December Issue 2007
The Coalition of Expediency
The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) is in a fix. Its supreme council first decided to resign from the National Assembly to protest the passage of the Women Protection Bill, but then opted to delay the implementation of this decision. By not resigning, the six-party alliance risks alienating at least two of its components that want the MMA lawmakers to resign and creating even more differences within its ranks. But resignations at this stage, when general elections are still several months away, would throw the Islamic coalition into wilderness without achieving much in terms of political benefits.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and late Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani’s JUP, now headed by his son Anas Noorani, want the MMA to quit the assemblies in keeping with the decision of the supreme council of the alliance. The former is also the head of the MMA and the most vocal in criticising President General Pervez Musharraf. He has made it clear that any decision taken by the MMA supreme council cannot be withdrawn or indefinitely postponed. To make his intentions clear, he has directed the JI MNAs to stop attending the National Assembly sessions and refuse payments due to them as lawmakers. Through such a move, he is hoping to put enough pressure on the MMA components, particularly Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, to agree to quit the National Assembly.
Giving him solid support is the JUP, which doesn’t have many members in the parliament or the provincial assemblies, but is important politically as a representative of the Barelvi Muslims. The JUP leadership too has made it clear that it does not want its lawmakers to sit in the National Assembly following its adoption of the Women Protection Bill. It is also relevant to recall that the late Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani was the founder president of the MMA. The MMA cannot afford to lose a party whose leader was its first head and which still has pockets of support in urban Sindh and in small parts of the Punjab.
Professor Sajid Mir’s Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith has, in the past, backed radical steps taken by the MMA in its opposition to President Musharraf and his political allies in the PML and other parties. In fact, Sajid Mir’s party is much closer to former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif than to the five other MMA components. It would, therefore, align with the JI and JUP while pushing the MMA supreme council to implement its decision to resign from the National Assembly.
The remaining three MMA member-parties include Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, which is the biggest group in the religio-political alliance in terms of the number of assembly seats that it holds in the present dispensation. It is also the most reluctant to quit the assemblies at this stage. In fact, the JUI-F would be offering more sacrifices than its other MMA partners in case of resignations because its nominee, Akram Durrani, is chief minister in the NWFP and, therefore, dominant in corridors of power in the province. All MNAs, Senators and MPAs elected on the MMA ticket from Balochistan belong to the JUI-F, and the party is enjoying the perks of power as the junior coalition partner to the PML in that province. It would be instructive to look at the crucial role that the JUI-F Balochistan head, MNA Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, has been playing in opposing resignations from assemblies. He has publicly opposed such a move and has even been attending General Musharraf’s meetings with PML and other lawmakers in Quetta and earning praise from the uniformed President. In fact, the President publicly stated recently that he and Maulana Sherani were both targeted by Islamic extremists and managed to survive. The Maulana, it may be added, has accused top Taliban commander Mulla Dadullah of plotting to kill him. His soft corner for the President and his stubborn refusal to endorse any MMA move to quit the assemblies has caused some rift in the JUI-F in Balochistan, and one of his opponents, Maulana Noor Mohammad, who was an MNA for Quetta, has resigned from the National Assembly. However, Maulana Sherani is still the most powerful JUI-F politician in Balochistan, and the party cannot afford to annoy him by going along with JI leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad and resigning from the assemblies at this point in time.
Syed Sajid Naqvi’s Millat Islami, which before the government’s ban on it as a sectarian party was known as the TNFJ, claims to represent the Shias. Its presence in the assemblies is insignificant. It could go either way, but is more likely to back those in the MMA who want to resign from the legislatures.
The sixth MMA component is the second JUI faction, which claims to represent the real JUI-S after the one led by Maulana Samiul Haq was expelled from the alliance on disciplinary grounds. Samiul Haq, who is member of the Senate, and his son Maulana Hamidul Haq Haqqani, MNA, subsequently accepted the lucrative chairmanship of parliamentary standing committees to affirm their break with the MMA, which had decided not to chair any such committee. Maulana Gul Rahman, the MMA MNA from Karachi, is head of the JUI faction that is still part of the MMA. The faction has one more MNA, Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz from Karak district in NWFP. It is obviously very small and insignificant in terms of its electoral representation. The faction would side with Maulana Fazlur Rahman in case of a showdown within the MMA whether to resign or not.
On account of the deep divisions in the MMA on the question of resignations from the assembly, its leadership was constrained to delay the decision to avoid breakup of the fractious alliance. Already, the MMA was suffering from differences on a host of issues. The four smaller parties in the alliance were unhappy over the monopoly of the JUI-F and JI in decision-making and the share in the spoils of power. But at the same time, the JUI-F and JI were involved in a parallel tussle of their own on certain issues. Efforts were made by the MMA leadership to promote common causes, such as enforcement of Islamic law in the NWFP through Shariah and Hasba bills and opposition to the Women Protection Bill, to override divisive issues that threaten to widen the gulf between the component parties. It goes to the credit of the two MMA stalwarts, Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Maulana Fazlur Rahman, for keeping the alliance intact despite having serious differences on a number of occasions. The former has probably shown more patience in preventing the MMA from splitting even though he has the reputation of being an emotional and inflexible politician. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, on the other hand, is known as a pragmatic man with a sharp mind capable of cutting deals like any other conventional politician
It appears that the two, with support from other MMA components, would be able to keep the alliance together in view of the realisation that their parties would suffer at the polls in case the six-party coalition fell apart. There is much talk of an emerging political and electoral alliance between PML-N, Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaaf and JI, but that would only happen if the MMA were to break up and the JUI-F moved closer to other like-minded parties. This may not happen because the JUI-F doesn’t share much common ground with its former political allies, Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Asfandyar Wali Khan’s ANP, due to the changed post-9/11 international situation. Parties professing secularism or nationalism would avoid making alliances with Islamic groups at a time when the US, as the world’s lone superpower, alongwith its western and other allies, has made it a policy to isolate such anti-west and pro-jihadi parties by branding them as supporters of Muslim terrorists and extremists. Post-election coalitions between ideologically diverse parties are possible in unusual circumstances or in a bid to capture power in a province or two. But such an arrangement would be a working relationship based on a minimum common programme to run a coalition and not on major policy matters.
One thing, however, is obvious. The MMA has been gradually losing credibility for backtracking on its decisions, such as its public commitment to resign from the National Assembly once the Women Protection Bill was passed. It had earlier given legitimacy to General Musharraf’s presidency-in-uniform and endorsed all his acts, both legal and illegal, through the 17th constitutional amendment. The performance of the MMA government in the NWFP has also been ordinary. All this would impact on its showing in the coming general elections.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.