The Azadi March has come hard on JUI-F’s pockets
More than 70, 000 supporters of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) spent two weeks in the federal capital in what many commentators say was a futile push to dislodge the federal government. After their Plan A failed to achieve its objective, Maulna Fazl-ur-Rehman on Wednesday evening set in motion his Plan B asking JUI-F workers to block major arteries and national highways across the country.
While some analysts claim that blocking of roads by Maulana’s followers is more dangerous than protesting peacefully in the heart of Islamabad, an important question remains: who is funding this weeks-long anti-government agitation?
In an attempt to answer this question, The News on Sunday spoke to various government officials, organisers and leaders to identify the source(s) of funding for this massive protest campaign, which demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. According to one government official monitoring the Azadi March and the ensuing protest, “mukhayyar (charity minded) Pakistanis from two brotherly countries” were contributing a small portion to the overall cost. However, he told TNS that it was difficult to trace this funding since the amount came through hawala-hundi – the informal channels of money flow. The JUI-F leadership neither denied nor confirmed this claim.
The Azadi March has come hard on the JUI-F’s pocket. Organisers of the protest, speaking on the condition of anonymity, shared with TNS that according to their estimates Rs 500 million was spent over three weeks. A senior leader of the JUI-F revealed that around Rs 270 million was spent on transporting tens of thousands of workers from other cities to the federal capital adding that top JUI-F leaders had planned to spend Rs 350 per worker per day in Islamabad. A spokesperson for the party’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter, Haji Jalil Jan claimed that party had raised a sum of around Rs 1.1 billion for the march.
According to Jan, these funds were raised through donations made by their supporters as well as the business community and philanthropists in 4,100 village councils, 308 cities and 79 districts across the country. But there are discrepancies in figures cited by various party men. A party leader told TNS that the JUI-F spent around Rs 8 million on six containers of different sizes. However, a container builder, Naveed Khan, says that a 40 feet long and 12 feet wide container costs around Rs 3 million to Rs 4 million. The price, he says, can go up to Rs 6 million if it is equipped with quality washrooms, beds, kitchen, air conditioners, sound system and cameras. Four out of the six containers that the JUI-F leadership had prepared are equipped with the aforementioned facilities. A JUI-F senior leader seeking anonymity, revealed that these containers cost them Rs 20 million.
Organisers claim that as many as two million people participated in the protest rally from Karachi to Islamabad, on which the party spent millions of rupees that haven’t been tabulated. Shams-ur-Rehman Shamsi, the JUI-F finance secretary, claims that the party had requested its registered workers, an estimated 3.5 million, to donate generously. “Some 3,000 union/village councils, 92 from Peshawar alone, contributed more than our expectations,” he says. The party owns assets worth Rs 28.6 million and has over Rs 26.6 million cash in hand as well, says Shamsi. In addition, Shamsi says that the party generated Rs 11 million through renewal of membership just this year.
Former KP chief minister Akram Durrani, chairman of the Senate standing committee on Cabinet Division, MNA Abdul Wasay and other senior party leaders, including Mahmood Ahmad Khan, Malik Riaz Khan, Anwar Hayat Khan, Noor Saleem Malik, Munawar Khan Advocate, Fazl Ghafoor, Gul Muhammad Khan Dumar, Abdul Malik are major financers for the party. Together these leaders managed to raise around Rs 95 million, revealed a senior JUI-F leader who did not want to be named.
JUI-F sources also told TNS that around Rs 20 million was raised through 10,000 students who were pursuing religious education in madarassahs affiliated with Wafaq-ul- Madaris al-Arabia Pakistan. The JUI-F chief had appealed to these students to donate Rs 100 per person for Namoos Risalat conferences, a student told TNS.
Memos of several government institutions, including the Ministry of Interior, Home Departments, police and the National Counter Terrorism Authority indicate that most of the finances flowed through party workers. Some local departments in Islamabad have found that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party were providing food items and transport services to JUI-F workers. But these claims remain disputed.
“God helps mobilise millions of people. It is God who feeds them too,” says JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman in response to questions about the source of funding for the protest campaign.
Government representatives claim to have spent around Rs 500 million to ensure security of protestors. The Punjab Police sought an additional Rs 200 million grant while the rest of the amount was claimed by Islamabad and Rawalpindi police for providing police force with food, shelter and security equipment.
Over Rs 300 million was spent on food, accommodation, travelling and armaments of security personnel, according to a senior official of the Islamabad Capital Territory. The federal government paid around Rs 90 million in lieu of shipping containers rented from transporters, he added.
Jahangir Khan Tareen, a senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, has raised questions regarding the funding. “Large-scale protests like the Azadi March need huge sums of money. How did the JUI-F afford it?” Tareen recently said while speaking to the media. “Maulana sahib must answer about his funding as it has raised several questions.”
The writer is a special investigative correspondent for Geo Television Network in Islamabad