November issue 2002
Interview: Qazi Hussain Ahmed
“We will not allow our soil to be used by any foreign power”
– Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Amir, Jamaat-e-Islami
A: It is a misconception that the religious parties have not fared well in previous elections. If you consider how many votes the religious parties got in the ’70 elections independent of each other, and put them together, they will add up to approximately the same number as we have mustered this time. Although we contested on more seats then, we were contesting against each other, so we didn’t get the results we should have.
The other factor that cost us votes [on previous occasions] was that when we were contesting against each other, the common man saw us as sectarian organisations and most people are opposed to sectarianism. They felt we took the name of Islam, but couldn’t even agree on its basic tenets. So there was a lot of resentment against us, even among those who were ideologically affiliated with us and were our natural supporters.
A ripple of joy ran through these people when they saw us on one platform speaking with one voice.
[This turn of events] was welcomed even more because usually politics and elections separate people, they don’t bring them together. But here we were at this crucial election juncture, having come together. And we were the first among the parties in the race to agree on a distribution of seats, the first to select our office bearers, from the president and vice president, all the way down the hierarchy. All of this happened within a couple of months. Even the press called it “incredible.”
This was the fundamental basis of our success in the election. And to answer your question, yes, I had faith that if we united we could effect a huge change [in the voting pattern], particularly in the Frontier.
Q: Don’t you think the burgeoning anti-American sentiment in Pakistan played a major role in the MMA’s victory?
A: No, this is not a new phenomenon. If you reflect on the 1970 elections you will recall how American flags were burnt in all the PPP processions. I don’t see our success as anything other than an expression of joy among people over the unification of the religious parties.
Q: How do you respond to perceptions that the ISI helped prop up the MMA to no small extent?
A: I think the ISI could never play such a constructive role — their role has always been to divide rather than bring together.
Q: Doesn’t the fact that the MMA — like the other political parties — chose to participate in and not boycott the elections, imply a tacit acceptance of the Legal framework Order (LFO), considering the elections were held under this ordinance?
A: We will take oath under the constitution. They say the LFO and the amendments are all part of the constitution. We reject this. We say there is only one constitution — that which was suspended on October 12 — and all the amendments that have been introduced are illegal. However, we adopted a pragmatic approach — if we had not participated in the elections, we would not have been where we are today. And I believe that in the process of the transfer of power we will have to show flexibility — and so will they [the military regime]. We will follow whatever procedure is necessary to attain the restoration of democracy, supremacy of the constitution and sovereignty of Parliament. But we will not waiver from our principled stand.
Q: How effective do you believe Parliament can be in the existing set-up?
A: We consider the set-up illegal. And when Parliament starts functioning, its powers will gradually be enhanced.
Q: Do you accept General Musharraf as President?
A: We are willing to allow the President to play his role — but only within the parameters of the constitution. We say the President should have himself elected constitutionally.
Q: Clearly then you do not accept the referendum…
A: I have taken this matter to the Supreme Court. My stand was that the referendum was not constitutionally valid and the Supreme Court agreed. But they said ‘the constitution is in abeyance, there is a PCO, an emergency order. We are constrained to pass judgements according to this, not the constitution.’ But the judgement also clearly said that at the proper time and in the proper forum I could once again take my case to court.
Q: The MMA will in all certainty form the government in the Frontier and possibly, also in Balochistan. Both provinces are in the frontline in the combined US-Pak operation against Al-Qaeda. What line will the MMA take considering its much publicised position on this issue, which is in total variance with the military government’s undertaking to the United States?
A: This policy is a result of the military government’s weakness. They don’t have roots, they have imposed themselves, they are not of the masses. When our government is in place, there is no possibility of any group engaging in any activity that will disrupt peace and order at home or conducting operations in foreign countries. The government is responsible for the peace and security of its people; a responsible government will not tolerate its soil being used by people of other countries working against its citizens or against a foreign country. We don’t need the Americans to establish peace and security in our country, we don’t need their bases. We will not allow our soil to be used by any foreign power against Afghanistan or any other country.
