MAULANA UNCHAINED

STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman is roaring. Echoes are reverberating around the country. His march on Islamabad has eaten up a lot of air time on TV and prime space in newspapers. His demands are very precise. He wants IK gone as Prime Minister and fresh elections be held. Serious stuff. He wants to overthrow the Government by popular will based on the teeming millions that will accompany him in this holy crusade.

Something similar to IJI protest in 1977.

His plans included a dharna (occupation) PTI style. He would choke and immobilize the Capital, forcing the paralyzed Government to flee. The hype built around this proposed protest was touted loudly by the media guns for hire, the fat cat remnants of Sharif and Zardari era. It had blessings and support of all opposition political parties openly. Overtly, possibly of Modi’s BJP, Israel and Afghan Establishment.

Over weeks the onion started to peel. PML(N)’s stand has been like shifting sands. The  tussle between brothers Nawaz and Shabaz Sharif would manifest itself  as PML(N)’s position of the day. The latest developments in Nawaz Sharif’s case indicates that younger Sharif is prevailing. PML(N) participation in Lahore was minimal where Maulana had expected a groundswell all the way to Islamabad.

PPP has made it abundantly clear they will join the Jalsa (protest meeting) not the Dharna. Maulana has also backtracked a wee bit. Now it is not unlimited occupation. It will be limited to a few days during which he expects his outrageous demands to be met and PM Imran Khan will run for the hills with his tail between his legs. By the time this post gets to you most of the drama would have unfolded. However a bit of history may come in handy.

It is important to understand where Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman is coming from. His party Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (F) is an off shoot of Jamait-e-Ulema Hind. Formed in 1919 in Delhi, it is a collection of scholars of Deoband, Sunni belief. It has a very conservative outlook that supported a United India and opposed separate homeland for Pakistan. A faction led by Maulana Shabbir Usmani supported Quaid-e-Azam, but the majority was opposed.

Maulana Fazal’s father Maulana Mufti Mehmud took over the leadership of the party in 1962. It gained influence in the intensely conservative areas of KP, Baluchistan and Sind. He was totally opposed to President Ayub Khan’s modernization policies. Mufti Mehmud a savvy politician, was able to convert his religious following into political support. He participated in 1970 elections jointly with Jamaat Islami and JUP of Maulana Noorani. They won seven seats in National Assembly and nine in the Provincial Assembly. Mufti sahib was able to carve out a partnership and became a part of provincial Governments going onto becoming the Chief Minister of NWFP. After his death in 1980, Maulana Fazal took over the party leadership.

His takeover could not have come at a better time. Maulana Fazal inherited his father’s political smarts and added to it the ability to build a financial fortune. President Zia ul Haq was waging anti Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan in the 80’s. Zia needed foot soldiers, so he gave official patronage and financial support to set up thousands of madrassas in areas under his influence. Uncle Sam and its allies were funding Zia in US dollars, who in turn distributed their largesse to religious parties supporting his jihad.

Suddenly Maulana Fazal, Moulvi Sami ul Haq and similar groups’ fortunes grew. They moved up from using motor bikes and Suzukis to driving around in Land Cruisers with an entourage of armed guards in “twin cabin” Toyotas. The Afghans were starved for everything including oil. Maulana Fazal took the lead in smuggling diesel to Afghanistan earning the nickname Moulvi Diesel. With millions stashed away he consolidated his political sway in KP and Baluchistan.

He was able to stay in the limelight, retain political power including his favorite Chairmanship of Kashmir Committee and thrive financially by switching political loyalties like changing seasons. Then PTI happened. Prime Minister Imran Khan challenged Maulana Fazal on his home ground and politically vanquished him where he was considered invincible.

For the first time Maulana Fazal was forced into political oblivion and his sources of legal and illegal funding virtually dried up. He is a very angry man. He was looking for opportunities to lash out. IK’s accountability drive netted the leadership of PML(N) and PPP. An enemy’s enemy is your best friend. Maulana Fazal grabbed this opportunity. He is a product of living off the largesse of the national exchequer and dole outs by international players based on his nuisance value.

Maulana’s protest march is named “Independence March”. It begs the question, Independence from what and whom? I believe he is seeking independence from the rule of law. Times have changed.  The political government and establishment are unitedly pursuing the rule of law. Unpalatable to a spoilt brat. He wants to overthrow an elected government and to go back to the days of loot and grab. He has grabbed the opportunity to become relevant as a front man and fall guy for forces that want to destabilize Pakistan. He and his spokespersons are seeking confrontation with Armed Forces. He has taken the attention away from the Kashmir issue.

Nawaz Sharif and Zardari are on a platelet roll. One wonders if it is self induced by their personal doctors or real. Anyway it seems after getting the Maulana to the top of a pole, PML(N) and PPP have pulled the ladder away offering only lip service.

The nation is distracted. The positive news emerging about economy is ignored. IK’s address in the UN, that raised the stature of the nation for the first time after Mr. Bhuttos’s address nearly a half century ago, is forgotten. Despite the present crescendo and collection of politico-religious hordes roaming the streets of Islamabad, I believe this too shall pass. Prime Minister Imran Khan has to stay the course and bring improvements to the country and his team, where he is lagging. I certainly want him to focus on Punjab, the rudderless ship in doldrums.

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