Islamabad - Pakistan's religious parties, written off as toothless in the recent past, are re-discovering its bits in the upcoming general election.
The Muttahida Majlis-e- Amal — an alliance of religious political parties — is one of the right-wing group gearing up its campaign in the federal capital for the upcoming elections. Their confidence has buoyed by the energetic campaign of Mian Aslam, a billionaire-firebrand politician and a former MNA, who is challenging PTI’s chief Imran Khan and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in NA 53 and Asad Umer and PML-N’s Aqeel Anjum in NA 54.
“For us, winning all 191 seats is very important, as we can only implement Islam after making a government in Islamabad,” said Aslam, while sitting on the front seat of his luxurious imported SUV, painted with campaign slogans and his picture.
“The corrupt parties have destroyed the economy and deprived the nation of education, health facilities and jobs. Implementing Islam is the only solution to the agonies of the country,” he continued.
The MMA, an alliance of religious political parties, was revived just before elections with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ahle-e-Hadith, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan-Noorani (JUP-N) and Tehreek-e-Islami (TI) wanting to bag a maximum number of seats at the federal and provincial levels to become viable contenders for power.
In 2002, at its inception, it emerged as the second largest opposition party after the Pakistan People's Party. Despite visible acceptance of religious parties among the general public, the religious parties had always won a few percents of the vote share but in 2002, it reportedly crossed 10 percent mostly due to its anti-America rhetoric post-9/11.
But things have changed in the last sixteen years, not only internationally but also at the local level. Those who were foes are friends now. “We have never opposed the US, but its policies, it is wrong that we supported Taliban, we were only supporting Pakistan's state policy,” Aslam said pragmatically.
He said, however, that his party supported freedom fighters, who were fighting against any oppression. “Kashmir is the jugular vein of the country, our all rivers originate or pass from there, it is wrong that Kashmir is not part of our political agenda, it is understood,” he claimed.
The polite and humble MMA leader was unable to hide his irritation when questions were turned to Maulana Fazlur Rehman. “What the Standing Committee on Kashmir Chairman could do, when there is a president, a prime minister and other state functionaries. Why you hold a standing committee chairman only accountable on the Kashmir issue,” Aslam said in irritation. Rehman is the Chairman of the Special Committee of the National Assembly on Kashmir since 2008, and enjoying a status of the federal minister. Despite several trips abroad, and availing lucrative perks, Rehman is criticised for remaining indifferent to highlight the plight of Kashmiri people and the Kashmir cause.
Aslam insists that corruption allegations against the Maulana were mostly from opponents. “Does his name appear in the Panama Papers or Paradise leaks, or any of the MMA member was included in NRO, where around 8000 convicted were pardoned,” he maintained.
As he was discussing national and international agendas, the convoy reached the first destination of Sunday evening, a grand mosque of G-13/1, where the meeting with the religious elders of the area was scheduled.
After a brief discussion on the election strategy, and of course, a cup of tea and snacks, in the spacious room of the chief cleric, the rally left for G-11/3, where supporters gathered in an open space next to an under-construction mosque. The ex-MNA did not fail to remind his supporters of his achievements he had to his name during his last tenure. “Friends, recall I upgraded the education system, solved your hiring problems, initiated legislation to protect your rights,” he said.
He said that the water shortage was the biggest issue, but it was not un-achievable as in his last tenure, he conducted a study in collaboration with the CDA to transport water from Ghazi Barotha Indus River or Jhelum river, near Patriata to Islamabad. “It was my plan, the PTI and others now take credit of, we will just implement the project, funds are not the issue, the CDA can sell one or two commercial plots,” Aslam told his supporters.
In his emotional and well-worded speeches, he was not shy to take on his opponents. “Those who have been mentioned in mega corruption scandals of Panama and paradise leaks, or those who have inducted all peoples into the party, the PTI is the new name of the PPPP, it cannot build Pakistan, but we can,” he told his supporters, gathered in the parking area of an under-construction mosque, for a corner meeting in G-13/1.
After shuttling between the constituencies of NA-53 and NA-54, holding numerous corner meetings, mostly close to some mosques, the meeting place in France Colony — a Christian slum with over 6000 population — was also at the entrance of the local Church and the community showered an overwhelming welcome to the MMA candidate.
The intelligent, smart and pragmatic knows the game, sometimes labelled as a hardcore fundamentalist, he is equally popular among Muslims and Christians. The residents of France colony pointed out discrimination being carried out against them and the contractor system, due to which departments were not hiring sanitation staff directly and on a permanent basis.
“We will dump the contractor system. I promise, it is unjust that someone else gets the share from your hard earned salary,” he said. “You must have remembered me, we must have met at some funeral, at the wedding of any of you, and start new phase of life and you cannot forget numerous Christmas’ cakes we cut together,” Aslam said amid a loud applause. “I had been in the public access in the past and my doors will remain open for all of you, around-the-clock, unlike those who never visited the area after winning the elections,” he said.
The self-made businessman who started poultry breeding business with mere 700 chicks, is not emphasising on future promises but he has branded himself as an anti-status quo, a leader who is always available to the general public and who always stand by them.