What the maulana wants

Updated 10 Oct 2019


The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

THE maulana is gearing up to send the government home. And there is more confusion in the opposition’s ranks than in the government’s (PTI does not need outsiders to add to the confusion of its own making). The PML-N ranks just cannot decide what to do and are holding consultation after consultation — with each other, with Nawaz Sharif, with Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, and with the maulana himself. The PPP is doing what it has perfected since election 2018 — kabhi haan, kabhi naan (sometimes yes, sometimes no) — which goes on till D-day, be it the election of the prime minister in parliament or the azadi march.

But Maulana Fazlur Rehman appears firm. For him, October means October, and the 27th to be exact. He and his men will descend on Islamabad from all over and then it seems the plan is to stay put till the government goes home. How this will happen is far from clear, but then politicians in our part of the world are not known for their clear strategising as they count more on hidden hands than logic.

Read: PPP, PML-N's position uncertain as Fazl announces 'Azadi march' against govt on October 27

No wonder then that when Hafiz Hussain Ahmed was asked how his party thought the government would go home, he said that he was not going to share his party’s strategy publicly, which is what politicians say when they don’t have an answer.

The PPP, on the other hand, is the morally upright party whose behaviour is the most inexplicable. After months of Asif Ali Zardari, and sometimes BBZ, warning the government of dire consequences, the party was the first to back out once the maulana was in the process of finalising his plans. BBZ said that his party could neither support anyone using the religion card, nor did it believe in dharnas. So that was it.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman appears firm. For him, October means October, and the 27th to be exact.

But a few weeks later, the PPP was once again willing to become part of a consultative process with the PML-N and the maulana to discuss if it could consider the march again. Considering that the maulana had not changed any of his goals or methods, it is hard to understand what the PPP is rethinking. Ask the party-wallahs and they will come up with no convincing answers. But then, they haven’t been able to come up with the latter in any of their leadership’s U-turns since the general elections of 2018. Extrapolating from the words of a famous poet, the PPP men’s and women’s role is not to reason why but to do … (the rest is better left un-recited).

Read: PPP stresses need for opposition unity, warns against unilateral action on long march

The PML-N never made any categorical statement about the maulana’s plans but then it has been going around in circles since before the elections. Is it a party of hawks or doves, good cops or bad cops, Nawaz Sharif’s bayaniya (narrative) or Shahbaz Sharif’s? It is just a Tower of Babel and no one can make sense of it, not even the party itself? The same confusion still prevails, though now they have some justification for it with some of the party’s key leaders imprisoned.

They are holding meeting after meeting but to no end so far. And the PPP is part of this chaotic ‘consensus building’.

It began with the multiparty conference during the summer where they formed a Rehbar Committee to take decisions. Later, the PPP announced its ‘no’ unilaterally and then decided to reconsider. Now both parties want another multiparty conference. It is unclear if this conference is meant to help them arrive at a decision or change the maulana’s mind.

But within the murmuring and the two bayanias, the PML-N’s ranks have some real concerns — of the cost of participation. Already facing the wrath of the state in the shape of charges, questions and accusations, would they want to risk taking part in a dharna and face more of the same? And let us not forget that not all the harassment is at the hands of federal organisations such as the FIA or NAB. A lot of it takes place at the constituency level and rarely ever makes it to the news. It is these harassed, intimidated constituency-level politicians who are expected to organise the people for jalsas and dharnas.

In other words, there is more to the party’s confusion than just poor Shahbaz Sharif’s reluctance and Nawaz Sharif’s enthusiasm for marching.

But perhaps the confusion in both the opposition parties can be best explained by a sentence uttered by a senior opposition politician, who commented that everyone was wondering why the maulana was so confident and adamant about going ahead with his march — did he have some kind of guarantee or assurance that the rest did not know about?

In the labyrinth called Pakistani politics, where everyone and their aunt is constantly in touch with and getting their political analysis and predictions from ‘khalai makhlooq’, politicians who are apparently bent upon on a crash are assumed to be guided by ‘others’. And the maulana has always been more inclined than others, it is said.

After all, Imran Khan’s 2014 folly was not a decision based on a party consensus but those whispering into his ear. The dissent within the party was so great that the KP chapter refused to resign from the provincial assembly, though those who had scraped through to the National Assembly had no choice but to hand in their resignations, with considerable (off-the-record) reluctance and lament. What exactly, he may have been promised remains unclear. But it was not meant to be and he finally climbed down from the container without having secured a fresh election — primarily because despite the great tension and more between the then government and the uniformed ones, the latter were in no mood to send the former home.

So the question remains: even if someone has been whispering promises into the maulana’s ears that make his eyes sparkle, why is he believing them? Doesn’t he realise that the whisperers are even less inclined to let a government fall than they were in 2014? Perhaps the PPP and the PML-N are looking for the answer to this question as they hold meeting after meeting.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2019