This picture shows Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif.—File Photo
ISLAMABAD, May 19: With an eye on gaining support in Senate, the PML-N is working overtime to rope in the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) as an ally in the federal government.
Background discussions with a number of leaders from the two parties on modalities and conditions for forming a coalition government at the centre reveal that both the parties have their own reasons to seek a partnership.
A senior PML-N office-bearer privy to the ongoing talks between the two parties said his party wanted the JUI-F to join its government at the centre because it needed the religious party’s support in the Senate to carry out the legislative business smoothly.
At present, the PML-N has 15 senators and the JUI-F has seven members while the PPP is the largest party with 39 senators in the 104-member upper house of parliament. Another reason for the PML-N’s desire to take along the JUI-F despite having a majority in the lower house was that the religious party could exploit its ability to mobilise seminary students for street agitation on any issue, the PML-N leader said.
“These religious parties may not have a [large] vote bank, but one cannot deny their power to use Madressah students and bring them on roads for protests,” he said, adding that such a situation would divert the focus of the government and the media to less important issues.
Another PML-N leader said there was no doubt that Maulana Fazlur Rehman had connections in the country’s troubled tribal areas and Afghanistan and the government could take advantage of this in bringing peace in the country badly hit by terrorism.
Sources in the PML-N claimed that though the JUI-F had not formally presented its demands, the party seemed to be interested in getting the office of the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the office of the speaker or deputy speaker in Balochistan Assembly, at least two to three ministries in the federal cabinet and the chairmanship of the parliamentary committee on Kashmir.
On the other hand, JUI-F spokesman Jan Achakzai categorically denied that the party had demanded any ministry in its talks with the PML-N and said all such reports were baseless and speculative. He, however, said the party would definitely ask for some offices when it would finally decide to join the government.
When asked as to which issues were being discussed between the two parties if not the ministries, Mr Achakzai said the JUI-F wanted to understand clearly the stance of the future PML-N government on key issues like terrorism in Fata and legislative business on various controversial issues.
Answering a question, Mr Achakzai explained that the JUI-F wanted the PML-N to promise that it would not bulldoze the legislative business in parliament, particularly on sensitive issues like women’s rights.
Citing an example, he said the JUI-F had taken a clear position when the previous PPP-led coalition government had tried to bulldoze the controversial domestic violence bill on the pressure of civil society organisations.
When asked as to why the PML-N needed the JUI-F’s support when it was in a position to form the government on its own, he replied that the PML-N was conscious of the future challenges and knew that the JUI-F was an important party having links in Fata, Kashmir and Afghanistan.
“In fact, Maulana Fazlur Rehman is playing the role of a buffer between extremist forces and moderate parties. He has expertise and has links in Fata and Afghanistan. They (the PML-N) can utilise his expertise,” he said.
Mr Achakzai said the JUI-F had so far not expressed its desire to join the government and would make a final decision in the light of the report of a four-member committee which had been constituted on Sunday to hold further talks with the second tier of the PML-N leadership. The committee members are Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan, Akram Khan Durrani and Malik Sikandar Khan.