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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 17:40 GMT
Profile: Maulana Fazlur Rahman
Maulana Fazlur Rahman (L) greets PP leader Khursheed Shah (C) and ARD leader Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan (R)
Fazlur Rahman (left) was nominated by several parties

A pro-Taleban cleric in Pakistan has emerged as one of the two main contenders for the post of the country's prime minister.


Once accused of treason, Maulana Fazlur Rahman is now a candidate for the country's highest executive office

Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who heads the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Islamic Party of Religious Leaders - JUI), is known for his close ties to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime.

His is one of the most influential and resourceful organisations in Pakistan working for what is described as a "pure, Islamic state".

When US and allied forces began bombing Taleban strongholds in Afghanistan last year, Fazlur Rahman led large anti-US, anti-Musharraf, and pro-Taleban rallies in Pakistan's major cities.

The Maulana fiercely criticised Presidents Bush and Musharraf, and threatened to launch a jihad, - a holy war - against the US if the bombings continued.

A free man

He warned that General Musharraf would be overthrown if he continued supporting the US.

Taleban fighters of the ousted Afghan government
The Taleban received much help from Rahman

The Americans were not amused by the Maulana's rhetoric. They knew he had enough clout and support to stoke the fires of hatred and violence against the anti-Taleban forces.

In October 2001, President Musharraf was left with no choice but to place Fazlur Rahman under house arrest.

The JUI chief was charged with sedition for inciting the people against the armed forces and for trying to overthrow the government.

However, he was set free in March this year and all the cases against him were withdrawn.

Religious politics

Fifty-one-year-old Maulana Rahman, sporting a grey beard and a yellow turban, is a powerful man.

US soldier in action in Afghanistan
US operations saw Fazlur Rahman lead protests

He comes from a religious and political family from the southern district of Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

His father, Maulana Mufti Mahmoud, was an Islamic scholar and politician who was the NWFP's chief minister in the 1970s.

Fazlur Rahman took over the JUI's reins as secretary general after his father's death.

The JUI, which represents the Deobandi school of Islamic thought, split into two factions in the 1980s on the question of joining General Zia ul Haq's military government.

Fazlur Rahman leads the main faction, the JUI-F, while JUI-S is led by Maulana Sami ul Haq, another pro-Taleban Islamist leader.

Ironic turns

A veteran politician, the Maulana has been elected to the National Assembly three times since 1988.

During former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's stint in office, he was appointed as the chairman of the National Assembly's Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs.

In that capacity he built up an extensive network in the Middle East to gather both moral and financial support for his cause.

He also travelled to the United States and met senior officials.

While Benazir Bhutto is accused of creating the Taleban, Maulana Rahman is believed to have supplied men from his support bases in the NWFP and Balochistan.

Both leaders now deny having played any role in raising the Taleban.

Politics in Pakistan have often taken strange turns. Once accused of treason, Maulana Fazlur Rahman is now a candidate for the country's highest executive office.

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

06 Nov 02 | South Asia
30 Oct 02 | South Asia
24 Oct 02 | South Asia
23 Oct 02 | South Asia
16 Oct 02 | South Asia
11 Oct 02 | South Asia
11 Oct 02 | South Asia
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