The opposition parties have decided to launch a movement against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government under Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman. It shows the main opposition parties are aware of their inability to launch an effective movement against the government and they have decided to rally behind a religious leader, who will use madrassa students for their political ambitions.
There is no doubt that people are unhappy with the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan over rising inflation, unemployment and bad governance. However, two years are not enough to clear the mess of 72 years. Still, rising prices will be the biggest factor if people join rallies of the opposition. The dilemma of two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is that their leaders are facing serious corruption and money laundering cases. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in London for treatment of his “illness.” The government and his critics believe he faked his illness to flee the country despite being convicted by court. He has adopted a hard-line attitude against national institutions after his failure to get relief in court cases. However, he will not be able to galvanise his supporters from abroad. Instead, it will create rifts in his party. Political leaders of his party cannot toe his line. His younger brother and PML-N President, Shahbaz Sharif, is already in jail in corruption and money laundering cases. He could have avoided jail for the time-being by not withdrawing his bail application from the Lahore High Court. He preferred jail to avoid acting upon the dangerous agenda of his elder brother.
On the other hand, corruption cases against PPP leader Asif Zardari have also reached their final stage and he could be arrested anytime. The PPP rule in Sindh and its past governments in the Centre have offended the common people. Its performance is so poor it cannot even accuse the PTI government of bad governance. A mess after recent rains in Karachi came as a last straw to its credibility among people.
It is also a fact that the two main opposition parties do not have public support beyond their respective provinces. The PPP can stage public rallies only in Sindh while the PML-N is popular only in the Punjab, though it has little street power despite a huge vote bank in the province. In the situation, the two parties think Fazlur Rehman is the best choice to lead a movement against the government. However, their decision to work under a religious leader, who has Taliban’s ideology, will undermine their image in the country and abroad.
Last year, Fazlur Rehman staged a huge public rally in Islamabad but failed to bring down the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He impressed everybody with his massive show but quietly left the capital after threatening the government with Plan A, B and C. Despite his heroics, he failed to revive religious politics. Religious parties faced a humiliating defeat in the general election at national and provincial levels, with all their top leaders biting the dust. They lost even in their strongholds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan at the hand of the PTI and other parties. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of five major religious parties of all schools of thought, suffered a crushing defeat. It could not secure even a single seat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, its home province. Fazlur Rehman failed to win any of the two constituencies in his native district, Dera Ismail Khan.
Fazlur Rehman and leaders of religious parties are finding it hard to meet the present-day challenges in politics and their back-to-back defeats in the last two elections have raised serious questions over their capacity to attract voters. Their popularity is declining because they are stuck in status quo politics. Fazlur Rehman is a prime example of opportunism. He joins every government for personal gains but fails to deliver to the people. He vacated the Ministers’ Enclave after 13 years only after his defeat in the last election. He enjoyed the perks of a federal minister for 13 years as the Kashmir Committee chairman.
Like Nawaz Sharif, Fazlur Rehman’s open agenda is to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign and announce fresh elections through efforts to malign national institutions. Fazlur Rehman had also alleged massive rigging in the 2008 and 2013 elections but accepted their results happily because he was offered a role in the government by the PPP and the PML-N. He also contested the presidential election after the 2013 election but resorted to agitation when he failed to claw back into the power corridors.
Even if Imran Khan steps down and announces elections, Fazl cannot become the prime minister of Pakistan. His only aim is to get a ministry in the next government. He would have gladly accepted the role if Prime Minister Imran Khan had asked him to continue his role as the Kashmir Committee chairman. However, his agitation will not alter the political landscape of the country, though he is leading the two mainstream political parties, which are playing second fiddle to him. He also aims to settle his personal vendetta with Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party, which have almost eliminated his party from its traditional strongholds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Some analysts believe Fazlur Rehman is acting on an offensive policy against national institutions to extract some space for himself and other opposition parties. The PML-N and the PPP chose Fazlur Rehman as their leader for his ability to use religion in politics. He is the true representative of the ideology of Nawaz Sharif. Like Nawaz Sharif, he has no stake in the system and no fear to lose. He wants to use all options for his political gains. He will not even hesitate from dividing the nation on sectarian lines. He will continue to target national institutions to achieve his political ambitions because he thinks it is the only option left for him. According to government ministers, two Muslim countries and India are funding the movement to pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan and quash cases against him. However, the plan will not succeed.