July issue 2018

By | Cover Story | Published 1 year ago

Illustrations by Munawar Abro

The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (United Council of Action) is an electoral alliance of five mainstream Islamist Parties, consisting of of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP), Jamiat Ahle Hadith and the Tehreek-i-Islami (TI). The alliance, headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and with Liaquat Baloch as Secretary General, was revived in November 2017, after having been disbanded in 2007 owing to internal rifts. The MMA was first formed in 2002 and won 58 seats in the National Assembly. With its 12-point manifesto for the 2018 general election, the party seeks to implement Sharia Law and form a global bloc of Muslim countries.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl

The JUI-F can always count on the wily Maulana to take the necessary twists and turns to ensure the party a berth in the ruling dispensation.

Some Bollywood actors are notorious for playing the same character in film after film. Their moves are entirely predictable; there is no element of surprise.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), treads a somewhat similar path on the country’s political stage. Mention his name and you could safely predict what route he might take in the developing scenario. A berth in the ruling party… but of course…

JUI-F supporters maintain they are a small outfit in terms of their numbers in the National Assembly. Consequently, sitting in opposition and pursuing the politics of agitation would not help them or their electorate, but by choosing to be on the treasury benches, they could, at least, influence the legislation process, and obstruct the approval of bills that go against their ideology, or their political standpoint. Like the one on violence against women, or the bill on the merger of FATA.

At the provincial level, specifically in KP and Balochistan, the JUI-F has been, on most occasions, a major partner in the coalition government, and, only occasionally, been in the opposition party. During the last three terms, JUI-F was part of the coalition government in Balochistan from 2002 to 2013, and was equally desperate to join the last coalition government of the Baloch and Pashtun nationalists’ parties, the National Party (NP) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), and the PML-N, but the PMAP was not willing to take them on board, so they remained on the opposition benches. Incidentally, they were on the forefront in the no-confidence move against Sanaullah Zehri in January this year, which resulted in the end of the four-and-a-half year rule of the coalition government. The JUI-F is expected to make a comeback in the upcoming elections, and would be a preferred ally of the recently formed Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), or the Akhtar Mengal-led Balochistan National Party (BNM-M).

In KP, the JUI-F was the second largest party after the PTI, and was desperate to take on the PTI, but the PML-N, which had almost an equal number of seats as the JUI-F, did not want to become part of any bid to destabilise the PTI government. So the JUI-F sat on the opposition benches with the Maulana’s younger brother, Lutfur Rehman, as the opposition leader. Eyeing an opportunity in the upcoming elections, and to avoid a split in the conservative religious vote, the JUI-F and the JI have joined hands to revive the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of the religious parties that had emerged during the Musharraf era, and managed to win the third highest number of seats in the National Assembly. Consequently, it formed the government in the KP, and became allies in Balochistan by joining hands with the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). When the JI and the JUI-F became part of the coalition governments in the last PTI and PML-N governments, respectively, other members of the MMA demanded that the JUI-F and JI quit the ruling coalition, at the centre and in KP. However, both parties kept delaying the decision, and they pulled out of their respective governments only in the last two months of their terms. The JI quit the PTI coalition in April, while the JUI-F parted ways with the PML-N only 12 days before the end of the government’s term, citing the government legislation on the FATA merger as the reason for the decision.

In the upcoming political scenario, it would be interesting to see the twists and turns the master of political manoeuvering takes in the provinces and at the centre. The situation at the centre might be difficult to manoeuvre if the PTI were to come to power. It seems highly unlikely that the Maulana would hop on to the PTI bandwagon, given the visceral hate the Maulana and Imran Khan have for each other. At PTI’s public meetings, the Maulana was Imran Khan’s favourite target, and whenever he took a potshot at the Maulana, the crowd would start chanting, “Diesel! Diesel!” referring to the alleged quota for transporting diesel to Afghanistan that the Maulana had obtained in the ’90s when he was an ally of the PPP government. In retaliation, the Maulana made ludicrous allegations against the Khan, calling him a “Jew agent,” due to his association with the family of his ex-wife, Jemima Goldsmith.

In the ’90s, during both PML-N terms, the Maulana did not make it to the National Assembly, but now he plays safe by contesting from more than one constituency. For instance, in 2013, he contested from three constituencies and won all three. In the by-polls, which took place after he vacated the two seats, both his son, Maulana Asad Mehmood, and his brother, Maulana Attaur Rehman, who were the candidates, faced defeat at the hands of PTI candidates. It would be interesting to see whether or not the Maulana makes it to the National Assembly in the 2018 elections.

Jamaat-e-Islami

Sirajul Haq, Ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), took charge of the party after the unpopular Munawwar Hasan was voted out in party elections. The move was unprecedented.

Elevated to the topmost rank, Haq left no stone unturned in bringing the party back into the political fray. He visited districts in Sindh, raised populist slogans, hugged the poor and needy during photo ops, acted as a mediator between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) during dharnas and led a march against the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri. 

