Fazlur Rehman gears for another series of anti-government protests but his role remains secondary to signals from the establishment
"Opposing the current government is jihad,” so said Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), last week as part of his ongoing campaign against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
Rehman, considered the most vocal political opponent of the current government, is planning another series of protests in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad in the coming days to mobilise the public against the government – a government he says has failed miserably.
Prime Minister Imran Khan says that Rehman’s offensive is owing to the JUI-F’s defeat in the last general elections. This defeat led to Rehman’s ouster from the National Assembly, of which he had long remained a member.
Fazlur Rehman has remained part of power politics in the country, largely based on a small number of parliamentary seats and religious agendas. In his earlier plan of protests against the government, he had also criticised the mighty military establishment of the country accusing it of backing PM Khan while sidelining other mainstream political parties.
Towards the end of last year, he had led a sit-in protest in Islamabad against the government. However, this two-week sit-in, consisting mostly of followers from far flung areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, failed to secure the resignation of the PM. It was wound up amid unconfirmed reports that the military establishment had sent him a strong message not to mess up. He had also failed to garner meaningful support from his political allies in the opposition – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Fazlur Rehman had then walked away from the scene while announcing a ‘Plan B’.
Over the past few weeks, Fazlur Rehman has been mobilising party workers for another battle to oust Khan from office. However, the support of mainstream opposition political parties is once again not certain. Last week, addressing his religious constituency, he blamed the government of missing production targets for wheat, rice, and cotton. He accused the government of destroying the economy and taking “record-breaking loans”. He also played the religious card to mobilise his religiously-inclined and largely illiterate constituency alleging that the international establishment wanted to abolish madaaris in Pakistan [through this government]. In his earlier Azadi March – protest in Islamabad – some of his followers had claimed that Imran Khan was supporting the marginalised Ahamdiyya community – facing religious persecution in the country, and had accused him of being part of an international anti-Islam establishment and for ‘freeing’ the Christian woman, Asia Bibi, accused of blasphemy but later acquitted by Supreme Court. The government had facilitated in her leaving Pakistan to save her life after consistent persuasion by the European Union (EU).
In the latest series of protests, Fazlur Rehman is scheduled to hold his first public gathering in Karachi today (Sunday), on March 1 in Islamabad and on March 19 in Lahore. The sole objective of these gatherings is to campaign against the ruling PTI.
Many political analysts believe that Fazlur Rehman’s impatience with the government is not affordable to other opposition parties looking for a better environment and a nod from the military establishment to proceed.
He is thus on a solo flight. Fazlur Rehman’s past political record shows that he has always indulged in power politics with the help of his political allies. His party has never looked like a national political party. His mainstream political allies – especially major opposition parties like the PPP and the PML-N – despite wanting to oust the government are allegedly looking towards military establishment for a mechanism (or a deal) to secure certain vested interests.
These parties also have a clear understanding that parties like the JUI-F have more street power than them. Fazlur Rehman’s dream to see the government off will never materialise until mainstream opposition parties receive a nod from the military establishment to jump in and use the JUI-F street power to agitate. Fazlur Rehman will continue to mobilise his workers from time to time, but he would not be able to achieve anything concrete without others joining in.
The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]