By Faiza Khan
Dubbed the ‘Azadi’ March, the caravan hoisting black and white striped flag, which set off from Sindh, left Lahore and culminated its journey in the capital with the Maulana’s (a title meaning learned Muslim scholar) threatening statement that “Our total number in Islamabad right now is 400,000. The authorities are lying when they say we are less than that.” Carrying a 17-point agenda mainly demanding complete omission of the US intervention in Pakistan’s affairs and enforcing Islamic Shariah soon after coming into power” Maulana is currently playing havoc for the economic and business sentiments of the capital. Like the two earlier organizers, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, Maulana can now very well claim that he is not alone in the quest of “Tabdeeli” (change) but this time by playing, a religious card.
Maulana’s quest for disrupting democracy is backed by self-enforced allegations, like voting for the PTI is haram (religiously prohibited), asserting Khan to be supported by the West and the Jewish lobby and explicitly calling him an agent of “Americans, Jews, Ahmadis and a person of ill character with least knowledge to run a government”. Based on all these allegations, Maulana believes he has a moral obligation to disrupt the existing democratically elected government and contest the upcoming general elections under his party flag and electoral symbol (ladder).Like his party symbol, he is trying to climb up the ladder of political power, by following the trend set by his former political allies, who gained political power under the guise of democracy.
The Maulana has led several anti-American protests and pro-Taliban rallies in several major cities of the country following the war in Afghanistan in 2001. He criticised President of United States George W. Bush, and threatened to launch jihad against the United States if the bombings continued. It is said that in 2007, he invited then US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, to a dinner in which he sought her support in becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan and expressed a desire to visit America. In continuation to that by 2008, Maulana distanced himself from Taliban and re-branded himself as a moderate without connections to religious extremists and hardliners. Later he also formed alliances with “secular political parties”.
Now the question is whether this is Maulana’s personal desire to taste the epitome of supremacy or is he being backed by some hostile foreign entity to achieve their nefarious agenda against the country. Usually it has been observed that in the era of this 5th Generation Warfare, under-developed countries are seen as the easiest and most exploitable targets. As Cynthia D Ritchie wrote in her article in The Express Tribune that “more ‘developed’ nations often claim they are more democratic than their developing counterparts and often employ talking heads to push this narrative. Over the years, and certainly more recently, these talking heads can be seen desperately trying to push one version of events while ganging up on others who have a difference of opinion.”
It is time to realize how hostile forces can use politico-religious “clerics” to exploit the faith of gullible and mostly illiterate population to influence and impose their agendas on our evolving democracy. It is time for every Pakistani to understand the nature of such protests and determine if the religio-political parties are independently working on an agenda or with the support of external forces. One evidence of external interference was visible during Maulana’s march, some protesters were seen holding the flag of the Afghan Taliban. Many people, including government officials, criticised this. Usman Dar, who is the special assistant to PM on youth affairs, said on Twitter that Pakistan is on the verge of being blacklisted by the FATF and the marchers holding the Afghan Taliban’s flag shows that the JUI-F has been supporting them. Following this controversy, the march organisers made an announcement later in which people have been barred from carrying any flags other than those of the opposition parties. But damage had already been done, is JUI-F supporting the Afghan Taliban or has Maulana intentionally used the Afghan Taliban to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation internationally.
Maulana’s 17 points agenda include the issues of rigging, Kashmir independence, blasphemy laws, Namoos-i-Risalat, unemployment etc. Conspiracy can be seen from Maulana’s statements like “Even after 70 years, transparent elections cannot be held in Pakistan”, “Pakistan has lost the support of the countries that stood with us in the past”, “Government has left the people of occupied Kashmir alone”, “People are committing suicide due to the dire economic condition”, adding that “Common man is in constant state of torment”. All these issues highlighted by the JUI-F leader could have been put forward in the parliament using the proper democratic channels but it seems that the purpose of this protest was completely different. The container prepared for Maulana’s March had pictures of former political leaders who unfortunately later expressed unwillingness to participate in the anti-government movement, as they could sense it would be politically damaging and may cause more friction with national and international bodies. Definitely a politically wise and mature decision on part of PPP and PML-N
A huge number of students from madrassas are part of this protest crowd. It has been observed for years that political and monetary support comes from his religious supporters. Maulana also seems to be against modernizing the Madrassas. The government under NAP (National Action Plan) decided to mainstream over 30,000 seminaries and bring them under state control to sideline terrorism. Referring to Madrassa Reforms, during the protest, Maulana alleges that the government’s “agenda” was to “make Pakistan’s educational system subservient to the West“. “They [the government] befriend such conspirators, who are Jewish, and then tell us they want to reform the education system,” he declared.
No one from his followers questioned Maulana that as the head of the Kashmir committee for two consecutive terms why he failed to do anything significant for promotion of the Kashmir cause at that time.
Large number of personnel of anti-riot police and paramilitary forces have been borrowed from different provinces and divisions and were deployed at different locations marked as sensitive points to ensure their security. Maulana has threatened the establishment, bureaucracy and security forces, not to back this government with a warning that “We are giving you two days to stop backing this illegitimate government”. In 2001 Maulana was put under house arrest for inciting the citizens of Pakistan against the armed forces of Pakistan and for trying to overthrow the government of Pakistan while remembering this he added that “marchers did not want a confrontation with the institutions, but they wanted them to be impartial”.
Pakistan is shoring up support to project a strong and economically stable image to the world, despite its enemies’ best efforts to put Pakistan on the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Moreover, this emerging trend of “Container Politics” and occupation of capital with indefinite sit-ins is assisting the anti-Pakistan forces to achieve their objectives. Students who were supposed to be provided with computers and a uniform education system linked with the latest technology, which will be in line with all the quality education systems like children from other private and government schools are benefitting from, are on the roads to fulfill the agenda of these “leaders and champions of democracy”. JUI-F chief who has always used the politics for personal gains, used religion as a shield is now spreading chaos and propaganda. He is provoking his followers for country-wide protests, shutter-down strike and roads closure.
PTI government has support of all major national institutions. Yes, there are problems and issues, both at micro and macro level that need to be addressed urgently, in order to subvert exploitation by forces which have the potential to act against the state and its people. The international community recognizes PM Imran Khan as a competent leader who is sincere to his people and someone who truly believes in global and regional peace. Pakistan under the leadership of PTI is making progress on multiple fronts whose positive impact will become more visible in the coming months.