FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 06

JUI-F’s Azadi march

Despite open and behind-the-scenes efforts by various quarters, Maulana Fazlur Rahman has not called off the “Long March” on Islamabad to protest against what he terms incompetent governance and poll rigging. His protest march has been long in the making and at one point he declared that he would go ahead with it whether other opposition parties join him or not.
The two mainstream parties took a long time deciding whether to support the march and to what extent. Division has existed within the PML-N on the matter, with the jailed Nawaz Sharif supporting the march, but other leaders showing some hesitation. On the other hand, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto has voiced support for the cause put forward by the JUI-F, but the PPP remains undecided about joining the sit-in and in what manner.
It is but natural that political observers, while analyzing the JUI-F march, have compared it with the one held by the PTI in 2014. The long sit-in at the ‘D’ ground in Islamabad had paralysed life for weeks. Maulana Fazl has said that he does not plan any early end to the planned sit in. After days of tough talking by members of the government and threats by KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan that they would not allow the marchers to cross the Attock Bridge or reach Islamabad, the mood of the government has swung. The government has softened its approach and opened a “channel of dialogue” with the JUI-F.
As things stand today, the situation is one of total confusion. No one is sure how the march and the sit-in will ultimately play out. But while confusion and apprehension reign supreme, Maulana Fazl is single-minded in his resolve to make the Azadi march a success. According to him, “Caravans from all over the country will reach Islamabad, stay there and send this government packing. We have plan 1, 2 and 3 ready to meet any eventuality.” When asked how long the sit-in will continue, he said: “we are not coming with intention to go back in haste”. He also did not rule out the possibility of pupils of seminaries joining the march.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman wants to send the government packing home, but will he succeed? Imran Khan protested at D Chowk for four months, but the Nawaz Sharif government did not fall. Not only did the government of the day keep its cool and composure. Later, PTI legislators returned to parliament and participated in legislative work.
Will Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Azadi march upset the democratic applecart? There are two views about his protest march. While one school of thought says that it is a game of political adventure and naked pursuit of power, the other school says that peaceful protest is a democratic right of every citizen. But the question is: Will the march remain peaceful?
The JU-F is a religio-political outfit having a large committed cadre of madrassa students. When mobilised and motivated to lock down Islamabad, they would be on the forefront, ready to carry out the orders of the party leadership, whatever the cost. It is true that the previous “million” marches of the JUI-F were largely peaceful, but only because these were held under the legal cover. In this case there is no certainty that the marchers would keep their calm when restrained from reaching their targeted destination. The situation may get out of control of the marchers’ leadership, and anything can then happen. The “danda” (club-wielding) force organised by the JUI-F can act as the thin wedge of an endless cycle of violence.
The JUI-F march is purely a political adventure. By no stretch of imagination can it be termed an effort for “Azadi” (freedom) for the people of the Indian-occupied Kashmir or for the supremacy of democratic principles. It is a power game, pure and simple, which he is playing with the support of the religious right and disgruntled opposition leaders being prosecuted for corruption by the PTI government.
Whether the march succeeds or not, for the Maulana it’s a win-win situation either way. He wants the democratic system to crumble, because after many years he is out of power, having lost his hold on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the last elections. He is out in the wilderness. So he has nothing to lose.
Like the PTI in 2014, he is mounting a serious challenge to the government. The media discussing his march day and night adds to his political stature. He is not in parliament but he is now the talk of the town. That is what his aim has been throughout. If he wins and mounts enough pressure for fresh elections, he will have another shot at power.