May issue 2009
Interview: Syed Munawar Hasan
Syed Munawar Hasan took oath as the new amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami in March this year. Interestingly, Hasan was, at one time, president of the leftist National Students Federation. Inspired by Maulana Maudoodi, he decided to quit leftist politics and switched over to the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT) during his Karachi University (KU) days. While pursuing masters degrees in sociology and Islamiyat consecutively at KU, he was the Nazim-i-Aala of the IJT for three years. Subsequently, he served as the amir of Jamaat-e-Islami, Karachi District in 1967. In the 1977 National Assembly elections, Hasan secured the highest number of votes ever polled by a candidate. He last held the post of JI’s secretary general.
Married to Ayesha Munawar, secretary general of JI’s women’s wing, he has a son and daughter. A well-read and widely travelled man, Syed Munawar Hasan makes an effective speaker at the Jamia Mansoora’s Friday congregations. In a special interview conducted at Mansoora, Munawar Hasan speaks to Newslineabout the country’s socio-political landscape.
Q: As the newly-elected head of the JI, how would you evaluate the party’s position in the current socio-political landscape?
A: I can say with pride that the JI has a written constitution which is followed in letter and spirit at all forums and in the workings of all its institutions. We will continue to propagate the party’s ideology and ethics with the same commitment as earlier. The positive aspect is that this society comprises people who may not be practitioners of what we advocate and yet they will not deride our principles. It is our duty to organise such persons and campaign against social evils.
Q: Why is it that a religious party like Jamaat-e-Islami has never gained a majority vote?
A: What you address as the majority vote is dependent on horse-trading and we will not indulge in that. Nor can we resort to the politics of compromise. We are not feudals. We will not sacrifice the country for personal interest. Those are undemocratic, anti-people means to power. The PML-Q came into power on the basis of horse-trading, but what happened in just six months? Can a genuine vote bank suddenly go down to 5% from a two-thirds majority?
Who has ever come to power in this country on the basis of popular vote except for Bhutto after the elections of 1970? Even the party in power today is there because of the NRO, which did away with all the cases against Zardari and his cohorts. Finish off the NRO and Zardari will not be there. That is why we are asking the CJ to explain the legal position of the NRO. We are ignorant people who want to know a lot of other things — things like how come Musharraf has been allowed to go scot-free or the reason for providing him with the sort of protocol that is reserved for somebody who has really served the country.
Neither has anybody delivered on their manifestos. Had they upheld their promises and worked in their constituencies, things would have been different today. There is a huge vote bank in the country which tells us that you [the JI] have the best candidates but we know that you [the JI] will not win, so we do not want to waste our vote.
It is human psychology to want to be associated with the winner because then they can get favours. The formation of the MMA had given this huge vote bank some hope that we [the JI] could win and form a government. That one side of the experiment was successful but there were simultaneously other sides to the MMA which prevented it from remaining in power. However, I believe that in order to get out of this quagmire, [we need to] resort to other sensible strategies like adjustment with the people and improved communication with them; by bargaining in accord with a well-planned vision and taking people along with that vision we can bring positive results. I am not saying that there will be a sea change or that some sort of a revolution will take place, but the JI can proceed by leaps and bounds if we learn from the experiment.
Q: How would you respond to the allegation that the Jamaat’s presence in government has always been the result of its nexus with the military?
A: The fact is that during the Zia regime when the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) came to power, the JI was only one-ninth of the whole since there were nine other parties in the alliance. PNA President Mufti Mehmood, and Vice President Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, had declared in a press conference that the reason for forming the alliance was to get Zia to announce a date for the elections. So you cannot single us out in that context.
Secondly, we had a majority in the NWFP and it was not due to anybody’s favours. Even in Musharraf’s time, we were elected as a majority party. We formed our own government in the NWFP and in Sindh, and had a presence in Punjab and Balochistan as well.
Q: What is your take on the Nizam-e-Adl in Swat?
A: The bill remained with Zardari for two months. Why? It was only brought up after the NWFP government threatened to walk out. In Swat, it was not just the issue of Nizam-e-Adl. It was an accord for peace between the ANP and the Taliban, made possible by Sufi Mohammad’s direct intervention. When both parties agreed to come to an arrangement, peace was restored in Swat. The shops and markets re-opened, the displaced began to return and schools started functioning. This peace had to be procured at any price. Sufi Mohammad bartered for a system of justice that was suited for, and wanted by, the people of Swat. They are a people used to the sort of quick justice that arranges the funerals of the murderer and the murdered man on the same day.
