Maulana Fazlur Rehman has made up his mind and he refuses to budge. The JUI-F will march to Islamabad on October 31, come what may. The party has rebuffed offer of any talks with the government and with less than a week left, it seems that any dialogue is unlikely to make headway.
The religio-political party also seems to be well-prepared. There was an extensive donation campaign and seminary students are instructed to actively participate. The JUI-F has prepared its own militant outfit, known as the Ansar-ul-Islam, to provide security to the march’s participants.
The yellow-uniformed militia numbering at around 80,000 men was seen rehearsing in Peshawar recently while being observed by the JUI-F chief himself. The Interior Ministry has recommended the outfit be banned fearing that the militia could be used to confront law enforcement agencies challenging the writ of the state.
The JUI-F seems rather taken aback by the government’s offer to engage in dialogue. A committee under Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and other notables including National Assembly Speaker and Chairman Senate was formed to hold dialogue but the offer were rebuffed. The JUI-F made a rather far-fetched demand that Imran Khan should resign as prime minister before the dialogue could begin. This was rejected outright by the PTI government.
Fearing reprisals and an imminent crackdown, the JUI-F chief finally made concessions that it should be allowed to march to Islamabad peacefully. The government has already said that action will be taken against the march’s participants if the people’s right are jeopardised, stating that the right to life supersedes the right to protest. It needs to be see if the government will allow the JUI-F leadership to march on or employ other tactics such as preemptive arrests which could backfire.
Nevertheless, Maulana Fazlur Rehman is confident that victory will be his and the anticlimax will be the government’s. He also seems to be unhappy about the sarcastic tone of the prime minister; a recent statement that this was the first parliament running with diesel, a veiled jibe at the JUI-F chief turned the Maulana’s mood sour. Imran Khan has claimed that the opposition’s march will not even be able to last seven days.
The government is using all means to dissuade the JUI-F, maintaining that the march would undermine the Kashmir issue, and supplement India’s effort to add Pakistan to FATF’s blacklist. A reluctant Shahbaz Sharif has offered PML-N’s full-support and Bilawal has sent this moral backing. The upcoming week witness yet another political drama as the Maulana advances to Islamabad.