Who gave assurance to Fazlur Rehman to call off sit-in last year and why?

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LAHORE: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has claimed that he had ended the Islamabad sit-in on the assurance that Prime Minister Imran Khan would immediately step down and new elections would be held three months after his resignation.

Before making this claim, Maulana Fazl said: “I urge [Punjab Assembly Speaker] Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi to disclose the secret he is carrying as amanat.”

However, he did not say where the assurance came from, and analysts are of the view that throughout the JUI-F protest and dharna there was no indication that the PTI government was vulnerable or it may agree to the JUI-F’s demand for re-elections.

Chiding the government for failing to control the spiral of price hike, the JUI-F leader announced that his party would again take to the streets, beginning from Karachi on Feb 23.

The benefit expected from the Azadi March that the JUI-F had launched in November last year against the government could not be achieved, because the two major opposition parties Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz didn’t extend their support to the cause, he said.

The JUI-F had staged 13-day (from Nov 1 to 13, 2019) sit-in on Kashmir Road in Islamabad that came to an abrupt end as the party chief announced going for Plan B, blocking various major roads across the country. The Chaudhrys had held a number of meetings with the JUI leadership during the sit-in.

Talking to the media after meeting Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith chief Prof Sajid Mir here on Sunday, Maulana Fazl said he would think of inviting the Chaudhrys of Gujrat to his public meetings (he planned to hold across the country) only after they changed their position (giving up support to the PTI government).

Answering a question, he gave credit to his anti-government movement for the fissures appearing in the ruling alliance. The JUI-F chief said he didn’t recognise the existing parliament that he alleged was the result of a bogus mandate.

Replying to another query about the rifts in the ruling coalition, he said issues would emerge when the government wouldn’t keep the word it had given to its coalition partners.

He told a questioner that he had no contacts with former president Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif since their respective parties voted for the amendment to the Army Act to empower the prime minister to extend the tenure of the chief of the army staff.

However, he added, he had not shut doors of cooperation on the two parties and would talk to them if they approached him for the purpose. He said PPP was earlier conditionally supporting the amendment to the army act but then withdrew the changes it had recommended for the proposed amendment, as both PPP and PML-N backed the extension.

It was because of the PPP and PML-N, which didn’t extend their support to the cause, that the benefit expected from the Azadi March could not be achieved, the JUI-F chief said.

At present there was vacuum in power corridors, with the government having lost its writ to ‘some forces’, as the situation changed after the issue of the army chief’s extension went to the courts and parliament, he said.

Answering a question, Maulana Fazl said the opposition was staying put with its narrative but the mindset of the masses could not be changed. That was why, he said, the JUI-F had decided to take to the streets, beginning from Karachi on Feb 23, followed by a national convention in Islamabad on March 1, and a public meeting in Lahore on March 19 in an attempt to assemble people on a single platform. He urged the people to respond to his call for removing the ‘illegal’ and ‘incompetent’ government.

He said he had consulted Prof Mir on the third phase of the anti-government protest besides discussing national political scenario.