The important thing to note, however, is that as soon as the accord was signed, the first reaction came from the US. They derided it, while in Afghanistan they are talking to the Taliban to reach an agreement. Who are they to interfere in our internal affairs? Yet, neither Zardari nor the PM spoke up; they can’t because the poor chaps have come to power on the basis of the NRO. It was very clear from that day onwards, that the accord would not last, especially with all the negative statements against it. Once you sign an accord, you wait and see, but here you were already forecasting dire results, talking of intended action in case the accord was violated. If there were doubts about the accord, then the government should have talked to Sufi Mohammad directly. But as the events unfolded, we knew that there was immense American pressure with all those US envoys bringing messages.
Q: Exactly who are the Taliban and would you absolve them of all blame for what’s happening in Pakistan today?
A: Although there has been infiltration to some extent, I consider the Taliban as people of this country, who have been fed on false promises for a very long time. They were being told that the Shariah would be implemented, but with the passage of time their frustration got the better of them. The change they were promised is nowhere in sight. Pakistan was created on the basis of these promises, as is evident from the Objectives Resolution.
In my opinion, the consensus constitution of 1973 laid the foundation for this phenomenon. Had Bhutto, or those who came after him, followed it to the letter, things would have been different. The violation of the constitution of Pakistan carries on and we still do not have a real parliamentary system. Nobody speaks out against the violators and abrogators of the constitution and, instead, the entire blame falls on the Taliban.
Q: How real is the Taliban threat?
A: I personally believe that the slogan has been over-used and with deliberate intent. For the last two months, Altaf Hussain has been saying that the Taliban are coming to Karachi. The idea behind raising the alarm that the Taliban are about to enter Islamabad or Karachi, is to divert attention from the real issue: the drone attacks and the American dictation and interference [in Pakistan].
You are talking of the Taliban reaching Islamabad, but the US has already reached Kahuta. You will not be informed about their arrival. One day you will just get to know that they are there and that the Americans reaching Kahuta is better than the Taliban getting to it. And that Israel is also there because, according to them, Pakistan’s nukes are in the wrong hands. This is an extension of the anti-Pakistan propaganda launched by India.
I will repeat, for your benefit, that India’s defence (and offence) budget is directed at building up this hype. It is lobbying all over the world that Pakistan is a failed state. That it has a rogue army, which should be disbanded. That the UN should take over Pakistan’s nukes. That Dr Qadeer should be handed over to America. Even Obama is supporting India’s stance and making statements to the effect that Pakistan will not infiltrate India or direct its extremism against it, insinuating that Pakistan has been guilty of all this and that if it wants any aid it will have to work to their [the US] dictation.
And you are putting all the blame on the Taliban?
I regret to say that even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, in a statement, said that we will crush all the Taliban and extremism will not be tolerated.
Q: But the Taliban are violating the writ of the Pakistan government in Swat …
A: If I am breaking the established law of the country, then the state has every right to punish me, but here you are talking of establishing the state’s writ. This writ exists nowhere. It only comes into play in the context of the Taliban. What about the qabza tactics of the MQM and the culture of ‘bori band’ corpses that they invented? They have taken over public parks in Karachi and made markets there. They have brought people from interior Sindh and settled them in Karachi. Nobody denounced the MQM when the CJ was not allowed to leave the Karachi airport, or when the Malir Bar Association office was set on fire on May 9. The government has been a witness to all these acts of terrorism, yet has done nothing.
Q: So you do not fault the Taliban, despite massive lawlessness in the northern areas?
A: There are footnotes to every book but the footnotes do not make the book. People who read the entire book, do not blame the Taliban. I do not maintain that the Taliban are entirely clean, but I do think only 20% are to be blamed.
Q: But a lot of what you call ‘foot notes’ are specifically anti-women as well as anti-civil rights …
A: The school-burning incidents in Swat took place during curfew hours. If you refer to the television footage of the public flogging of a woman in Swat, then you must know that it was totally concocted. Even the chief secretary gave a report to the effect. The pro-woman lobby of people, who reacted so vocally to that footage, never said anything about Aafia Siddiqui. How many editorials appeared in the English press about her or the Jamia Hafsa girls who were killed?
