Some may kill two birds with one stone but Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has the quality of killing many birds with one stone.
He used the party’s centenary platform to strengthen ties with the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques after losing his old Libyan friend, Muammar Gaddafi.
The latest in the series is the presence of the deputy of the Imam-i-Kaaba on a barren land in Nowshera district, which attracted crowds on the opening day of the grand event billed as a bid to promote the soft and positive image of Islam.
The Maulana having his fingers on the pulses of the people knew that Pakistanis have a spiritual attachment with the Imam of the Grand Mosque and therefore, they would not miss Friday’s congregation led by the Imam-i-Kaaba.
JUI-F chief used party’s centenary celebrations to strengthen relations with Saudis
Second Saudi Arabia desperately needs ‘moral’ support in Pakistan because of the turmoil in Middle East. Acquaintance with the Maulana is the best option for Saudis in the prevailing situation in the region. The Maulana can exploit Saudi’s friendship in the future political discourse to his advantage.
At the same time, the JUI leader is trying to get close to China and European Union, too. In his opening speech at Azakhel, he exclusively highlighted the importance of friendship with China as well as CPEC project.
Few days ago, he hosted a lunch for ambassadors of European Union and invited them to attend events in Azakhel’s moot. Insiders said Fazl was delighted at the Chinese government’s move to list him as a friend.
He succeeded to display diversity by accommodating leaders of different religious and political thoughts. Clerics, progressives, seculars, moderates and nationalists sat side by side on the stage except Imran Khan of the PTI for whom the Maulana has ‘zero tolerance.’
The JUI-F has distanced itself from the Taliban and other militant groups, who have been engaged in the armed struggle in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The party leadership is denouncing militancy and criticising those who want to enforce Shariah through the barrel of guns time and again.
Surprisingly, no guest was invited from Afghanistan despite those in power or in opposition, belonged to Deobandi School of Thought there.
Before and after 9/11 JUI (F) lent moral and political support to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The party workers regularly held protest rallies in support of the Taliban.
Historically, the party never professed militancy publicly. But the party inclined towards the Taliban when the militia took over Kabul in mid 1990s. Similarly, the JUI-F like other religious groups staunchly opposed military actions against militants in KP and Fata and laid stress on the way of dialogue.
All of a sudden, the JUI-F built a counter-narrative against terrorism and extremism.
The Maulana is talking about rights of minorities in Pakistan. He is trying to portray his as a moderate party and build its soft image in the west through his new-found narrative.
“There is a visible change in the policy of the JUI-F regarding terrorism. Its leaders are openly condemning religious terrorism and extremism,” said one analyst.
Initially, some individuals in the party condemned militancy and terrorism but they were eliminated one by one. The party leadership’s narrative against terrorism is trickling down to common workers.
“The people who carry out suicide attacks and bomb blasts have selected a wrong path. Our leaders always condemned,” said Muhammad Abdullah, a worker of JUI-F from Pishin, Balochistan.
Interestingly, Maulana has tirelessly been giving a strong impression to the members of his basic constituency, seminaries, that he is protector of their rights. He doesn’t want to detach the madrassas, come what may.
Dr Qibla Ayaz, former dean of the Faculty of Islamic and Oriental Studies, University of Peshawar, said the JUI-F leader was a pragmatic politician, who was trying to convince the West that he did not support extremism.
“He (Maulana) is very shrewd politician. He is trying to show the West and others that every bearded person is not a terrorist and extremist,” said Dr Ayaz. He said that JUI still owned legacy of non violence inherited from JUI (Hind). Unlike other religious parties the JUI-F only morally supported ‘holy warriors’ against Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1980s.
Qari Mohammad Usman, JUI-F general secretary in Sindh, said his party had paid a ‘heavy price’ for its counter narrative against terrorism by losing several leaders.
He said the party leader (Fazl) had survived suicide attacks due to his strong stand against militancy.
“This is not true that JUI (F) has changed its stance on terrorism and extremism. Our party had no association or sympathies with parties who remained involved in extra-constitutional and unlawful activities,” insisted Qari Usman, “that is why groups having armed wings have not been invited to the centenary celebrations.”
But another political analyst said Mr Fazl was looking for new green pastures abroad in the shape of Saudi Arabia, China etc.
“Maulana has the qualities to accommodate himself with everyone and in every government to gain maximum benefits. He is man for all seasons,” she said.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2017