March Issue 2015
Will the Real Muslim League Please Stand Up?
Every now and then, calls are made for the unification of all factions of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) which have mushroomed periodically in the manner of binary fission since independence. But all such calls seem motivated more by an urge to jump on a bandwagon out to oust the party in power or to elbow their way into a new government in the making, only to revert back to the original faction in case of failure to achieve the narrow objectives or become part of a new disillusioned faction. Some of these factions were formed either at the behest of intelligence agencies to serve some short-term purpose or by military regimes looking for political legitimacy.
It is perhaps one — or more than one — of the above reasons that seems to have prompted the currently out-of-the-reckoning PML-Q to embark on an old dream to unify various Muslim League factions. In the not-too-distant past PML-Q leaders, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, met former president, General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf, in Karachi for this purpose. The Chaudhry brothers also met PML-F chief Pir Pagara, as well as PML-N leader Zulfiqar Khosa. Similarly, a section of the PML old guards in Sindh also gave a call for the unification of the party, at least at the provincial level to start with. Three former chief ministers of the province, Syed Ghaus Ali Shah, Liaquat Ali Khan Jatoi and Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim; the former speaker of the National Assembly, Illahi Buksh Soomro; and Sindh PML-F chief, Pir Sadruddin Shah Rashdi met in Karachi recently to discuss the matter of unification. So far this bid to unite has remained precisely that — a bid. Perhaps the assorted leaders are awaiting a call from the PML-N leadership. It is more than likely that after some behind-the-scenes manoeuvering, the efforts will either be abandoned or a new faction will emerge in Sindh.
Today, we have two major, three minor and a long list of obscure PMLs, each designated by an alphabet. The one headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is known as the PML-N; the ‘N’ standing for Nawaz. The PML-Q belongs to the Shujaat-Pervaiz duo, the ‘Q’ is for Quaid-e-Azam. The PML-F is headed by Pir Pagara III; the ‘F’ stands for ‘Functional.’ Sheikh Rashid has his one-man Awami Muslim League. There is one more PML-Q. Here the ‘Q’ stands for the late Malik Qasim. Kabir Ali Wasti heads this faction of the PML. Ijazul Haq, son of the late General Zia-ul-Haq, has his own PML-Z, the ‘Z’ here stands for Zia-ul-Haq. There was once a PML-J of former Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo which became PML-C following his death, and the faction was inherited by Nasir Chatta. The former president, General (retd.) Musharraf, has his own PML called the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). But wait, there are some more: PML, Jinnah; PML, Qayyum; PML, Haqiqi; PML, Sher-e-Bengal; PML, Muttahida; PML, Nazriyati; PML, Safdar; PML, Zehri; PML, Council; PML, Democratic; PML, Humkhyal; and Pakistan National ML. Most of these PML factions are registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which has as many as 226 parties on its register. Some of these PML factions have contested past polls on their own or as part of an electoral alliance.
The original All India Muslim League (AIML), regarded as the mother of the Pakistan Muslim League, originally comprised of a group of Muslim feudal lords, big businessmen and prominent intellectuals imbued with the spirit of the Aligarh movement. When the movement for independence gained momentum in the late 1930s, this group was being led by a person known in those days as the most westernised political leader among the Indian Muslims.
According to author Ayesha Jalal, Jinnah was, first and foremost, a thoroughbred constitutionalist who had no doubt that the Pakistanis would choose, “a moderate, democratic and forward-looking state.” Hence, he could not have told the new nation anything other than what he said soon after Partition, while addressing the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly on September 11, 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State. You will find that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
However, Jinnah had promised the Pir of Manki Sharif the enforcement of shariah in Pakistan in exchange for his support in the election of 1946. And while addressing the Tribal Areas, Jinnah said: “The government of Pakistan has no desire whatsoever to interfere in any way with the traditional independence of the tribal areas. On the contrary, we feel as a Muslim State, we can always rely on [the] active support and sympathy of the tribes.”
Jinnah was no theologian and his two earlier statements, while he was fighting the case of Indian Muslims with nothing other than the two-nation theory, were only intended to appeal to the religious sentiments of a section of the Muslim population for expanding the PML’s reach. And as the story goes, the Quaid’s September 11 speech was censored by the then establishment, headed at the time by the party’s Secretary General, Chaudhary Mohammad Ali, who is said to have defended his decision by saying that the speech negated this two-nation theory.
According to anecdotal testimony, which is yet to be substantiated by documentary proof, the Quaid is said to have told the first PML council meeting, in which he announced his withdrawal from the League as he had been named the Governor General of the newly independent country, that the PML not being a political party but a movement for Pakistan, should now be consigned to history, as the objective had been achieved, and not retained as a political party. Mian Iftikharuddin, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and the National Congress leadership had also opposed the idea of preserving the PML as a political party in the new country. But some PML stalwarts like the Aga Khan and Raja Sahib of Mehmoodabad disagreed . A few members are even said to have named Fatima Jinnah, the Quaid’s sister, to succeed him as PML president. An indignant Quaid reportedly shot down this proposal, saying he had no intention of turning the PML into a family-owned entity. So the mantle of leadership fell on his closest lieutenant, Quaid-e-Millat Liaquat Ai Khan, a highly respected personality but politically too weak and without any constituency in the new country where the PML, in any case, had a very weak presence even during the freedom struggle.
