Like many post-colonial transitional democracies, Pakistan, in a constant battle with itself since its inception, stubbornly refuses to transition towards becoming an independent state. Pakistan is run by, and for the benefit of, an incestuous oligarchic elite that has used power, privilege and patronage to effectively skew the ‘rules of the game’ in their favour. Their success relied upon two cardinal principles; servitude to power & expedient opportunism. It has resulted in a peculiar phenomenon where even after bumbling through seven decades Pakistan’s political discourse simply refuses to grow-up; until now?
Perhaps colonial Pakistan is finally dying but being replaced, at least for the moment, by an exorbitant amount of hope, entwined with a healthy dose of utter ineptitude and an equal measure of duplicity. The old guard refuses to acknowledge its final demise and the overzealous young refuse to mature in thought. Pakistan has reached the precipice of transition where peculiar anomalies come into fleeting, yet thoroughly entertaining, existence allowing humankind to witness events that are utterly bizarre in their ridiculous social, legal and political hypocrisy. The scale tips towards, if not the beginning of the new then, at least the death of the old.
The Ancient Regime registers its own funeral, with an accompanying fanfare, disintegrates in a cacophony of derision. One such pompous funeral march has made its way towards Pakistan’s capital. Unlike the Crescent City’s more fashionable variety, this Islamist-crescent procession is of a decidedly less dapper nature, but entertaining none the less. It is led by a man who perhaps is the very definition of what Pakistan has been for the past seven decades. As symbolisms go, no man is a more illustrating focal point for Pakistan’s dying old order than the cleric, Maulana Fazl ur Rehman.
Blasphemy is one such area where any and all efforts by Pakistani governments to rationalize laws have met with Fazl’s dogged resistance
Fazl is leading his party faithful and the combined might of Pakistan’s opposition to bring down the government of a man who five years ago had set the precedent of bringing an ill-thought populist circus to the capital’s streets, with his own shady cleric in tow. While that was about protesting election manipulation, an effective reality of Pakistan’s electoral system, Fazl’s march is billed as one that wishes Pakistan gains ‘Independence’ from its current government. Imran Khan, the present Prime Minister, was voted in on an almost delusional euphoria to clean the corruption that is endemic in Pakistan.
While Khan stumbles, fumbles and trips in his inability to effectively live up to his promises, he did start the contentious process of holding public office holders to account. In doing so he managed to put a knife, a relatively blunt one, at the mercantile throat of Pakistan’s hitherto all-powerful oligarchic and dynastic political elite. Within a year of the government’s tenure, Fazl has jostled his way into the forefront to bring back the good old days and remove Imran Khan, or at least cut him down to size.
Who is Fazl-ur-Rehman? Who is this man leading today’s charge for Pakistan’s democracy? What does he stand for? Well, the simple answer is, like so many prominent politicians in Pakistan’s old order, Fazl stands for whatever he needs to stand for, no matter how virtuous or vile, and, for the right price, Fazl can forget to continue standing for it too.
In his decades as a political actor in Pakistan’s history, Fazl has managed to accumulate many accolades. It has been an infamous yet colourful career and here are just a few chosen highlights.
Any group branded a heretic by the orthodoxy will find itself at the receiving end of the vilest propaganda, dehumanization and persecution, even to the point of extinction; few survive unscathed. In Pakistan, this cross is borne by the Ahmadi community who do not subscribe to the orthodox belief in the finality of Islam’s prophet. They have been Fazl’s punching bag since he inherited his father’s mantle. Whatever disaster befalls Pakistan, for Fazl it’s a mainstay to blame a sinister conspiracy that somehow finds itself at the feet of this persecuted minority.
Fazl’s ire isn’t limited to the Ahmadis, his favoured accusation against political opponents has been to brand them ‘agents’ of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to destroy Islam. For Fazl’s ilk, the Protocols of Zion is a textbook for Jewish global domination. In a public rally, Fazl proclaimed that Imran Khan was a paid agent for Israel and that ‘the Jewish Lobby, that controls world finance, uses its daughters to entrap stupid Muslim politicians and use them to destroy Muslim countries like Pakistan’; a reference to Imran Khan’s previous marriage to Jemima Goldsmith. Just for good measure, he issued a religious edict, a fatwa, declaring Imran Khan an ‘agent of Jews, Ahmadis and Atheists’.
Fazl has been a stalwart against what he perceives as a drive to secularize Pakistan. No other issue exemplifies his struggle against such forces than his unequivocal support for the most draconian of Islamic laws incorporated into Pakistan’s Constitution. Blasphemy is one such area where any and all efforts by Pakistani governments to rationalize laws have met with Fazl’s dogged resistance. Fazl launched a million-man march against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy and declared her acquittal a ‘Western Conspiracy’ to destroy Pakistan’s Islamic culture. He publically stated that Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province, had ‘invited his righteous murder’, for speaking against the use of blasphemy laws to persecute non-Muslims. Fazl declared Taseer’s murderer a ‘hero’ and the assassin’s subsequent execution as a ‘shameful judicial murder’.
