Shafaqna Pakistan:Quite a few seculars, liberals and democrats must be simmering over the shrinking of what used to be only their space for expressing themselves in contradistinction to the religious right in Pakistan. Resistance to restore what is termed by the JUI-F leadership as ’the sanctity of parliament’ and ‘true democracy’ in Pakistan marks the beginning of a new politics of fight amongst the religious right for political space.
The left-leaning pro-democracy forces appear to have suffered a blow with the rise of Maulana Fazlur Rehman as an icon of alternative politics to a fast deteriorating system of governance and economic development in the country.
Founded on the orthodox tradition of Islamic revivalism under the Deobandi school of thought the JUI-F would have been the least likely political choice for the fight to restore democracy in Pakistan. It is ironic that the pro-democracy forces in the country are now left with no better choice than the JUI-F – and that too to fight for ‘legitimate democracy’ against an elected regime. Credit goes to the incompetence and politics of vengeance which has discredited the rhetoric of the PTI about accountability, equitable development and governance reforms to a great extent. For most young voters, their expectations to see a new dawn of opulence and prosperity in Pakistan are being dashed as the government continues to muddle through troubles of its own making.
While poverty, joblessness and mounting inflation have devastated the lives of a common Pakistani, the fear is that the protests being staged by the JUI-F can turn into a violent mob as the marching followers reached Islamabad on October 31, 2019. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has a proven track record of exploiting political situations to make deals rather than confronting the status quo for long-lasting political change. However, this time it would not be easy for Maulana to make an ordinary deal and walk away with a greased palm or a position in the sitting government.
Maulana also knows well that neither the PML-N nor the PPP will fully support his march to remove the sitting government of the PTI. The leadership of the PML-N and the PPP thinks that giving too much space to the JUI-F will be counterproductive to their own politics in the future. But, despite all their hesitation the PML-N and PPP do not seem to have any better political choices at the moment than showing solidarity with Maulana for his intrepidity to stay firm on their popular agenda of ousting the incumbent prime minister.
With the spin of political fortunes which led the sitting government to take U-turns on the issues of citizens’ welfare about 10 million jobs and 5 million homes, the JUI leader has risen to the occasion. The mainstream political parties have too much on their plates to sort out before being in the business of Maulana’s style of strong political resistance. With their frail and ailing incarcerated political leaders, the PML-N and PPP are in a critical phase of political reconstitution. The imminent new is not much different from what was the old with an emerging leadership from within the hereditary political DNA sans intra-party democracy. Plagued by intra-party political fissures, the PML-N and PPP look perplexed over the rise of Maulana as a strong voice of political opposition to the PTI which is fast losing its popular support.
The PML-N and the PPP will not come out in full strength to make the JUI a political alternative to the PTI. However, what unites all these political parties is their common agenda to oust the prime minister and hold re-elections in the country. But this is not a simple political calculation for the unification of a divided opposition, this is more about optics. Whoever leads a strong movement to pull down the sitting government will become the iron man. The top leadership of the PML-N and the PPP is hesitant to let Maulana capture the political space, which simply means making mainstream parties redundant. Some segments within state institutions would like this to happen and hence Maulana’s timing to go for a bigger deal is well thought out. This also speaks the volumes of his political prescience and ability to survive and stay relevant in Pakistani politics.
The state seems to have exhausted the political choices, with the PTI being the weakest link in the cyclical game of power politics. If the PTI continues on its failures, there can be a rethinking of priorities. For all his expediencies in the past, Maulana has emerged as a pragmatic political leader and a tough bargainer without losing popular appeal. Maulana has already gained larger space than his political personage – not for his right-wing political ideology but for his explicit overtones to challenge the status quo. Those who question the political legitimacy of the current government form a diverse group ranging from the right-wing political parties to liberal and left leaning groups. Credit must go to the wisdom of Maulana for his ability to represent the ideas of this diverse group without losing his support base which he draws from 23,000 religious seminaries across the country.
But this time too Maulana will not rock the boat by going for an all-out war against the status quo . There is no revolution in the making but what is critical this time is the rise of a new political alliance that transcends the traditional right-left political divide in Pakistan.
The centers of power must exercise restraint and allow the citizens to become partners rather than see them as enemies of the state. All the gagging and nagging as a political reaction to genuine concerns of citizens will weaken the government rather than strengthen its hold on power. The greater the repression, the sharper the resistance. It would be insane to apply Machiavellian directions of rule by fear rather than by consent in the age of free media. There is increasing despair and disillusionment with the way the economic and governance issues are unfolding in Pakistan even before the full implementation of IMF conditions of adjustment and austerity. Hard days are yet to come, with a bunch of pro-liberalization advisers at the helm of affairs to steer the economy into a debt servicing entity at the cost of public welfare.
No one should blame the current government for everything that has gone wrong during the last year. There are of course ‘legacy’ issues too but it would be equally unfair to exonerate the incumbent government from every wrong move it makes to deteriorate the situation further. The previous governments could at least manage the economic and political crises without burdening citizens too much but this government seems to be aiming to please the IMF at the cost of everything.