Q: Do you refute the existence of Al-Qaeda?
A: To us it’s just a name; we don’t know anything about it. But when we have our own government, it will be a government of the people. And we will try to facilitate the establishment of a government in Afghanistan that will be acceptable to the world and the Afghan people, and which will not require the presence of foreign troops.
Q: Do you believe General Musharraf had any other choice apart from allying with the US after September 11?
A: General Musharraf needed courage, he needed wisdom. The problem is there was no institution in the country at that time and he did not consult anyone, not even his own army generals. This was a huge weakness in the regime. We only learnt later that he had adopted this [post September 11] policy.
Q: What would you have done in his place?
A: We would have worked through an institution. We are not dictators. We would have consulted others, elicited public opinion, sought our neighbours’ views. In the process, a bit of time would have lapsed; we would have gained time to prepare ourselves [to formulate a policy].
We certainly wouldn’t have immediately offered our skies, our bases, logistics support and intelligence information, or taken the entire burden on ourselves after just one phone call [from the US].
Q: The religious parties have been in the vanguard of the jihad in Kashmir. How would this translate into policy when in government?
A: All our policies, including those on Afghanistan and Kashmir, will be subject to the approval of Parliament after discussion in the house. But remember, it’s not just the MMA that will be sitting in Parliament — apart from us there are many other parties that will be there too. We will adopt whatever policy is agreed upon by consensus.
Q: The MMA comprises six parties, among whom the JUI has secured the most seats. Will ministries be divided accordingly where the MMA forms the government?
A: Actually our party (the Jamaat-e-Islami) and the JUI each won approximately the same number of seats. There is no scramble within the MMA for portfolios — we really aren’t interested. From the outset I have said I will take no ministry. I want to be of service to the people, to work alongside them. Ministers voices don’t really reach the people. My voice alhamdolillah reaches far and wide. It reaches everyone.
Q: Endless statements have emanated from MMA leaders, including yourself, about fashioning Pakistan according to your perception of what a Muslim country should be. Specifically, MMA leaders have spoken of a ban on music and dance, of segregation in academic institutions, etc. What kind of image of Pakistan would you like to see?
A: Very simple. We would go along with the recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology — which is a constitutional body. It comprises several legal experts. It’s president is always a legal expert, it has among its ranks ulema from all schools of thought and several intellectuals.
Q: Maulana Noorani has said he would ban dance and music… how do you feel about this?
A: The point is, we, the MMA, will not enjoy absolute power; we are just one part of society. But within our limits, we will do what is possible to create a society that conforms to our beliefs, our views and our culture.
Q: You may not wield absolute power in the centre, but you are almost certain to form the government in the Frontier. And you have categorically stated you will enforce segregation in academic institutions there. By the same yardstick then, isn’t it logical to assume that a ban on cable television etc. would follow…
A: Firstly, I didn’t say there should be segregation — the women said it. Ten thousand women have asked for it. I read their charter of demands and merely repeated it. The women’s commission has said ‘we want a peaceful environment, we want separate universities’.
Q: Ten thousand women of the Jamaat… That apart, how realistic a demand is it? We have barely any universities to begin with, certainly not enough to cater to need, and even fewer resources to establish more.
A: We are not saying we will establish new universities immediately, we don’t have the resources. What we are saying is we will work towards mustering the resources. As a matter of fact, I have a grouse against the press. We spoke of providing universal literacy, and the press implied we are against education. We said we will make primary education mandatory for all — men and women — and for girls particularly, we will try and offer free education. We have said we will not restrict women from working. In fact, we have vowed to protect working women and to create the right environment for this. We even provide rifle training for our women. It is part of our programme to provide whatever women are allowed within the Shariah and Hudood — nursing, first aid, rifle training, etc.
