Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Isalm-F (JIU-F) is desperate to dislodge the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government (PTI) of Prime Minister Imran Khan since the day it was installed. He has announced a “long march” on Islamabad with an agenda to topple the government. Experts say he can create unrest in the country and pose some problems for the government but he will not be able to realize his dream.
The JUI-F chief, who has remained part of the governments in Pakistan for decades, wants to paralyse the government and the state, like the sit-ins of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in Islamabad in December 2014. The protests had almost toppled the government of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But the PTI and PAT had some demands from the government. The PTI wanted a probe into alleged rigging in the 2013 election, while the PAT was protesting against non-registration of a case after the police had killed at least 14 of its activists in Lahore. They had neither an agenda to topple the government nor they could do it. One the other hand, Fazlur Rehman’s sole agenda is to oust the government which is almost impossible to achieve.
He has been threatening the national institutions and the government after his party’s miserable loss in the 2018 election. Few months ago, he threatened to march on Islamabad in October if the government did not step down by August. He claimed that the entire country would march with him. “This will be an independence march. The way we freed ourselves from the British, we will free ourselves from this government,” he told his supporters.
However, he has not been able to garner support for his agitation movement from two mainstream parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). According to media reports, his agitation call received a cold response from other parties when the proposal was taken up during a meeting of the opposition’s Rehbar Committee. It is said almost all parties expressed their concern on the unilateral announcement of the JUI-F. The leaders of almost all parties told the JUI-F members that it was their Majlis-i-Shoora that had decided to launch the long march, and that they were not in a position to make any commitment on the issue without discussing it with their respective parties.
The main demands of the opposition parties are establishment of the rule of law in the country, fresh elections, across-the-board accountability after revamping the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), ensuring supremacy of the parliament and eliminating the alleged interference of state institutions in the parliamentary matters. However, Fazlur Rehman’s only demand is the ouster of the government, because it is headed by his archrival, Imran Khan, whose party has almost eliminated his party from its stronghold in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the last two general elections.
The JUI-F chief intended to launch a full-fledged anti-government movement soon after its installation. At a grand opposition meeting hosted by the PPP chairman in Islamabad in May, he had warned the opposition leaders of further delaying agitation. He suggested holding a sit-in at D-Chowk in Islamabad, but other opposition parties did not support the idea. The PPP was of the view that since they had taken a principled stand that an indefinite sit-in was an undemocratic act of the PTI, it would be difficult for it to support the plan. The PPP and the PML-N believed that it would be difficult for them to arrange workers and people for an indefinite sit-in and the whole movement could be taken over by religious groups and parties which could use seminary students through exploitation of religious sentiments.
The PML-N and the PPP are not in a position to launch a movement against the government as their top leaders are in jail. They have also been humiliated after their failed attempt to change Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, who survived a no-trust motion after 14 members of the opposition either voted against their own resolution or deliberately wasted votes. The fiasco also created rifts among the opposition and significantly weakened it against the government which gained immensely and became stronger. The PPP and the PML-N accused each other of deliberately siding with the government to extract favours for their jailed leaders. According to the opposition’s estimates, at least nine senators of the PML-N, three of the PPP and two of the JUI-F had voted against their own parties.
Maulana Fazl was the architect of the move against the Senate chairman. However, he has realized that the opposition cannot pose a serious challenge to the government in the parliament, so he has decided to fight his case on the streets of the country. He believes it is the time to launch a campaign against the government over its “wrong policies.” The time could not be more appropriate for him because the economy is in disarray, the rupee has shed its value by one-third and prices of essentials have skyrocketed in the PTI government. There is a general impression in the country that the government has no control over the economy and the situation will worsen in coming months.
Experts say Fazlur Rehman is fighting for the survival of his party and his place in national politics. However, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah has predicted or warned that his procession would not be able to cross Attock and that people themselves would stop the protesters with force. The government will also attempt to stop him from using madrass students for his political motives. It is his democratic right to protest against the government, but under Supreme Court’s guidelines after the Faizabad sit-in, no person or party can be allowed to block a road. His ability to pose problems for the government will depend on how many people reach Islamabad on his call and how long they stay there.