LAHORE: Calling his protest march a national rather than a Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) initiative, Maulana Fazlur Rehman said on Wednesday that it was the religious parties that had blown the whistle on an ‘incompetent’ Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government and slowly all other segments of society also rose up against it.

The Maulana explained the rationale behind his ‘Azadi march’ in a speech at the Greater Iqbal Park, which was where thousands of participants in the protest were camped for many hours on Wednesday before setting off for Islamabad. The marchers had arrived here from Multan, to a rather subdued reception than expected.

The promised reinforcement from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz never materialised, even though there was a ritualistic attempt at giving an impression that the PML-N camps had welcomed the Maulana in the Sharif hometown. An attempt on Maulana Fazl’s part to meet an ailing Mian Nawaz Sharif in hospital was also frustrated, ostensibly, under medical advice, and there was no Shahbaz Sharif on view to embrace and strengthen the marchers’ leader.

The JUI-F chief apparently tried to compensate for this by coming up with a detailed version to justify this particular action of his. “The religious parties were the first to note the extent and depth of the western (anti-Pakistan) agenda of the PTI government when blasphemy convicts were sent off (abroad) without due process of law,” he said, before expanding on the theme of religion. “It was not just blasphemy convicts — a pro-Qadiani agenda followed, which enraged religious sentiment.”

Claims if Imran is allowed more time in power, country’s loss will go beyond redemption

Maulana Fazl gave a break-up of how, in his view, various groups with their own grievances then joined in the protest against the Imran Khan government: “The next, the doctors came on the streets. They were still on the roads when the teachers joined. And as if all this was not enough, the traders then pulled their shutters down.”

The JUI-F chief linked all these protesters to the Pakistanis suffering under “unprecedented and inexorable inflation that has pushed a few more millions down the poverty line”. “Instead of delivering on the promise of five million jobs,” he said, “the PTI has thrown more than 2.5m people out of job with its policies. In place of 10m new houses, thousands have been razed in the name of action on encroachments. These factors have turned the march into a national effort, rather than it being viewed as step taken solely by the JUI.”

The Maulana recalled that economies can change geographies of states. “With the PTI in power, Pakistan’s economy is sinking by the day,” he claimed from atop a container, where representatives of almost all big parties such as the Pakistan Peoples Party, PML-N and Awami National Party (ANP) and religious parties and groups were seated. “If Imran Khan is allowed more time in power, the country’s loss will go beyond redemption. That is precisely why he needs to be thrown out of power.”

He also spoke on the subject of religious justification for his march. “Once a religious scholar asked me if rebellion against a Muslim ruler, however bad, is allowed in Islam, I told him this provision is applicable only if one has submitted his will in the first place. I never did [submit to rule by Imran Khan]. From day one, I am on record saying this is an illegal government. Time has vindicated [the stance]. This [illegality and incompetence] is a lethal combination for the nation and state. It must end, and I am out to ensure that it does,” the JUI-F chief vowed.

The Maulana prayed for an early recovery of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari, both of whom are currently ill. “This accountability farce must end,” he demanded. “Personal vendetta and political victimisation in the name of accountability has gone too far. We want to see a healthy Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari back. The sooner it happens, the better it would be.”

And for all this to happen, the JUI-F chief insisted, Imran Khan must go. “The whole nation is on the same page as far as the exit of Imran Khan is concerned and let’s move to the capital to achieve this national goal,” Maulana Fazl concluded before leading thousands of his supporters towards Islamabad, where they are expected to reach on Thursday (today).

Gujranwala rally

Azadi march reached Gujranwala on Wednesday night where all opposition parties supporting the march, including the PPP, PML-N and ANP, welcomed them at different points of GT Road.

Maulana Fazl predicted government fall before the march reached the federal capital. “Imran Khan has failed to deliver. He must resign to allow new elections.”

Sources said the participants of Azadi march did not pay any toll tax on Gujranwala-Kamoke toll plaza.

Akram Malik also contributed to this report from Gujranwala

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019

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