ISLAMABAD: With its planned anti-government ‘Azadi March’ just two weeks away, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) has increased contacts with opposition parties to seek their support for the Oct 31 protest.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Tuesday talked to Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) naib emir Liaquat Baloch over telephone and briefed him on details of his party’s planned long march to Islamabad aimed at ousting the present coalition government led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

Later, a delegation of the National Party (NP) headed by its president Hasil Bizenjo also called on the Maulana and announced its complete support for ‘Azadi March’.

A JUI-F delegation led by Akram Durrani also met Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) secretary general Nayyar Bokhari in an effort to remove misunderstandings between the two parties on the issue of the by-elections on a Sindh Assembly seat from Larkana.

The JUI-F also held a meeting of its core committee in Islamabad to finalise the strategy for the Oct 31 march in the light of the discussions with leaders of the opposition parties.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman had already met Awami National Party president Asfandyar Wali Khan in Charsadda on Monday.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with the JUI-F chief, Mr Bizenjo said there was no truth in the reports that the opposition parties were not on one page on the issue of ‘Azadi March’. He said such reports were being spread intentionally to give an impression that the opposition parties were divided.

He said it was on the insistence of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that all the opposition parties decided to go to assemblies despite the fact that the 2018 elections were massively rigged. Today, he said, the time had proved that this government was “fake” and had no public mandate. In an apparent reference to the federal cabinet, he regretted that non-elected people were ruling the country.

Mr Bizenjo said the time had come that all parties should support the JUI-F’s march. He said the NP would fully participate in ‘Azadi March’, but a formal announcement in this regard would be made through a news conference on Thursday (tomorrow).

The JUI-F chief thanked Mr Bizenjo and the NP delegation members for their support, saying the NP had always raised voice for democracy and people’s rights.

“This is a matter of satisfaction for the whole nation that all the opposition parties are on one page and they all believe that the elections were rigged. The PTI has a fake mandate and there is a fake prime minister in the country. Even the world knows it which is evident from the fact that wherever he (the PM) goes, he succeeds in meeting world leaders only if he is accompanied by the army chief,” the Maulana said.

The JUI-F chief appealed to world leaders not to hold talks with the prime minister as he had no mandate of the public.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman alleged that “agencies” were contacting his party office-bearers to pressurise them and asking them to stay away from ‘Azadi March’. He said such interference by a national institution was harmful for itself and, therefore, the institutions should stay impartial.

Responding to a question, the Maulana said that his party wanted to hold an indefinite sit-in, but other opposition parties had different viewpoint. He said his party’s planned ‘Azadi March’ should not be compared with the 126-day sit-in that was staged by the PTI in 2014. He said his party would not make its workers tired. They would be asked to continue their protest movement, he said, adding they could be asked to participate in it at various stages.

“Do not touch the bee-hives,” he warned, saying that “a sea of people” cannot be stopped through barricades. He asked the government not to make any foolish move to stop marchers.

Responding to another question, he said all the parties demanded fresh elections in the country. He said in-house change was not their option. However, he said if any such option was presented by anyone, then they would look into it.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2019