The passage of the Objectives Resolution in March 1949 and the support given to it by Liaquat Ali Khan provided those very mullahs, who had opposed the Pakistan movement, a much needed foothold in the future politics of Pakistan. It was about this time that these mullahs resurrected what they termed as Islamic ideology and propagated an obscure slogan of ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya? Laillaha Illallah’ to confuse the mind of the public at large. The Basic Principles Committee Report presented on December 22, 1952 deepened the influence of the mullah further in evolving a system of governance for Pakistan.
After the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, the party was virtually taken over by British-trained senior civil servants, who turned the PML into its handmaid. Its leadership, mostly comprising the feudal aristocracy of the Punjab and Sindh who had no grassroots support but exercised tight control over their farm hands, readily accepted this situation which they felt was ideal to secure their narrow personal and class interests. And as the state became synonymous with the civil-military-mullah nexus, the party leadership found it wiser and safer to throw their political weight behind this nexus rather than link up with the populace at large. Because of the guaranteed votes from their labourers, these feudal aristocrats became what are now known as the ‘electables,’ and therefore were sought by all illegitimate governments seeking legitimacy, especially the military regimes formed after military coups. Consequently, these electables came to harbour delusions of being in power for all times to come and had no qualms about joining new factions of the PML each time or forming their own to remain perpetually in power without the people’s mandate.
Ayub Khan banned all political parties after he took over the reins of the country in a military coup in 1958. But by 1962, he realised the need for acquiring political legitimacy and decided to create a new Muslim League called the Convention Muslim League. It was formed out of a convention he had chaired out of the old and new Muslim Leaguers. The council members of the defunct PML, who chose to remain out of this convention either because they were not invited or did not attend despite the invitation, used the opportunity to revive the PML, and in order to distinguish itself from the Convention League used the nomenclature of ‘Council’ as its prefix. In the election that followed the revival of political activities, the Convention League supported Ayub Khan and the Council League rooted for Fatima Jinnah.
The 1970 debacle saw the complete rout of the party in both the wings. In the residual Pakistan, its president, Mumtaz Khan Daulatana became High Commissioner to the UK. He was succeeded by a Karachi lawyer, Hasan A Shaikh. But he did not last long and the PML’s mantle soon fell on the shoulders of Pir Sahab of Pagara. The Pagara-led, almost unified PML, was the key player in the nine-party alliance, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), that was instrumental in the downfall of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, which was finally overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq in a military coup. A part of the Pagara-led PML joined the first cabinet of General Zia. Those that chose to remain out of it were led by Malik Qasim and the faction came to be known as PML-Q.
After the party-less elections of 1985, General Zia’s hand-picked prime minister, Mohammad Khan Junejo, formed his own faction of the PML from within parliament. When Zia dismissed Junejo, the official League was taken over by Nawaz Sharif, the then Punjab chief of the PML who was also the province’s chief minister. In those days Nawaz took great pride in being called the spiritual son of General Zia. Those who went along with Junejo were known as PML-J Leaguers. But when Nawaz rebelled against the then president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and was sent home by General (retd.) Abdul Waheed Kakar, the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), the faction which went along with him became known as PML-N, the current ruling party. After remaining in the opposition for nearly two years, this faction of the PML came back with more than a two-thirds majority in 1997. However, while attempting to assert civilian authority over the military-led establishment, Sharif came into direct confrontation with the institution of the army. He first removed the then COAS, General (retd.) Jehangir Karamat, for suggesting the formation of a national security council, and then made a failed bid to oust his own hand-picked COAS, General (retired) Musharraf, for leading Pakistan into the Kargil misadventure without his government’s permission and at a time when Islamabad was engaged in serious peace talks with India. After Sharif was ousted in October 1999 through a military coup and then forced into exile, one of his close associates Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain decided to carve out his own faction from the PML-N and join the military regime of Musharraf. This League styled itself as PML (Q).
The Muslim League had lacked a well-defined future role in the post-independence scenario. It quickly fell victim to factionalism, prompted by a power struggle within the party at all levels. From 1947 to 2008, every coup has been welcomed by politicians opposed to their rivals ousted in military coup. Both the Nawaz and Quaid-e-Azam factions of the present PML are associated with landlords and the wealthy industrial class. Both have so far failed to reach out to the grass-roots level and involve civil society in working towards viable solutions to the contemporary problems facing the country.
Dr Maya Tudor, in The Promise of Power, has argued that “…the strength and nature of their dominant political parties upon independence largely explains India’s and Pakistan’s democratic trajectories.”
She notes that, “The all-India League leadership was not drawn from among its lower ranks in a representative fashion, but simply at the behest of its single charismatic leader. The League also created no second or third tier of party leadership whose career success would be defined by advancement within the party organisation. Indeed, there was no incentive to do so because the Muslim landed aristocracy dominating the League possessed little interest in establishing institutions that shared power with the subordinate social classes that constituted the popular majority.”
This article was originally published in Newsline’s March 2015 issue.