May Issue 2013

By | Elections 2013 | Published 11 years ago

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) traces its roots to Uttar Pradesh, where in 1866 a group of clerics founded the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband in the wake of the failed uprising against the British in 1857. This madrassah became the focal point of a wider Islamic revivalist movement called Deobandism and later led to the creation of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) in 1919. When confronted with the Muslim League’s call for a separate homeland for Muslims, the JUH split over this issue and the pro-Pakistani faction formed the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).

The JUI and allied Islamists lobbied for policies in line with their view of Islam but were mostly unsuccessful. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when Mufti Mahmud became party leader, that the JUI started enjoying political clout in the country. After a tripartite agreement with leftists Wali Khan (National Awami Party) and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (PPP), the socialist-leaning Madani wing of the JUI became part of the coalition government with NAP in the NWFP and Mahmud was sworn in as chief minister. This coalition did not last long, but it was the first time that a religious party came to power in Pakistan. The Mufti launched a vigorous Islamisation programme, which he continued advocating after his 10-months in power. In addition to stringent Islamisation measures, the Mufti also pressured the Bhutto government to have the Ahmadiyya sect legally excommunicated from Islam.

After Mufti Mahmud’s death in the mid-1980s, the JUI split again into two factions, one led by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq (JUI-S) and the other by Mahmud’s son, Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F). Both had grown disillusioned with Zia-ul-Haq’s reign and started agitating for a return to civilian rule. However the Deobandis — and by extension the JUI — benefited immensely from his politics, particularly in regards to the Afghan jihad. Funds from America and Saudi Arabia, channeled through the Pakistani intelligence, were used to establish hundreds of Deobandi madrassahs throughout NWFP for the housing and training of mujahideen fighting in Afghanistan. With access to state patronage, the political, cultural and social influence of the JUI expanded. The JUI-F was able to monopolise control over state departments that were responsible for managing mosques and religious affairs across the country, thus cementing their influence nationally. After Zia’s death, Maulana Fazlur Rehman allied his party with the PPP, now led by Benazir Bhutto, who supported Pakistan’s policy of backing the Taliban — largely a product of JUI’s extensive network of madrassahs — warring in Afghanistan.

When General Musharraf took over the country in Pakistan’s third military coup in 1999, the JUI’s response was muted. Under him they proceeded to form the provincial government in the Frontier province after the 2002 polls as part of the MMA — an alliance of Islamists parties which included the JUI-S. The JUI-F emerged with the most seats. When Pakistan became engaged in the war on terror against the Taliban, the JUI-F, given its deep links with the extremists, reacted harshly against Musharraf’s government — but not harshly enough in the eyes of religious conservatives in the MMA, who accused Maulana Fazlur Rehman of supporting the dictator. The MMA broke up before the 2008 elections but it has largely been reestablished — with the notable exception of Jamaat-e-Islami — for the 2013 elections, mainly through the efforts of the JUI-F.

Like all Islamist parties, the JUI-F has never performed particularly well in the national elections. In the National Assembly they won seven seats in 1970, seven again in 1988, five in 1990, four in 1993, two in 1997, thirty in 2002 as part of the MMA, and seven seats in 2008. Over the years, the JUI-F has acquired a reputation for political opportunism, having a history of alliances with socialists, liberals and dictators. This opportunism can be evidenced in their manifesto for the upcoming elections. The Urdu version of the manifesto is missing the chapter on women’s rights whereas the English one, which is often distributed to foreign diplomats and publications, seems to be missing the chapter on Shariah. The JUI-F advocates an Islamic welfare state with mandatory jihad training for every citizen. At the same time, their manifesto promises that minorities will be free to establish their own religious education centres.

Although the party’s electoral success is far from certain, the JUI-F, with a solid vote base in the Deobandi clerical and Pathan rural classes, constitutes the largest Islamic political party in Pakistan.