Maulana, March and Military: Pakistan's triple M
In reference to the anti-government Azadi March in Pakistan, the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) has questioned as to how a country that is itself repeatedly engulfed in freedom marches every few years could "conceivably help Kashmiris achieve freedom".
The Amsterdam based think-tank said, "In any event, the 'Azadi (Freedom) March' would have made the people of Jammu and Kashmir highly skeptical of the mischievous Pakistani claims of supporting J & K's freedom".
It added, "They are bound to wonder how a country that is itself repeatedly engulfed in freedom marches every few years in which apart from senior Pakistani politicians, other communities like the Baloch, Pashtun, Sindhis, Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Mohajirs and others, are asking for their own respective freedoms, could conceivably help J-K achieve freedom".
The 'Azadi March', led by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has last week, travelled long, slogan-laden miles within Pakistan and converged to drop anchor in the country's capital, Islamabad. The primary demand of the march and the 'dharna' (sit-in) is the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has quite expectedly refused to oblige.
Four inconclusive rounds of talks between representatives nominated by Khan and the Rahbar committee of the opposition parties led by Fazlur Rehman have already been held, and media reports suggest that these talks have not made much headway towards finding a way to defuse the escalating crisis.
Maulana Fazlur, a religious leader who is also among the most pragmatic and deft politicians in Pakistan, had in June this year announced that his party would hold a long march to Islamabad in October. The march kicked off from the port city of Karachi on 27 October, with rallies from Balochistan province also joining the march in Karachi, and descended upon Islamabad on October 31.
The most remarkable feature of the Maulana's march was the massive number of participants that he succeeded in attracting, and despite wide variations in the figures claimed by the different factions based on their leanings it was clear that with close to 100,000 people this was the biggest such congregation at a political rally in Pakistan in the last several years.
"The appalling economic situation in the country that had fuelled public anger lent to the numbers, as did the desperation shown by Imran Khan to target his main opposition rivals which polarized Pakistan's polity and gave Fazlur the space to mobilize the people", said EFSAS.
It added, "Another factor claimed by some Pakistani analysts is the covert support extended to Fazlur by those sections of the Pakistani Army that were aggrieved at the three-year extension given to the current Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Over 20 Lieutenant Generals will retire over the next three years, some of whom would have been contenders for the Army Chief's post but have lost out due to the extension"After initial objections, the two main Pakistani opposition parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) had joined several smaller parties in extending support to the Maulana. It is another matter that in part due to their apprehension that Fazlur would steal the political thunder, and also due to their traditional fear of the military establishment, which stood firmly behind PM Khan, these two parties balked at involving themselves too deeply in the march.
Nevertheless, their leaders, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari did join the protesters in Islamabad and addressed the gathering.
Whether the 'Azadi March' succeeds in ousting Imran Khan or not, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has already achieved his primary objective of bringing himself back into political reckoning after the dismal performance of his party in the 2018 general elections in which it failed to even open its account with even the Maulana losing his seat in his bastion of Dera Ismail Khan.
Emboldened by the massive support that he has received at the march and conscious of the jitters running down the spines of both Imran Khan and some sections of the military establishment, Fazlur has been unsparing in his criticism of both.
He told the protestors, "The elections of July 25 were fraud elections. We neither accept the results nor the government that came into power after those elections. We gave this government one year but now we cannot give them any more time".
Fazlur also criticised the Pakistan government's Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) policy and accused it of abandoning the Kashmiris.
EFSAS said, "The Pakistani ruling class is fond of referring to J & K as its 'jugular vein'. At a time when by all indications and proclamations the Pakistani leadership, both military and political, believes that its jugular vein is in a serious India-propelled crisis, the political opposition has chosen to turn a blind eye to J-K and has instead immersed itself in a full-blown tussle to wrest political space and influence from the government, while the Prime Minister, with the full backing of his military benefactors, is trying to exploit the J-K issue to the hilt by repeatedly asserting that the march was diverting attention from it."
It added, "Other than pay, the now obligatory lip service, none of these sections of the Pakistani leadership has displayed the gumption to do anything meaningful for J-K and its people".
It concluded, "Those in J-K who have been sneaking glances westwards after India's 5 August moves would, and certainly should, make careful note of this".