ISLAMABAD: In an unexplained move, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Wednesday announced that the participants of the planned anti-government long march would enter the federal capital on Oct 31, instead of Oct 27.

Providing some details of the ‘Azadi march’ for the first time during an informal chat with some reporters at his residence, the JUI-F chief made it clear that the party had instructed its workers and supporters not to make any attempt to enter Islamabad before Oct 31.

Maulana Fazl revealed his plan on the day his party formally submitted an application to the Islamabad administration, seeking permission to hold a rally in the capital. Interestingly, the JUI-F had in the application sought permission to hold the march on Oct 27.

In an effort to reject an impression that the party had made some changes in the plan and delayed its sit-in in Islamabad, the JUI-F chief claimed they had announced that ‘Azadi march’ would begin on Oct 27, adding that the people living in areas far away from Islamabad, such as Karachi, Quetta, Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, would begin their march to the federal capital on Oct 27.

Party decides to bring out rallies on Oct 27 to express solidarity with Kashmiris

However, he said, they would be asked to make stopover somewhere and reach Islamabad on Oct 31 so that the people from all over the country could enter the federal capital simultaneously.

Responding to a question, Maulana Fazl said the JUI-F had decided to bring out rallies on Oct 27 to express solidarity with Kashmiris who would be observing black day all over the world against Indian occupation of the valley.

He said the people living in areas near Islamabad would be asked to disperse after the rallies on Oct 27 and the party had directed the provincial leadership to select points where these people could be asked to gather for starting the march to Islamabad.

Surprisingly, when asked as to where he would be present on Oct 27, Maulana Fazl said he had not yet finalised his schedule.

Earlier in the day, JUI-F secretary general Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, while talking to reporters after presiding over a meeting of the Senate Committee on Religious Affairs, said there was no reason for the state institutions to panic regarding the ‘Azadi march’ as their fight was not against the state or any establishment, but against corruption and mismanagement of the incumbent government.

Denouncing the notion that students of seminaries would be used as human shield in the long march, Maulana Haideri said: “We have neither appealed to seminaries to participate in the march nor are we interested in bringing the seminary students on the streets.”

He said the JUI-F was only trying to exercise its constitutional and legal rights to protest, adding that there was no restriction on the people entering the march. However, he said that they had restricted children below the age of 18 years.

Maulana Haideri expressed the hope the government would not arrest the top leadership of JUI-F and said agitations did not stop when there was a general resentment against the authorities and the workers would always be under control as long as the crowd was led by the leaders.

“I am confident that the government will not make any mistake to arrest the leadership at this point as it will allow the workers to act on their own,” he added.

He made it clear that they would not allow the system to be derailed and this march was not a threat to democracy. He said it would be a peaceful march unlike that of Imran Khan’s which was violent and aggressive and even tried to storm the PM House after attacking state institutions like PTV.

Kalbe Ali also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2019