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Maulana’s Ultimatum

by Newsweek Pakistan

Chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Maulana Fazlur Rehman. SS Mirza—AFP

JUIF chief says P.M. Khan has two days to submit resignation or risk consequences from his camped out supporters

Opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Friday gave Prime Minister Imran Khan a two-day ultimatum to resign, threatening ‘consequences’ if he did not accept the demands.

“The people have decided… they want freedom from this government,” the 66-year-old cleric, who heads the rightwing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUIF) told a gatherings of tens of thousands who are currently camped out in federal capital Islamabad. Rehman launched his protest—the Azadi March—on Oct. 27 from Karachi. He and his supporters journeyed from the Sindh capital to Islamabad over five days, reaching their venue on the night of Oct. 31. The protest has the support of a united opposition, with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), the Awami National Party (ANP), and the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) also joining Rehman.

Addressing the gathering on Friday evening, Rehman said no one wanted a confrontation with the ‘institutions’—likely a reference to the security establishment, which is widely believed to support Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf—but the people desired them to be unbiased. “We want state institutions to be impartial and withdraw their support from this illegitimate government,” he said, adding however that if this government continued to be supported by ‘institutions’ after his two-day deadline, the opposition would have the right to “form opinions about [them].”

Rehman reiterated the opposition’s claim that the PTI had no right to stay in power as it had won the 2018 polls through “systematic rigging.” He said the united opposition “rejected the results of the rigged elections.”

During his speech, the JUIF chief slammed the incumbent government’s policies, taking special aim at “incompetent” handling of the economy, which he said should be the Islamic system. “They promised five million houses and 10 million jobs [during campaigning], but only the State Bank governor and FBR chairman came to Pakistan for jobs—and they were sent by the IMF,” he said, referring to political speculation that the SBP’s Reza Baqir and FBR’s Shabbar Zaidi were appointed to the slots on the urging of the global fund following its approval of a $6 billion bailout.

Prior to Rehman’s speech, prominent opposition leaders took the stage to air their own grievances with the government. PMLN President Shahbaz Sharif slammed the ‘arrogance’ of Khan, adding that the premier had outright dismissed the opposition’s attempt to formulate a Charter of Economy. “This protest will wash away the selected prime minister,” he added. In a statement that would be echoed by Rehman, Sharif also claimed Khan had the “full support of the institutions.” He added: “If we had only 10% of his support, Pakistan would have soared like [Russian satellite] Sputnik.”

The PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, meanwhile, said the united opposition was sending a clear message to P.M. Khan that his time was done. “This is a selected government and its policies have proven it doesn’t care about public welfare. The people of Pakistan have never and will never accept this government,” he said.

The ‘Azadi March’ comes at a particularly contentious time for Imran Khan. Prior to winning last year’s elections, he had promised to never seek an IMF loan; recover ‘looted money’; provide jobs to millions; and build affordable housing. A little over a year into his tenure, he has already gone to the IMF much like previous governments; has yet to recover any appreciable amount and inflation and unemployment continue to rise, with traders, oil tanker associations, doctors and lawyers also staging smaller protests over the past week.

Khan has, thus far, said he would never step down and warned the opposition that any attempt to provoke violence will be met with a harsh response. Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has urged the premier to handle the protest peacefully and avoid violence by both sides, a military spokesman said.

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