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January 14, 2021

Who is behind Maulana?


January 14, 2021

Why Maulana Fazlur Rehman is so determined to go to Rawalpindi instead of Islamabad and shifted his criticism from Prime Minister Imran Khan to the powerful establishment? This is something unusual and has not only put the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in a difficult position but has also caused concern for those who matter.

The question is who is behind him as he is not someone who would go on a ‘suicidal mission?’ This is a million dollar question. Maulana is not the person who goes on a solo flight. But, so far he has failed to create problems for Prime Minister Imran Khan, his arch political rival, who is also set to tighten his grip on power after Senate elections and has maintained his cordial relationship with the establishment. So, who are the people who engaged Maulana in the last dharna.

Maulana’s anger apparently has more to do with the alleged breach of agreement reached with some quarters during his last dharna and that too in the presence of Speaker Punjab Assembly and PML (Q) leader Ch. Pervaiz Elahi, who is also an ally of the PTI government.

Therefore, chances are that he would go ahead with his Pindi plan rather than PDM's plan for Islamabad march. But, all depends on how things move after January 19 protest outside the Election Commission of Pakistan office in Islamabad.

PML (Q) leader once confirmed to me that Maulana called off his last year’s dharna only after he was given some “firm assurance” about the possible political development, but the move could not materialise. So, Maulana, Ch. Pervaiz Elahi and those who held the negotiations knew what really happened and what was promised.

There were also reports that the person who was not happy with all the developments at that time was none other than Prime Minister Imran Khan. He even questioned how come he was allowed to come and stage dharna in Islamabad.

ISPR DG Major General Babar Iftikhar a few days back rejected the allegations of army’s involvement in politics and even said there is no justification of opposition march to Pindi, but in a lighter mood welcomed Maulana if he comes. “We will offer him chai-pani and look after them well.” Maulana too replied in the same manner without showing any sign of change of stance or idea from going to Pindi.

While Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has clarified its position that they have no ‘Pindi Plan’ and like its position on resignations, by-elections and Senate elections they want to challenge the government within the framework.

PML (N) may opt for fresh strategy after the return of former Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi from London where he met PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif. He will be meeting party president Shahbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

Abbasi’s visit to London is important and it would be interesting to watch the tone of the PML (N) leaders, particularly Vice-President Maryam Nawaz and Nawaz Sharif himself, during the public meetings or otherwise.

It is true that Imran Khan has completely changed the dynamics of politics of Kyber Pakhtunkhwa and former FATA in the last 15 years. He not only caused a dent in JUI’s vote bank but also that of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Awami National Party (ANP). He particularly picked the JUI leader for his attacks. PTI mustered huge support in the last two elections and created history by becoming the first party which not only retained its majority but improved it in the last elections.

While Imran Khan took a much harder position against army operation in FATA than the religious parties, but at the same time blamed both religious and secular parties for their role in deepening the Afghan crisis. With his heroic image as Captain of 92 World Cup, his presence and charisma also made cricket popular in KP and former FATA.

It was in this backdrop that the establishment sees Imran as one who could play his role in neutralising the religious extremists and attract liberals as well.

While Imran and PTI did get mass support in KP, he could not break or create big cracks in the PML (N) rank and file and in its vote bank in Punjab. Had PML (Q), Janoobi Punjab Mahaz and MQM (Pakistan) not joined the coalition government he would not have been able to form the government at the Centre and in Punjab.

It is where the criticism came from different circles that ‘silent support’ was provided to PTI in the post-2018 elections in the formation of the government and that was one of the reasons why Maulana from the day one refused to accept Imran Khan and his government as representative of people..

However, Maulana received the setback when PPP and PML (N) turned down his request not to accept elections result and not take oath. When the two decided to sit in the Parliament and indirectly accepted the mandate, Maulana too allowed its elected members in KP and NA to take oath.

But, the JUI (F) Central Shoora decided to launch a movement by the end of 2018 to oust the government and it was perhaps the only party which continued holding meetings, marches and demonstrations. It also took Maulana months to bring PPP and PML (N) close to each other and in the end PDM was launched.

The biggest setback for the opposition came when they moved vote of no-confidence against Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani. But despite clear majority they could not oust him amid reports that some PPP and PML (N) senators either did not follow the party line due to some outside pressure or because of former President Asif Zardari who at the last minute changed his mind. Interestingly, neither PPP nor PML took any action against the defectors.

While JUI and Maulana always remained at the forefront of the opposition movement, he was shocked when at the last minute both PML (N) and PPP decided not to go too far with him during the long march last year.

PPP and PML (N) leadership, including Shahbaz Sharif, did come to the stage during the dharna but the workers of the two parties only provided token support.

Despite all these setbacks, the determined Maulana continued with his dharna till his decision to call it off after negotiations.

One can disagree with the politics of JUI (F) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, but he is the only person and leader who showed resistance in a most unusual style during the last two and half years. And now he is challenging those with whom he had best relationship during the Afghan war and afterwards.

All attempts to break him or his party have failed as the group led by Maulana Sherani and Hafiz Hussain Ahmad could not get much support from the PTI as JUI veteran Qari Sher Afzal put it ”Maulana is the head of the opposition. What else Maulana Sherani and others want.”

Maulana still has complete control over thousands of madrassas with around one million students who could be used on one call. Thus, the establishment doesn't want to create a situation like Faizabad dharna staged by late Khadim Rizvi. The Maulana certainly has put the ball in Pindi’s court and they now have to deal with the two highly aggressive politicians - one is leading the country and the other is leading the seminaries (madrassas).

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