The Parallax View Of The Azadi March
The Azadi March (Independence March) kicked off by Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) from Karachi on October 27, 2019 reached Islamabad at midnight of October 31, 2019. The march later turned into a dharana.
Analysts are estimating it to be the biggest political gathering in the history of Islamabad. Much has been written about the march for the last one week but perhaps this analysis will offer a different viewpoint.
Here are two parties, both vying traditionally for political ascendancy in the Pukhtun belt. From a political constituency point of view, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam (JUI-F) headed by Fazalur Rehman, have contested and fielded candidates against each other in general elections. Both Achakzai and Maulana Fazlur Rehman are arch political competitors whereby one is considered by the other as a ballot detractor, particularly in the Pakhtun belt of Balochistan where Achakzai’s party strongly anchors.
Achakzai could have reaped the power windfall by opposing the Maulana or need not have supported him at this critical juncture but he opted for political ideals.
Should it be assumed by sharing a common platform of the Azadi March they have softened the edge of their historical political opposition towards each other? Yes, they have. Providing enough reason to mortify the dithering, the maybes, perhaps-we-will-join or perhaps-we-will-not political dis-syncretism of mainstream political parties eyeing on the future power sharing prospects.
Though the PkMaP is not a numerically huge political party, its members form the largest number of the Azadi March after JUI. Thousands responded to the call of Achakzai from as far as Qilla Abdullah, Qilla Loralai to Saifulla and Zhob in Balochistan, while others travelled from the south of Punjab and Sindh to converge with the JUI-F at Islamabad. From the very beginning, it seemed only the workers of these two parties came to Islamabad with a determination to stay longer and mentally prepared for any eventuality.
Their objectives are clearly unified: supremacy of the Constitution. Their goals converge: restricting institutions to their constitutional roles and depolitcisation of the apolitical institutions. Their huge almost cult-like following is deferentially directed, without the invectives, towards demanding a democratic system of governance whereby each institution remains within its constitutional confines.
Achakzai has implored Pakistan’s various agencies to refrain from dabbling in politics and restrict their activity to their constitutional role as guardians of the frontiers. Rejecting the ‘selected’ premiership of Imran Khan, the politically discerning Maulana is demanding a free and fair re-election and supremacy of the civilian rule. Delving into the archives of Achakzai’s speeches, within and outside the parliament, indicates a consistent pattern of reference to civilian supremacy. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is simply repeating what Achakzai has been iterating and reiterating for the past countless decades.
The Azadi March followed by a sit-in has entered its fifth day, unleashing a heavy onslaught of criticism by the media and the party in power about the vague objectives of the Azadi March. In so far as the objectives are concerned, the criticism falls short of fairness for they are clearly defined.
Perhaps what the media is painfully awaiting is an exhumation of the past dharna’s modus operandi. Marauding government buildings, abusing and terrorising political opponents, desecrating the dignity of law making institutions and turning politics into a celluloid montage.
One of the most significant differences in the 2019 Azadi March and the PTI led 2014 dharna is the reference to the ‘umpire’. Whereas Achakzai and the Maulana are valiantly challenging the role of the umpire in politics, the PTI’s leadership kept on waiting for the umpire’s signal.
The difference also lies in the live 24/7 prime time airing of the PTI’s dharna and the inequitable bits and pieces covered by the media, making it not too difficult to assume where the umpire’s patronage rested. Since the beginning of his politics, Achackzai is subject to a consistent black out. And with that the veracity of Achakzai’s politics stands vindicated.
Previously, Achakzai stood beside Nawaz Sharif after his dismissal from office as the prime minister of Pakistan and raised the slogan of ‘Vote ko Izzat do’ in unison with the PML-N. Since the start of the Azadi March, every time Achakzai takes his position to deliver a speech he never fails to refresh Nawaz Sharif’s political slogan. “We support the PML-N headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Mariam Nawaz,” reverberates Achakzai from the podium set at G-9 Peshawar Mor, Islamabad.
These two larger than life political leaders have also debunked the contrived and constructed image of the Pukhtun misogynistic politics, not willing to accept a woman’s role in the public sphere, most of all politics. Besides supporting Mariam Nawaz Sharif role in the PML-N, Achakzai enthralled the sea of people at the Azadi March when he openly declared his commitment to fighting for the rights of women, not only in inheritance but in every sphere of public life.
“I want Maulana sahib to openly declare and give me his word of honour that in future when our parties come to power we will support women in every field in accordance with the teachings of the Quran. Without granting women their legitimate rights we cannot exonerated, not politically neither religiously,” claimed Achakzai.
Today, a Pakhtun Mullah who heads a large religio-political party and a Pakhtun nationalist put forward the charter of demands of the March for guanine representative democracy, strict adherence to the constitution and civilian supremacy. Once and for all that should lay to rest the imposed Pukhtun stereotype of regression, religious radicalisation and conservatism.
The author is a political analyst based in Islamabad.