I don’t know if it was pure coincidence or some clever planning by the team of Maulana Fazlur Rehman that they chose the date of October 31st for their Azadi March to arrive in Islamabad. Eight years ago, on October 30th, 2011 Imran Khan held his historic Jalsa at Minar e Pakistan, Lahore that changed his political fortunes and established him as a significant political leader. Before this event, no one took him seriously as a political entity. So let us look back at recent history to learn a few lessons from it.
After the success of the 2011 Lahore rally, as a member of PTI, I was afraid that there will be a stampede of electables knocking at the party doors to joint mainly to benefit from its political wave. I had no problem that these political operatives should join the party but I was afraid they would use their experience to gain control of the party. The other fear I had was that Imran Khan tended to jump on the shoulders of “Umpire” for political expediency.
Many reports have cited that former DG ISI General Hamid Gul played a prominent role in convincing Imran Khan to join politics. His first major political decision was to support the referendum of General Pervez Musharraf. Both these events indicated his soft corner towards men in uniform. I tried my best to guide the party to steer clear of these two pitfalls.
But I failed because Imran Khan was eager to curry favor with any force that could take him to the Prime Minister’s house. Instead of becoming a leader of the people he decided to become a political tool of the establishment.
Imran Khan was hugely disappointed when his party could not get as many seats in 2013 general elections as was probably promised to him that would enable him to form a government in the centre. He did get enough seats to form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. That expectation to become PM in 2013 was unfounded because the “umpire” could not afford to give power at the centre to a person that had no governance experience. Perhaps they wanted him to gain governance experience by running the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. And lastly, Nawaz Sharif had served the establishment well in Memogate incident. Imran Khan instead of availing the opportunity to gain governance experience spent the next five years in street protests to appease the Umpires who were not happy with Nawaz Sharif’s independent streak.
Imran Khan eventually landed in PM house using both people’s votes and political engineering in 2018 general elections. But the failure to learn from KP and inability to govern is now abundantly clear to the nation as almost all state institutions including OGRA, PEMRA, NADRA, NAB, and Railways are not only failing to deliver but are also committing (almost) childish mistakes.
None of the ministers are able to perform their functions and mostly engage in false publicity of their performance on social media. The Umpire believed that their own experience will be sufficient to correct PTI’s inexperience. But now even they might be worried as the blame for failure is being placed on their shoulders. Their reputation and trust among the people have gone down exponentially in the last one year.
In this backdrop, let us analyze the Azadi March of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. There has been a global trend of the political shift towards the extreme right. Indonesia, Turkey, Germany, USA, Brazil, and India all have seen politicians representing constituencies of the right gaining majorities to form governments. Maulana wants to capitalize on this trend and become a national leader for the increasingly popular and eager right-wing voters.
I expect him to build on the popularity of Azadi March to evolve as a national politician and build the Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) alliance to become its candidate for the office of Prime Minister. The other choice Maulana has to make is whether to become a popular leader of the people or a useful puppet of the establishment.
Based on his history I expect Maulana to choose the latter rather especially when he looks at the ascension of Imran Khan on the shoulders of the establishment.
I had advised opposition parties not to support an Azadi March at this stage and without political clarity. Many top leaders of PML-N and PPP agreed with me but were under pressure to extend public support because of the autocratic politicians that control these parties. This unclear, and at times hypocritical, behavior will damage their standing among the people.
In Lebanon, Sudan, Chile, and Algeria people are staging protests — and dharnas — to demand their basic rights and are exerting pressure on the incumbent regimes.
In Pakistan, almost all dharnas are engineered by the ruling elites and only serve their purpose. The reality is that the current republic has failed and now an Awami (public) movement is needed to create a second republic that is for the people and by the people.