Artwork by Abdul Sattar Abbasi

Fazlur Rehman — KP’s comeback kid?

With his main rival party in tatters, JUI-F could be set to regain ground lost in the previous elections.
Published January 24, 2024

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is one of the most intriguing personalities in the realm of Pakistani politics.

Born in Dera Ismail Khan in 1953, Fazl took over the reins of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) in 1980 at the age of 27 when his father passed away. The party then split into two in the mid-80s — the JUI-F, led by Fazl, and the JUI-S, led by Samiul Haq — over whether to join Ziaul Haq’s government and also allegedly over personal differences. Like his father, Fazl draws his support from followers of the Deobandi school of thought which is part and parcel of JUI-F’s ideology.

Fazl, thanks to his father’s legacy, emerged as the leader of the more powerful faction. Although the party claims to hold intra-party elections every three years, he has been its head since 1980.

During the Musharraf era, Fazl reached the pinnacle of his influence, evident in his role as the leader of the opposition from 2004 to 2008. Additionally, a legislator from his party held the position of chief minister in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government led by Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal during that time.

Performance in last six years

In the early 2010s, PTI emerged as a serious threat to the JUI-F, particularly in KP, and was strongly opposed by Fazl, who even went on to claim that a decree issued by ulemas stated that casting a vote in favour of Imran Khan was ‘haram’ (un-Islamic) in 2013.

The 2018 general elections brought more electoral misery for JUI-F chief as he lost in his traditional stronghold in Dera Ismail Khan to PTI’s Ali Ameen Khan Gandapur in NA-38 and PTI’s Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh in NA-39.

This year, he is contesting from NA-44 (previously NA-38), Dera Ismail Khan as well as NA-265 Pishin, Balochistan while his youngest brother, Maulana Obaidur Rehman, is making his electoral debut from NA-45 (previously NA-39).

Even though Fazl himself failed to win any NA seats in 2018, he played a crucial role in the opposition against former PM Imran. In Oct 2019, he led a long march, dubbed as Azadi March, against the then-PTI government.

In September 2020, his party, along with PML-N and PPP, formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a coalition of 11 opposition political parties. They alleged that Imran’s victory in the 2018 general election was rigged by the country’s military establishment and demanded his resignation.

Fazl subsequently be­come the president of the PDM after his unanimous nomination by the heads of all the constituent parties.

Before announcing PDM’s “action plan” aimed at ousting PTI’s government, the JUI-F chief read out a 26-point declaration demanding an “end of establishment’s interference in politics, new free and fair elections after the formulation of election reforms with no role of armed forces and intelligence agencies” and more.

In Feb 2022, he announced that PDM had decided to move a no-confidence motion against the PM which proved to be a success in April when Imran became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history to have been removed from office through that route.

Key stances

  • Fazl advocates the imposition of Shariah law in Pakistan but at the same time considers an armed struggle to do so against the teachings of Islam.

  • He says his party believes in a peaceful struggle for the implementation of Shariah and spreading the message of Islam. However, he has often allied with or supported parties that do not have a religious bent. Fazl has been a consistent PML-N ally since 2013. At the same time, he has also formed coalitions with other religio-political parties. For instance, in the 2018 elections, his party was a part of the broader MMA alliance of religious parties.

  • In the past, Fazl offered to mediate between the Pakistani Taliban and the government but changed his position on that front later on. He was also the target of suicide attacks carried out by militants.

  • The JUI-F chief has also opposed the merger of KP and Fata, which he says was not per the wishes of the tribal people. He had also suggested a referendum to understand what the people of Fata want. Fazl, however, also said he wouldn’t oppose the region’s mainstreaming, which he emphasised isn’t the same as a merger with KP.

  • The JUI-F chief has taken an anti-American position on occasion but has also changed tack on that front at times.

  • The JUI-F chief met Hamas leaders Khalid Mashaal and Ismail Haniya in Qatar to express solidarity with Palestine last November, saying, “Advocates of developed countries have blood-stained hands of innocent children and women.”

  • He has called on the country’s political leadership to ensure the release and repatriation of Aafia Siddiqui, who he said became a victim of the government’s flawed policies that were put in place to please the United States.

  • He was also against the restoration of Nato supply lines in 2012. The Americans, however, do not necessarily see him as anti-US. In fact, Internal State Department communications have described him as “more of a politician than a mullah”.

  • Fazl has also routinely opposed laws for the protection of women and laws revising the legal age of marriage, calling them ‘Western’ in character and damaging to Pakistani society and culture.

  • He also rejected the ‘judicial murder’ of Mumtaz Qadri and called him a martyr, saying the hanging was based on bad intent and could be part of a conspiracy to abolish Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Header artwork by Abdul Sattar Abbasi