Haq was the first to bring the matter of the Panama Paper leaks to the attention of the Supreme Court, leading to the ouster and disqualification of Nawaz Sharif. During a hearing of the case, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said, “…If the situation continues then nobody would be able to escape from Articles 62 and 63.” He added, on a lighter note, that Sirajul Haq may be the only exception. Later, however, he retracted his remarks.

But, as political analysts keep saying, the people of Pakistan don’t elect the saliheen (pious) to the parliament. The JI never garnered enough electoral support despite promises of establishing a government based on Islamic law and the provision of basic amenities for all citizens. As a result, it chose alternate means, such as siding with military dictators — be it generals Yahya Khan or Zia-ul-Haq — to get its ideology imposed through the might of the state. 

The party achieved electoral success only when it formed the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties. But that marriage of convenience couldn’t last longer than a general election. By the 2004 local bodies’ election, the party was competing against the JUI-F, after disagreements over the distribution of party tickets. At the centre and in the provincial government of KP, however, the two continued to remain allies from 2002 to 2008. But as was expected, the alliance didn’t last. By the 2013 general election, the JI decided to fly solo again — and lost miserably. 

Former JI chief Munawwar Hasan, who had replaced the late Qazi Hussain Ahmed, did not see eye-to-eye with the politics of JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and so did not opt for an MMA revival for the 2013 general election. As a result, the party was able to bag only three seats in the National Assembly (NA) and seven in the KP provincial assembly (PA). Two of the NA seats, and six of the PA seats came from two districts — Upper and Lower Dir. Haq, who replaced Hassan as party head, hails from Lower Dir.

After much deliberation, the MMA has finally been revived, with Maulana Fazlur Rehman as its head. Haq, meanwhile, faces a challenge within his own party and district. Disagreements over the awarding of party tickets for the upcoming elections have led to the formation of a dissenting group called ‘Jamaat-e-Islami Bachao’ (Protect Jamaat-e-Islami), which has decided to field candidates against Sirajul Haq in NA-7 (Lower Dir-II). While the party is optimistic that disagreements will be addressed, the emergence dissent  will, damage the party’s image.

The JI’s leadership in Karachi has been at the forefront of a campaign and agitation for the provision of electricity and water. They have approached the court against K-Electric (K-E), and participated in all the proceedings and public hearings against the company, which is criticised for excessive load-shedding, over-billing and other irregularities.

Under the MMA umbrella, the JI has ambitions of filling the void created by the fragmentation of the MQM. But with the PTI and the PPP also seeking to fill this vaccum, it may prove wishful thinking on the part of the JI to expect a repeat of the results of the 2000 local bodies elections, or the 2002 general elections.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan-Noorani

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), a party of the Barelvi School, consisting of about a dozen breakaway factions that have little electoral support, is faced with a new challenge. The Barelvi sect has seen a radical shift in its politics after the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri in 2016. 

Once a formidable electoral force in Karachi, the JUP faction, formerly led by the late Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, has split after differences emerged between the party president, Sahibzada Abul Khair Zubair, and Maulana Awais Noorani, in 2014. The two parted ways, the latter forming his own faction called JUP-Imam Noorani, with himself as its general secretary, and Pir Ijaz Hashmi as its president. 

For the upcoming elections the JUP-Noorani, led by Sahibzada Zubair, has joined an alliance of Barelvi outfits known as the  Muttahida Nifaz-e-Nizam-e-Mustafa Mahaz (MNNMM) for the upcoming elections. Since the new alliance has not been registered with the ECP, they will field independent candidates. The JUP-Imam Noorani faction will contest under the MMA banner. 

Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (Allama Sajid Mir)

Allama Sajid Mir, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator, who is also the head of one of the three factions of Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, has joined the MMA. Other than the impact of Mir’s personal influence, the party hardly has any electoral support. 

Sajid Mir was at the heart of the controversy around the appointment of the Chief Of Army Staff last year, when he alleged that one of the three candidates was an Ahmadi. This elicited similar comments from other clerics. Later, when General Qamar Javed Bajwa was appointed COAS, a photograph of Bajwa standing beside the tomb of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in Masjid-e-Nabawi, Medina, was widely circulated on the social media. 

Tehrik-e-Islami Pakistan 

Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP), rechristened the Tehrik-e-Islami Pakistan (TIP), is led by Allama Sajid Naqvi and has been a major political party of the Shia sect. It was renamed after the TJP was banned during the Pervez Musharraf era along with the rival Sunni group, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Both were part of the MMA’s first incarnation, formed in 2002, and the TIP is now part of the revived alliance.

The emergence of the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), however, has reduced its support within the Shia sect, as the MWM has, in the recent years, been at the forefront of a narrative denouncing violence against Shias in recent years. In the 2013 elections, an MWM candidate was elected from a constituency in Quetta that consists predominantly of members of the targeted Hazara community.

Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order