The JUI-F’s public meeting held in Karachi on Friday was, by any reckoning, a huge rally termed the “Islam Zindabad Conference”. JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman claimed that attendance was so large, it had beaten all previous records. Whatever the factual position, it was no mean achievement to gather such a large number of people, particularly in a city that is considered the preserve of a rival party. JUI-F’s followers and religious elements from different parts of the country assembled at Mazar-e-Quaid, where the rally was held, to listen to Maulana Fazl and other leaders of the party addressing the gathering. The Maulana lamented that in return for the sacrifices Pakistan had made in fighting the war of others, it received only humiliation. Thus, on coming to power, he promised to take the country out of the war on terror that had so far claimed the lives of 40,000 of our citizens and caused a loss of $70 billion to the economy. The leader of the opposition in the Senate, JUI-F’s Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, who also spoke on the occasion, warned that if Nato supplies were resumed, the containers carrying them would be torched. These views will receive sympathy from a public outraged by a combination of unending threats to life and property posed by terrorists and resentful of the US for drone strikes and the invasion of territorial sovereignty. The militants, it is noteworthy, targeted PMA Kakul Academy on Friday, though its rockets narrowly missed the main building and damaged the outer wall. And the drones keep flying over the Fata region in pursuit of their mission.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is attending the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland, also told CNN that Pakistanis were bitter about the deaths of 26 of its soldiers at the hands of Nato airplanes. He echoed a general feeling in the country when he called upon the US to stop drone strikes. Rather than eliminating terrorism, he pointed out, they created militants out of peaceful citizens living in the tribal areas.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman rubbished the charge of extremists being levelled against Pakistanis and Muslims alike. Quoting a verse from the Holy Quran, he said that Muslims were advised to follow a moderate path in their lives. He accused the US of torturing suspects in detention camps, adding that Muslims only became militants when subjected to terrorist pressures. One would support negotiations as the only viable means of bringing to a close the sordid chapter of death and destruction poor Afghans have witnessed since late 70s. But, at the same time, one would agree with Maulana Fazl when he says that the US-led talks had his support. The truth is that unless the true representatives of the Taliban (Pashtuns) are engaged in negotiations, any deal concluded over and above their heads is unlikely to survive for long.