Rajat Sharma

Major shift in Pakistan politics, emergence of a Maulana

akb The huge turnout at the rallies of Pakistani cleric and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman in Multan, Lahore and other cities clearly signifies that the common man in Pakistan is fast losing trust in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s leadership. The Maualan’s ‘Azadi March’ will reach Islamabad today, and though the religious leader claims that this is not a sit-in, there are indications that there could be a flash point.

What began as a movement against what the Maulana described as “a rigged election”, has now turned into a movement that reflects widespread public anger over the non-performance of Imran Khan’s government.

Imran Khan, when he took over as Prime Minister in August last year, had promised a corruption-free ‘Naya Pakistan’ modelled on the Islamic tenets of ‘Riyasat-e-Madina’. Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and other relatives, and former President Asif Ali Zardari were thrown behind bars in the name of accountability. Nawaz Sharif is now fighting a battle against death in a hospital.

Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) are openly supporting the Azadi March. The Maulana has followed the same path that Imran Khan had traversed till last year by heading a march against the then PM Nawaz Sharif. Imran Khan had promised the people that he would lower inflation, root out corruption and revamp the economy, and the Maulana is now promising the same.

The Pakistani economy is presently in doldrums. Its foreign exchange reserves has dwindled to $7.9 billion, even less than that of Nepal and Bangladesh. Price of milk have shot up to Rs 108-140 per litre, petrol is being sold at Rs 114, diesel at Rs 127 per litre, tomatoes at Rs 75 per kg. The common man is groaning under the burden of rising prices. On the diplomatic front too, Imran Khan’s government has cut a sorry figure. There were few takers when Pakistan raised a hue and cry over the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir.

It is under these circumstances that the Maulana raised the question at his Lahore rally, ‘for how long will the opposition leaders be victimized in the name of accountability?’ The Maulana, unwillingly or so, has now become the voice of the people of Pakistan. He told the rally that Imran Khan, during his 15-month rule, has destroyed the economy, agriculture, industry and trade sectors and has pushed the Pakistani nation to the brink of starvation.

Since Nawaz Sharif is in jail, and the people are yet to repose their trust in the Zardari-Bhutto family, the Maulana is gradually emerging as the people’s choice. Naturally, the powers that be in Islamabad, particularly the Army, is now guarded. Internet connections have been snapped, flying of drones has been banned, and too many restrictions have been clamped in Islamabad. There are two options now before the establishment – either Imran Khan resigns, or the army crushes the protesters to save Imran Khan from being toppled.

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