8 days, 13 hours, and still counting! What Fazal-ur-Rehman has managed to accomplish in this spell of Azadi March? Is Molana now looking for a respectable escape from Islamabad Protest? Does he still hold a hidden card to play?
7-km away of D-Chowk, Molana is sitting with a massive crowd, demanding resignation of the Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Speculations are that he is aiming at some kind of deal for a few politicians who are in jail or on bail. It is also being speculated that Molana wants to have a ministry in the setup as he lost this luxury after two decades, almost.
However, Molana’s stance is that this march is to wipe away the selected and incompetent government that has caused inflation and poverty.
October 27, Karachi
JUI-F’s Azadi March started from Karachi on 27th of October, led by the party chief Fazal-ur-Rehman. He said it is going to be a million-march that will wipe out this ‘selected government’ even before the Azadi March convoys hits Islamabad. After a brief stay in Hyderabad where Molana addressed the JUI-F and PPP party workers, the convoy left for Punjab by the evening.
Molana didn’t open up clearly on whether it is going to be just a long march, or he is going to do a sit-in throughout his journey towards Islamabad.
Azadi March was approaching towards Lahore, Punjab. The war of words started to heat up not only between JUI-F and the government (PTI), but other big opposition parties also jumped in, in favor of this march.
The major opposition parties, PMLN and PPP, promised their ample support with Molana. However, PPP seems reluctant over the decision of joining and sitting in the JUI-F’s sit-in.
October 29, Lahore
On Day 3 (October 29), Molana arrived with his protestors in Lahore. Fazal Ur Rehman was in Land Cruiser V8, accompanied by approximately 500 other vehicles around him. Molana was anticipating a warm welcome from a very big, charged crowd from PMLN in Lahore that actually didn’t happen. Molana was even not able to meet PMLN’s president Mr. Shehbaz Sharif that was a little setback for him.
The Good Part!
The good thing about the protestors of JUI-F Azadi March in Lahore was that the protesters stayed really peaceful and calm. The media persons showed Metro Buses traveling on its tracks without any interruption, even when there was a decent crowd sitting on both sides of the track.
During their short stay in Lahore, there was a clear lack of coordination between the party heads of JUI-F and PMLN. After this short stay, the caravan started to march towards Islamabad, the Capital City!
The Agreement between JUI-F and Administration
The Administration already had an agreement with JUI-F that clearly states that the protest would be limited to the permitted protest site. Therefore, the government decided to let them come and sit-in in the Car Park, H-9 Sunday Market that is near the Peshawar Mor without any restrictions.
No footage or incident has been reported that confirms that the Azadi March participant gets any sort of barriers throughout their journey. However, the government arranged containers also anticipating any violation by the protestors to make sure that they don’t approach the sensitive buildings in the Red Zone.
Lack of Coordination among Opposition Parties
When the march was approaching Islamabad, there comes another twist in the story. Mariam Aurangzeb, the spokesperson of PMLN, announced on media that the Azadi March Public Meeting that was scheduled for 31st October is now postponed because of the major Railway incident in Punjab in which 70+ people lost their lives. However, the leadership of JUI-F had its own stance, emphasizing that it would be held as scheduled.
“Mariam Aurangzeb doesn’t have anything to do with this Azadi March”, said the JUI-F leader Fazal-ur-Rehman. After that, many statements from different party spokespersons of PMLN and JUI-F emerged on news channels and social media about this. Apart from that there were also speculations that the PMLN might have been into a deal with the government and they are not going to be in full support of this show.
This situation created agitation between the opposition parties and also among those who wanted to see this march successful.
October 31st, Welcome to the Capital City!
On Day 5, the Caravan reached Islamabad. Protestors were at the protest site and the crowd started to build up. Now the number game started. According to many government officials, it was like a 25000 to 40000 crowd. According to media and other sources, there were approximately 100000 to 125000 protestors with Molana and more on their way to Islamabad.
According to the media, the government wasn’t expecting these numbers and now it would be really difficult to deal with such a big crowd. Among the crowd, the media spotted a few flags of Taliban and also people holding truncheons and even swords in their hands. This situation was now looking really alarming and it was indeed a big test for the new government that was there for only one and half year.
