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Condemning Disappearances: When Maulana Sounded Like Manzoor Pashteen

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Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Wednesday called out institutions over enforced disappearances during a speech to Azadi March participants.

While addressing the gathering on Peshawar Mor in H-9 Islamabad, the JUI-F chief stated that there were many people today who had been abducted in the name of terrorism and their whereabouts were unknown.

Addressing the state institutions, he said that no one has the right to detain a Pakistani citizen for 10-15 years without their families knowing and without them being produced in court.

The JUI-F chief added that there was no such court in Pakistan, and that there were only courts for politicians. He asked, “Don’t these disappeared people have a right according to the constitution and by virtue of being a Pakistani citizen to be tried in court?”

He added that if the state continued to engage in such measures, then we could say that there exists state terrorism in Pakistan.

Understandably, the part of JUI-F’s speech about enforced disappearances was censored by many media organisations when they were broadcasting his speech.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman has taken a stance that has been held by many human rights activists in Pakistan. People have particularly pointed out that his statements against enforced disappearances were similar to those of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement’s (PTM) founder Manzoor Pashteen.

Since it has gained prominence, the PTM has raised voice against, amongst others, state discrimination against Pashtuns, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.

In 2018, PTM held one of its biggest protests in Karachi, Manzoor Pashteen strongly denounced enforced disappearances, not only of members of Pakistan’s ethnic minorities, but also of people from across Pakistan. In subsequent addresses, he has repeatedly called for missing persons to be produced before court.

Reacting to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s speech, people have argued that his aggression against the state institutions is increasing and he has taken a stance that many political leaders shy away from.

People have also stated that he is making the same argument that Manzoor Pashteen has been making since long. A Twitter user argued that the JUI-F chief’s and Manzoor Pashteen’s tone was slowly converging, with both opposing enforced disappearances by invoking Islam, and in Pashteen’s case, Pashtunwali.

Another user stated that while legally challenging enforced disappearances, the Maulana had supported PTM’s demand of producing missing persons before court.

The JUI-F chief has also received criticism in the past, particularly from leftist groups, about why he doesn’t include disgruntled Pashtuns in his struggle for civilian supremacy and human rights.

Considering this fact, and the fact that he was not vocal on such issues before, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s statement has generated a debate about why he has taken this line of argument at this point in time. While some have argued that the JUI-F chief has taken this stance due to his desire for civilian supremacy and for human rights to be upheld, others have argued that he is using the opportunity to raise national issues pertaining to human rights and democracy to appeal to a larger circle of people.

Currently, negotiations between the opposition’s Rehbar Committee and the government are going on. The JUI-F is also engaged in talks with Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam Group’s (PML-Q) leadership, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who are well-connected in Rawalpindi. Whether or not the deadlock will end is yet to be seen.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s strong stance on civilian supremacy and his recent condemnation of enforced disappearance does suggest that he is willing to take all political stakeholders on board. His concern for the disappeared, whether genuine or opportunistic, does indicate that he is willing to address the grievances of the oppressed communities in Pakistan.

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