The head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Fazl faction (JUI-F), Fazlur Rehman, has yet again announced that his party’s months-before announced march against the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan would go on as planned. The protest, on one hand, may create problems for the government and on the other, put the political future of Fazl at stake.
Months ago, Fazl had announced that his party, JUI-F, would launch a huge march in the federal capital, Islamabad, that would result in a lockdown of the city and would force the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to give up political power. The JUI-F head’s premise for the protest march is that PM Khan got a forged mandate in the July 2018 national elections and that he has been imposed by “unseen” forces on the country. This line of argument of Fazl does not hold much water, as he should have rejected the results of the 2018 elections outright and stopped the party members of parliament from taking oath and launched an instantaneous protest movement. It would have greatly roiled the transparency of the elections and of the PTI, which won majority in the polls. However, Fazl always wants to enjoy the perks of power, therefore, his party’s MPs took oath. Whereas, by remaining in the system he also wanted to create space for himself and family members in the power corridors yet again. But after failing to get any political benefits in the last more than a year, the JUI-F has decided to go ahead with the planned protest march against the government.
The timing of the JUI-F protest march against the government of PM Khan is also very important for several reasons. At the moment, the top leadership of opposition parties, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is also the de-facto head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and former President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, also the de-facto head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), are in jail for financial frauds. Fazl knows that the top leadership of the mainstream opposition parties, the PML-N and the PPP, are going through the worst period of their political life. Therefore, the situation is extremely conducive to launch an anti-government protest. The PML-N and the PPP have been wary of the political designs and methods of the JUI-F head but due to political expediency they have announced backing the JUI-F’s anti-government march. The PPP and the PML-N leadership, despite in soup, has serious problems with supporting Fazl, as the latter has a history of creating situations to get maximum personal benefits. Therefore, the PML-N and the PPP are circumspect that in the process of the anti-government protest their vested interests could be compromised. The JUI-F is desirous of PML-N and PPP support in the anti-PTI movement as without it there are no bright chances of the success of the protest.
Fazl also knows that the government of PM Khan has failed on almost all fronts. It failed to improve the socioeconomic situation of the country and the lot of the people whereas the people have to experience unprecedented inflation and price hike besides heavy taxation. Moreover, the PTI government has also failed to fulfil even a single electoral promise made to the people. Therefore, if a protest movement is launched, the people would generally support it, at least morally. In this regard, JUI-F head Fazl is especially relying to exploit the sentiments of the business community of the country, which has faced extensive reverses due to the imposition of heavy taxes by the government of PM Khan. Fazl, as a wily politician, knows that his protest campaign could be financially sponsored by the wealthy members of the business community as removal of PM Khan’s government is in the best interest of the community.
Whether the JUI-F would be able to launch a huge protest march against the PTI government or not, but the former does have a decent following, particularly students and teachers of seminaries run by the party. The young men of the party in these seminaries are definitely a very huge force and if most of them remained committed to the cause of the party, they could create serious problems for the PTI government. Here, it is also important to note that PM Khan’s government has only majority of less than 10 MPs in the parliament. Fazl knows the situation and will try to exploit it to the hilt in the hope that if pressure is built on PM Khan, he may call new elections after dissolving the National Assembly, which is the exclusive prerogative of the prime minister according to the Constitution.
These are the immediate causes of Fazl’s anti-government campaign. There are some other very important political and person reasons for the JUI-F and Fazl to stage the protest against the PTI government. The traditional reason for the JUI-F to launch an anti-government movement is that it is the PTI and PM Khan’s politics that have inflicted irreparable damage on the religious parties, specifically the JUI-F, by defeating the party candidates including its chief, Fazl, in its once strongholds in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The JUI-F had been part of almost all governments since early 1990s, irrespective of whichever party, whether the PML-N or the PPP, was in the saddle.
In the 2018 national elections, the JUI-F was nearly routed and Fazl was defeated and he could not make it to the National Assembly after a considerable time. With this, the JUI-F head also lost its long-held lucrative position of Kashmir Committee Chairman, an inconsequential body to promote Pakistan’s stance on Indian occupied Kashmir. Today, JUI-F head Fazl feigns he is supporting the PML-N and the PPP for the sake of democracy and the Constitution. However, history suggests that the JUI-F has had nothing to do with democracy or the Constitution but to get as much government 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. PM Khan’s party gave the JUI-F a considerable drubbing in KP and even defunct FATA by bagging majority votes and seats. Both KP and FATA along with the Pakhtun part of Balochistan have been traditional strongholds of the JUI-F. This has largely been due to clerics’ social influence within the once ultra-conservative societies. The JUI-F has always used its social influence in the regions to establish its political and power base. Nevertheless, it is despite the fact that nationalist, moderate and progressive parties, like the PPP, ANP, PkMAP and now PTI, have always got more support from the people in all traditional strongholds of the JUI-F. This has prevented the JUI-F from making its own government in KP or Balochistan. The only instance when the JUI-F could have its chief minister in KP was in 2002, when the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) had won majority in KP.
Outside power has added to the frustration of the JUI-F and, therefore, it is doing its utmost to bring down the PTI government to create space for itself in the power corridors.