Maulana’s mandate – Najam Sethi

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in a significant display of political craftsmanship, Maulana Fazal ur Rahman has managed to stay on the front page for many months despite being unprecedentedly stripped of all electoral relevance in the JUI’s traditional strongholds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and, consequently, in the National Assembly. His latest move to march to Islamabad and besiege the capital on October 27 has sent political pundits scrambling for their thinking caps. Who has prompted the good Maulana to destabilize and possibly overthrow the PTI government? What does the Maulana expect to get out of it? Why hasn’t he been able to persuade the mainstream PMLN and PPP to fully throw in their lot with his Long March?

​Maulana Fazal attributes his party’s lack of success in the 2018 elections to an electoral rigging conspiracy by the Miltablishment to bring Imran Khan to power in Islamabad and subsequently deliver both KP and Balochistan to him. From Day-One he has not been afraid to say so openly even as other political leaders who also allege election rigging have been circumspect. Consequently, his demands are understandable: resignation of Imran Khan and fresh elections without any administrative or overseeing role of the armed forces in managing them as evidenced in 2018.

The good Maulana’s track record shows him to be always on the right side of the Miltablishment. Indeed, that is why he was afforded an opportunity to form the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal by the Miltablishment under General Pervez Musharraf and handed over the reins of power in KP after the 2002 elections. That is why he was always able to clinch the slot of Chairman of the NA’s Parliamentary Kashmir Committee. That is also why both PPP and PMLN governments always considered it prudent to include him in their power-sharing schemes.

This factual reference leads pundits to the conclusion that Maulana Fazal could not have threatened his long march without a wink or nod from the Miltablishment. But, in turn, that leads logically to another question: why would the Miltablishment do any such thing when it is constantly reminding everyone that it is on the “same page as the PTI government” and backs it wholeheartedly? Indeed, the confusion is compounded by the fact that the PMLN and PPP — without whose full throttled participation any long march aimed at overthrowing the PTI government cannot be successful — have not received a green light from the same Miltablishment. If they had, they would have happily led the long march instead of flapping about determining the nature, timing and extent of their participation.

Logically, this would lead to the conclusion that the Miltablishment is only seeking to bring Imran Khan under some controlled pressure via Maulana Fazal in order to compel him to concede some of its demands and concerns – the two top ones being replacing Usman Buzdar as CM Punjab and giving an extension to the army chief – instead of getting rid of him altogether. This makes sense considering that the only politically popular and natural alternative to Imran Khan is Nawaz Sharif, who is anathema to the current leaders of the Miltablishment.

It can be argued, of course, that there is a middle way out of this mess. If controlled pressure on Imran Khan can be brought to bring an in-house change in the National Assembly that leads to the ouster of Imran Khan as PM without immediately leading to a new general election or to the installment of a PMLN government in Islamabad, that would work to the advantage of the Miltablishment. Such a dispensation would be in the form of a “national government” of sorts led by an “acceptable” Prime Minister, all beholden to the Miltablishment. It would also end the political polarization in the country and bring all the parties together to jointly confront the multi-faceted national crisis facing the country.

The key word here is “controlled” pressure. A malleable Maulana in the lead can be “controlled” by the Miltablishment but a rigid Nawaz Sharif in the lead cannot be “controlled”. That is why the Maulana must be the pivot of such pressure and the leader of the long march so that the limited goal of the Miltablishment can be achieved through the flexibility of its key player when the time comes to heed the Miltablishment’s tactical advice. That is why, instead of a green signal only an amber light is flickering for the PMLN and PPP. Naturally, under any such “national” dispensation in Islamabad, Maulana Fazal may expect to reap great dividends both personally and for his JUI party. At the very least, he could expect a JUI stake in KP and Balochistan after the PTI-led governments there are also ousted in due course.

This course correction must be accomplished before a particular Miltablishment deadline expires in less than six weeks. Hence Maulana Fazal’s refusal to delay the long march. Only two questions remain. Can Imran Khan throw a spanner in the works by conceding the demands of the Miltablishment? Or has the Miltablishment decided to dispense with him, regardless, and steer a more “national-consensus” course for Pakistan?