So far, most parties in the All Parties Conference (APC) seem to be not standing firm on even the three political demands of its four-point charter, due to their disparate objectives. Except for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam which looks like it’s willing to fight it to the finish while trying to pull others on its otherwise solo-flight (the others are reluctant to join till the final kill).
Bilawal Bhutto, PPP chairperson, is reluctant to over-turn the applecart of the current hybrid regime for fear of a possible takeover by what he calls a third force, and is inclined to stay away with his parallel token agitation without risking the troubles of storming Islamabad.
Similarly, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif is still preoccupied with his own capitulationism, despite Nawaz Sharif’s mandate to take the plunge in Maulana’s juggernaut. Maulana’s freedom of action was, however, compromised when he had to allow an 11-member APC negotiating team to negotiate with the government’s team – still a ploy to defuse the momentum. What is quite intriguing is Maulana’s tactical genius when he took a step back and agreed to change his principle pre-condition of first seeking the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan to allowing the ‘Azadi March’ to enter Islamabad.
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Although Bilawal ideologically resisted Maulana’s insistence on using the ‘religious’ card, which his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had conceded to Maulana’s father Mufti Mehmood, he has not been as keen on first setting the principal democratic targets for a mass democratic agitation. On the other hand, Shehbaz Sharif without jumping into the fray wants to keep with and use Maulana’s pressure to get some pressure released on his family and strive for an in-house coup against PM Khan in the National Assembly and the PTI government in Punjab.
The vacillation and capitulation of the two mainstream parties (barring Nawaz Sharif) is reflective of their innate urge to become an appendage to an authoritarian power structure while replacing Khan. We have seen this repeated betrayal of democratic project in the past and we see it today. The so-called liberal parties of the center-right and the center-left – our liberal and some socialist friends are so enamoured to work with the PPP or the PML-N in their genuine revulsion to a cleric – are not yet prepared to take the bull by the horns. That is what I call abortion of our valiant tradition of democratic resistance.
There are a lot many lessons to be drawn from past movements. But, for want of space here, I will stay with the current situation. All the nine parties of the APC need to be asked the questions I raised before Maulana in his interaction at the Safma Auditorium with civil society activists and left intelligentsia.
First: what is the principal target and main objective: while wanting to remove Imran Khan; do they want to replace him for or within an authoritarian power-structure? Or will the desired ousting of what they call a “selected” edifice primarily try to replace an autocratic order with a democratic alternative with the people as sovereign?
Both the PPP and the PML-N (under Shehbaz) are keen to retrieve their lost spaces while confining their efforts to the replacement of PM Khan without effectively changing the status quo. They seem intent to push Maulana to the brink in order to extract some auxiliary concessions or relief and their respective marginal roles in a quasi-political formation. Thanks to their limitations and selfish objectives, they have allowed and are allowing Maulana Fazlur Rehman to keep himself at the center-stage of the opposition’s politics.
Are the APC parties going to reject autocratic diarchical setups for being entirely in conflict with the letter and the spirit of 1973 constitution? On the problem that Bilawal has made much of, if you seek (which you don’t) the understanding, trust and commitment of the working masses of Pakistan, why should they – the working classes, and the downtrodden and disenfranchised people of Pakistan – trust your sham and elitist democracy?
The other eight parties have even conceded the additions of ‘Islamic Provisions’, including Articles 62-63, into the 1973 constitution by the most reactionary dictatorial regime of Gen Ziaul Haq. Comprehending the apprehensions of the civil society and the progressive democratic forces and the rising concerns of the working classes against inflation, unemployment and naked repression, representatives of the civil society, trade unionists and progressive democratic intelligentsia had proposed a minimum agenda for the parties of the APC. This ‘Declaration: For Peoples’ Rights, Democratic Supremacy and Social Security’, which was also signed by a majority of the Rehbar Committee members of the APC, is yet to be adopted as a covenant with the peoples of Pakistan.
The third question was specific to Maulana’s mobilization of his Deobandi constituency on emotive religious issues and their implications for the overall democratic framework, civil, human and political rights, especially of women and religious minorities, and the constitutional order.
The issue generated a frank debate between Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the enlightened intelligentsia and socialists. Maulana stuck to his ideological standpoint while pleading inter-faith harmony. He was, however, pragmatic enough to keep his Islamic agenda to the “Islamic Provisions” that were agreed between Mufti Mehmood, ‘secular’ Wali Khan and ‘socialist’ Bhutto in 1973. Indeed, that was a compromise for unanimity on a social contract between the religious right and the liberals.
But, the religious right continued to collaborate with authoritarianism to extract ‘religious’ concessions, especially during the extremist religious reign of General Zia who mutilated the constitution in the name of Islam. Now the JUI-F is insistent upon keeping General Zia’s amendments and did not let other parties to even touch articles 62-63 when the 18th Amendment was being deliberated.
Starting from the very beginning of Pakistan, the religious card has been perpetually used at the cost of democracy and peoples’ emancipation from an exploitative and authoritarian post-colonial system. The battle of ideas has been going on between the left and liberal intelligentsia and the religious right ever since the national liberation movement.
For an amicable resolution of this ideological dispute, it is necessary that the religious political parties that have chosen the peaceful and constitutional path, such as JUI-F, heed the ‘Declaration: For Peoples’ Rights, Democratic Supremacy and Social Security’, subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) passed by the UN and ratified by Pakistan. Maulana has yet to do the needful, without which democratic people will be averse to shaking hands with him.
In the given objective situation, responsibility lies on the two mainstream parties, the PPP and the PML-N, to shed their vacillations and right-wing submissive drift and present a consistent democratic alternative to authoritarianism. They have to admit their past mistakes and along with the APC parties consider the ‘Declaration: For Peoples’ Rights, Democratic Supremacy and Social Security’, issued by civil society, liberal and left intelligentsia.
The writer is a senior journalist.