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Success Of JUI-F Long March Depends On Govt-Military Relations

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Misbah ul Azam argues that every time an anti-government protest threatens the government, the military plays a crucial role in its success or failure. The same will be witnessed when Maulana Fazlur Rehman marches to Islamabad on October 31st.

During the late 60s, there was a famous allegorical British science fiction television series ‘The Prisoner’, which was about an unidentified and unnamed British intelligence agent, played by Patric McGoohan, who suddenly resigned from his job and decided to leave England.

While he was preparing to travel somewhere, he was abducted from his London apartment and brought to a mysterious coastal village where his captors try to find out why he had abruptly resigned from his job. The village was controlled by someone called ‘Number 1’, but no one had ever seen this person.

After the agent got familiar with the village, he devised a plan to escape from the place. But every time he tried, he was caught by his collaborators. Once he found a collaborator who helped him in his attempt to escape from the village. He managed to cheat the security system with the help of that person and got to the main expressway, from where he got to his apartment.

After entering his apartment, he noted that everything was in place. His luggage was still open and his clothes were out of his wardrobe. He was pleased with how he had outsmarted all the security checks to safely get back to his home. However, when he started to observe his backyard from his kitchen window, he realised something was not right. Further inquiry made him realise that a lot had changed in his absence.

Finally he found out that he had never left the village, and what he saw around him was an illusion which was created by Number 1 to make him believe that he had actually escaped.

Does this story remind you of something? I am sure it does!

There’s a general perception in Pakistan that all political movements are successful only if the powerful establishment is behind them. In 1977, the 9-party Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) began a movement against alleged rigging in the elections of 1977 and the government was unable to control it.

Finally, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leadership decided to accept the PNA’s demand of reelection. But before any agreement was signed, the military toppled the government and hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by manipulating and pressurising the judiciary.

After the cooperative society scandal of 1992, Benazir Bhutto made a secret deal with the establishment (which she later justified) and began long march, followed by a train march when the long march failed to deliver its goal of forcing Nawaz Sharif to resign.

The all-powerful President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, with the support of the military and Article 58-2b (constitutional amendment imposed by General Ziaul Haq which gave the power to the president to dissolve the national and provincial assemblies), promised Benazir that if she could gather 200,000 to 300,000 people, he would topple the Sharif government.

After the failure of the long march and the train march, the president kept his contacts intact and promised that if she would retain him as president after the elections, he would remove the Sharif government. Although it was a failed attempt, it weakened Sharif’s government and before the parliamentary elections of 1993, Ghulam Ishaq Khan with the support of the Pakistan Army, used his reserve powers (58-2b) to dissolve the National Assembly.

In 2007, another movement began. It was started after General (r) Pervez Musharraf forced the then Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to resign after the CJP asked the intelligence agencies – the Military Intelligence, the Federal Investigating Agency and Inter-Services Intelligence – to produce 400 missing persons and intervened and stopped the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills due to alleged conflict of interests.

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Justice (r) Chaudhry refused to accept the pressure, so Musharraf tried to force him to resign. When the judge refused to comply, Musharraf submitted a reference against him in the Supreme Judicial Council (CJC) for alleged corruption and nepotism. However, his ouster was challenged in the Supreme Court and before the hearings of CJC, the SC reinstated Justice (r) Chaudhry to his position.

Musharraf’s case of legitimacy as a presidential candidate was already being heard by the apex court and he feared that after the restoration of Chaudhry, he would not be able to become president for another term. He then decided to take a severe action by imposing state of emergency in the country. He fired and detained all the superior judges who refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order.

As a reaction, a country-wide movement was launched which made Musharraf’s government very weak. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, he further lost political ground. Although after the February 2008 general elections the newly formed PPP government kept General (r) Musharraf in the office as a powerful president with 58-2b, the government eventually decided to impeach him, forcing him to resign from his position.

