Despite calls from various quarters for an end to the untimely and unwarranted protests, Fazlur Rehman’s motley Opposition March is all set to take place. I personally have no doubts this would be a hotchpotch abortive attempt at causing disruption in public affairs and in providing the arch-enemy India a convenient diversion to build a specious narrative on.

Mounting peaceful protests is an inalienable right of every citizen of the country, but it has become plainly obvious that the due process has not been followed for registering the claimed issues, and this march is just designed to damage the Government’s attempts at streamlining the economy, fighting the Kashmir case and building Pakistan’s case in FATF. The farcical so-called “Guard-of-Honor” taken by Fazlur Rehman just over a week ago from his stick-wielding posse, uniformed in the similar colored outfit as the RSS goons, gives a touch of militias that are specifically outlawed by Pakistan’s Constitution. More so, in these heady days of our attempts to move Pakistan out of FATF Grey List, Fazlur Rehman is acting most irresponsibly through forming such illegal militias. Not that the Government does not know how to handle these elements - rest assured, they will be dealt with an iron hand if they attempted to cause any havoc during the sit-in. The responsibility thus lies fairly and squarely on the leadership of JUI-F, and also on those of other parties who have taken Fazlur Rehman as their acclaimed leader in this unholy flight from accountability.

After the Faizabad Dharna, Supreme Court made the defining judgment regarding a ban on protesters taking over D-Chowk. Rather other parks can be used for this practice. JUI-F leadership, even here, was hell-bent on flouting the Government’s writ, and only through negotiations yielded to have the protest event elsewhere.

This protest is wrong for a raft of reasons. False analogy has been drawn by some elements likening this with the protests mounted by PTI in 2014 against election rigging in the 2013 general elections. We had gone through the whole due process, demanding justice via multiple specific cases in Courts, identifying four constituencies whose results we wanted to be scrutinized as test cases, so that elections in the future could be held more transparently and fairly. We were given no recourse, and all our attempts for over a year to get justice and to enhance the future of the country’s electoral system were foiled by the PMLN Government allied by their partners in parliament. This left us with the final recourse to stage a protracted sit-in in Islamabad, which eventually changed the course of Pakistan’s politics through a massively popular cascading effect up and down the nation. The Opposition parties, on the other hand, have not heeded Government’s offer to discuss which constituencies they consider to have been rigged in the 2018 elections, rather relying on a generic rant of injustice and accountability. Moreover, they haven’t taken any cases to the Courts regarding electoral results, which in itself exposes the dishonesty in their claims of rigging. Factually, it is accountability rather which these politicians are trying to stop under the guise of supporting literally any airy-fairy narrative against the government someone comes up with. Evidently there is no moral authority for the protest to be staged, and that too being led by someone whose party garnered wins in less than 5% of the Parliament seats.

More critically and tragically, the Opposition protest has arguably been aimed at diluting in the local media the focus and narrative of the Kashmir cause which the Prime Minister has so brilliantly highlighted through most diligent and effective global diplomacy culminating in his historic UNGA session speech, and the latest round of US Congressional Hearing which blasted India for its acts against humanity in Kashmir and Assam. By initially picking the Kashmir protest designated day as the day to start the sit-in protest, Fazlur Rehman aimed to send all the wrong signals, not the least as his meeting with Ajit Doval got highlighted recently in the media. He has a firm case to answer as to why he met India’s spy chief, in addition to having himself failed the Kashmiri cause all those years. There was literally not a single substantive contribution by the JUI-F Chief in all the years he was heading the Kashmir Committee. Enjoying perks and privileges all the same, he merely frittered away and muffled any opportunity that arose to create a viable narrative for Kashmir globally. He held literally not a single Conference for the Kashmir mandate he was entrusted with. Not content with how flagrantly he abdicated his responsibility, the cleric is now busy working to dilute the local media focus on the brutalized valley, much to the pleasure of Indian Government and media.

Blatantly, Fazlur Rehman has also played the Religion Card over the years, which especially in the current context of our national and regional politics, is an extremely reprehensible act designed to divide the nation. Here too, his arguments are deeply flawed and resting on his political motivations and dreams. The man looks to be miffed up and feeling deprived of the trappings of power he enjoyed for so many years as he time and again, conveniently shifted his stances and joined literally every new Government that got formed. The fact that our Government did not entertain him, dealt him an embarrassing blow, which now Fazlur Rehman has been trying to soothe over through multiple confused and contradictory narratives.

For someone who calls himself a Maulana, Fazlur Rehman does not have even a single contribution towards any meaningful religious or socio-economic work to his name. Fact of the matter is, the man has all his life conveniently used religious facade to make way for his selfish political motives.

The JUI-F Chief has been smarting ever since the Government announced far-reaching and revolutionary madrassah reforms in its quest to streamline the millions of seminary students. This, he considers a direct attack on his hegemony as it deprives him of the hold he has enjoyed and leveraged to fulfill his personal political agenda. As the reforms get rolled out, they will extricate the innocent minds from the grip of such clerics who brainwash the children for political ends.

On the political front, Fazlur Rehman’s credentials have always showcased a sidekick leader with a smattering of seats who opportunistically joins minority governments since the 1990s. Be it PPP, PMLN, or even Musharraf’s dictatorial regime, the JUI-F Chief has embraced all of them with glee, shifting his stances and changing colors like a political chameleon. A defining move was as he waived his objection to a woman leading the country, when he endorsed Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister, after himself being given a Ministry.

The trail of hypocrisy is endless - the man currently busy vilifying the Army, signed LFO with the Musharraf Government putting his weight behind the move by the dictator to take extension as “Chief Executive” of the country. In short, Fazlur Rehman has nothing to do with furthering religion or standing up to any proclaimed political principles. He is conditioned to being part of the corridors of power and is at pains now due to his exclusion as Prime Minister Imran Khan is not prepared to barter his principles and yield to the blackmailing of the exposed so-called cleric. The myth the political cleric had crafted of being a powerful political broker with the Taliban forces across the border, has also been blown up as rather Prime Minister Imran Khan been in the thick of it, playing the mediating role at the request of many important regional players.

All in all, Fazlur Rehman has rendered great disservice not just to the nation, but betrayed the Kashmiris too. His time in the political sphere has been over for some time, as now careening from one humiliation to another, he has led the opposition leadership into a dead-end lane. This ironically, may well be the singular service he ever did to Pakistan. 

I thus urge the nation to stay united in these critical times for the country, and to foil any designs by such elements to cause a rift in our society. Fazlur Rehman’s time is over and this protest would be the final nail in his political coffin. The other parties in Opposition who are rallying behind him have a lot to lose from this act as they simply do not have a cogent case or support of the masses to put on an impressive show. The protest, if it degenerates into rioting will only attract stern action by the authorities that have a duty to protect the public and the writ of the state against hooliganism. Entire leadership of PMLN and PPP, alongside Fazlur Rehman thus will bear the responsibility of the consequences. The Government, on its part, is mighty confident how to manage this political pantomime show, as we move with full verve towards enhancing governance and fighting the massive Kashmir cause globally.