Fazl once declared that Imran Khan was turning the daughters of an Islamic nation into whores, what else can we expect from a friend of the Jews?
Fazl has also been the poster child for misogyny among Pakistan’s politicians. Fazl subscribes to a view that women should play a submissive role in all forms of public and private life. When a military-led government attempted to amend the reprehensible ‘Rape Law’ brought in by a previous military dictator that branded any female victim of rape a criminal for having confessed to extra-marital sex, Fazl led the charge against the amendment. He termed the move as tantamount to turning Pakistan into a ‘free sex zone’.
A student of double-speak, when Fazl proclaimed to be a proponent of women’s education, his brother and second in command of his political party, was at hand to explain that Fazl meant that all women should be educated in Islamic teachings and limited to the study of the Quran and two repressive medieval texts. Any women venturing beyond them would burn in hell for trying to become whores. When Fazl declared that throughout Islamic history a woman had been at the forefront of agriculture, business and even war, his brother provided the erstwhile explanation that women had given birth to the men who had been at the forefront of every advancement and thus women fulfilled their god-given role.
In his political career Fazl has opposed the appointment of women judges, opposed women heads of state, opposed the issuance of motorcycle licenses to women, opposed Government efforts to curtail the ‘honour killing’ of women, opposed legal amendments to limit domestic violence terming it an effort to ‘humiliate husbands’, opposed measures to restrict child marriages and called women participants in political rallies ‘whores’ and ‘prostitutes’ whose sole purpose was to offer ‘sexual temptation to increase male participation’. Fazl once declared that Imran Khan was ‘turning the daughters of an Islamic nation into whores, what else can we expect from a friend of the Jews?’. His brother, then a provincial representative, went further to claim anyone who supported Imran Khan was himself a pimp and a supporter of Jews, therefore a traitor to Islam and Pakistan.
Such is the wider perception of Fazl’s misogyny that when a satirical news article claimed Fazl had opposed military operations against suicide bombers and termed them as a ‘manifestation of God’s wrath’ against ‘jeans-wearing women’ who were ‘walking and talking weapons of mass destruction’, his party faithful defended the false statement attributed to him. After all, these are the supporters who cheered him when Fazl claimed that the attack on Malala Yousafzai, that nearly took her life, was a ‘drama’ and she had sustained no injuries. Fazl went further to claim that Malala’s subsequent stance on women’s education in Pakistan was a ‘Zionist plot to corrupt Muslim women’.
Fazl has long been a prolific fundraiser for terrorist activities in neighbouring states. Acting within the patronage of the state, and its powerful military, his political party has an entire terrorist outfit focusing primarily on Afghanistan and India. His group’s religious seminaries provided the bulk of the Taliban leaders in the 1990s. When Fazl faced back to back assassination attempts, he attributed the attacks to the ‘imperialist designs of the United States’. After all, Fazl led a march opposing the US invasion of Afghanistan proclaiming it ‘a conspiracy against Islam’ and a Jewish-Christian plot to rid the world of the Taliban who were ‘establishing the rule of Islam in Afghanistan’ and supporting Osama Bin Laden, ‘a true religious freedom fighter’.
Fazl appeared on a private media channel to declare the need for a ‘Jihad’ against the US invasion of Afghanistan and urging Pakistan’s military to ‘attack the US using atomic bombs’ if needed. His brother stood at the head of Fazl’s supporters and pledged ‘open war against Jews, Christians, Israel and America’ and urged junior officers to mutiny and ‘seize the nuclear weapons and fire them at America’.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the darling of Pakistan’s epidermal liberal and leftist pretenders, who fawn over this scion of the Feudal Bhutto dynasty, shared the stage and joined Fazl’s march
Threatening the world, especially US, Israel and India, with the use of an ‘atom bomb’ has been a bit of a past time for Fazl. The phraseology has a few renditions but the message remains the same. Pakistan is in possession of an ‘Atom Bomb’ and it was ‘not made to be placed in a box or to be used as a firecracker’. Fazl’s brand of Islamic populism includes the proliferation of nuclear weapons among orthodox Muslim countries and he has openly advocated for Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons to counter ‘Western and Zionist aggression’.
Fazl has repeatedly denounced ‘Democracy’ as a ‘Western Imperialist Project’ and publically proclaimed that ‘his organisation was working for a Taliban like Islamic System in Pakistan’. Despite that, Fazl has been happily courted by every democratic and military government in the past fifty years. Such is the nature of Pakistan’s Democrats and its Bonapartist military-men.
Patronage fuelled political corruption is part and parcel of Pakistan’s ‘rules of governance’ and no cleric has benefited more from it than Fazl. Infamous for his ‘shrewd bargaining’, Benazir Bhutto’s government rewarded him with the licensing of Diesel for most of Pakistan and the Taliban-dominated Afghanistan region, earning him the popular epithet of ‘Maulana Diesel’. Fazl also benefited from illegal land allotments under Musharraf’s military regime as well as excessive ministerial perks under Nawaz Sharif’s government. Politics in Pakistan is a lucrative business and Fazl is remarkably venal. His brand of Islamic Fundamentalism is always available for sale to both domestic and foreign purchasers.
