The ill-fated Azadi March of Maulana Fazlur Rahman has reached a dead end: the ultimatum he had given expired and his demand – PM stepping down from his office – has not taken place and is not likely to take place. In addition, the ‘partners’ in this enterprise, the PPP and the PML(N) have backed out from their support by indicating quite clearly that they would not support the Maulana’s second envisioned step – to march into the Red Zone with the band of his ragtag supporters despite the agreement that he had concluded before that the Red Zone was off-limits for him.
That refusal should not come as a surprise; after all, there is not much in common between the three parties save for only the fact that they want the current government out of power in order to grab power themselves. Otherwise, they disagree on most other things: while the Maulana wants an Islamic state PPP and PML(N) are part of the existing political system and do not want to change it.
Another disagreement is the role of religion and madrassahs; while the Maulana needs them the way they are functioning today so that he can continue to spread his weird version of radical Islam the other two are do not support him in this and probably see the necessity to bring about changes in the madrassah system that has been nurturing radicalism and militancy among young Pakistanis without giving them any knowledge that would enable them to lead a useful life and become members of Pakistani society that can bring the country forward. Therefore, the political support between the opposition parties is limited and the maulana cannot stem the tide alone.
The politics of dharnas initiated in 2013 with the Tahir ul Qadri sit-in, followed by the PTI’s D-Chowk protests and the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan lockdown, now seems to haunt its creators
Now, where can he go from here? With D-chowk out of limits, he will have to figure out some face-saving that the government will probably give him. There are meetings underway that are discussing what could be given without causing harm. On his side, Fazl has summoned the leader of PPP and PML(N) to discuss the next steps but both have so far backed out. All three of them – government, PPP and PML(N) – will have to consider carefully how far they are ready to go without alienating their members and supporters. The next days will show what is possible.
Fazlur Rahman mentioned in his speech yesterday that he would expend his movement to the whole of Pakistan and make it a national movement. Well, he is a shrewd politician and so far his tactic of threats has delivered at least in some way. He and his party all of whom were badly beaten in the last elections and were expected to drown in oblivion are relevant again. And Fazl himself is a famous backdoor dealer who trusts that he somehow can get away with what he is doing. That he can’t do on his own is clear, again he will need the support of the other two parties at least and one can only hope that they will not want to venture into such an adventure at this point.
But regardless of what Fazlur Rahman will get or not, in the end, there are already some important lessons visible at this point. One, while a part of the complaints of the Maulana relates to economic issues like rising prices none of the economic issues he is naming can be solved by his march. “The economy is sinking, factories are being shut and traders are in distress, we have to save the country, save the economy of this country,” he said at one of the rallies on his way from Karachi to Islamabad at the head of the procession.
He seems to be oblivious of the massive toll his anti-government campaign is likely to take on the country’s flagging economy, the businesses and the people who are already struggling to survive the impact of a rapidly slowing economy. Instead of bringing relief Fazl is disturbing normal life and business in the capital and in the other places he was passing through and especially vulnerable day laborers are losing out on their business creating hardships for the families. It may be true that the Maulana doesn’t care about that, but what does that tell us about his political acumen?
Secondly, what image would a mullah with a ragtag following aiming at Islamabad create internationally? Pakistan needs foreign investment badly and expects international business to invest in Pakistan and pictures about hundreds of thousands sitting in the roads and blocking traffic is hardly going to instill confidence into any investor foreign or national. The possibility that the protests and sit-in might continue for weeks as it has before or even turn violent does nothing to strengthen business trust and only raises anxiety among business people. At a time when a stable business environment is the need of the hour the opposition parties’ march is hardly helpful for solving the problems that they are complaining about.
The real aim of ‘Azadi’ is grabbing power and saving the spoils that have been made during previous stints in power. What a miserable picture of democracy!
Thirdly, the drama in H-9 of Islamabad is distracting the attention of the country and the region from a much more important issue: the situation in IOK where people have to face much more trouble. In a situation when the international community -even if slowly and hesitantly- is paying attention to Kashmir and by implication to Pakistan what they see is turmoil in Pakistan and Kashmir. We should not underestimate the negative impression that mullah’s march and militant speeches create abroad and that it may well give credibility to India’s allegations of Pakistani militancy and Islamic radicalism.
And last but not least the situation in Islamabad shows that dharnas are no bona fide means of protest any more. The politics of dharnas initiated in 2013 with the Tahir ul Qadri sit-in, followed by the PTI’s D-Chowk protests and the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan lockdown, now seems to haunt its creators. How can the PM deal firmly with the Maulana’s march when he had done the same a couple of years ago and not given respect to D-chowk?
While the duration and outcome of the current upheaval are still not known what is known is that it will damage Pakistan on many fronts and none of the problems that Pakistan is suffering from is solved or even improved. A closer look at the underlying intentions of the politicians involved in the march is utterly selfish: it is an attempt to annul the result of an election that has been no more or less ‘free and fair’ than any of the previous ones and that has been accepted by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The real aim of ‘Azadi’ is grabbing power and saving the spoils that have been made during previous stints in power. What a miserable picture of democracy!
Ikram Sehgal is Pakistani defence analyst and security expert. He is a regular contributor to articles in newspapers that include: The News and the Urdu daily Jang. The article was first published in Daily Times and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.