Bachna ae haseeno, lo main aa gaya – is probably how Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan thinks of himself. And why wouldn’t he? Most people think he lives a rock star’s life. But all he has been doing of late is donning Islamist robes.
If Khan’s transformation from hanging out in the posh clubs of London to counting the tasbih (prayer beads) as PM wasn’t enough, he has intentionally or unintentionally transformed Pakistan from a progressive state to an extreme-Right, nuclear weapon-brandishing Islamist state.
Now, cruelly, a Maulana and his Azadi March are threatening to disrupt Imran Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’. And Imran Khan knows this much –no one announces a dharna until they get the ‘Umpire ki ungli’.
Last year, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) taunted Maryam Nawaz Sharif by turning her fiery slogan of ‘Rok Sako Tu Rok Lo’ into a hip election song – ‘Rok Sako Tou Rok Lo Tabdeeli Aayi Re’.
Now that taunt is coming back to haunt PM Imran Khan and his party. Little did the Barelvi brigade know they were paving the way for a rather strict Deobandi brand of Islam to gain ground in Pakistan.
Now Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) are ready for their mega ‘Azadi March’ to Islamabad against Khan’s government. From fake news to ministers warning of failure, nothing can deter the Maulana.
As dark November approaches, the country is chanting the new JUI-F tarana. It’s a clever Sharia spin on the Tabdeeli song: “Maulana aa raha hai, Maulana aa raha hai.”
The Azadi March is scheduled to start 27 October.
We have gone from being the first Muslim nation to twice elect the stunning Benazir Bhutto to having a First Lady who isn’t even seen receiving the British Royal couple or accompanying Imran Khan on foreign trips.
Within a year, Pakistan has regressed from a modern state ready to launch another strong female leader – Maryam Nawaz – to a country that would make Zia ul-Haq proud.
And the province of Punjab deserves a special mention. It has been badly hit by the lacklustre performance of chief minister Usman Buzdar. He replaced the dynamic Shehbaz ‘Speed’ Sharif, the younger brother of former PM Nawaz Sharif. Shehbaz Sharif had not only handled the dengue epidemic effectively and left Lahore sparkling clean, but had remarkably managed to bring in the women protection bill in a rather conservative province despite criticism from his own senior party members.
Now as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) slaps our wrist and gives us four months to clean up our act before reconsidering our grey list status, we see the most dreaded powerhouse in Pakistan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, threatening the PM with a sea of hardy men marching into the capital. All the while torturing Immy with his signature, confident, menacing laugh.
Maulana also advised the head of the government negotiation committee, former CM of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak, to bring the PM’s resignation with him in his pocket.
As the talks continued into a second round late Friday evening, the atmosphere, according to Pervez Khattak, was cordial as Maulana was gracious, but a rather irate Imran was clearly frustrated with a dharna at his own doorstep.
Did Imran Khan make the connection that it is exactly one year into his government that he too faces a dharna like the one he staged against Nawaz Sharif back in 2014?
Perhaps he doesn’t have time to think much. He has too many issues to resolve. There is the economy, which needs a cash injection. Imran Khan’s meeting with billionaires like George Soros might go to waste if he can’t keep the ‘madrassa crowd’ off the streets of the capital.
The mediator role that Imran Khan volunteered to play between arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia looks rather compromised if the skipper can’t keep his own house in order. The Election Commission of Pakistan has also chosen to look into the case of the suspected foreign funding of the PTI. The party also decided to walk off from the proceedings.
And if this was not enough to rouse sympathy for the Pakistani superstar, former PM Nawaz Sharif is feared to be battling death as his platelets plunged to a dangerously low level while he was in custody. If anything were to happen to the three-time PM, hailing from Pakistan’s largest province, all eyes would be on Imran Khan.
Winter is coming
All this at a time when the Maulana’s minimum demand is the immediate resignation of Imran Khan, followed by fresh elections. The dharna’s list of demands then goes on to seek assurances that religious laws will be protected under all circumstances. Maulana has been vocal about Imran Khan’s intention to recognise Israel, but the PM has denied it.
Imran Khan, on the other hand, is doing what he does best – panic, insult and not listen to reason when faced with a crisis. Not only did he snub the son of the late Maulana Sami ul-Haq when he was politely requested to adopt a moderate tone when talking about Maulana Fazlur Rehman, but he reportedly is also not on the best of terms with Pervez Khattak.
Imran Khan Friday evening is believed to have slammed the phone down on Khattak saying that he had rejected the demands of Maulana. Don’t waste time talking to these people about their demands, the PM instructed Khattak. Instead, only venue options should be discussed.
That will be difficult because all major and minor roads leading to Islamabad will have container trucks and motorways will be sealed. It appears that the government itself will lock the capital down.
On the surface, Imran Khan keeps telling reporters in press conferences that he and the military are together. Whether Maulana Fazlur Rehman is coming to Islamabad or not, we all know in our bones that ‘winter is coming’.
Reham Khan is a journalist, child rights activist, and a single parent. She authored ‘Reham Khan’, an autobiography. Views are personal.