After the Azadi March fizzled out in the Islamabad rain, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) took time away from the spotlight to regroup and rethink. The much touted “Plan-B” didn’t materialize as expected, but it seems that Maulana Fazlur Rehman has chalked out the latest agenda which he plans to use to pressurize the government.

At a press conference at Jamia Islamia in Saddar, Mr Rehman said linking seminaries with terrorism was the “wrong narrative” and that he would not accept the government’s seminary syllabus reforms. Crucially, he plans to launch a protest against the government to make sure reform doesn’t happen.

This announcement is highly unfortunate. The JUI-F’s need for an opposition agenda after the failure of Azadi March is understandable but taking a regressive position on an issue that has been a priority for successive governments is highly damaging. It is not just political parties that have made this a priority; after the APS Peshawar attack, the National Action Plan (NAP) – drafted after a wide consensus which included the military leadership – laid heavy emphasis on reforming seminary education to ensure graduates acquire employable skills. This is not an attack on Islamic values, as the JUI-F has painted it, rather it is a highly necessary step to ensure seminary students enter the workforce and are thus prevented from associating with radical religious elements.

There is legitimate debate to be had on the seminary reform – what obligations will the seminary administrations have towards the government, what subjects need to be compulsory, what standard of financial accountability they will abide by; but arguing against reform based on spent conspiracies of a “western agenda” is disingenuous.

Maulana Fazulur Rehman should reconsider his stance; opposition to the government need not be detrimental to real issues of the country.