The Marching Maulana’s Moment
Irrespective of its ultimate results, in the aftermath of the ongoing march-cum-sit-in, we can safely say that neither the Maulana nor the political landscape will be the same, writes Talimand Khan.
So far, the Azadi March of Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman ruthlessly effaced many of the “ifs”, “buts”, “so whats”, “what’s nexts”, “hows” and “whys”. He also dismantled the incredulousness, bluffs and doubts. And above all, he has practically tested the limits of many.
The cluelessness of the media and journalist pundits about the wily Maulana’s modus operandi and objectives indicates that he is not on some “assigned task” – otherwise the well-connected would have at least a hint. So on the basis of this, one can bet that the Maulana had no nod from the traditional quarters of political engineers.
The DG ISPR’s two statements within five days of the sit in are not easy to reconcile, and they can be adduced to support the above hypothesis. Besides, one of the strongest signals, for those who know Mahmood Khan Achakzai and his politics, is the presence of his party and his daily speech at the sit in.
For such mass mobilisation, even though the Maulana was doing his homework for almost one year, until midday of October 27, many – given the so-called main opposition parties’ dithering for the meat but not the broth – had their fingers crossed. The whimsical position of the two main opposition parties created an air of uncertainty regarding the course and shape of the march. It is yet to seen whether the Maulana will stay long by converting the March into a sit in, or will terminate it with a fiery speech with minatory finger-wagging and thundering hyperbole along the lines of “see you next time”.
Since the beginning, the Maulana is keeping everyone on a tight leash of suspense and guesswork, and perhaps so far, it is the best part of his strategy.
Whatever factors are behind the March, in the Land of the Pure, conspiracy theory assumes the status of an article of faith that incapacitates the majority. They end up believing that nothing can happen without the involvement of hidden hands.
But the primary factors seem to be the Maulana’s overwhelming self-confidence, trust in his base and correctly reading and analysing the existing political atmosphere. He took into consideration the supine condition of the main parties and their market approach of “maximum risk and maximum return” towards politics. He might also know that if the opposition parties do not or cannot support him practically, neither will they oppose him.
So far his strategy worked.
As for the question of what the Maulana has achieved or can achieve, it is a matter of perspective. If one thinks politics is a T-20 cricket match and defines victory through a tangible outcome like “the winner should have a trophy in hand at the end of the match”, then nothing of that sort has happened yet. But if one is looking at politics in its proper context, so far the Maulana has achieved much more than one would expect, and if a tangible change occurs during the sit in, that will definitely be a boost.
So far one of the main achievements reaped by the Maulana is making himself and his politics domestically as well as internationally relevant by demonstrating his strength and confidence, dismantling his image of a religious bigot or radical.
In the post-9/11 world, carrying the religious label is often akin to showing a red rag to a bull. Though, he has to satisfy his base by recourse to religious rhetoric, on the main stage he is projecting himself as a democrat. He wishes to be seen as someone striving to restore democracy and the standard-bearer of civilian supremacy and constitutionalism.
The problem of the contemporary world with regards to Islam, particularly in the West, is religious radicalization – not this brand of conservatism.
Currently the West is in the grip of waves of far-right conservative democracy. In such a moment, the Maulana has also demonstrated that sporting a beard, donning religious robes and catering to a conservative base do not translate into a pathological disdain for the ballot or constitutionalism.
Apart from this, immediately after kicking off the march from Karachi and maintaining the tempo and expanding the strength during his four days journey towards Islamabad, the political atmosphere at home began to transmit signals of change.
When the march reached Islamabad, there appeared to be a loosening of the strangulation that had been imposed on society. There were signs of a much-needed sigh of relief for the almost suffocating political system and the media.
Every political mobilisation has its intended and unintended consequences, with long-lasting effects. The march-cum-sit-in has provided strategic building blocks for political reconstruction.
Since Musharaf’s coup, it seems that the Establishment consciously worked to prevent and preempt mass political mobilisation of any form. When Musharraf was degenerating into a liability, the lawyers’ movement was encouraged to carry out the task of his removal. Unlike the movement spearhead by organised political parties, the demobilisation of the lawyers’ movement with a single-point agenda of the restoration of the deposed judges was not difficult, and therefore could not produce long lasting political effects and consequences.
Instead of the birth of the Charter of Democracy, the political parties failed to provide traction to political mobilisation. Intentionally or unintentionally, with all that has happened in the last two decades, it was the Maulana’s march that turned out to be a mass political mobilisation challenging the Establishment.
However, the march also exposed and put the two mainstream political parties – currently the major victims of the system – in the dock. They are in a quandary: neither capable to lead nor ready to follow. Their dithering and inability might reduce the collective political achievements but perhaps unwittingly maximise the Maulana’s stakes.
The Maulana also attracted the support and sympathies of the people by constantly highlighting the economic hardships faced by them. He also neutralised otherwise louder discontent from liberal and secular elements because of his much required mobilisation at a time of suppression and oppression.
Politics is not a static phenomenon, and so, it is not easily predictable. However, irrespective of its ultimate results, in the aftermath of the ongoing march-cum-sit-in, we can safely say that neither the Maulana nor the political landscape will be the same.
The author is a political analyst based in Islamabad.