Followers of Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and other leaders of Pakistan’s opposition parties chant anti-government slogans in Islamabad on October 3. (Farooq Naeem/AFP via Getty Images)

Hard-line Pakistani Cleric Demands Khan’s Resignation

Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman tells Islamabad sit-in: ‘We refuse to accept a Western economic system. We want an Islamic economy’

[Islamabad] – Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a hardline Islamic cleric and leader of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) party, is demanding that Prime Minister Imran Khan step down immediately, saying the cricketer-turned-politician is incompetent.

The leadership of the country’s other main opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Awami National Party – have added their voices to his demand.

Rehman is a longtime critic of Khan’s government. Along with tens of thousands of followers and representatives of other parties in the opposition, he arrived in the capital Islamabad on October 31 following a 700-mile “liberty march” from the coastal city of Karachi.

“We gave the present government one year to perform, but it failed to deliver,” he said in the capital city on November 1 during a sit-in. “We cannot let it continue to push the country deeper into the darkness.”

He was particularly critical of the way Khan’s government has been handling the economy.

“We refuse to accept a Western economic system. We want an Islamic economy,” he said. “The country’s economy has been hit hard and has been put in the hands of foreign powers.”

He was also critical of the military, which he accused of “systematic rigging” in the July 2018 election that brought Khan to power.

Maj.-Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s armed forces, responded during a televised interview.

“The Pakistan Army is an impartial institution,” he said, “and it fulfilled its legal and constitutional responsibilities in the general election. We always support democratically elected governments in accordance with the country’s constitution.”

A former lawmaker and opposition leader, Rehman failed to regain his constituency’s seat in the National Assembly during the 2018 election. He now insists that he and his followers will continue their sit-in until Khan resigns.

Ali Amin Gandapur, federal minister for Kashmir affairs and the politician who defeated him in the election, told The Media Line that Rehman posed no threat to Khan’s government.

“All state institutions stand with the legitimate, elected government,” Gandapur said. “The civil and military leadership is on the same page under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The country’s institutions are reviving. All macroeconomic indicators are positive. And diplomatically, Pakistan is making its mark.”

In recent months, Khan’s name has been mooted as a possible intermediary on behalf of the Trump Administration concerning its deep disagreements with both Iran and Afghanistan’s Taliban.

Rehman leads Pakistan’s Assembly of Islamic Clerics, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).

Politically, the JUI split into two factions in the late 1980s. Rehman’s is denoted by the letter F, for Fazal-ur-Rehman. The other faction was led by Maulana Sami Ul Haque, who was known as Abu Taliban, or Father of the Taliban. He was assassinated several months ago by an unknown assailant in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Some of those at the Islamabad sit-in have been seen waving the white flags of the Afghan Taliban. Security officials took action and arrested at least eight people, a senior official from Interior Ministry confirmed privately to The Media Line.

Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari, also addressed the protesters.

“The poor people of this country are bearing the burden of taxes and inflation,” he told them.

Nawaz leader Shehbaz Sharif also spoke, saying the country’s economy was “on the brink of destruction.”

Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister for information and broadcasting, told journalists in the capital that the world has “acknowledged Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statesmanship, and the president of World Bank also appreciates his hard work to put the economy on the right track.”

Addressing a public gathering of his own in the northern city of Gilgit, Khan said he would not be resigning.

“The opposition parties are holding a protest march in Islamabad to protect the amount they plundered over the years,” he said, according to state-owned Radio Pakistan. “The opposition is resorting to blackmail and pressure tactics.”

Khan insisted that half of the taxes collected last year were used to pay interest on loans taken by previous governments, adding that the “political orphans can sit in the capital as long as they want.”

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