- The Azadi March has happened, but to what end?
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has carried out his Azadi March, and has delivered his ultimatum, that the Prime Minister must resign within 48 hours. The PTI core committee actually did the ultimatum the honour of final consideration, but its out-of-hand rejection was not so much of a decision as an inevitability. The extension of the deadline did nothing to make it more of a possibility, though it allowed the Maulana more time before taking a decision on his ‘next line of action.’
The March has also forced the military into the open, a position it does not like. It needs cover, and while the cover of the Constitution was quoted by the DG ISPR in his statement, the fact that a statement was needed indicated that the institution felt exposed. The removal of the cover had been done by the Maulana, who had openly said ‘the institutions’ had fixed the last elections and brought Imran Khan to the fore. A subtext was that it had fixed the poll so that the Maulana lost to Ali Amin Gandapur of the PTI. The Maulana did not have as safe a seat as is thought, but his main rival for the seat was Fazal Karim Kundi of the PPP, not Gandapur. In 2018, he was blown away, coming in a distant third.
The JUI-F is not an entirely untested party. It has held the chief ministership of the KP twice, and formed part of the Balochistan government a number of times, holding ministries each time. It has shown itself a status quo party, with MNAs and MPAs more interested in re-election than revolution. In that respect, it is like the PTI, which has merely followed the old ways while in power.
The Maulana was saying only what had been said since the last year: that the military was backing the PTI. However, his methods, which have closely mirrored Imran’s, do not say No! to military backseat driving. They say, Pick me! Pick me!
If the Maulana is so sure that the military picked Imran; that would imply that the MMA in 2003, under Akram Durrani, formed the KP (then NWFP) government only after being selected by the military. It makes particular sense, because the War on Terror required a religious government in place in KP, and also the country was firmly under military rule. The MMA did not form the central government which was done by the PML-Q and the PPP Patriots.
A further implication is that the parties accompanying him, such as the PML-N and the PPP, only came to power with the help of the ‘institutions’. Even the ANP formed a KP government, and the PkMAP participated in the Balochistan government. Of necessity, then, it does not seem the JUI-F is offering a model minus the military, of a purely civilian dispensation.
But is it as simple as that? That might have been the case in the 1950s, when Ghulam Muhammad and Iskandar Mirza were successively heads of state, and when even making the Commander-in-Chief Prime Minister did not bring stability, and the Constitution was jettisoned as martial law was imposed.
Under the post-1973 dispensation, the Constitution is kept intact even if the civilian government is sent packing. That is the significance of the DG ISPR’s reference to the Constitution. The factor that cannot be ignored is how the people vote. While there are allegations aplenty of military interference, the fact remains that people vote for parties. Those votes might be used for MNAs, MPAs and party leaders to indulge in corruption. Those votes may have been manipulated by ‘the agencies’, but as was shown by the enquiry into the 2013 elections, those votes were cast.
There have been allegations every time a party loses, that the establishment has some way of getting a favoured candidate elected. However, the exact method of rigging has never been spelled out. The votes in the ballot boxes have to be accepted as genuine. The worst that anyone can be accused of is manipulating the electorate. In principle, that is what campaigning is all about. Admittedly, certain people have agreed not to participate in that fashion, but a very large class, that of government employees, that of government servants, is not thus deprived of the vote. And if they have the vote, they have every right to form the political opinion necessary to casting it. Of course, that puts the large number of polling staff in the invidious position of having to maintain neutrality where they have an opinion. Not all pass the test; there are stories doing the rounds of presiding officers who have cheated, often ingeniously, to help their party’s candidate. But then, there do not seem to have been many winning margins provided, certainly not enough to justify any charges of wholesale rigging.
It should not be ignored that the Maulana has been greatly helped by the state of the economy. If business had been booming, jobs being created and general prosperity all round, the response to the Azadi March would have been less. Perhaps more important, the institutions would not have been interested. Imran has overcome only one hurdle, that of getting an IMF programme. Getting off the FATF greylist has not yet happened. Khan’s original Finance Minister has been jettisoned, but the Maulana has not got an alternative.
The other opposition parties also do not, and that is the best guarantee of Imran’ survival. If indeed there had been a selection, and it was possible to select someone else, none of those vying for selection have anything to offer. The Maulana should remember that when Imran spoke from the container, he had a message: there were great difficulties, caused by corruption, and the solution was accountability. What is the Maulana’s message? Rather, what is his solution?
The JUI-F is not an entirely untested party. It has held the chief ministership of KP twice, and formed part of the Balochistan government a number of times, holding ministries each time. It has shown itself a status quo party, with MNAs and MPAs more interested in re-election than revolution. In that respect, it is like the PTI, which has merely followed the old ways while in power.
It seems the statement by the DG ISPR was not enough. The Corps Commanders Conference has gotten in on the act, saying that state institutions are to be backed. It too has invoked the Constitution. Then there is the religion card, which the JUI-F is invoking. The PTI had invoked it, but apparently insufficiently. However, it seems the protest is turning to a more traditional, more puritan, view of religion. What does that reflect? Time alone will tell.