On the surface, the lawyers’ movement was entirely against the Musharraf-led establishment. But some senior journalists believe that the movement did start without the help of the establishment, but once it gained momentum, the establishment decided to quietly support it to see its full impact. At this point, some officers from the military were unhappy with Musharraf’s alleged move to provide overt concession to India over Kashmir.

In March 2009, Pakistani masses experienced another long march. This time it was strongly supported by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). After Musharraf resigned in August 2008 and Zardari was sworn in as the new president, the latter showed reluctance to reinstate the judges immediately.

The lawyers openly blamed the PPP-led government and its ally PML-N and considered them ‘a part of the same regime’,  since both had faltered over the Bhurban Accord, where the parties had decided to restore the judges after the impeachment of Musharraf.

When Zardari publicly refused to restore the judges, the PML-N decided to relinquish their ministries. In February 2009, Zardari removed the PML-N government from Punjab and declared governor rule in the province.

On March 16, 2009, the lawyers community had given a call for a nationwide long march. The PML-N, PTI, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and others supported the march. The march was held from Karachi to Islamabad to demand the reinstatement of an SC chief justice and other judges ousted by Musharraf. As a result of the lawyers movement, Zardari was forced by the then military chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani to meet their demands, after which Chaudhry was reinstated as the chief justice.

In 2014, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri called a sit-in in Islamabad. Their demonstration was openly supported by the military establishment which had decided to remove Nawaz Sharif from power. However, due to the involvement of PPP and Imran Khan’s lack of planning and organisational capabilities, the sit-in lost its steam. Soon, Tahirul Qadri decided to quit the sit-in and then after the terrorism incident at Army Public School in Peshawar, Imran Khan too had to call it quits.

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On November 6, 2017, another sit-in was held at Faizabad interchange near Islamabad and was organised by Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi after holding a long march from Lahore to Islamabad to demand the resignation of the law minister whom they held responsible for changes to the Finality of Prophethood clause in the election papers.

Everyone was shocked to hear the crude and abusive language used by Rizvi and other TLP leaders. When the government wanted to get some help from the military, they refused and asked the authorities to show restraint in dealing with the protesters. When the protesters did not disperse despite several warnings, the government decided to respond with force, but the move was ill-planned, and the government had to pull back after fights erupted in several parts of the city.

The TLP sit-in had created mayhem and confusion in the cities of Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore, along with some other cities in Punjab. Later that evening, the army chief intervened and asked ‘both sides’ to show restraint and forced the government to sign an agreement with the protesters and accept all their demands.

The next day, Pakistanis were amazed to see on their TV screens that a high ranking uniformed Rangers official was hugging the protesters and distributing Rs 1000 cheques among the protesters. Ironically, when the same TLP tried to organise another sit-in in October 2018 after the PML-N government was removed and Imran Khan’s government was in power, the protesters were not shown such leniency. Rizvi was arrested a month after he called off his sit-in.  He was later released in May 2019.

Now, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman has announced another sit-in and a long march on October 31. Its success depends on whether the establishment wants to pressurise its installed government or not. However, the Imran Khan government seems ready to crush the protest by using excessive force. Most probably, the military would turn a blind eye and would not urge the government to show restraint. However, if things get out of control, the military may change sides or it can pressurise the government to be cautious.

In ‘The Prisoner’, when Number 1 saw that the hero was persistent in his escape attempts from the village, he secretly allowed him to escape. But after the hero celebrated his successful escape, he faced the painful reality that he was still in the village and was only being manipulated into believing otherwise.

It seems that we Pakistanis are also like prisoners confined to a similar village which is controlled by the unknown but powerful Number 1. We make efforts to escape, and in our view we also manage to escape, but when we celebrate our success we come to realise that we are still in the village that is controlled by an unknown person exercising immense power.

One cannot help but ask whether Fazl would also be successful in his long march and sit-in, or would he be ‘secretly allowed’ to demonstrate his street power, only to find out in the end that Number 1 was watching him all along and he is still at the same place from where he started.

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