Naveed Aman Khan
Maulana is one of the most fascinating political characters in the country. He is above all a consummate politician who effortlessly blends political pragmatism some call it opportunism with his austere and puritanical Deobandi brand of Islam. He is both wily and wise, a man who measures every word he utters and who can take palpably strident positions while leaving enough wriggle room to backtrack if the situation demands. This quality allows him to become a flag bearer of democratic and constitutional politics and at the same time strike political deals with dictators. He has railed against the West and US but also engaged with them, even to the extent of seeking their support for his candidacy for Premiership. He has skilfully exploited the anger and resentment on the street against the US invasion of Afghanistan and the ‘War on Terror’, but has never endorsed terrorism because of which he has often come in the crosshairs of Islamist terror groups, including the Pakistani Taliban.
Maulana, head of the eponymous faction of JUI, has embarked on what is being billed as the biggest political battle or if you will gamble, of his life an ‘Azadi March’ in which people have gone through March to the capital to force the ouster of IK. Despite the virtual blackout of the Azadi March in the pliant media, suggests that very impressive crowed that Maulana has gathered by the time he reached. What happens thereafter will depend on a number of variables, including the size of the crowd that Maulana manages to attract, the health of the incarcerated opposition leaders NS and AZ, the ham-handedness with which the IK regime and its friends handle the situation and the Machiavellian calculations of the Maulana who has kept his cards very close to his chest. For years Maulana has managed to strike the most unlikely alliances and switch sides to partner with whoever forms govt. IK’s ‘selection’ as Premier in 2018 has come at the expense of the Maulana’s politics, especially in the KP and the erstwhile FATA. After long time he had been left out in the cold, losing even his own constituency. More than political threat IK posed to Maulana, it is pathological hatred that both Maulana and IK share for each other that is now colouring and dictating their politics. Maulana is using IK’s playbook of agitation politics against a sitting government against him itself. While almost all the parties in opposition cried foul over the 2018 elections, designed to bring IK into power, Maulana was one leader who refused to take the results as a fait accompli. Within days of the results, he started gunning for IK and trying to convince all other parties to join him in refusing to accept the results. PML-N and PPP were reluctant to take on the Establishment that had installed IK.
IK and his accomplices underestimated the Maulana. While it is true that Maulana’s electoral base is limited, but his street power is not. Maulana is now leveraging this power to regain political and electoral relevance. He has timed his big move to reap anger on the streets and roads against severe economic crisis that is affecting the masses. To make matters worse, IK has also riled part of media with his Islamofascist bullying. The desperation to collect taxes and fulfil the commitments to the IMF, government has opened up another front with the powerful businessmen who have announced a countrywide strike. Businessmen haven’t joined with the clerics yet, but if that were to happen, the cocktail of the bazaar and the mosque could prove deadly for IK and his patrons.
IK has realised that if NS died while in jail, all hell will break loose. Even during Maulana’s March, both NS and AZ are in critical condition. NS is believed to be in a critical condition with not just an abysmally low platelet count but also has suffered ‘minor’ heart attack along with his kidneys failing. This could be catastrophic for IK who already is being accused of having conspired to kill NS by poisoning him. There is a limit to the damage that the Maulana can cause to IK’s rule, with the PML-N and PPP along with virtually all other opposition parties joining in, the potency of the March and Dharna has increased manifold.
IK’s own blunders aside, even the heavens seem to be conspiring against him. Months back, the Maulana gave ultimatum to him to resign or else face a March, but no one took the threat seriously. As the date came closer and the Maulana exuded remarkable confidence and resoluteness to hold the March, people started to take notice. Maulana had acquired the momentum that catapulted him on to the centre-stage of politics. There was still some hesitation between the PML-N and PPP led by SS and Bilawal to make common cause with Maulana. NS and AZ had made up minds that their parties would go with the Maulana till the achievement of the object. The alarming deterioration of NS’s health also set panic bells ringing.
This hesitation of PPP and PML-N to join Maulana emanated partly from the fear of the wily Maulana upstaging them and stealing their thunder, and partly from the lack of a clear plan of what happens once the March reaches power corridors. Maulana has not yet disclosed his plan, neither ruling out nor admitting anything. PML-N and PPP believe that if enormous pressure is generated on IK through the March, it could end up derailing the entire democratic process. If the March ends in a whimper or fails to generate enough pressure, it will work to IK’s advantage and make him unassailable. In either case, Maulana who has very little to lose, will gain the most because even if he fails to dislodge IK, he has firmly planted himself in the driving seat of politics. If he manages to get rid of his bete noire, then even if it means a military intervention, Maulana would have emerged victor and raised his political capital to a new high.
Maulana will certainly maul IK, it is likely that he will be able to muscle him out. While manipulating IK’s ouster is child’s play the numbers game in NA and PA makes it very easy to remove IK the fly in the ointment is that ‘they’ have no alternative waiting in the wings to step in. ‘Minus IK’ formula will work because S M Qureshi can replace IK within the PTI. Qureshi is anxiously watching and waiting for the ‘blessed’ moment. Anyone else will simply not be able to carry the party. Any other formula which seeks to form new government without fresh elections means dealing with PPP and PML-N, which is hardly a palatable option. Fresh elections will almost certainly see PML-N sweep, especially in Punjab. This again is unacceptable if it means that either NS or his feisty daughter Maryam controlling the new government, whether directly or from behind the scenes. Imposing Martial Law will bring with it its own problems, especially on things such as Pakistan’s case on Kashmir and its already sullied international image. He will have damaged the government to a point that its ability to complete another four years will become extremely questionable.
Maulana & Co can sit until eternity and not make any difference. In order to create the pressure for IK’s ouster, Maulana needs to be at the ‘D-Chowk’. If Maulana gets hundred thousand men, then it is almost certain that he will tear up the agreement and march to ‘D-Chowk’. If, he doesn’t get numbers, he will find way to wriggle out, and still claim victory. He will not achieve his proclaimed objective of seeing IK’s back, but he will have destroyed IK and burnished his own politics. If, he gets his hundred thousand men and Marches forward to Red Zone, things could easily spiral out of control, more so if something untoward happens to the critically ill NS. In case situation gets worst then Qureshi will become PM and Pervaiz Ilahi CM Punjab. If entire system is wrapped up then Pervaiz Ilahi will become PM, Moonas Ilahi CM Punjab and young but potential Yousaf Hoti FM. Maulana seems to get KP and Balouchistan in the fist.
— The writer is book ambassador, columnist, political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.