Ajith Vijay Kumar
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa strongman Maulana Fazlur Rehman has been increasingly emerging as an important pivot in Pakistan politics at a time when the nation is making a serious attempt towards a democratic future.
The Maulana, who heads his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, is being courted by the Paskiatn People’s Party and PML-N. While they are eyeing his strength in Punjab, the Maulana is also weiging his options as he works towards strengthening his base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA.
Born into an illustrious family, Fazl had taken over party in 1980 at the age of 27 after the death of his father Maulana Mufti Mahmoud, a religious scholar and political leader, who was the chief minister of NWFP.
Once a known supported of the Afghanistan Taliban, the Maulana rise in Pakistan politics was attributed to his proximity to them. However, after he distanced himself from the Taliban in later year, they had put him on their hit list, but he seems to back in their good books.
The party’s Ameer since 1980, he has been elected to Parliament four times: 1988, 1993, 2002 and 2008 and lost two times: 1990 and 1997. This time, the Maulana is back at his favourite hunting ground as he once again takes on Faisal Karim Kundi of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In the 2008 election, Fazl lost to Kundi in NA-24 but managed to float as he won a seat from Bannu. Other important candidates from NA24 are Waqar Ahmad Khan and Rehan Malik Advocate.
Known as a pragmatic politician, the Maulana has oscillated between political extreme over the years. A strong supporter of the Sharia Law, the JUI-F has also supported and formed alliances with centrist secular parties – he had sided with Benazir Bhutto in 1988, while maintaining his relationship with the Taliban.
After Benazir’s exit in 1998, he continued on Bhutto`s side and rose to first become the interim Leader of the Opposition until 1999 and later as Leader of the Opposition in 2002.
With anti-Americanism, support for Afghan Taliban and Sharia law being his calling cards the Maulana drifted through the tumultuous phase in Pakistan’s history as part of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal – a conglomerate of six right-wing religious parties.
But he soon changed tracks and declared that he supported friendly ties with the America. By cooperating with the Americans, he is said to have nursed the ambition of being backed by the US as their choice for Prime Minister.
The Taliban responded to his volte-face by carrying out two back-to-back bomb attacks that targeted the Maulana, but he escaped. However, he seems to have now back in favour with the Taliban after he pitched for talks with Pakistan Taliban.
Regarded as an opportunist, the Maulana has increasingly turned hard-line and may demand his pund of flesh irrespective of the party that wins.
Adept to hard bargains, he knows his support is crucial and can play hardball.