ISLAMABAD: Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of his eponymous faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, has put to rest all speculation about what he calls “Azadi March”, announcing on Thursday that the “march to oust the government would begin on October 27”.
The two main opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – tried earlier this week to talk the politico-religious leader out of ‘going solo’ with the anti-government rally, but to no avail.
A PML-N delegation met the Maulana on Wednesday to convince him against the ‘solo flight’ and the JUI-F chief at a joint presser following that meeting dropped a hint that his party might consider the proposal.
However, an intra-party consultative session of the JUI-F top cadres on Thursday decided against delaying what it called “Azadi March”. The Maulana, flanked by his top party aides, told the media following the session that their march would begin on October 27.
“We have decided to march against the government on October 27 … this day is observed as a black day by Kashmiris across the world and we will also express solidarity with them…,” he said.
October 27 is marked as a ‘black day’ because the saga of sufferings of the people of occupied Kashmir started with the landing of Indian troops in Srinagar on that day in 1947.
He claimed that JUI-F delegations from across the country would converge on the federal capital on October 27 to “rid the country of the incompetent government” of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf which, according to him, “has destroyed the economy”.
Maulana Fazl hinted at staging a sit-in (dharna) at Islamabad’s D-Chowk where the PTI had staged a marathon dharna in 2014 against alleged rigging in the 2013 elections. “We are not ones to disperse easily,” the cleric said.
The JUI-F chief’s announcement stirred up speculation that he has disregarded the proposal of the other opposition parties by ‘going solo’. “We’re in contact with all the other parties and making decisions in consultation with them,” he claimed.
He further claimed that he received positive messages from PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who met him earlier in the day and from a PML-N delegation which met him a day earlier.
The JUI-F claimed that all opposition parties had consensus on the fact that the incumbent government came to power as a result of a rigged election and that it had to go.
“All opposition parties agree that fresh elections should be held to find out who has the real mandate of the people,” he said.
Maulana Fazl said not only political workers but every segment of society, including lawyers, doctors, businessmen and the common man, would join his party’s ‘Azadi March’. Asked if the PPP and PML-N would also participate, he said: “Insha Allah.”
“We respect all institutions, including the army, and will never confront them,” he added, hinting that his party was open to mediation but not direct negotiations with the government, on the matter.
“I can only accept mediation offer, only if someone assures that our principled stance on issues will be respected,” he said. “They [government] have compromised on Kashmir and sold it… I will issue a detailed statement to explain what they have done with the country.”
‘[This] is not democracy’
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan hit out at the JUI-F’s protest call. “Using pupils of religious seminaries (madrassas) as a human shield is not democracy,” she said on Twitter.
“Maulana Sahib should not go against the law and Islam by protecting those who have looted the nation with impunity,” she said. “Staging street protest against Imran Khan is synonymous with giving a licence to corruption.”
Firdous also pointed out that even the two mainstream opposition parties whose leaders were in jail for corruption were not in favour of the Maulana’s march.
“The two parties [PPP and PML-N] don’t want to take the risk of standing with the Maulana. Those who are not true to each other can never be true to people,” she added.
PML-N to take decision in party huddle
The PML-N, which was apparently taken by surprise by the JUI-F’s decision to take out Islamabad march, remained indecisive about participating in it and despite holding multiple meetings with other main opposition parties has decided to hold yet another high-level party meeting to finally make a decision on the matter.
The PML-N wanted the decision to be deferred for a month to mobilise its workers as was expressed by Secretary-General Ahsan Iqbal after a high-level party huddle in Islamabad earlier this week.
The party in principle had agreed with the JUI-F’s decision of launching a movement against the government and even showed its willingness to take part in it but kept deferring its decision on the grounds of deciding some modalities.
After its Central Executive Committee meeting on September 30, it even requested for an all-parties conference to take a collective decision on the matter.
With the PPP deciding not to participate in the march but supporting the JUI-F’s movement, the PML-N was left with making its own decision.
However, the party, despite several weeks of discussion on one ground or the other, kept dragging its feet.
But with the Maulana announcing October 27 for the ‘Azadi March’, the PML-N was forced to take a definitive position in the coming few days.
Rumours were rife in the political circles that PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif did not want to take part in any movement against the government, while Capt (Retd) Muhammad Safdar on September 2 communicated the commitment of Nawaz Sharif to the Maulana that PML-N would participate in the Islamabad march.
The reason why Safdar chose to bypass the party hierarchy and why did Nawaz not ask Shehbaz to communicate his message were things the party struggled to explain.
Earlier in the day, prior to the announcement, Shehbaz met Nawaz at Kot Lakhpat Jail to appraise him of the recent political developments.
According to the party leaders, Shehbaz was asked by Nawaz to take all opposition parties on board for the long march. Shehbaz informed Nawaz about the update of the recent meeting with opposition parties.
The PML-N also condemned rumours of Shehbaz informing his elder brother during Thursday’s meeting that he would not take part in the march due to health issues.
PML-N Secretary Information Marriyum Aurangzeb rejected the news items spreading lies about the discussion between Shehbaz and Nawaz, expressing disappointment over sections of the media airing news without verification from the central spokesperson.
Denying all such reports, Marriyum strongly condemned the “insinuating” and “insidious propaganda” as “speculative and assumptive”.
The former information minister said the PML-N president in his meeting with Nawaz apprised him of the consultation and discussion in the CEC meeting of the party. He also briefed Nawaz on the recent meetings with the PPP and the JUI-F.
Marriyum said the PML-N unambiguously supported the Maulana’s stance and shared his concerns and fears over the threats posed by the PTI regime to the country.
“The party is in total agreement with the opinion that removal of this imposed regime is the only remedy to all economic, social and strategic crisis, and believes in a consensus-based, unified and collective approach and decision-making in this regard,” she said.
The meeting with the PPP over the matter too endorsed a joint approach which it believed was the best foot forward.
The spokesperson said in the wake of the Maulana’s announcement, the PML-N would hold an emergent meeting. “Whatever decision is taken by Nawaz in the light of these consultations will be formally announced by Shehbaz,” she said.
Marriyum said all opposition parties were unanimous in their stance regarding the “threats posed to the country by Imran Khan and his regime” and the “immediate need to rescue the country from their chokehold”.
On PML-N’s position regarding the Islamabad march, she said that the final decision would be taken in a party meeting which would be called soon.
She rejected rumours about the PML-N calling a CEC meeting on October 8, saying that the PML-N wanted the decision to be taken by the APC.