NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 07

Fazl fighting a losing battle?

The head of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam Fazl faction (JUI-F), Maulana Fazlur Rahman, recently staged a huge protest campaign against the federal government; however, it failed to dislodge Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. Nevertheless, despite its failure to bring down the government, the JUI-F made its presence felt in the power corridors of the country.
JUI-F head Fazl had been making preparations to stage a huge protest against the PTI government of PM Khan for months. He even revealed his intentions several months back. In fact, he was waiting and watching the unfolding political situation in the country. He knew that the top leadership of the main opposition political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was either in jail or would soon be incarcerated on the charges of substantial corruption. Therefore, the political void of the opposition would be filled by him. Fazl was shrewd enough to calculate that he would be able to fill the political void and launch a massive protest movement to catapult himself to a position to bargain with the government and the powers that be. However, it would be naive to argue that Fazl was not given any signal of cooperation from the powers that be. The latter may not like to see the JUI-F turn the tables on the PTI government but there were other reasons for which he was facilitated. The setting free of the PML-N founder and former three-time Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and political heir, Maryam Nawaz, during the JUI-F protest campaign was quite meaningful. Equally so was the PML-N decision not to support the JUI-F whole-heartedly once the massive sit-in started. This is despite the fact that it was Nawaz Sharif, who had announced participation in the JUI-F protest against the PM Khan government. However, his younger brother and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, was quite against the idea of the PML-N support to the JUI-F. But when things started getting clear, Shahbaz also threw his support behind the JUI-F and its protest.
On the other hand, the PPP distanced itself from the protest campaign of the JUI-F and the party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari quite clearly said that he would not take part in the sit-in. The PPP knew that the ultimate winner of the whole situation would be the JUI-F and that it also realized that it at least had a government in Sindh province, so dislodging the PTI federal government would also result in ultimately losing power in Sindh in case the JUI-F’s main demand of new elections in the country was somehow accepted.
One of the reasons for the JUI-F head staging a massive protest against the PTI government was that the latter has a very thin support in the National Assembly. In fact, it is less than ten members due to which the PM Khan government is in majority. The fact of the matter is that the PTI government has been afloat with the critical support of coalition partners, like the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid. The BNP-M has serious reservations over the treatment it has received from the PTI. Therefore, it could be wooed away from the PTI and in this case the government would be hanging with a proverbial thread. So, Fazl calculated that if pressure was mounted, the government’s coalition partners could be won over. In this case new elections would have been a matter of course. More importantly, all credit of such a political success would go the JUI-F.
Insofar as the political stature of Fazl is concerned, it has been given a boost by staging such a huge protest against the sitting government in the heart of the federal capital. Gathering such a huge crowd, whose thousands of members have shown extraordinary verve and commitment for remaining in Islamabad for so many days is no mean achievement. A section of the media depicted a very negative picture of the members of the protest campaign by showing a handful of them enjoying slides and swings in Islamabad parks and playing cricket. But the fact is that like any other normal human beings the members of the JUI-F protest have every right to enjoy their lives in a positive way and any criticism in this regard was misplaced. Fazl has intelligently gathered such a massive crowd and kept its members in Islamabad, so that to train them for the future political campaigns. He obviously followed PM Khan, who in 2014 had staged an unprecedented more than a 100-day sit-in in Islamabad to force the then Nawaz Sharif government to resign for electoral fraud. In the sit-in, PM Khan, who was once the best cricket all-rounder in the world and also enabled Pakistan to win the 1992 Cricket World Cup, had trained his young party workers. Mr. Khan knew that unless he put to test his supporters belonging to “burger families,” he could not have a realistic chance to carry forward successful political and electoral campaigns, particularly winning the Election Day. Likewise, the JUI-F, which always has a significant following although in pockets, could not fully utilize the support to win elections. Thus, Fazl wanted to transform his supporters into a fighting machine, so that in future they could be instrumental in making them win votes and electoral constituencies. For any political party in this day and age, when ideological politics have become largely irrelevant and people generally have become used to ease and avoid difficulties and challenges, it is an uphill task to hold protest campaigns, stage movements and do electioneering and carry the day when polling is held. So, the JUI-F head knew that it was high time to train his young supporters, particularly from its base, the seminaries.
Thus, the holding of a massive protest movement by the JUI-F would go a long way in strengthening the party. However, at the same time, Fazl, by staging a sit-in, took the biggest gamble of his and his party’s life. But one thinks that it had become a compulsion for the JUI-F chief as the party could not win a significant number of seats in the last national elections and it was the third time on the trot that it remained out of government in its political support base, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, despite getting a couple of ministries in the federal government in almost two decades.