Fazl extends sit-in, threatens to spread protest nationwide

Updated November 04, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman speaks at Azadi march on Sunday.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman speaks at Azadi march on Sunday.—Online

• Indicates he has no plan to march towards D-Chowk

• Says movement to oust govt will continue

• Future strategy to be announced after consultation with heads of other opposition parties

• Announcement provides relief to law enforcers, govt

ISLAMABAD: After getting a cold response from the government to its two-day deadline for the prime minister’s resignation and being deserted by major opposition parties, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Sunday extended the ongoing sit-in at the designated H-9 venue and threatened to spread the protest throughout the country.

Providing relief to both the law enforcement agencies, which remained alert throughout the day to meet any eventuality, as well as the citizens of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, by not going ahead with his perceived threat to march towards the Red Zone, the Maulana told the charged gathering that he was trying to convene a meeting of the heads of opposition parties on Monday (today) to discuss the future course of action.

However, a number of leaders and office-bearers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), when contacted, said it was highly unlikely that their heads, Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, would be able to reach Islamabad on such a short notice.

The Maulana again hinted that he had no plan to move towards D-Chowk or the Prime Minister House, but at the same time declared that “their movement to oust the government will continue”.

“You are already in Islamabad. D-Chowk is too congested and you are in an open environment,” the Maulana said in an effort to pacify the charged people who had been asking him to announce the march towards the Red Zone.

Pointing towards the crowd, the Maulana thundered that no one could dare stop them from marching towards the PM House, if they decided to do so.

However, defending his decision of not directing his workers to march towards D-Chowk which could result in a direct clash with the law enforcement agencies despite “incitement” by some circles, the Maulana claimed that it was his party that had so far saved the country’s youth from picking up arms and kept them away from violence and aggression.

“Today a number of journalists talked to me and they described our restraint and possible retreat as a defeat. We say that we will go back, but only after making some gains and only to launch a more fierce attack,” he said.

“Today we have gathered in Islamabad. Tomorrow we will lock down the whole country and you will see it,” he said. The JUI-F chief termed the Azadi march “Plan A” of his party, saying they also had “Plan B” and “Plan C”.

He hinted at a countrywide protest movement and courting arrest by his party workers as part of Plans B and C by stating: “You (the government) will go short on jails”.

The Maulana asked the party workers “not to pay heed to the tone set by the social media”.

“Trust your own self and trust your leadership. [...] The decisions made by your leadership in your favour will make you successful,” he declared.

At one point of time during his nearly an hour-long speech, the JUI-F chief became emotional when he praised the party workers for their obedience and commitment, saying he had complete faith in them that they could even stage a sit-in for a year, if asked.

Response to ISPR statement

The JUI-F chief indirectly responded to the statement that was issued by Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor asking the opposition not to drag armed forces into politics and advising it to take up its case with the relevant institutions, including judiciary and the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“They ask us to go to the ECP. The ECP is more helpless than us,” the JUI-F chief said. He the ECP responsible for the present state of affairs in the country. He lashed out at the ECP for not being able to decide the foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) that had been filed by a party dissident Akbar S. Babar some five years back.

The Maulana criticised the army’s role in the elections.

“The army is becoming controversial and we don’t want to see it becoming controversial. We have gone far away from the Constitution. Every institution is interfering in it. People are not satisfied,” he claimed, suggesting that all the institutions must sit together and agree on the fact that the country’s constitution was supreme and Pakistan could only be run through it.

“Democratic institutions have become meaningless. There is no democracy in the country. Everyone looks somewhere else instead of people during the elections,” he said.

The JUI-F chief ridiculed the announcement by the government to file a mutiny case against him for allegedly instigating the people to attack the Prime Minister House.

The decision to prolong the sit-in and call a conference of opposition leaders was made by senior JUI-F leaders after nearly six-hour consultation with the party’s leadership after which Maulana Fazl made the announcement about it while speaking to thousands of his supporters who were anxiously waiting to receive new directives from him after expiry of the two-day ultimatum.

The decision to call the opposition leaders’ meeting was made by the JUI-F leaders after the PPP and PML-N members of the Rehbar Committee opposed the Maulana’s decision to prolong the sit-in and expressed their inability to make a further decision without consulting their respective leaderships and discussing the matter in their central executive committees.

The PML-N has already convened its party meeting in Lahore on Monday (today) whereas PPP has yet to announce a date for its meeting.

Interestingly, the leaders of both the PML-N and PPP claim that they have not deserted the Maulana, but they admit that they have sought more time from the JUI-F for in-house consultations to discuss the situation that has arisen after the Maulana’s decision to extend the sit-in.

“We were together till Oct 31 when the JUI-F’s Azadi march arrived in Islamabad. However, we are no more a part of the present sit-in which is a JUI-F’s own show,” said a senior member and a key PML-N office-bearer.

When contacted, PPP secretary general and a member of the opposition’s Rehbar Committee Farhatullah Babar said that party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was presently on a visit to south Punjab and it would be highly unlikely that he would participate in the opposition leaders’ conference.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, spokesman for the PPP chairman, on Sunday said though his party was not a part of the sit-in, the possibility of joining it could not be ruled out. He said the PPP chairman might convene a meeting of the party’s core committee in Multan in a day or two to discuss the situation.

Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai was the only head of a political party who was beside Maulana Fazl at the container on Sunday night.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2019