LAHORE - Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl staged a show of political force, the first of its kind by the religious party in the capital of Punjab where it has no significant ground presence.

Addressing the participants on Sunday evening, JUI-F Amir Fazlur Rehman claimed that only his party can rid the poor of the slavery of the elite, end power shortages, uphold the Islamic identity of Pakistan, protect its sovereignty and serve the very purpose of its creation.

People from various cities, even from other provinces, came to swell the crowd at Minar-e-Pakistan, where some 30,000 chairs had been arranged. Most of the participants of ‘Islam Zindabad Conference’ were students of religious seminaries, the main constituency of the JUI-F.

Overall, the JUI-F leaders who spoke on the occasion displayed a particularly soft corner for Mian Nawaz Sharif, the chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which ruled Punjab for the last five years and with which the JUI-F has been seeking an electoral alliance.

But they breathed fire at Imran Khan, the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), which recently rallied hundreds of thousands at the same place promising the nation to rid it from the rule of the looters. Over past two years the PTI has gained in popularity and has come to challenge the PML-N in Punjab. It has also gained significant ground in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the bastion of JUI-F.

Criticising Imran Khan, the speakers said his party’s culture was based on ‘dances and vulgarity’. They said Islamic system would not be enforced by the PTI even if it got an opportunity to come to power. The Islamic system, they said, would be enforced only by the JUI-F.

The participants kept raising slogans of ‘Islamic Revolution’ during the speeches. Because of the security threat, the government had blocked mobile phone service in the surrounding areas. A total of 2,000 police cops had been deployed to maintain peace. Another 5,000 volunteers of the JUI-F were also performed security duties.

The speakers said the JUI-F would give a surprising performance in the May 11 elections and Fazlur Rehman would be the next prime minister. Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, former KP chief minister Akram Khan Durrani, ex-Senator Dr Khalid Mehmood Soomro, Ataur Rehman, Dr Atiqur Rehman, Muhammad Khan Sherani and Saeed Yousaf also addressed on the occasion. Amjad Khan conducted the proceedings.

JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman in his speech also claimed that Pakistan does not need to import gas from Iran or Tajikistan, as the country has sufficient gas reserves to meet the energy needs for 20 to 25 years. In his opinion, to exploit these resourses the country needed proper management.

He is the second important political figure who opposed the $1.5 billion Pak-Iran gas pipeline which was inaugurated by President Asif Ali Zardai along with his Iranian counterpart on March 11, 2013. Two weeks ago, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif called it a ‘drama’.

Fazl said the country also has the capacity to meet its electricity needs. “Electricity producing unites are owned by private companies, who stop production when the government does not pay their dues,” he said, claiming the shortfall is created artificially.

He was critical of the over-projection of nationalities, saying it had divided the nation. He said their conference’s purpose was to remember the objective of the creation of Pakistan – protection of Muslims’ rights. But, he said, unfortunately, it could not become an Islamic welfare state.

He claimed that only his party could rid the poor of the slavery of the Punjab feudal lords. “We have come here to give this message to the people of Punjab”. The JUI-F chief said the landlords cannot be allowed to keep the tenants subjugated. They would have to give the tenants their due rights.

He said the workers would have to be given 50 per cent representation in the boards of governors of industries. He also welcomed the Christian, Sikh and Hindu participants of the public meeting, saying their participation proved they have faith in the fact that Islam grants rights to minorities.

Fazl said it was regrettable that Kashmir dispute was not being given due importance. “Kashmir issue was centre of our foreign policy in the past... the government is more interested in Afghanistan issue now.”

He said peace in the region depended on Pak-India relations that in turn depend on Kashmir. He also regretted the change in defence strategy, saying, “When Indian forces are on borders, we are paying more heed to terrorism.”

He said several nations were facing threats to their sovereignty from America and West. “We are with those nations for their right to sovereignty.” He also repeated the mantra of fighting war for Islamic cause in the parliament.