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Fazlur Rehman

Fazlur Rehman

Alliance maker

By Zaigham Khan

Fazlur Rehman is one of most complex and exciting figures of Pakistani politics.

He assumed the office of the Secretary General of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam in 1980, at the mere age of 27, following the death of his father, Maulana Mufti Mahmud.

The young leader was able to outfox all the maulanas of the Deoband school and has been heading JUI-F, the largest faction of the party, without any challenge since the late 1980s.

Since the 1990s, the other two major religious parties — the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan and the Jamaat-i-Islami — have watched their fortunes dwindle and their vote bank erode as the religious vote shifted to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Karachi, the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz in Punjab and, to some extent, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well.

But Fazl was able to weather these hostile conditions through unlikely alliances with successive ruling parties, allowing him to sustain patronage networks in his areas of influence.

The Musharraf era saw Fazl at the peak of his power, proven by his status as leader of the opposition between 2004-2008 and the chief minister in the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal-led KP government being a legislator from his party.

Today, the PTI has emerged as a serious threat to the JUI-F. Imran Khan has been able to lure many young voters out from under JUI-F’s influence and into the PTI.

If the PML-N, by some miracle, forms a government after the polls, Fazl will be a coalition partner in all likelihood.

However, it will be difficult for the JUI-F to enter into a coalition with a PTI-led government. In that case, we could see the maulana out of power after a long time.

But, he can be a formidable foe as part of the opposition. One can trust him to have a few surprises in store for us in the coming months.

Key stances