Fazl had once told the US representative to Pakistan that as ‘all governments in Pakistan were formed by US support’ he was the ‘right Prime Minister for the US in Pakistan’ and made it clear that the votes of his group of parliamentarians were ‘up for sale’. Fazl had by then come a long way from leading populist marches decrying the US as the Great Satan and calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie for his book ‘The Satanic Verses’.
In any self-respecting country, democratic or otherwise, such a vile religious bigot would belong to the most extreme fringes of politics that no mainstream political entity would entertain, but Pakistan is not a self-respecting country. In Pakistan, this cleric remained deeply embedded in every governing structure for the past four decades.
Why does Fazl hate Imran Khan? For the first time in fifty years, Fazl is sitting outside the corridors of power in Pakistan because Imran Khan has categorically refused to buy Fazl’s loyalty, like every one of his predecessors, uniformed or otherwise. So today Fazl is on the streets again, with his fundamentalist crowd in their matching khaki outfits, and every major political entity has shared the stage with him on his march to grab power and oust a democratically elected government.
Their goal is to remove the dubiously elected democratic government which they claim was a result of a rigged election, much like every government Fazl was previously part of, including those ‘installed’ by Pakistan’s military
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the darling of Pakistan’s epidermal liberal and leftist pretenders, who fawn over this scion of the Feudal Bhutto dynasty, shared the stage and joined Fazl’s march. There is a loathsome irony to this. The last time Fazl marched all the way into the heart of Islamabad, backed then by the military and an Islamist alliance, was to protest the grave ‘security risk’ posed to Pakistan by its ‘Jew-loving’, ‘Shia’ female prime minister, Bilalwal’s mother. Fazl brandished forged letters written by Benazir Bhutto, including a ‘love letter to a Jew’, while Fazl’s followers distributed semi-nude pictures of his mother and grand-mother, Nusrat Bhutto and chanted obscene slogans about their genitalia. All that, of course, is now forgotten by the very liberal Bilawal; Fazl is now a means to an end for Bilawal, while his now-deceased mother and grand-mother are not.
The brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stood shoulder to shoulder with Fazl on his march. Nawaz, head of an unscrupulous business-political dynasty, and still effective leader of his family-led rightist party is no stranger to using Fazl as a tool. After all, the anti-Semitic and misogynist smear campaign against the Bhutto women was bankrolled by the Sharifs and devised by their media managers and the military. Many anti-militarists, human rights activists and self-proclaimed feminists who rely on patronage or recognition from international civil society donors, including Western government-funded organisations, have bent over backwards to rationalise their qualified and tacit ‘moral support’ of Fazl’s march to Islamabad.
In their version, his march is against a puppet government in bed with Pakistan’s powerful military making Fazl, himself a habitual military lackey, a momentary ‘frenemy’. The nationalists in both the south and north of Pakistan have joined his rally, lending their vocal support, all notions of supporting an open, secular Pakistan free of Taliban supporters now temporarily forgotten. In Pakistan’s political arena when it comes to the defence of patronage acquired gains, no other principle, left or right, can hold a candle to the dual principles of servitude to power & expedient opportunism.
Faced with the transition threshold of a collapsing patronage structure, it is not at all surprising that Fazl is now the focal point and leader of this last-ditch attempt to save the old political structure. Fazl is a true representation of the venal machinations of opportunism that has for decades been considered as ‘Politics’ in Pakistan.
Fazl is the very epitome of antisemitism, sectarianism, terrorism, misogyny, bigotry, rabid anti-Westernism and opposition to the very basic principles of human rights and democracy. Yet, all this has been forgiven by Pakistan’s ‘Democrats’ in a collective opportunist will to serve, and be in power.
In repeated televised proclamations his party faithful has been clear about why they are marching on Islamabad. Their goal is to remove the dubiously elected democratic government which they claim as a result of a rigged election, much like every government, Fazl was previously part of, including those ‘installed’ by Pakistan’s military. They clearly listed the Prime Minister’s crimes; the possible recognition of Israel, the release of Asia Bibi and attempting to tamper with Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws, a conspiracy to secularise Pakistan and diminish the role of Islam, hiring of an Ahmadi scholar as an economic advisor hence being an Ahmadi supporter, being an agent of the Jews and having an agenda to westernise Pakistani women by their sexual objectification through allowing them a greater role in politics.
This is Fazl’s rallying call, and it has been answered by every mainstream opposition political party, all proclaiming it as their collective bid to save ‘Democracy in Pakistan’.
Long live Fazl, the saviour of Pakistan’s Liberal Democracy?
The writer is a former management consultant focusing on the Energy Industry and writes on Energy Security and the Politics of Energy Resources. He is conducting research related to the role of Central Asia’s energy resources in China’s Energy Security at the University of Westminster, UK. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.