A look at the opposition parties’ alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), reveals that the stance of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) head Fazlur Rehman is the most intransigent of all component groups. Perhaps, it is the reason that the PDM parties chose Fazl as the head of the alliance. It is irrespective of the fact that politically and statistically, the JUI-F is a small group in comparison to the dominating parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Consequently, Fazl has gone to a point of no-return against the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and has ruled out any talks with the latter. It does not augur well for the sustainability of democracy in the country.
There are different reasons for the JUI-F head’s strong anti-PTI stance. The immediate cause of his extreme stance against Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is several pending cases of monetary corruption and apparently illegal assets worth billions of rupees in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against him. The country’s highest accountability body has so far kept Fazl and his other party men on a leash and did not take stern action against them. Nevertheless, of late the NAB has asked Fazl and his henchmen owning billions of rupees of real estate in different areas of the country to justify the ownership of valuable properties, which do not match their known sources of income. It also suggests that the Khan government has also started pulling the strings of the NAB, influencing it to take action against Fazl and his kith and kin.
It is important to note that the JUI-F had launched an anti-PTI government protest and tried its level best to bring it down last year However, it miserably failed. Noticeably, main opposition parties, the PML-N and the PPP, are banking on the JUI-F to launch a successful anti-government movement. Historically, so-called religious parties have launched important movements in Pakistan against governments and have been quite successful in weakening them against whom they spearheaded street protests.
That is why the main opposition parties, the PML-N and the PPP, have finally decided to pin hopes on the JUI-F to launch a successful movement to bring down the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The recent pathetic public show of 11 opposition parties together forming the PDM in Lahore has sent shivers down the spine of their leaders. Consequently, they would now rely more on Fazl for face-saving, at least.
It is important to note that after initial decisions by the PML-N and the PPP to let the PTI government of PM Khan complete five years in office, so that there is democratic continuity in the country, both parties have now unequivocally announced that the government of the PTI has to be dislodged by any means. It is obviously due to the fact that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been investigating financial corruption cases against the top leadership of both PPP and PML-N, the parties now have only one option; to create political instability in the country to evade conviction by the NAB and bring an end to the all-out support of the PTI government to the national anti-graft body. What is more concerning is that the PDM parties are asking the military establishment to send PM Khan’s government home and hold fresh elections. The demand is totally unconstitutional and unjustified. Interestingly, the PDM parties are asking the security establishment to interfere in the political and democratic process while at the same time blaming it for sabotaging the processes.
Both PML-N and PPP are unable to launch a large-scale anti-government movement due to lack of street power. Therefore, they are also trying to use the JUI-F’s ostensible conservative constituency to dislodge the PTI government. The JUI-F, on its part, has also been on the forefront to bring down the government of PM Khan. The other reason besides the cases against Fazl and his family pending before the NAB for the JUI-F to launch an anti-government movement is that it is the PTI and PM Khan politics that have inflicted irreparable damage on the religious parties, specifically the JUI-F, by defeating the party candidates, including its chief Fazlur Rehman, in its once stronghold in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The JUI-F controlling family does not have any representation in the current National Assembly, therefore it is least interested whether the parliament remains intact or not. It is how personal interests inflict irreparable damage on national interest.
In the last PML-N government of PM Nawaz Sharif, the JUI-F was a junior coalition partner and when the PTI, under Imran Khan, was holding unprecedented protest movements against the PML-N’s alleged fraud in the 2013 national elections, the JUI-F was on the frontline to defend the PML-N. The JUI-F had two of its parliamentarians serving as federal ministers and Fazlur Rehman put his political weight behind former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Fazl asked PM Sharif not to submit resignation at any cost, as demanded by the PTI and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, which were holding simultaneous protests for the ouster of the PML-N government. Surprisingly, Fazl went an extra mile to support and defend ex-PM Sharif and even outperformed most senior members and parliamentarians of the PML-N. Fazl announced anti-PTI and anti-PAT rallies across Pakistan. The purpose was to give a tit-for-tat response to the PTI and the PAT. However, the JUI-F’s support to Sharif and opposition to the PTI was not politically motivated but driven by vested interests of its top leadership, particularly Fazl and his family members.
The JUI-F has been part of almost all governments since early 1990s, irrespective of which party, whether the PML-N or the PPP, was in the saddle. The party was even part of the government of the Pakistan Muslim League of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat in Balochistan from 2002-2007, when General Pervez Musharraf was the godfather of the party. It was irrespective of the fact that the religious parties’ alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which the JUI-F headed, ostensibly opposed Pervez Musharraf but at the same time facilitated the extremely unconstitutional step of electing Musharraf as President of Pakistan while in military uniform.
In the 2018 national elections, the JUI-F was nearly routed and Fazl was also defeated and he could not make it to the National Assembly after a long time. With it, the JUI-F head also lost his long-held lucrative position of Chairman Kashmir Committee, an inconsequential body to promote the Pakistani stance on Indian occupied Kashmir. Being head of the Kashmir Committee, he enjoyed the status of a federal minister. It is the PTI government that has thrown him out of the Kashmir Committee and the cut is deeply felt by Fazl.
Today, JUI-F head Fazl feigns support for the PML-N and the PPP for the sake of democracy and the Constitution. However, history suggests that the JUI-F has nothing to do with democracy or the Constitution but to get as much governmental power for itself as possible. The key motive of the JUI-F is to have power and then cling to it by hook or crook. For it, Fazl is even ready to do what someone wants it to do. It is no secret, thanks to the Wikileaks, that after the 2002 unprecedented electoral success of the religious parties alliance, MMA, headed by the JUI-F by bagging more than 50 seats in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazl, in a meeting with then US Ambassador in Pakistan, Anne Patterson, had asked the latter that he was ready to do whatever Washington would ask him to do in return for US support to him to become the country’s prime minister. Though the US could not trust the wily politician while the religious parties’ alliance also was not anywhere near a majority of more than 171 NA seats, yet Fazl wanted to try his luck. He failed to get any support from the US and consequently his dream of becoming the country’s prime minister to enjoy the perks and privileges of the position dashed to the ground.
If the opposition parties’ alliance is being led by a person, who is highly controversial and known for grinding his own axe, will it succeed is a billion dollar question.