Thousands March For Azadi In Pakistan, Questioning Military Involvement In Government
As the political tension between the two right-wing supremacists brews in Pakistan’s Karachi, thousands of anti-government protesters cavalcaded on the streets replacing the green-red flag of Imran Khan’s PTI with the black-white striped ones of Jamiat Ulema Islam- Fazl (JUI-F), led by Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman.
Backed by the major opposition parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), headed by former President Asif Ali Zardari and his son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari; JUI-F leader Rehman was easily able to sway the masses.
Rehman, who holds a powerful position in shaping the political course of Pakistan is leading a grand Azadi March that began on October 27th.
According to a political scholar Awais Gurmani, Rehman thinks he can reassert his presence by mobilizing Pakistanis in Azadi March because he knows that there is dissatisfaction among the masses against the current government’s policies.
Gurmani told The Logical Indian, “The two largest opposition parties PPP, PMLN have their grievances with the incumbent party as well and he (Rehman) is looking to cash in on that. Rehman’s party’s ties with military worsened over the last few years with PM Khan’s government growing closer to the military. JUI-F has no other option but to launch a protest to gain leverage or negotiate with the military.”
Who Is Rehman?
Rehman is an Islamic cleric and scholar, though not typical. Rehman heads an influential right-wing party that propagates Parliamentary democracy.
Siding himself from any hardline religious beliefs, Rehman brands himself as a moderate leader with no connections with religious extremists.
However, Rehman shares close ties with Taliban and Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Hailing from Pashtun dominated province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, he maintains a softer stance for Afghan Talibanis as well.
He was found, speaking on many occasions, about bringing complete sharia to the Islamic state.
As a member of the lower house of Parliament in Pakistan since 1988, Rehman has also served as the chairman of the Parliament’s Kashmir committee in 2014.
Last year, he lost general elections to Imran Khan.
Why Is He Protesting?
“It is clear that the ruler [Imran Khan] will have to go and give the people a chance to elect a new ruler through fair elections. It is clear that there is no other option,” Rehman said while addressing the mammoth crowd chanting his name.
Rehman wants a complete revamping of the political structure in Pakistan, which, according to him, has been adulterated due to military involvement. He also claims that the previous election, where Khan rose to power, was rigged. Hence, Rehman and his aides remain adamant on bringing Khan down and conduct re-elections.
Rehman warned that if his plan A of protesting peacefully doesn’t work, he will resort to plan B and C that is- to put Pakistan in complete lockdown until a strong measure is taken against the Prime Minister.
“Today Islamabad is facing lockdown; next we will lock down the entire country. We will not stop and continue our struggle,” Rehman said in his rally.
Right-Wing Vs Right-Wing
Alleging that Imran Khan is an army stooge and is a serious threat to Pakistan’s democracy, Rehman pedalled on being a broad-minded leader Pakistan desperately needs.
However, Rehman is no such exception. He has garnered immense support from madrasas and mosques to get a political push.
“Rehman regularly warning the government against taking action against the madrassas and bring them under state control. Ironically, Rehman and his party extract much of their political and street clout from these madrassas, He wants to continue getting political dividends from the religious following, but he doesn’t have the support of the other religious parties,” said Gurmani.
This power tussle going-on between two right-wing politicians has shrunken political space for liberal parties in Pakistan. With the Azadi March on full swing, the left parties hold on politics gets a major blow.
“As a leftist and a feminist woman, it is scary to think of how progressive leftist politics has time and time again failed at a macro level. This is not to say there is an innate flaw in leftist politics. It is just that the situation has worsened continuously, and there is a practically strict enforced ban on leftists organising together. It is difficult for the establishment, it seems, to do the same with the right-wing because the establishment has depended on right-wing for a long period of time to gather its support,” said Mina, a social-activist from Lahore.
She further told The Logical Indian that many progressive Pakistanis are approving of the march because democracy is to be protected, and there is evidence that the Pakistani government is only pseudo-democratic.
However, she raised concerns over the right-wing politicians emerging and gaining grounds in Pakistan. “There are those of us who are scared. The human rights question will definitely be ignored if right remains unquestioned by the left. And that is, it seems, happening because left is disempowered and right is empowered. There seems less to hope for most marginalised communities, and there is less to hope for general human freedom,” lamented Mina.