What else could my old prison-mate, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, have wanted by his political Dharna-4 juggernaut? He is at the centre of real politik – left, right and centre, and whoever matters in power politics. Will the high-profile political thriller produce a recipe for a bigger disaster – or end up without a whimper?
Fazlur Rehman has never taken a solo-flight in over four decades of politics of alliances; so this is the first time. Despite agreeing with him in principle to get rid of the Khan government and hold fresh elections, his allies, the PML-N and the PPP in particular, are still weighing their options and mulling over their behind-the-scene machinations and the time they feel may be to their advantages.
The differences are on the timing of the protest march: the PML-N wants to postpone it to the end of November, expecting some changes within the power-structure and the PPP wishes to postpone it to March next year, anticipating some popular outbursts over economic the woes faced by the people. Regardless of the legitimacy of the opposition’s objectives, what kind of charter of demands will they put up and what kind of changes do they intend to bring even if they get together?
Related: Nawaz to decide on joining Fazl’s march
Getting a public snub over using the religious card that everybody in Pakistan’s history has been so used to, Maulana Fazl is now focusing on political issues, which are yet to be clearly defined. Since Pakistan has seen such political manoeuvres with the connivance of the autocracy since its inception – from first anti-Ahmadi agitation to Imran Khan’s longest 2014 dharna, conspiracy theory mills are churning out desperate scenarios. One thing is clear, though: Maulana Fazl still doesn’t have the privilege Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan had.
I have known Fazlur Rehman and his father Mufti Mehmood and Maulana Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi since the great popular democratic upsurge of 1968. Those were the times; Pakistan was at the real turning point of history. Besides the peoples’ mass agitation, a great battle of ideas (on socialism, secularism, democracy and federalism against authoritarianism, theocracy and Islamic-monist view of Muslimhood) was taking place everywhere amid a revolutionary upsurge of youth all around the world.
When the debate over socialism or Maudoodi’s (Akhwanul Muslimeen type) Islam was about to take a bloody turn, Mufti Mehmood, Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi and other JUI stalwarts, in the tradition of Obaidullah Sindhi, had put their ideological weight in favour of socialism and democracy and scuttled the plans of Pakistani Akhwans to turn this country into a caliphate of their own.
Fazl swears by the 100-year-old valiant traditions of anti-colonial nationalist Jamiat Ulemai Hind – forgetting, however, the staunch secular stance of his great predecessors and mother-party fellows in India. He continues to carry the burden of a historical ideological discourse between the anti-colonial traditionalists of the Deoband school and the pro-British modernists of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College founded by Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan since the British colonialist ‘modernist’ intervention in the Subcontinent. Fazl’s ideological duality continues to this day in a country which was created on a communal division that his ideological forefathers had opposed.
It is quite anthropologically intriguing that modernists like Sir Sayyed and M A Jinnah sought separate nationhood on the basis of religion and so-called traditionalists rejected religion as a basis of nationhood. I appreciate the way my secular friends reacted against Maulana using the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat card and made him retreat. And, now more than the JUI, PTI leaders are desperately trying to paint Fazl’s dharna not only in a religious shade but also hinting at vulgarity.
His father Mufti Mehmood became chief minister of former NWFP in a coalition with the ‘secular’ NAP (now divided into ANP and NP) and the JUI was a signatory to the tripartite agreement with the PPP and NAP to form the 1973 constitution. The constitutional and peaceful course set by the elders of the JUI was kept by the succeeding generation of the JUI under Fazlur Rehman.
While opposing the US war in Afghanistan, he paid a heavy price for opposing terrorism in Pakistan and restraining the Afghan Taliban from replicating their ways and model in Pakistan. Since he was reluctant to become anybody’s proxy and opposed the Shia-Sunni conflict, his party was broken many times. For long years I enjoyed working with him in the democratic movement, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in particular. Perhaps, he was the only mullah who remained consistent in democratic resistance to military dictators, except General Musharraf’s rule when the MMA formed its governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
My longest acquaintance with him was in prison where I, along with hundreds of progressive activists, was incarcerated for long years. He is a civilized, literary, intelligent and sober person. Some of us ran a Marxist school in the Haripur Jail and Maulana used to engage with us in a very friendly and receptive manner. We used to share books, poetry and sufi poetry cassettes, besides of course some delicious dishes that Maulana used to cook.
I had been persuading Maulana to become a democrat, like Christian social democrats in Europe, if not a socialist like Obaidullah Sindhi. One day Maulana came in a hurry to my cell, before his sudden release to attend the MRD meeting in Abbottabad, to seek my advice on the issue of participating or boycotting the 1985 party-less polls announced by General Ziaul Haq.
The stage was prepared by Gen Ziaul Haq to somehow push the MRD towards boycotting the election so he could bring in his apolitical lot of cronies and hand-picked assemblies through a farce of non-party elections. A group of five politicians, including Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Iqbal Hyder, had met in Rawalpindi in order to persuade the MRD to boycott the polls apparently on a highly principled ground. I warned Maulana against boycotting the elections, however flawed they might be, since it wouldn’t be effective and the MRD by doing so would leave the contest open to Zia’s non-political lot and he would succeed not only in legitimizing his regime, but also distort the whole constitutional scheme. Maulana and Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo opposed the boycott, but a ‘democratic’ majority favoured it and thereby allowed Gen Zia a free hand.
Now this is again a turning point in his politics, when Maulana will be trying to repeat what Imran Khan and another mullah supported by PTI stalwarts did to the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Imran Khan was partially successful and helped unleash a process that has resulted in the creation of a hybrid civilian structure that he heads now. If that change has turned out to be fake, what kind of change will Maulana Fazlur Rehman, with or without the opposition, be bringing?
When I had sent a democratic and social rights declaration issued by the civil society to him for his consideration, Maulana had consented to all the points while adding one point of his own. He had also once agreed to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while showing his reservation on half a clause about change of religion. To prove his democratic credentials, the JUI and Maulana must consent to these two documents.
He should also listen to what his ally Mehmood Khan Achakzai, president of PkMAP, has advised: changing just Imran Khan won’t change an authoritarian system and help bring a constitutional rule and supremacy of parliament. So is my advice to my old friend – not yet ready to change the way Christian social democrats did in Europe.
The writer is a seniorjournalist.