Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been described by pundits as “a wily old fox” and an “experienced and astute political player” who rarely makes a false move. Yet the same pundits are scratching their heads trying to fathom the strategy behind the Maulana’s long march to Islamabad, solo, without the support of the mainstream PMLN and PPP to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. It is pointed out that such “mob” tactics are bound to fail, as they did during Imran Khan’s 126 day long “dharna” against Nawaz Sharif in 2014.
But that’s not the only question agitating analysts. Why, it’s asked, was the Maulana adamant on launching his march in November without any wind in his tail – there’s no mass agitation in the country despite the economic hardships and political anguish caused by NAB – when he was repeatedly requested by his erstwhile partners to postpone it by a couple of months. It’s also a mystery why the Maulana is tight lipped about how he means to achieve his maximalist demands.
The threat by the Maulana to use any one of several “religious” cards has also upset many “modern” or “liberal” minded folk and stopped them from supporting his dharna. “Democracy is a cover”, they say, “because his movement has largely been built around religious issues”, never mind that the PTI, PPP and PMLN and their leaders have rarely shied away from succumbing to the same expediencies when it suited them.
The most perplexing factor relates to the Maulana’s historical relationship with the ubiquitous Miltablishment. The Maulana has rarely, if ever, stood on its wrong side. Indeed, he was cozily embedded with the Musharraf regime for many years as a part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government that ruled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for five years. In fact, he seemed to forever serve as Chairman of the National Assembly’s Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir with the approval of the Miltablishment. And yet, here he is today, brazenly accusing the Miltablishment of having rigged the 2018 elections to hoist Imran Khan as prime minister, of abandoning the jihadi case of Kashmir and demanding that the Election Commission of Pakistan ban the entry of soldiers into polling stations and election booths on election day. This is such a radical demand – the Miltablishment will surely see it as an outrageous affront – that the mainstream parties have shied away from making it.
When concrete information is hard to come by as an explanatory factor, conspiracy theories are bound to take root. According to one, flogged by the government and Miltablishment, the Maulana is funded and guided by India because only India can stand to gain by the chaos and conflict that threaten to destabilize Pakistan. But this is laughable. The Maulana has been thundering against India, Israel and the lukewarm response of the Pakistani Miltablishment against India’s annexation of Kashmir.
Another conspiracy theory claims that elements of the Miltablishment who are unhappy at the extent of naked support given to Imran Khan, which has discredited the organs of the state in the eyes of the people, are egging on the Maulana to “attack the headquarters” for failing to remain politically neutral. This seems like a throwback to Chairman’s Mao Cultural Revolution in the 1960s when the Great Helmsman urged the rank and file of the Chinese Communist Party to attack its leaders in government for revisionism that amounted to a betrayal of the purity of the Chinese Revolution.
Although the Miltablishment is a sealed book in so far as internal dissent is concerned, conspiracy theorists have been clutching at some signs to argue their case. How come the Maulana has been progressively upping his critique of the Miltablishment’s “unholy alliance” with Imran Khan, something that the mainstream parties most adversely affected have consciously refrained from doing explicitly? How come the Maulana was “summoned” to a talking-to at headquarters and ordered to get off his high horse, or else? How come, indeed, the Maulana gave as good as he got and returned without a ruffle in his turban?
The answers, claim such conspiracy theorists, lie in the timing of the Maulana’s long march. It arrives on the eve of a decision by the government end-November that will either lead to continuity or change in the leadership of the Miltablishment and thereby set the parameters of the political dispensation for the foreseeable future. Statements by the government and allied vested interests insist that the decision for continuity has been signed and sealed. But there is no sign of any formal notification of it.
This conspiracy theory would confirm Maulana Fazal ur Rahman as a veritable practitioner of Liddelharts’ Indirect Approach. Instead of going directly for Imran Khan, he thinks it is a better idea to shake up the Miltablishment pillar on which Imran stands. Shorn of its blind support, he will be easy to fell in the second round. In fact, change or continuity, the Maulana’s various charges against the Miltablishment during the dharna are laying the groundwork for Imran Khan’s isolation and ouster sooner than later.