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Monday Oct 28 2019

100,000 people expected to converge on Islamabad for Azadi March

Photo: File

ISLAMABAD: Around one hundred thousand (100,000) workers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) are expected to converge on the capital Islamabad next week for a march in a push to dislodge the federal government.

The size of the march can match the rallies of political parties in recent past against the governments, easily outnumbering the "2014 dharna" arranged by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). 

JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman claims to have the support of other political parties protesting against the PTI policies, which according to him, are pushing the country into deep "chaos and uncertainty."

Also read: Maulana Fazl rules out possibility of reconciliation with government

Geo News conducted weeks-long rigorous research to gauge the wave of "Azadi March" plan, organisers’ planning to mobilse workers, source of funding, mood of other political parties and goals behind the proposed march by interviewing dozens of people directly associated with the plan.

The communications of government institutions, like the special branch, police, Ministry of Interior, home departments, National Counter-Terrorism Authority & other civilian agencies was also reviewed in this regard.

"We plan for a big first power show in Sukkur today (October 28), second in Multan on October 29, third in Lahore on October 30, and then the final ‘Azadi March’ has been planned for Islamabad," said Attaur Rehman, a senior leader of the JUI-F who is leading the protest from KP province.

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Members of JUI-F's core committee (CC) have been asked to bring at least 3,000 workers each from their respective cities to the capital for "Azadi March", a JUI-F senior leader told Geo News. 

The CC members include Abdul Wasay, Mahmood Ahmad Khan, Malik Riaz Khan, Anwar Hayat Khan, Noor Saleem Malik, Munawar Khan Advocate, Fazal Ghafoor, Gul Muhammad Khan Dumar, Abdul Malik, among a host of others. 

More than three dozen JUI-F Members of Parliament (Provincial/National Assembly/Senate) have also been assigned by JUI-F top leadership to mobilse sizable crowds from their constituencies for the Azadi March in Islamabad. 

Also read: Opposition parties decide to join Maulana Fazl's Azadi March

JUI-F Punjab Ameer Dr Atique Rehman, General Secretary, Safiullah and Central Deputy General Secretary Punjab Amjad Khan would be leading the workers in Punjab. All JUI-F bodies in towns, cities, villages and districts have been asked to bring thousands of workers to Islamabad. 

Former Senator Hafiz Hamdullah has revealed that the party has a membership of around 3.5 million registered workers. Each worker has contributed financially for the march. 

Four containers, two of them bullet-proof, have been prepared for the top leadership of JUI-F. Two other small containers have also been bought for local leaders namely Attaur Rehman and Abdul Wasey, says Abdul Jalil Jan, the Secretary Information for JUI-F in KP.

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A container with 40 feet length and 12 feet width costs Rs3 million to Rs4 million, and this price goes up even to Rs6 million if it is equipped with best quality washrooms, beds, kitchens, air conditioners, sound system and cameras, said a container builder, Naveed Khan. 

Four out of the six containers that the JUI-F leadership prepared are equipped with all aforementioned facilities, which cost around Rs20 million, revealed a JUI-F senior leader seeking anonymity.

An estimated 4,100 village councils, 308 cities, 79 districts and four provincial councils have raised funds worth around Rs1.1 billion for "Azadi March" in the past four months, revealed Jalil Jan. 

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All registered workers (3.5 million) were asked to donate generously, at least Rs200 to Rs250 each, to raise maximum funds, he added. Some 3,000 councils, 92 from Peshawar in particular, have contributed even bigger than our expectations in KP, he said. 

JUI-F Secretary Finance Shamsur Rehman Shamsi told the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the party owns assets worth Rs28.6 million and has over Rs26.6 million cash in hand. The party has generated, through renewal of membership, some Rs11 million this year.

Former KP chief minister Akram Durrani, and other senior members of JUI-F are the main financiers for the party, and have paid over Rs50 million collectively to take care of workers, revealed a senior JUI-F leader. 

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Top leaders of JUI-F say all the registered workers would proceed to Islamabad and 60 percent would be representing madrassas. 

According to data Geo News exclusively obtained from the provincial home/Auqaf Department, estimated 3.1 million students are pursuing religious education in around 24,000 (registered & un-registered) madaris affiliated with Wifaqul Madaris al Arabia Pakistan (WMAP). 

The JUI-F has its affiliation with this school of thought, but WMAP leader Hanif Jalandhry and other clerics associated with the WMAP have made it clear that they would stay away from this march.

Also read: A surge in protests around the world in October

JUI-F leadership, Attaur Rehman in particular, claimed that they would bring adult students (above 18 years) to "Azadi March." JUI-F top leadership is also hopeful to pull thousands of students from 81 madrassas of Islamabad. 

Women would not participate in this march, JUI-F leadership has said.

Though figures about the size of the expected crowd are conflicting, but intelligence agencies, local police and independent observers strongly believe that the crowd could enter six digits if marchers are not stopped. 

Intelligence agencies' assessment suggests that "Maulana Fazlur Rehman can generate strength up to 70,000, 50 percent of which would be from Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Peshawar."

Also read: PTI government impounding export containers to counter protests

It is not clear yet either other workers of political parties PPP, PML-N, ANP, PkMAP and JI would join JUI-F's "Azadi March" in Islamabad. Their top leadership, Geo News spoke to, is still seeing, "which way the wind blows." 

Once marchers reach Islamabad next week, the government plans to install more than 5,000 containers in twin cities to stop the protestors’ movement. Authorities of Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) have called out 8,000 policemen to Islamabad from outside the capital as well. 

The military would remain at the disposal of local police, if there comes any need. The ICT administration has also asked for Rs50 million in funds to feed the policemen while they better patrol the city. 

Also read: Police use water cannons to disperse teachers' protest in Islamabad

The political instability may cause a huge damage to already dwindling economy of the country, says Senator Faisal Javaid of PTI. The PML-N government in 2014 had claimed that PTI's dharna had cost the economy Rs1 trillion.

JUI-F leader Abdul Ghafoor Heideri told Geo News that around 30,000 'salaars', now given basic training, would be overseeing security matters of "Azadi March," managing all the arrangements. Meanwhile, ECP's statistics showed that the JUI-F secured 760,000 votes in 2008 and 1.4 million votes in the 2013 and collectively 7.5 million votes (including MMA) in 2018 polls.