Amid all the pressing issues of Pakistan like Kashmir cause, economic management, governance etc one thing that has media in a frenzy for past one month is Fazlur Rehman’s Azadi March. All the talk shows have been dedicated to him, all the debates and discussions, one way or another, are about him. Irrelevant Maulana, very smartly, created a political space for himself and refused to stay irrelevant anymore. Convincing other opposition parties to come on board with his idea of protest didn’t fell through and he doesn’t seem to be very happy with PMLN and PPP as of now. Due to the train accident, PMLN decided to postpone their Jalsa till 1st of November. Though there is no change of plans for JUI-F for now, opposition parties like PML-N and PPP most likely betrayed Maulana as only the pictures of their leaders are to be seen on Maulana’s container.
A briefing session for today was hosted by Speaker National Assembly at his residence in ministers’ enclave.
Government’s committee headed by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak along with others from PTI like former Finance Minister Asad Umar, Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Special Assistant to Prime Minister for Information & Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan were also present there to meet and brief the anchors about government’s plan.
Defence Minister Pervez Khattak initiates backdoor contacts with opposition parties to avert Azadi March.https://t.co/BoG3HknmUS
— The Express Tribune (@etribune) October 18, 2019
Pervez Khattak briefed the anchors about the Azadi March saying that Government’s committee only twice sat with opposition committee to hold a dialogue and members of all the parties like Ahsan Iqbal, Nayyar Husain Bukhari, etc were there in those meetings representing their parties.
In those meetings, he said the location of the jalsa came under discussion. The dialogue reached a dead end and nothing came out of it. Then Akram Khan Durrani former CM KP and Pervez Khattak stayed in touch and talked over the phone. Courts, in a decision after Faizabad Dharna, decided that all such gatherings will be held in the Parade ground. But the opposition wanted to gather in an empty ground near Peshawar Mor, hence they were allotted the ground.
Pervez Khattak also said that we’ll listen to the speeches to assess what Maulana says and then we will get a clear idea that what is going on in his mind
When an anchor asked about other demands that Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his party members kept talking about in talk shows Pervez Khattak informed the anchors that, “There was nothing apart from the location of their jalsa that came under debate from their side, they never mentioned anything else, they never demanded anything else so far”. When Pervez Khattak was asked that why did government not push them to tell the government what is it that they exactly want, Khattak responded by saying, “We did ask them a couple of times what else is it that they want but they were reluctant to talk about anything else and they said we’ll tell once we are there”. All the anchors present in the room after listening to this were left wondering that what kind of dialogue was it if Maulana didn’t put forth his demands and government also didn’t try to find out.
Again an anchor asked why did he not talk to you about the demands that Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s people talk on the tv and Khattak responded, “He talked about nothing, we just discussed the location and he demanded nothing else. Neither he asked for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation nor he asked for early elections”.
Shafqat Mehmood said, “Next elections are in 2023 and you’ll see that PTI will win those elections as well.”
Pervez Khattak also said that we’ll listen to the speeches to assess what Maulana says and then we will get a clear idea that what is going on in his mind to which I asked how will you listen to Maulana’s speeches because news channels are not airing his speeches (at least as far as I know the media is confused that if they can broadcast his speeches or not) to which he smiled and responded we haven’t imposed any such censorship on the media channels and Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan added that as far as she knows media is broadcasting his speeches.
Dr. Firdous Ashiq was asked what is governments plan if Maulana succeeds in gathering a huge amount of people and they don’t fit in that ground. Her response was, “The administration is preparing the adjacent plots for them in case the gathering grows huge and doesn’t fit in the ground. They can also use those plots as a car park.”
Pervez Khattak also made it very clear that they just had a dialogue but the agreement is signed between the Rehbar Committee and the administration of ICT. He says, “Government has nothing to do with the agreement and it is for the administration to decide what has to be done in case of the violation of the agreement.”
Read more: “Azadi” or “Berbadi” March? Maulana Brings An Armed Mob in Islamabad
Pervez Khattak, Noor ul Haq Qadri & Shafqat Mehmood were very hopeful that Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a sensible politician and he will stay true to his word. They were of the view that he has signed an agreement and he will not violate it as he has categorically guaranteed that marchers will not enter the red zone, they will not damage the property of individuals or the state. Shafqat Mehmood said, “There are the rights of the protesters and then there are the rights of the citizens and government is making sure both are being allowed to exercise their rights.”
The government’s team kept on iterating that they trust Maulana with his word and they don’t expect him to do anything that violates the agreement to which I asked them that there is a famous quote that ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst’ so did the government prepare for the worst?
Shafqat Mehmood answered the question by saying, “Of course the government has prepared for the worst but again I would say we trust maulana”.
In the meeting, we were also told that Rangers, Punjab Police and Frontier Constabulary have been called to the Federal Capital.
What we saw today there at #Azadi_March being encircled by the mob, their reactions, the slogans they chanted against me (women) were pretty ugly… pic.twitter.com/D8w7E5bfKr
— Shiffa Z. Yousafzai (@Shiffa_ZY) November 1, 2019
Dr. Firdous also asked for the feedback of anchors to which all said that it looks like the government is trying to avoid the confrontation which is a very good thing. Along with other anchors I was also present there and my idea of what government should do if the protesters start marching towards red zone or do something else that violates the agreement was that the government can then take the agreement and go to courts asserting it is not us who violated this agreement but them. And can seek an action or order from courts about the violation of the agreement.
I also suggested that Maulana’s speeches should be allowed to be broadcasted because until we allow the mainstream media to cover it the public would not know that there is not a single woman in maulana’s march. Until the media covers his speeches public wouldn’t know how he is using the religious card and labelling the government with names like Jewish lobby or Jewish Agents. Action against something could only be taken when something takes place. Action against hate speech or speech that incites violence could only be taken when it is allowed to reach the ears of the public. Equal and opposite reactions come only when the action occurs.
Read more: Fazal Ur Rehman- Fighting for Islam or Islamabad?
Pervez Khattak while talking about the number of people gathering for Maulana’s Jalsa said that “He sure has a support base in KP and a good number of people are likely to come from there.”
Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan and others from PTI believe that Maulana’s Azadi March has done tremendous damage to the Kashmir cause. She at the end of the briefing asked the anchors not to forget the Kashmir issue and also cover Kartarpur Corridor because both these subjects are of immense importance when it comes to the national security of the country.
Shiffa Yousafzai is a TV presenter & producer with Hum TV. She is an International Alumni Ambassador for Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, where she studied Multimedia Journalism. Earlier, she graduated with business and marketing at Air University, Islamabad. She had been vice-president Air University Cultural Society; Shiffa could be followed on twitter @Shiffa_ZY and on facebook @ShiffaYousafzai. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.