Monday Nov 18, 2019
ISLAMABAD: Who has actually ‘ditched’ Maulana Fazlur Rehman? He took a ‘solo flight’ on October 27 to Islamabad to take the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and announcement for the fresh elections in the country. In two weeks he realised that he has been ‘ditched’ as he neither found his Opposition allies in full strength nor government looked ‘unsettled’.
His ‘exit strategy’ on November 13 remains as mysterious as his entry into the federal Capital, as his party JUI-F is now holding demonstration and protest sit-in in different parts of the country as Plan B. However, due to last week’s political developments regarding former premier Nawaz Sharif’s health and travel abroad, the second part of the plan could not get much media attention so far. Maulana has certainly demonstrated strong show of strength of around 100,000 followers, who could have gone to any extent in case Maulana would have decided to go to D-Chowk, but perhaps it was not part of the ‘script’.
After his three months preparation and over one dozen ‘million march’, Maulana missed two opportunities which could have given him something to satisfy his party and followers. Firstly, he should have accepted his allies like the PPP and the PML-N proposal to postpone Islamabad march till March or April 2020. Secondly, he should have easily settled for Judicial Commission or Parliamentary Commission, which the government side were ready and even had agreed for fresh elections in case Commission declared Election-2018 ‘rigged’, which would also mean PM Imran’s resignation.
The Opposition parties were also surprised when Maulana insisted on ‘Azadi March’ between October and November instead of March or April 2020. He did not even shared his three-phase strategy as Plan - A, B and C with his allies or even Rahbar Committee was kept in the dark at least non-JUI parties of the committee.
Thus, he kept everything as ‘solo’ from march to negotiation and plan. So, one thing is certain that it was one-man, one-party show and the future political developments would determine whether Maulana was ‘ditched’ or the real brain behind the scene would be exposed.
In 2012, Dr Allama Tahirul Qadri at least got a ‘written accord’ with the PPP and allowed sit-in at D-Chowk. Imran’s 2014 longest ‘dharna’ of 126-days ended with an accord on Judicial Commission while in the case of Faizabad ‘dharna’ saw the rise of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). In Maulana’s case he ended ‘march’ without getting anything out of it.
The way Maulana negotiated with the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Ch Shujaat Hussain and Ch Pervaiz Elahi also indicate that he has been ‘ditched’ and in the end wanted some acceptable ‘face saving’.
Sources said Chaudhrys in their back-to-back meeting clearly told Maulana that Imran has best of relationship with the establishment and that was one of the reasons why he looked satisfied and told his party leaders ‘not to worry’. “We are going nowhere as Maulana was being looked after well,” PM was quoted by one of his close aides telling his cabinet colleagues. The JUI-F and the PML-Q could be part of a new alliance as more than just the present crisis was discussed in their meetings.
All this brought an abrupt end to ‘solo flight’ and no matter what political pundits say, the fact remains that it was not only a setback for Maulana and the JUI-F but also for the entire Opposition, which kept monitoring Maulana’s activities without joining it in full force.
What assurance Chaudhrys have given him on behalf of some quarters would be interesting to watch and Pervaiz Elahi has hinted in his interview with Geo’s senior anchorperson Saleem Safi.
The government on its part handled the situation in a matured manner because any use of force could have turned the tables in favour of the Opposition. Maulana could have gained if he had accepted the proposal for setting up a Judicial Commission or even if he had agreed on the ‘Terms of Reference’ of the JC or Parliamentary Commission to probe allegations of rigging into 2018 elections.
Only Maulana knows who has pushed him into this situation and ditched him but if someone has really gained out of the recent political game it is Chaudhrys of Gujrat and the way they not only handled Maulana but the position they took on Nawaz Sharif’s travel abroad.
Like Plan A, his plan-B so far has not created any political impact in the country nor got any media hype except causing traffic jams on highways. I doubt it can sustain for long and no one knows about his plan C. As former premier Nawaz Sharif would be leaving for London tomorrow (Tuesday), the focus could be back on Maulana.
Undoubtedly, it was Maulana’s biggest ‘political gamble’ in his 40 years of politics and no matter what the political pundits say; he has caused more damage to himself and the Opposition than to the government.
Unlike in 2014, there were no signs of any tension between the government and the establishment except some conspiracy theories regarding the issue of extension of army chief’s tenure followed by issuance of notification. Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa got full term extension in August and the notification too was issued.
So when Maulana announced his Azadi March despite opposition from mainstream parties like the PML-N and the PPP, and said he would not return without seeking prime minister’s resignation even Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were surprised and the two parties thought that Maulana must have been pushed by some quarters not to extend the date beyond November.
However, the way the whole episode has ended the PPP and PML- N, which already were suspicious about Maulana’s ‘solo flight’ and 'solo plan' decided to stay back from his Plan B, which Bilawal said was not shared by Maulana with the Rahbar Committee and he apparently don’t want to be a ‘rubber stamp’. So, if neither any quarter was behind this march or some individuals had advised Maulana and then backed out or ditched him, it will further damage JUI-F in future and he may find it difficult to satisfy his ‘dedicated’ force of thousands of his followers.
The only credit which Maulana can take from this march is the political mobilisations with his dozens of ‘million march’ and by keeping the JUI-F workers on their feet and in the last few weeks its leaders became necessary part of TV talk shows.
He has certainly remained the central figure of the Opposition in the last 13 days while the PML-N and the PPP remained confused because of the secrecy Maulana maintained about his ‘plan’.
The two parties mulled that even if they go full force with Maulana, they would not be able to force the government to step down and confrontation could lead to third party intervention. The PPP took similar position in 2014, and despite its differences with the PML-N government it stands with the Parliament.
Thus, government despite massive price hike in the country, rising unemployment, political instability and economic uncertainty has not faced any meaningful political resistance from the Opposition so far, both, within the Parliament or outside. They could not even oust the Senate chairman through vote of no-confidence despite having majority in the Senate. On Friday, they got some ‘face saving’ and withdrew vote of no-confidence motion against the deputy speaker in the National Assembly and reached agreement with the government.
Maulana’s march was a non-starter from the day he announced his ‘solo flight’ to the federal Capital on October 27, which has safely returned on November 13. There is no doubt that JUI-F has shown its organisational capacity, organisation and discipline as a strong political-cum-religious force with or without its representation in the Parliament. But for the first time Maulana perhaps missed the timing of launching the decisive campaign and that too without the practical support from any quarter.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
Originally published in The News