Maulana’s quixotic march By ARIF NIZAMI

72

islam in danger again?
The Islamic version of Don Quixote with hordes of his Sancho Panzas in tow is all set to descend upon Islamabad later this month. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has unilaterally announced the final date of his anti-government march to Islamabad.

On October 27 the JUI-F (Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam Fazl group) chief along with (according to his own claim) million plus students belonging to the party-run seminaries will descend upon the federal capital come what may. So far, the cleric is embarked upon a solo flight.

Neither the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim league–Nawaz) nor the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party), despite in broad agreement with its political objectives, for the time being are not actively supportive of the ‘Azadi march’. The PPP has deep reservations of buttressing any moves to oust the government through street power whereas the PML-N leadership does not agree with the timing.

In intense discussions with the JUI-F leadership both parties have urged the Maulana to hold his horses. But he is adamant. It is also not clear without any tailwinds from the deep state how the Maulana and his minions can achieve their goal of unseating the government and enforce fresh elections?

There is no ‘third umpire’ waiting in the wings to take the Maulana’s game plan to its logical conclusion. That is why perhaps the mainstream opposition parties are loath to go along with him.

Reportedly the incarcerated Sharif is all for the proposed march while the younger Sharif has strong misgivings. According to some media reports categorically contradicted by a party spokesperson, the PML-N president in his meeting with his elder brother on Thursday expressed his unwillingness to go along with the Maulana’s plans.

Both PML-N and the PPP oppose using the religion card so blatantly being touted by the JUI-F. ‘Khatme Nabuwwat’ (finality of Prophethood) and ‘Namoos-e-Risalat’ (the virtuosity of the Holy Prophet PBUH) being in danger are moot points being assiduously touted by the JUI-F.

Interestingly both are very emotive issues close to the heart of all Muslims. But presently there is no such controversy about them. Nonetheless in the Islamic Republic invoking the ‘Islam is in danger’ naara (slogan) is playing with fire.

In fact, by many it is perceived that the PTI government is being considered as the last bastion of a semblance of civilian rule in the country

This is not the first time religion is cynically being used to meet political ends. After the 1977 elections joint opposition parties formed the PNA (Pakistan National Alliance) to launch a movement against Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for rigging the elections held earlier the same year. But soon the movement morphed into Tehreek e Nizam e Mustafa (movement for an Islamic system).

The end result was Bhutto being overthrown in a coup launched by his erstwhile loyal army chief general Ziaul Haq. The military dictator through naked repression buttressed by his very narrow interpretation of Islam ruled for 11 long years, destroying the nation’s ethos- as envisaged by its founding fathers- in the process.

Presently, despite its deep resentment against the present government, the political opposition has perhaps similar kinds of apprehensions. The younger Sharif is more amenable for an in-house change even if it means forming a national government.

The elder Sharif who having veto power would like the government to go come what may. The PPP however is for holding fresh elections.

The rump of the PML-N despite agreeing with its political objectives has deep-seated objections about the march. The 126 days dharna by Imran Khan on D-Chowk Islamabad in 2014 failed to unseat the then Prime Minister Sharif. What next if Maulana’s dharna also fails in dislodging the PTI government?

Khan was frustrated in his move because the fabled third umpire refused to lift his finger. At that time army chief general Raheel Sharif or commander 10 corps (Rawalpindi) Lt general Qamar Javed Bajwa did not show any inclination to support moves to oust Sharif.

Probably at that time the ubiquitous establishment wanted to rap the prime minister on the knuckles teaching him a small lesson. It is another matter that after appointing general Bajwa as successor to Raheel Sharif, Nawaz Sharif could not maintain cordial relations even with his hand-picked military chief.

Now ironically the shoe is on the other foot. Perhaps for the first time in the history of the country an elected prime minister is on the same page as the establishment.

The army is seen propping up the PTI government in every way possible. From security issues, foreign policy, economy and governance; the political and military leadership are virtually active partners.

It is obvious the army desperately wants Khan to succeed. In fact, by many it is perceived that the PTI government is being considered as the last bastion of a semblance of civilian rule in the country.

Being a member of the newly formed National Development Council general Qamar Javed Bajwa the other day invited top businessmen of the country at dinner in an unprecedented move to restore business confidence. The big business perhaps consistently feeling harassed by NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and the FBR (Federal Bureau of Revenue) needed some mollycoddling by the army leadership rather than empty assurances from the civilian government.

In this context the opposition is well aware of the consequences of JUI-F’s ‘march’ going all-wrong. The proposed march culminating into a dharna could prove to be a recipe for disaster.

Thanks to a severe economic downturn and deep recession resulting in double digit inflation and rampant unemployment the situation can become very volatile. This could possibly lead to anarchy if the common man takes to the streets.

Saner elements in the opposition are well aware that inviting a leaderless disorder will be tantamount to throwing the proverbial baby with the bath water. But ironically the government basking in its ostensibly strong support base is oblivious of the inherent dangers. Perhaps this is also the ultimate objective of the JUI-F chief?

Rather than the PTI whose government the Maulana is bent upon dislodging, it is the PML-N and the PPP trying to dissuade the JUI-F from its impetuous putsch. The government continues to push the opposition into a cul-de-sac where it will have no option but to burn its boats.

Administrative plans to thwart the long march are being put in place. Interior minister Ijaz Shah is spearheading the game plan. Contrary to the PTI chief’s boast that containers will be provided to anyone wanting to embark on a dharna a la PTI, protesters will not be allowed to enter the federal capital come what may.

There is urgent need for Khan to engage the opposition rather than merely relying upon police and the army. So far as the so-called accountability process is concerned that needs to be rationalised in consultation with the parliamentary opposition.

The draconian law should be drastically amended not only for businessmen and bureaucrats but for the rest of the country as well. In spite of claims to the contrary the present Law has only engendered fear and uncertainty rather than even a semblance of across the board accountability.