Whatever is the outcome of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s protest, it has been beneficial to Pakistan in multiple ways. The sneaky Maulana clearly seems to have miscalculated in depending on unflinching support by PML-N, ANP and PPP. All of them successfully filled the political landscape with a skewed and misleading narrative – that a few generals, reportedly unhappy with the extension given to COAS General Bajwa, might have green-signaled to Maulana to head out to Islamabad and mount pressure on what appears to be an embattled Prime Minister. That was quite a juicy spin for disguising personal ambitions and agendas. The proponents of this narrative, once again, erred in judging how the GHQ works.
The so-called march, nevertheless, did achieve something, and also entailed some lessons also for all and sundry.
Firstly, before the march took off, it created pressure on the establishment and the judiciary – which provided an eight-week relief to the ailing Nawaz Sharif. As Maulana huffs and puffs in frustration in the wilderness of h-9 in Islamabad, Maryam Nawaz, too, has secured the judicial relief in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills. Regardless of whether part of a script or not, the JUI-F protest has worked to the advantage of Sharifs.
Fazlur Rehman dangerously brought in issues such as government’s alleged tampering with the blasphemy law and the possible recognition of Israel to incite followers and herd them into Islamabad
Secondly, regardless of Maulana’s fiery speeches and expression of gratitude to PPP, PML-N, and ANP, this could hardly cover the bigotry of, and disunity among, mainstream political parties. All have their own axes to grind, burdened with expediencies.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister’s resignation – the top but irreconcilable demand by Maulana – was never even a possibility as much as that of Sharif’s resignation by Imran Khan during the 2014 sit-in. It was Panama Papers that eventually became the undoing of Sharif.
This so-called sit-in most probably, one would hope, has dealt a bloody blow to politics of dharna and marches. The first one in 2011/12 had discredited Tahir ul Qaderi, the 2nd discredited Imran Khan in the sense that he failed to dislodge Nawaz Sharif. And the latest protest has tarnished Fazlur Rehman like nobody else – as mainstream parties literally left him high and dry when he needed them the most.
This episode should make it abundantly clear to politicians that they should refrain from raising lofty, often illogical demands such as the removal of the Prime Minister through a motley, largely captive crowd, however big that may be. This becomes all the more important when the entire opposition converges to press for PM’s resignation but all its members continue to cling to their parliamentary seats.
Fourthly, all those – who bought the narrative that some generals were covertly supporting the protest march – failed to realize that the GHQ core doesn’t function like that. All past military interventions faced little resistance from within because the GHQ stakeholders always acted as a cohesive force – subject to the sweet will of the sitting COAS. Also, the “displeasure” of a few generals hardly matters if their boss is in synch with the civilian chief executive, particularly when both enjoy critical support in a few friendly foreign capitals.
Fifth, the sit-in also exposed hypocrisy within Pakistan’s media landscape. Many prominent writers, anchors, and columnists – either wilfully or in an uncritical way – embraced and hailed Maulana Fazlur Rehman as a savior of Pakistan.
The media and political supporters simply ignored the sinister game that the Maulana misled simple followers with; Fazlur Rehman dangerously brought in issues such as the government’s alleged tampering with the blasphemy law and the possible recognition of Israel to incite followers and herd them into Islamabad.
This march of bigotry and of personal and party interests has done more damage to these stakeholders than to those they were targeting
Most adored the Maulana as a leader who had made himself relevant again. Some called him the rising star of Pakistan’s opposition. How sad that a man who remained close to GHQ and PM House for the last three decades, occupied a ministerial residence in the Minister’s Enclave for over two decades, and eventually lost the electoral contest, was being projected as the great man of principles and integrity.
What bound them together was not a revolutionary ideology or a firm belief in an accountable and equitable democracy but their dislike for the PTI and the military establishment – shallow and deceptive activism from journalistic platforms.
By doing so, politicians, their followers as well as sections of the media did a disservice not only to themselves but also to the country. They played up to a person – who despite being almost always close to power – General Musharraf, Asif Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif – lords over a network of madaris – seminaries – that only impart a very narrow view of life. The initial dismissive treatment of female journalists and eventual advice to protesters not to speak to the media reflects the obscurantist and opportunistic nature and the nativity of his followers and supporters.
Sadly, people boasting liberalism, socialism, and democracy chose to lap up a man with an unenviable role in Pakistan’s politics. This march of bigotry and of personal and party interests has done more damage to these stakeholders than to those they were targeting.
Fortunately for Pakistan, the latest dharna has hopefully buried this type of protest for the foreseeable future, with the hope that all parties will do good to themselves and to Pakistan to join hands for a new social contract on their conduct, political protests, and the economy.
Imtiaz Gul is the founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), an Islamabad-based think tank. He is the author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate. This article was originally published in Daily Times and has been republished with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.