October Issue 2018
The Maulana’s Malady
Fazl-ur-Rehman has had a tough couple of months. He lost in his home constituency in the July 25 polls, vacated the ministers’ enclave after a 13-year stint and then lost the presidential election. His emotional state is what the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership was hoping to capitalise on in both the general and presidential election, given that the Fazl-led Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) was going to be crucial in getting the opposition together on one platform.
Neither Fazl, nor the opposition in general (including the PML-N), could get what they wanted out of the elections. But while others might have fronts to fight on, Fazl is treading dangerously close to oblivion.
Last month, the MMA and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) chief called for a ‘jihad’ against the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), because the government wants to regulate the madrassas in accordance with the National Action Plan (NAP). This declaration of ‘jihad’ – regardless of his intentions – coupled with his opposition to madrassa and FATA reforms, hint at a desperation that could take on dangerous proportions. The MMA president obviously feels that the streamlining of seminaries could take away the control that he currently exercises over many of them.
This control can, of course, be abused in a fit of hunger for power, with Fazl’s knack for doing just about anything to maintain his political clout. This is precisely why he formed a government with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), under the auspices of military dictator General (R) Pervez Musharraf, and later the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the PML-N, during their subsequent terms in power.
Fazl was hoping to do the same with his ‘sworn enemy,’ Imran Khan. Except he was unable to, after having fallen at the very first hurdle: securing a National Assembly seat. After losing the presidential election, the JUI-F realised he would need to generate noise elsewhere to remain relevant. “Of course, when there’s no political space for him, the Maulana will resort to the religious lexicon, which he has complete command over – and he knows fully well how to create issues,” says senior journalist and analyst, Wajahat Masood. “Either the democratic system absorbs him, or he will create hell. If you give him what he wants, he’ll declare rightaway that there is no country more Islamic than Pakistan.”
The use of this religious lexicon has become a little less straightforward than it used to be in the past for the Maulana, given the proliferation of those using the same – and in some cases, harsher – language. The most prominent among these is the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which claimed two major triumphs in September, after the blasphemous cartoon competition in the Netherlands was cancelled and Dr Atif Mian’s appointment in the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) was overturned.
Those close to Fazl-ur-Rehman believe that the embattled Maulana missed a trick by not creating a greater uproar over the two issues, even though he accused the government of promoting “vulgarities on the dictates of the West” and criticised the appointment of Dr Atif Mian. The feeling within the JUI-F is that the TLP now has a monopoly on the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat issue, the Ahmadi question and any other stand-offs over blasphemy.
Similarly, the continuing spate of violence in Indian-administered Kashmir has been cited as a failure of Fazl, who had formerly been chairman of the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Kashmir. This sentiment was exemplified by Lord Nazir Ahmed, a member of the British House of Lords, underscoring Fazl’s failure in “doing anything effective” on Kashmir, in a press conference at the residence of Hamid Saeed Kazmi last month.
This array of failures has prompted the opponents of the Maulana to target him and criticise his political manoeuvres. “The MMA doesn’t have a past, present or future,” says Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) General Secretary, Abdul Rauf Farooqi. “It only remains in the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) paperwork. [The alliance] ended the day Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman said he would boycott elections and Siraj-ul-Haq said they would not.” Farooqi criticised Fazl’s brand of politics and volte-faces. “He just wants to stay alive in politics,” he adds.
The JUI-S general secretary also condemned Fazl’s statements on the seminaries. “Only the Wafaq-ul-Madaaris can take a decision regarding the madrassas. No political party can take a decision on the madrassas and no madrassa will work on the agenda of any party,” he said.
Not only have Fazl-ur-Rehman’s contradictions become a target of criticism for his opponents, but his own allies have distanced themselves from him as well. This has resulted in visible fissures within the MMA. Acknowledging the differences, MMA and Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Ameer-ul-Azeem, says that the Islamist coalition should be seen as an alliance and not as a monolithic party. For instance, the Jamaat-e-Islami has backed madrassa reforms under certain conditions, contrary to what Fazl-ur-Rehman demands.
“Fazl-ur-Rehman sahib has watched the political somersaults of the PPP and PML-N and has mirrored those, thinking that this is what power politics is about,” says Ameer-ul-Azeem. “Until 1988, he played a proper role of the opposition, but after that, he decided to do the politics that Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto used to do, or the politics that Imran Khan is doing right now,” he adds. “And he is doing so loudly and proudly, arguing that ‘when the PPP, PML-N and the PTI are doing the same, why shouldn’t I?’ He has fully embraced Pakistani politics over Islamic politics.”