Maulana’s ‘hidden plan’

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Shafaqna Pakistan:Maulana Fazlur Rehman has not yet shared his ‘hidden plan’ but what he has demonstrated Monday was quite unprecedented and a message for the government and for other quarters too.

It has also caused some concerns within the Opposition parties as well, which were still undecided about their participation in the Azadi March. What is Maulana up to? We have rarely seen ‘flag march’ of activists, but Maulana did take ‘guard of honour’ from his activists in Peshawar, which clearly showed that he is coming to Islamabad on Oct 31st in the name of ‘Azadi March’ with a purpose irrespective of the outcome. Knowing the risk involved he has declared his ‘now or never’ march to Islamabad decisive. Perhaps what he has misread is that his rival ie Prime Minister Imran Khan would not be a loser in either case if his government is ousted. On the contrary, he can be more dangerous and all his government’s failures in the last 13 months would be washed out and if Maulana fails it will be second major victory for the PTI after defending vote of no-confidence against Senate chairman despite Opposition’s majority.

So what is Maulana’s politics and why he looked in such a hurry when the government is just 13 months old. He even ignored Opposition’s request to postpone the march till mid or last week of November. What he wants to achieve in between Oct 31st and Nov 30. He has hinted towards Part-2 and Part-3 of the ‘plan’ but hasn’t yet revealed about it, which some close JUI-F sources revealed would come into force in case of his and other party leaders’ arrest. Maulana had mobilised his cadre all over Pakistan, not merely for Azadi March but for his post-march plan as well. “You may see some glimpses of 1977 through ‘masjid and madrassas’ in case things go out of control and we are ready for all this,” senior leader of the party disclosed on condition of anonymity.

They are like to use JUI-F-controlled mosques and madrassas to exert pressure on the government and task has been assigned to the party’s lower cadre. Sources quoted Maulana saying to his ‘core team’ that time has come to challenge the prime minister on the street and through the show of strength want to give message to those who intend to shrink the JUI-F politics.

JUI-F had been in power in the past in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, more than once when for the first time after 1970 elections they shared the government with secular National Awami Party, the kind of support religious parties got in 2002 election under the banner of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, was also unprecedented.

For the first time in KP history pure religious parties’ alliance ruled the province from 2002 to 2008. Some believe that a section of the establishment also backed the MMA in the backdrop of the US-led attack on Afghanistan.

However, the MMA lost in 2008 elections to somewhat more liberal forces the ANP-PPP alliance for two reasons; division within the MMA followed by JI boycott of the polls, and the MMA did not deliver much during its five years term. But the PPP-ANP alliance gave space to Maulana and the JUI-F as well as did not create many problems for them.

Both religious and liberal parties received their first setback in 2013 elections, when even the ruling parties in KP led by ANP faced defeat. However, the JI joined hands with the PTI but the alliance could not last and the PTI contested 2018 election on its own and crushed the JUI-F and JI as well as the ANP and PPP.

The PTI then created history by improving its performance and for the first time any party retained its position, which showed the remarkable turnaround in KP politics.

The government on the other hand looked nervous and ministers’ ‘overreaction’ has not only made the main purpose of the march ‘relevant’ but has already generated lot of heat. The success of any protest movement in Pakistan depends on two things; (1) support from certain quarters and (2) administrative action by use of force. Politicians like Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who in his political career had seen many such protests knows well despite confusion within the Opposition regarding his over confidence.

Maulana believes that certain forces with “Western agenda” wanted to replace religious parties or leaders with some more acceptable faces and right to centrist politicians in KP, in the changing political environment in and around Pakistan.

Through show of strength, he wants to prove his ‘relevance’ and refused to call off his march. He had been campaigning for it since last year during which he held dozens of ‘million marches’ in major cities and small marches in remote areas as well.

Maulana has also not shared his ‘hidden plan’ of Part-2 and Part-3, in case of his and other leaders arrest but I have learnt from close JUI-F sources that in case the government decided to use force, the agitation will start from different parts of the country through use of ‘masjid and madrassa’ on the pattern of 1977 PNA movement, when protesters use to take out rallies from mosques after prayers and courted arrest.

Fazl’s flight is no more solo as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has fully endorsed his ‘plan’ and asked party leadership to join the Azadi March. ANP chief Asfandyar Wali would also be leading the rally. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would announce party decision during a public meeting on October 18, on the eve of the attack anniversary on the procession of Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

The rise and fall of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, when after winning 2002 to 2008 elections has not only weakened the religious parties in KP but also led to the division within the MMA due to differences between the JUI-F and the JI.

So it is not only a battle for survival for Maulana but battle for revival of the JUI-F, once a strong and potent force in KP in particular, replaced by Imran Khan and his PTI, with right to centrist approach. Maulana strongly feels that certain forces within the establishment now considered him and religious parties ‘irrelevant’ and were behind his defeat in the last election. He now wants to prove his presence and relevance in the changing political environment, from Afghanistan to the merger of Fata with KP.

Maulana knows that more than his politics is at stake and Imran Khan also was well aware of the situation that if someone is on a ‘suicidal mission’ as feared by his Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, he could go to any extent through his ‘hidden plan’ even at this risk of getting rid of the system.

Mazhar Abbas