Q: But the media did report on the Jamia Hafsa.
A: Because they could not afford to ignore an issue of such magnitude. But did you notice the line taken by the media or the tone in which the issue was presented?
Compared to the Jamia Hafsa incident, the Taliban issue is being presented in the media with a force that is a hundred times greater. The entire English press is guilty of ignoring the reality of the Taliban, to the extent thatDawn wrote an editorial condoning the COAS’s timely statement about flushing them out through public support. What happened to public support in Balochistan, or in East Pakistan, or during the military action in Karachi and now in Swat? The only time the public really supported state action was during the ’65 war. It will never be supportive if you shower bullets on your own population. Today, all that matters is that the maulvi has to be finished off.
Q: What then is the real challenge to Pakistan’s solidarity and sovereignty?
A: Pakistan is being maligned with deliberate intent, because the US wants to make a mini-superpower of India in the region. Pakistan stands accused of being party to all the terrorism in the region, to the extent that when we offer to help identify the culprits so that the drone attacks do not kill innocent people, the US refuses to share the information saying that it does not trust the ISI to keep the information safe from the Taliban. They say that the entire belt is a nursery for Al-Qaeda and has to be finished off, meaning that Pakistan has to be finished off. It is another thing that if they proceed, even the Americans will not survive. Look what the Pakhtun belt’s reaction did to the British and to the USSR which were superpowers of their time. The region has never given way to foreign intervention.
In Afghanistan, India has opened five embassies along the Balochistan-Afghanistan border. They even have one in Zahedan which overlooks Balochistan. Does India require so much diplomatic cover in that area? Rehman Malik is on record as having said that India is financing the drive to destabilise Pakistan. The matter should have been taken up at the diplomatic level but all that happened was that he was promoted to a ministerial rank.
Then there is the case of wrong state policies that have made the Baloch feel that they will never get justice and so they go and desecrate the Pakistan flag. No amount of compensation now will solve the issue.
Q: You have a huge cadre of highly educated women and yet pro-women issues have never been taken up?
A: I challenge this allegation and blame the English press for ignoring our efforts. My own wife, Ayesha Munawar, drafted three bills to this effect in the last assembly, but being in the opposition, her efforts went unnoticed. JI has printed a record of the pro-women activities and projects that are being undertaken by its workers. If the PPP had done something like this, the press would have surely taken note. Actually the secular lobby in the country will never let our agenda come up. Only those things that defame and discredit us will be allowed to see the light of day.
Besides, who else has ever raised women’s issues in the assembly — the PPP, the PML or the ANP? In fact, some of their male members have supported certain issues saying they will not interfere with tradition.
Q: What is the future of the Pakistani woman in a feudal and tribal set-up?
A: Even the future of men is uncertain in this society. Nobody has a future in a cruel and oppressive system, except the perpetuators. A woman’s future is even more bleak. But yes, with the passage of time, change will be visible. The JI has made inroads in the interior of the country and discovered the extent to which women are oppressed. If our efforts have not found a place in the media, then it is for the better because this way our work towards women’s empowerment is bringing results. A special kind of awareness is being created by us. This awareness will lead to the practice of Islamic norms. There are also many other Islamist forces working for change, whether they are the Sufi group or the Taliban, and each has a different approach.
Q: Which is the correct approach?
A: It is for you to make the decision. For me, my method is correct. But I will say that the greatest hurdle in the implementation of the right system is the secular lobby, in connivance with the ‘crusade’ — a word used by Bush — launched by the US. They who are anti-rights, anti-democracy and anti-civil liberties, plant the Musharrafs on us. As a consequence of this, we get the Hezbollahs, the Hamas and the mujahideen of Kashmir, who take up arms in a fight for survival because they know that nobody is coming to their help.
Q: But how do you explain Sufi Mohammad’s tirade against democracy?
A: Because we want to discredit Sufi Mohammad, we have this splendid opportunity to say he has foul-mouthed democracy. It is just like your ignoring JI’s positive conduct for the last 60-plus years because it suits your purpose. I told Sufi that the democracy advocated by the ’73 constitution, which upholds the Quran and the Sunnah as the supreme law, is not kufr. Islam, however, will not uphold the western concept of democracy, which has no holds barred.