As per recent reports, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is planning to put Islamabad under lockdown in November after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s refusal to step down, a demand that the party’s leadership made last week.
The politico-religious group can bring out thousands of people to streets owing to the support it can muster from the chain of madrassas (Islamic schools) that it operates across Pakistan. Currently, if anyone can show off political muscle to threaten the government, it is JUI-F. Other political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) don’t have the kind of support base that JUI-F can gather in November.
However, the question remains: Why does a religious party with only a handful of seats in parliament want Khan’s resignation? Moreover, why is JUI-F singlehandedly looking to lock down the country’s capital when the party’s leadership has always opted for compromise and reconciliation?
There are two reasons that explain JUI-F’s attempt in this regard. First, JUI-F has not only been sidelined by the government, but also by the country’s security establishment. Previously, the party’s leadership always found a way to make some space for its political interests by exploiting civil-military differences. With Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party working closely with the national security establishment, JUI-F has virtually been shelved from national politics.
Second, the party fears impending action concerning the mainstreaming of around 30,000 religious seminaries across the country, which will also include institutes run by the JUI-F. What’s more concerning for the JUI-F is the fact that such a move may further isolate the party’s hold over its political base, which primarily stems from these seminaries.
JUI-F is additionally frustrated due to the larger opposition’s inability to take on the current government. Over the last few months, multiple opposition party meetings were conducted to formulate a strategy against the government. In all meetings, the JUI-F proposed a mass movement against the government to dislodge it from power. However, the approach had not found support among all major political parties that see such an effort as crossing a red line when it comes to inviting the state’s ire. JUI-F’s decision to go alone against the government may create some create political instability, but it’s unlikely to remove the government from power.
In terms of the narrative that the JUI-F can deploy against the government, the party has a few options up its sleeve. Exploiting the issue of Kashmir is something that is going to be the focus of the party’s leadership when it comes to painting the ongoing situation in Jammu and Kashmir as a failure on the part of the civilian government. Moreover, the unending debate in Pakistan regarding the country’s contended willingness to recognize Israel as a state is also going to find a place in JUI-F’s march against the government. A recent article published by the Haaretz, titled “Is Pakistan Preparing to Recognize Israel?” has become a talking point among the opposition in Pakistan. Moreover, the country’s stressed economy and the government’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are issues that the JUI-F is also likely to carry forward with its campaign to mount pressure on the government.
Over the next month, the party should be expected to make efforts to enlist the support of other mainstream political parties. However, given the existing political circumstances which have brought the regional security situation, particularly the issue of Kashmir and the Afghan peace process at the center of domestic politics, JUI-F is not likely to secure the support of any other parties. It’s not surprising that almost all the issues that the party is going to base its protest on are going to deal with what’s happening outside Pakistan rather than domestic politics. Arguably, there is no inclination among the masses when it comes to rallying behind a political group that has a history of stretching its political fortunes by making compromises with powerful institutions.
The impact of the JUI-F’s failure is going to be felt by other parties that are waiting for the right time to make a move against the government. If JUI-F fails to make an impact, the country’s political opposition is going to be sidelined further.