We have stated we will ban honour killings and in wata sata situations, we will ensure that unless the girls involved give their consent, these [marriages] will not be allowed — they are unIslamic. We have issued a charter for women in which we have categorically stated we will accord them respect. We will not adopt any oppressive policy against women. Social changes are brought about through education, learning and example. They cannot be implemented through the law. Fifty years ago the situation in the bazaars was very different to what it is today — but nobody had legally enforced purdah at that time.
Actually, I object to the word segregation when used in reference to separating the genders. In the west it is a derogatory term. It was used for dividing people along racial lines. The fact is that a mingling of the sexes is not part of our culture. In all honourable families, even today, men and women are separate. If you consider, at any function — whether it’s a funeral or a Friday congregation at the mosque — men and women are separate. In homes, when male guests come, women do not sit with them. In every home there are separate zenana and zenani (male, female) quarters. No man likes to have an outside male intrude on his privacy, or sit among his womenfolk.
A cultural attack has been launched against us, we are being forced to change our culture.
Q: In certain tribal areas women were totally disenfranchised — they were barred from voting. How do you feel about this?
A: This is also included in our charter — that we acknowledge everyone’s right to vote. In fact, we will work towards ensuring that women come forward to vote. In our speeches we have questioned what kind of custom it is that forbids women from voting. After all they go, all dressed up, to weddings and other functions, and their men have no objection to that. So if women choose to fulfill their national obligation to vote, why are they barred from doing so, especially since there are separate polling stations for women and all the required arrangements can be made for them, protection can be provided to them.
Q: How much truth is there in the allegation that MMA leaders have distributed the reserved seats for women allocated to it among their female family members?
A: This isn’t true. Yes, my daughter has been nominated, but she has a long history of involvement with the women’s wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami. This is common knowledge. She was nominated for a seat because of her own role, her personal contribution, not because she’s my daughter. And I didn’t prop her up; the women’s commission, of which she is a member, recommended her. The same applies to the other reserved seats. No one has been nominated for a seat on the basis of family connections.
Besides, there’s no guarantee that everyone who’s been nominated will make it to the assemblies.
Q: Given the history of hostilities between — and in the case of the Shia TNFJ, disparate ideologies of — the MMA’s component parties, do you think the MMA will be able to stay united?
A: We have all seen the benefits of unity; who will be stupid enough to walk away now? Additionally, now there will be public pressure upon us to stay together.
Q: Do all members of your alliance offer your prayers together?
A: We have read our prayers ba-jamaat in Karachi, before everyone — all of us together, Shia and Sunni.
Q: Do you think this grouping together will help eliminate to any extent the menace of sectarianism?
A: It’s already helped end it to a large extent, it’s made a big difference.
Q: The leaders of the MMA adopt the high moral ground and seek to be the custodians of Pakistan’s moral culture. Yet leaders within the alliance have questionable moral credentials. Take Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who earned himself the sobriquet ‘Maulana Diesel’ for alleged dubious financial practices, or Maulana Samiul Haq better known as ‘Maulana Sandwich,’ for his alleged involvement in a sordid sex scandal in Islamabad. How do you reconcile these positions?
A: Please, don’t ask me to comment on this. Even if I were to defend them, I would be held responsible for it. But I promise you, in future we will dispense justice, we will not give ourselves any concessions, nor will we allow our party members to allot themselves any concessions. We will not protect each other, not even our sons or fathers, if they err or are on the wrong side of the law. And we will never take revenge against our opponents. This is our vow.
Q: Do you see the new government lasting?
A: Which ever government the MMA is part of will be a truly popular government, a people’s government. And it will not be easy to dislodge it.
Q: So what kind of government do you envisage?
A: We would like to see a government where everyone can come together — a government of consensus, of national reconciliation. Whoever forms the government should respect the opposition and be able to work with them. We seek to lay the foundation of a unitarian society.
Q: Do you think Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif should be allowed to return?
A: Yes… Well, I believe there are laws, and everyone should adhere to them. The cases against them don’t have to be dropped if the charges are valid, but getting bail is their legal right, even if the cases against them continue.