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Holy Blunders Article by NFP Nadeem F Paracha

In the early 1990s when the then ameer of the Jamat-i-Islami (JI), Qazi Hussain Ahmed, decided to add a more populist dimension to the otherwise exclusivist Jamat, the old guard of the party balked. Some Jamat members felt that Qazi’s attempt to make JI a more populist party was done to counter the image of JI being an establishment-backed party that had been used by various figures to meet their own ends.

There is enough evidence to maintain that the above is correct. Though JI was a staunch opponent of Jinnah, ironically it burst on to the mainstream with the help of one of Jinnah’s associates, the then chief minister of Punjab, Mumtaz Daultana. In spite of being a secularist, Daultana used the JI and another fundamentalist party, the Ahrar, to instigate a violent religious movement in Punjab in 1953 to divert the attention of the people from the grave economic failings of his ministry.

Hassan Abbas in ‘Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism’ writes that Daultana unleashed JI and Ahrar to turn food riots against his ministry into a full blown movement against the Ahmadiya community. But JI’s rise was thwarted by the arrival of the Ayub Khan dictatorship in 1958 that was secular in orientation. The JI did return to its new-found politics of agitation against many of the Ayub regime’s policies, but since the party was unable to find any worthwhile patronage from the military-bureaucratic elite, it was largely overshadowed by various leftist political groups, especially the National Awami Party (NAP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the National Students Federation (NSF).

The three triggered the fall of Ayub in 1969, and the JI suddenly came back into reckoning, this time tacitly supported by yet another secularist opportunist, General Yahya Khan. Faced with the rising tide of leftist agitation, Yahya, a heavy drinker, decided to patronise the JI as a counterforce. Hussain Haqqani in his book, ‘Pakistan: Between Mosque & Military’ suggests that it was during the Yahya dictatorship (1969-71) that the JI was given leeway to penetrate both state and privately-owned Urdu media. Militant JI groups were also tolerated as long as they were attacking leftist parties.

But state patronage failed to transform the JI into an electoral success. It was trounced by secular parties in the 1970 elections. However, this didn’t stop the Yahya regime to use the JI to formulate fanatical pro-military ‘hit-squads’ in the former East Pakistan against Bengali nationalists. Ironically, when the military lost the 1971 war against Bengali separatists and their Indian backers, the JI turned around and accused its own patrons, Yahya’s military, of ‘drunkenness and debauchery’.

This is also when JI began finding sympathetic ears in the military, especially in the shape of junior officers. The new ‘socialist’ PPP regime led by Z A Bhutto allowed the spreading of JI’s influence in the military, believing that this would keep the military’s ‘Bonapartist’ tendencies in check. By the mid-1970s, JI had penetrated a large section of the media and the military.
Added to this was the growing influence of JI’s student-wing, the IJT, on major campuses — a happening one of Bhutto’s youngest ministers, Meraj Muhammad Khan, claims was facilitated by Bhutto himself.

According to Meraj, after following the example of certain other secular regimes in Muslim countries of the time (Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia), Bhutto too over-exaggerated the threat of Soviet-backed leftist radicals, and consequently encouraged the fragmentation of leftist student groups and tactically allowed the flowering of right-wing groups on campuses. After creating various openings for the JI, Bhutto thought he was neutralising the party, whereas all the while the JI was cultivating relations with military men and the industrialists who’d been bitten by Bhutto’s nationalisation policies.

All these links came to fruition when in 1977, JI embraced other religious outfits to successfully lead a protest movement against Bhutto, eventually paving the way for the country’s third (and harshest) military dictatorship overseen by General Ziaul Haq ( a disciple of JI’s chief and scholar, Abul Aala Maududi).

Between 1977 and 1984, JI experienced its most active moments. It first became part of Zia’s cabinet and then supplied the ideological engine and manpower that Zia needed to impose his version of ‘Islamic laws’ and peruse his pro-Jihad policies in Afghanistan.

After Zia’s death, JI automatically joined the ISI-backed anti-PPP electoral alliance, the IJI. Former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, accused the ISI for mobilising the JI into holding a violent ‘long march’ against her first government in 1989.

Then, in 1999, when JI’s former partner in the IJI, Nawaz Sharif, began peace talks with India (during his second government), JI became the most vocal opponent of the talks. In his book, ‘Frontline Pakistan,’ Zahid Hussain suggests the JI street protest was instigated by the military chief, General Pervez Musharraf, who was against Nawaz’s new Indian policy.

Some analysts believe that it was again Musharraf who ‘facilitated’ the electoral victory of the right-wing MMA (of which the JI was a part) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the 2002 elections. Today, led by Munawar Hassan, JI stands burdened by a past dented by episodes of being (willingly) used by manipulative secularists and Islamists alike; of being the ‘B team of the agencies’ and (according to Tariq Fathah’s ‘Chasing a Mirage’), of being a tool of western powers and Saudi Arabia against the left (during the Cold War).

It will take a lot more from JI than holding passionate anti-US rallies and collecting money to bring Aafia Siddiqui back from the US jail for it to ever again be reconsidered an important political player in the country’s changing political landscape—unless, of course, people like Imran Khan have other plans for this party.

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