Till the evening of 31st October, there were also speculations that the PMLN president Shehbaz Sharif and PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zaradri are not going to be there with Molana on the container.
However, on the very next day, the leaders of the two major opposition parties emerged on Azadi March container holding hands of Molana.
Both leaders lashed out at the government and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister Imran Khan.
And Molana Announced to Approach towards D-Chowk, Red Zone!
Molana’s tone becomes really aggressive, maybe because he was sensing a full-support of the two major parties on every card he is going to play.
He played the religious card, lashed out at and warned establishment to stay out of all this. And finally, he announced a march towards the Red Zone!
An Open Threat to Prime Minister
“Look at this massive crowd. This will get into the PM’s house and arrest the selected prime minister from his home”, said Fazlal Ur Rehman. He further grumbled about the institutions (establishment) and said we don’t want to get into a fight with the institutions, so they better stay out of all what the JUI-F is going to do.
48-Hours for PM to Go Home
Finally, Molana gave a 48-hour ultimatum to the government, demanding the PM’s resignation and calling for the new elections. He also demanded that the new elections must not be held under the supervision of Pakistan Army.
At that time, Molana was in his full flow and the Azadi March seems like in its full swing. But maybe, he had played his last card too early.
Here Comes the Response from the Govt.
After Molana’s speech, the government spokespersons completely took the chances of PM’s resignation out of the equation. However, the government emphasized to have dialogues with the Rehbar Committee for their lawful demands.
On the other hand, Molana rejects the chances of any talks with the government without the PM’s resignation. In the meantime, the government also started to block all entries towards the red zone with containers that they had already there in place as a precautionary measure.
Pak Army is Impartial, Said DG ISPR
Meanwhile, the DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor released a statement on television in response to what Molana said on the container last night.
“Pakistan Army is a neutral institution and our support is with the democratically elected govt.”, says DG ISPR. He said that Molana is a very senior politician and he has to elaborate which institution he pointed out in his speech.
He further said that Pakistan Army has performed its constitutional duties in the 2018 elections and if any party has any reservations, then they should go to the proper forums for it.
“Pak Army and the nation have maintained peace after years of struggle in the country and we are here to perform every constitutional duty under the constitution to maintain law and order in the country”, he added.
Day 6 of the Azadi March
Both Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif left the container of Molana, saying that they are not going to support the sit-in. However, both parties were still giving an indication that they might also join the sit-in under certain circumstances. Seems as if they had their interests before Molana, anyway, and why not?
The 48 hour ultimatum to the government was about to be over. Fazal-ur-Rehman emerged on the container top a few hours before the deadline. He started to address the protestors, but this time, his tone was low and different from what it was when he was giving the two days ultimatum to the government.
From today’s speech of Molana, it was very clear that he is now trying to get his protestors ready to leave the protest site soon. He also explained that they are not going to advance towards the Red Zone because it is not big enough for such a huge crowd.
“We never said that we are going to have a 126 day sit-in. It’s not a sit-in, it’s a movement that will never stop, even after we leave this place”, said Fazal-ur-Rehman. He also said that this movement will get stronger once we get back and it will spread across the country.
Towards completing his speech, Molana had tears in his eyes for a moment.
This entire speech was an indication that the JUI-F’s march is not going to proceed further.
What brought this Change in Molana’s Attitude and Aggression?
This shift in Molana’s aggression was too early than what was expected. Possibly, he got a really strong message from the government to back off. Maybe, he has realized that the two bigger opposition parties are using him for their own interest and he is getting into the swamp and it would be hard for him to get out from it.
Here, we have to keep in mind that the current relationship between the government and establishment is exemplary. Maybe, Pakistan is heading towards a new destiny where all institutions will work together, performing their constitutional duties.
The Current Scenario
Strains are still there, but the intensity has become much lower than what it was a couple of days before. Molana might be preparing his protestors to leave Islamabad. And if it happens, then the question is; what Molana has managed to achieve in all these days?
He might leave the Capital City in a few days with empty hands, but who knows? Does he have any other card to play in his pocket? Only the time will tell!
Writer: Zeeshan Ahmad