime minister.

While Mufti Mahmood in the 60s opposed Ms Fatima Jinnah in the presidential election being a woman, the JUI leadership in 1988 took a different stance and, after some heated debate, took a stance in her support, considering her struggle against martial law. The JUI-F, in the last 10 years, faced a stiff challenge at the hands of the PTI in KP, but the Maulana had never given up and since the 2018 elections he is on streets. Initially he was disappointed by the politics of the PPP and the PML-N.

When the PDM decided to back the Maulana as the alliance head, the component parties acknowledged his consistent position against the PTI and the mobilisation. The JUI had already held a sit-in in Islamabad a few months back and also regularly organised public meetings.

The Maulana is now on the driving seat and looks in an aggressive mood. He believes to have told the PPP and the PML-N leadership that he only wants them on his stage and the rest would be done by him. He now has firm support from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif also.

The government, on the other hand, has reacted, rather overreacted, despite having no major threat. It has shown some signs of nervousness on its part as the PM has given the task to over a dozen of its key party leaders, ministers and advisers to counter Nawaz and Maryam. Thus, their focus is neither on the Maulana nor the PPP but the Sharifs. They are now using the India card against Nawaz.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and his legal team are confident that the fate of Sharifs would be sealed through courts and would not be in the race in the next few months, if not in weeks. They believe that once Sharifs are out, the PML-N would be in disarray and fall apart, something in which they have failed in the last two years. There is also a move to ban him, and after PEMRA restricted TV channels to air his speeches, a petition has been filed in the Islamabad High Court for a complete ban.

Thus, the Maulana was the best choice for the PDM. The JUI-F may have suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Imran Khan led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in elections in 2013 and 2018, but it is perhaps the only opposition party at the moment which has the most organised and charged workers and followers.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman will now lead the anti-government movement from October 18, with its first public meeting in Quetta, where the JUI has strong support particularly in the Pashtun belt in Balochistan.

The PPP, a key ally in the alliance, wanted that the PDM leadership be on rotation basis as per tradition of such alliances in the past, but it would not mind if the Maulana remains its head as it has its own problems as it is a ruling party in Sindh.

The PDM has a stiff challenge ahead for more than one reasons and all eyes are on how Punjab will react on the call of former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who looked in a defiant mood. The PTI government, on its part, has also decided to target Nawaz and has now practically branded him as a traitor and an Indian agent.

The PDM leadership knows that the government and powerful quarters could come down hard on Nawaz and Maryam, the two who pulled the crowd. Among the second tier leadership, the PML leaders like Khwaja Saad Rafiq, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Rana Sanaullah could take the burden. But, they too are facing cases and one did not rule out the possibility of their arrest to hinder the movement in Punjab.

The political burden would now be on the shoulders of the Maulana who, despite having little electoral representation in the parliament or in KP and Balochistan, has a force to reckon with. It controlled the majority of over a million madrasa students from Karachi to KP and Balochistan.

The Maulana and Nawaz apparently are on one page to challenge the powerful quarters. The JUI leaders believed that had the PPP and the PML-N not backed out at the last minute during the previous dharna, he would have crossed the Red Zone in the federal capital. In the end, he ended the dharna after Chaudhrys of Gujrat intervened and arranged a meeting with the the people concerned.

In 2002, the Maulana also led the religious parties’ alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which swept the 2002 elections in KP and for the first time, religious parties emerged as strongest and the Maulana was made the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.

It also struck a deal with former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and signed the Legal Framework Order (LFO) under the 17th Amendment under which they accepted him as head of the state on a condition that he would quit as army chief in December 2004. The Maulana has come a long way to this position and now the key opposition leader, heading an opposition alliance which includes two mainstream parties, the PML-N and the PPP.

On the other hand, PM Khan is confident that if he manages to contain Nawaz and Maryam, he would have no problem in taking head on with the Maulana. He has no problem if the PPP continues to rule Sindh, where politics continue to revolve between rural and urban.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO