From the CIAO Atlas Map of Asia 

Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

May 2001 (Vol. XXV No. 2)


The Role of Islamic Parties in Pakistani Politics
By Sumita Kumar *



Islamic parties in Pakistan have been a potent force to reckon with and can be counted among the elite groups that influence political processes and decision-making in Pakistan. These parties are affiliated to various terrorist organisations which foment trouble in Kashmir and elsewhere. These parties have a tremendous amount of street power, even though they have not done well in terms of votes in Pakistan's elections over the years. This article examines the reasons for the considerable political influence wielded by these Islamic parties which is disproportionate to their electoral support.

Islamic parties in Pakistan have been a powerful force to reckon with over the years. They have established a definite place for themselves among the various elite groups that determine political processes and decision-making in Pakistan, which include the military, bureaucratic, Punjabi, and business elite. They exercised influence not only during the years of the Afghan jehad, but also continue to play a role in present day politics through their affiliation to various terrorist organisations which foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. They have a significant influence on the politics of Pakistan and have a tremendous amount of street power, despite the fact that they have never been able to do well in terms of votes in Pakistan's elections. The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) have never got more than six seats in all (combined) in the National Assembly. Yet these parties are at the forefront on issues like the establishment of Shariat Courts and legislation on subjects like ushr, zakat or blasphemy. The masses follow these parties, whether it is in denigrating Nawaz Sharif for a "sell-out" on Kargil, or in starting a campaign against the US attitude on various issues. This article seeks to examine the reasons for their considerable political influence which is disproportionate to their electoral support.

Major Islamic Parties: A Profile

The Jamaat-i-Islami is one of the most articulate Islamic parties in Pakistan and was founded in 1941 in Lahore by Maulana Maududi. Maududi emerged as the ideologue of the doctrinal Islamic state. The party is for the adoption of a state ruled by Shariat (Islamic law) where the head of state would rule with the consent of learned Islamic religious scholars, i.e., the JI ulema. The Islamists believe that the solution to Pakistan's problems lies in the enforcement of the Islamic code and the premise that Islam is more than a religion, in that it is a complete guide for life. The JI has been a leading proponent of this viewpoint and its early opposition to the Pakistan Movement in the 1940s stemmed from reservations about the 'Muslim Leaguers' whom it considered to be extremely westernised. 1

The JI members played a prominent role in Pakistan's politics since independence. The JI was active in the anti-Ahmadiyya communal disturbances of 1953. It led the opposition to the Family Law Ordinance in 1961 and participated in Opposition politics from 1950 to 1977. 2 During the election campaign for the December 1970 general elections, the JI and other right wing parties campaigned for support in the name of "The Ideology of Pakistan". The idea of Islamic socialism introduced by Bhutto was denounced as anti-Islam by many ulema, and Maududi and his party campaigned against socialism. Also, the six-point programme of Mujib-ur Rahman which aimed for greater autonomy and drastic restructuring of the economy, was attacked by the centrist-doctrinal forces as un-Islamic. However, the election results showed a landslide victory for Mujib in East Pakistan and a big majority for Bhutto in West Pakistan. The so-called "Islam Pasand" parties were routed. The three Islamic parties i.e., the JI, the JUI and the JUP had secured only 13.95 per cent of votes in the 1970 elections to the National Assembly. 3 The worst performance was given by the JI which won only four seats out of a total of 300. 4

The JI did well since 1977 and through the 1980s mainly due to Zia's policy of Islamisation. The Islamisation process begun under General Zia indicated an effort to adopt doctrinal values and practices popularised in Pakistan by Maududi. The JI was the only major party to contest the 1985 national elections. 5 However, after the referendum, the Jamaat's political fortunes plummeted. Since 1977 when General Zia-ul-Haq came to power, conservative Saudi influence grew considerably in Pakistan. The JI of Maududi, an ally of the Saudis, became the ideological mentor of the new regime. 6 In February 1985, elections to the National Assembly were held under the 1973 Constitution which had been partially retained. The elections were held on a non-party basis, but several candidates supported by General Zia-ul-Haq and his political ally, the JI were defeated. 7 Maulana Tufail Muhammad, a former amir of the JI, and a number of other religious leaders did not endorse the Shariat Ordinance promulgated by President Zia in June 1988. The ordinance issued by Zia did not meet their expectations and fell short of the draft submitted by the committee, appointed by the president himself, headed by the chairman of the Islamic Ideology Council. 8 The Jamaat won only 3 per cent of the popular vote (640,000) in the 1990 elections to the national assembly, and 4 per cent, 3 per cent and 0.8 per cent of the vote in the Provincial Assembly elections in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, and Sindh respectively. Although running for fewer seats, the Jamaat did better in these elections than in 1988. It won 8 out of 18 contested national seats (as opposed to 7 out of 26 in 1988), and 20 out of 37 contested provincial seats (as opposed to 11 out of 44 in 1988). 9

With regard to Islam and jehad, Maududi believed that, Islam "provides a complete code of waging warfare, negotiating peace, arranging exchange of prisoners-of-war and instructions about how to deal with various categories of enemies. Jehad, as a medium of conducting positive warfare, is, therefore, an essential duty of the Islamic state. Conditions permitting, it can be legitimately launched." 10 In 1947-48, in the context of the covert war by Pakistan in Kashmir, Maududi first believed that "it was sheer hypocrisy to sanction a jehad, stealthily declared while Pakistan told the whole world that it was in a state of cease-fire with India." Pakistan should either desist from jehad, or preferably go to war. However, in the face of the wrath of the government, by August 1948, Maududi moved from debating the logic of jehad in Kashmir, to giving oaths of allegiance to Pakistan, denouncing the Indian policy in Kashmir, and declaring support for Pakistan's claims over Kashmir. He now argued that while the ceasefire agreement was binding on the government, volunteers could still participate in the "freedom movement" in Kashmir. When in September, the Pakistan government officially admitted to its involvement in the conflict in Kashmir, Maududi lost no time in supporting a jehad, in order to demonstrate the logic of his position. 11 In 1965, Maududi, in order to assist the state in its moment of crisis, declared a jehad to liberate Kashmir from India. He publicised his declaration of jehad on Radio Pakistan, at the instance of Ayub Khan. After the ceasefire between India and Pakistan was declared on September 23, 1965, Maududi again appeared on Radio Pakistan, and spoke of jehad in peace-time. However, the Tashkent Agreement of January 1966 proved to be unpopular, and Maududi criticised it for side-stepping the future of Kashmir and for its tacit acceptance of a "no-war" arrangement with India. 12

The JI was one of the best organised parties in Sindh and the JI had considered urban Sindh, and especially Karachi, to be its power base since 1947. 13 It had a major following among the Urdu speakers and a large number of Sindhi speaking elites, but from 1984, the Mohajir Quami Mahaz (MQM) began to claim the same constituency. The JI's support for the policies of General Zia and the role of its student wing, the Islami Jamiat-e-Tuleba (IJT) 14 damaged its standing. The emergence of the second generation of Urdu speakers in Sindh saw the loyalties of the old vanguard for the JI replaced with the desire to have a new and responsive organisation based on ethnic solidarity. 15 The JI, until the early 1980s, remained strong in Sindh even though its performance in elections was dismal. The leaders of the JI campaigned for an Islamic solution to the ethnic problem in Pakistan. Their support for the Afghan War or the Kashmiri activists has largely rested on the same premise which in 1971 aligned them with Yahya's troops against Mujibur Rahman whom they considered to be an Indian agent. The JI actively supported military action in Muslim Bengal through organisations like Al-Badr and Al-Shams, which were heavily represented by the Urdu speaking inhabitants of Bangladesh known as Biharis. However, while its support for Zia might have helped, the JI suffered a credibility gap among the democratic forces. 16

Since its inception in 1941, the JI has gone through a number of phases, but is not mass based and so its political ambitions have not been achieved through electoral politics. It has usually supported authoritarian, non-democratic regimes like those of General Yahya Khan and General Zia-ul-Haq. Its attitude towards plural forces and its aggressive role on university campuses through the IJT alienated it from the grassroots and ethnic groups. Another reason why it has not achieved popular appeal is because of its elitism and its exclusivity in terms of its theological explanations of Islam. "The JI has not been able to come to grips with the sensitive and mutually conflictive forces of nationalism, ethnicity, folk culture, democracy and Islam. Its problems with Bengali nationalists during the war in 1971 and its confrontation with ethno-regional forces in contemporary Sindh illustrate this difficulty." It has played a major role in Afghanistan and Kashmir by supporting religion based resistance movements. Under the leadership of Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who is a native Pushtun, the JI seems to have accepted a combination of Islam and nationalism, which is a unique, but not openly acknowledged, shift in ideology. In the 1993 elections, the JI despite assuming a populist stance, faced overwhelming defeat from the national parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Muslim League. 17

The Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam is another Islamic party which was formed prior to the partition. The Jamiat represents the Deobandi school of Islamic revivalism which emphasises a more puritanical form of Islamic government. 18 According to Iftikhar Malik, the JUI and its various factions are offshoots of the Jamiat-i Ulema-i-Hind (JUH) which supported the Indian National Congress (INC) against the All India Muslim League (AIML) during the nationalist era and, reflect personal differences among the ulema rather than any specific ideological school. 19 Two members of the JUI contested the April-May 1962 elections and were elected, Maulana Mufti Mahmud as a member National Assembly (MNA) and Maulana Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi as a member Provincial Assembly (MPA) of West Pakistan. Mufti Mahmud, while taking his oath as an MNA, vowed to have the Constitution amended to make it conform to the Quran and Sunnah and democratic traditions. In July 1962, he supported the Political Parties Bill, and demanded that only those parties which were committed to Islamic ideology, should be allowed to function in Pakistan. The Political Parties Act made provisions to this effect. When political parties started functioning, it was not difficult for the JUI to revive itself, and Mufti Mahmud, the acting amir at the time, called a meeting at Lahore on August 4, 1962 when the JUI was revived formally. 20 During the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, the JUI garnered support for the government by organising jehad conferences and collecting defence funds. After the war, it urged the government to negotiate a peace settlement for a solution to the Kashmir problem in accordance with the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Although it was not satisfied with the Tashkent Declaration it refrained from joining the Opposition sponsored movements against it. 21

The JUI split into two factions in 1969 and the more leftist faction under the leadership of Maulana Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi, merged with the PPP in 1977. The more conservative faction under the leadership of Mufti Mahmud, a Pathan, opposed the PPP in the 1977 election. Mahmud also headed the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), the coalition of parties attempting to unseat Bhutto in re-election, and was assisted by a council composed of leaders of member parties including Mian Tufail Muhammad (JI) and Maulana Ahmad Shah Noorani (JUP). The JUI broke with the Zia regime due to the slow pace of the Islamisation process and did not let its members contest the 1985 elections. 22 Maulana Fazlur Rahman, general secretary of the JUI, strongly criticised the Shariat Ordinance promulgated by General Zia in June 1988, and called it an attempt to sabotage the Constitution of Pakistan. 23 The JUI led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, son of the late Maulana Mufti Mohammad, has had stronger roots in Balochistan and the NWFP with a limited constituency in Sindh.

The Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Pakistan started off as a Sunni political party with its power base in Sindh and a major following in Punjab. JUP leaders mobilised support for Ayub Khan's regime at crucial moments and during the 1965 presidential elections they supported Ayub Khan. The mashaikh organised a Jamiat-i Mashaikh to support Ayub Khan's candidature, based on his assurance that he would bring all existing laws in consonance with Islamic injunctions. 24 In the 1970 elections, the JUP got the second largest number of seats in Sindh under the leadership of Maulana Ahmad Shah Noorani, but he declined to join the PPP Cabinet. Noorani was an outspoken critic of the Zia regime and refused to join Zia's Cabinet in 1978. The JUP was active in the Movement for the Restoration for Democracy. 25 Espousing the Barelvi school of revivalism, the JUP has several mashaikh and sajjada nishin among its members, thus, reaching grassroots Pakistan. However, Noorani's party generally lost its urban seats in Sindh to the MQM in various local, provincial and national elections, which allowed the Jamiat-i-Mashaikh_a loose group of sajjada nishin and pirs, to make direct links with the state. Despite his belief in the universality of Islam, Noorani believes in "Pakistani nationhood". Noorani spent time in Africa propagating Islam, but he came to the forefront during the Gulf crisis in support of Saddam Hussein. In contrast, religio-political parties like the JI, JUI, Sipah-i-Sahaba and Ahle-Hadith have been supportive of Saudi Arabia and its policies in the region, while the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqh-e-Jafria, representing Pakistan's Shias, has been supportive of Iran. 26 The JUP's inability to convert a major following among the masses in Pakistan into an enduring political constituency could be due to the fact that Pakistan's citizens would rather hand over the electoral mandate to secular parties, rather than to a warring ulema who disappoint their supporters with their vagueness on Islamic order and mutual intolerance. While people might rally around in the name of Islam with the aim to topple a government, it is difficult to establish a government on the basis of Islam, enjoying a consensus from the ulema. Also, Shia-Sunni differences which often turn violent, ethno-regional divisions within the ulema and Saudi-Iranian competition in Pakistan to carve out favourable constituencies are all factors which discourage Pakistanis from making a total commitment to the religio-political parties. 27

For the JI, like most other religious parties, the scenario seemed to be much more hopeful until the end of the 1960s. The party participated in the 1970 elections with the aim of capturing power, but its hopes were dashed as it won only four seats in the National Assembly and four in the Provincial Assemblies. By entering into politics the Jamaat lost much of its moral authority. The JUI fared much better during the 1970 elections, particularly in the NWFP and Balochistan. It was able to form a coalition government in the NWFP with its chief, Maulana Mufti Mahmud, as chief minister. The government, the first and last formed by a religious party, was later dismissed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Religious parties appeared to be at the height of their popularity during the Opposition PNA movement in 1977, launched against the PPP government. Though the movement began as a protest against unfair practices adopted in the elections, it gave a religious turn to the political discourse, forcing Bhutto to introduce some religious measures to counter the movement. The PNA movement resulted in General Zia-ul Haq's martial law, which was the most significant period for religious politics in Pakistan. The foremost in giving support to Zia's policy of Islamisation was the JI, then headed by Maulana Tufail Mohammad. The JI continued to support the Zia regime even after other religious parties distanced themselves. 28

Religious Parties in the Forefront: The Afghan Jehad

The clergy's hand was infinitely strengthened with the advent of Zia's martial law and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.The Iranian Revolution and the Communist coup in Afghanistan, followed by the Soviet intervention there in 1979 contributed to a closer working relationship between the government and doctrinal forces. The Jamaat had been privy to the government's Afghan policy since 1977, when, following Nur Muhammad Taraki's coup in Afghanistan, General Zia and General Fazl-i Haq had met with Maududi, Mian Tufail and Qazi Hussain Ahmad to explore a role for the Jamaat in Pakistan's Afghan policy. The party had played a major role in marshalling public opinion in favour of an Islamic crusade against the Soviet Union. Soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Zia brought the Jamaat into his Afghan policy, using its religious stature to legitimise his depiction of the war as a jehad. The Jamaat benefited from the huge flow of funds from Saudi Arabia and money and arms from the US. The Afghan War was advantageous for the Jamaat in that it promoted close ties between the Jamaat and the Pakistan Army and security forces and opened the inner sanctum of the government to the party. The Jamaat played a crucial role in the Afghan jehad as large sums of money were channelled to the mujahideen through the Jamaat by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The maximum funds went to the Hizbe Islami, led by Gulbadin Hekmatyar, which was the Jamaat's favourite resistance group. The jehad not only involved the Jamaat in the flow of funds and arms to the Mujahideen, it also provided Jamaat and IJT members with valuable military training. This involvement gave the Jamaat access to material resources which were out of its reach till then. This closeness to the centres of power further enabled it to press for Islamisation, along the lines of the Jamaat's perception of Islam. The jehad for Zia served as a means of making use of the Jamaat's energies and diverting them away from domestic politics. 29

Meanwhile, hundreds of young Pakistanis, products of the madrassas that sprang up all over the country during General Zia's rule, joined the jehad against the Soviets and against Communism. The deeni madrassas, rather than being considered merely as institutions of learning for the socially weak, became institutions of political importance during this time. A large number of madrassas were established in the NWFP and in the tribal areas. According to one source, 19 schools were established after the Soviet intervention, six in the district of Dir and seven in the Bajor agency, both located directly on the Afghan border. 30 Some of the deeni madrassas of the JI were established exclusively for the jehad and required financial and other support, which was granted among other sources out of zakat funds. 31 The JUI, during the Afghan jehad, chose to set up thousands of madrassas throughout the country, but especially in the NWFP and Balochistan where Afghan refugee students were enrolled and a large number of Mujahideen recruited. Students from these institutions later formed the Taliban and established control over most of Afghanistan. 32

Islamic Parties in the Post-Zia Period

The Islamic political movement in Pakistan, has seen a gradual decline in influence despite a growing public propensity towards religion. Zahid Hussain, a well known Pakistani commentator, is of the opinion that their diminishing electoral support has marginalised their position in the country's politics, the paradox being that their decline began after General Zia, a pro-Islamist came to power in 1977. Almost all the major Islamic political parties backed General Zia's regime, which enforced Islamic laws for the first time. The election results of 1985, 1990, 1993 and 1996 indicated a slump in the vote bank of Islamic parties like the JI, JUI and other smaller groups. This has happened despite the fact that the main Islamist party, the JI is a well organised party with a strong ideological base. 33

There are many factors which have limited the ability of the Islamists to gather voter support in Pakistan. Firstly, very few Pakistanis would like to see their country transformed into a theocratic state. Secondly, the Islamic parties never focussed on the basic economic and social issues which confronted the common people. Thirdly, their support remained confined to a small section of the middle class, as in the case of the JI, or to a particular ethnic group as in the case of the JUI. The slogan of Islamisation also lost its charm after General Zia's imposition of the Islamic Shariat laws only succeeded in fuelling sectarian strife in the country. Also, the support of Islamist groups for autocratic military rule caused serious damage to Islamic forces and their electoral support fell drastically with the return of democracy to the country. Another factor which caused political support for Islamic parties to wane was when they became a part of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) alliance, due to which they lost their political identity and eroded their political base. The alleged involvement of leaders of Islamic parties like the JUI in corruption has also damaged their political position. 34

Another factor which has impacted the standing of these parties, is the emergence of militant sectarian groups like the Sipah-i-Sahaba and Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan. These organisations which divided the Islamic political forces, fuelled extremism and sectarian violence, and further alienated the people from religious politics. 35 According to the Newsline of February 1998, a survey conducted by Ashir Associates (Pvt) Ltd, representing 1,000 men and women in equal number and every strata of Pakistan's urban society, 56.6 per cent of the respondents said they were in favour of the implementation of the Shariat in letter and spirit. However, the majority of the respondents also said that they would not vote for a religious party, and an even larger number believed that religion had been misused by successive governments in Pakistan for their own ends. 36

When the Afghan War came to an end in the late Eighties, the religious parties found it very difficult to redefine themselves, but found a calling in the insurgency in Kashmir. With the help of Hekmatyar's Hizbe Islami, the JI formed the Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant organisation to which young Pakistani men were introduced in large numbers in order to wage jehad in Kashmir. A group of Hizb fighters later formed the Al Badr, another jehadi organisation. Also, militants belonging to the Deobandi sect formed the Harkat-ul Ansar, now called the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, after the US declared it a terrorist group, which has well established links with the JUI. Their recruits take part in the Afghan civil war, along with the Taliban, as well as the so-called jehad in Kashmir. While the Jamaat is a force to be reckoned with in the sense that it can mobilise its supporters easily and bring some major cities to a standstill, and wields some influence in the government and army because of its involvement in the Afghan jehad, the Jamaat cannot hope to do well electorally. When democracy was restored in 1985, the Jamaat tried populist measures to win over the masses; during the 1993 elections, its youth wing, Pasban, ran a massive campaign which did not show results, and in 1997, the Jamaat boycotted elections to save face. 37

The fortunes of the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani counterparts have been closely linked from the very start as they have been indoctrinated by Pakistani religious parties, provided a base of operations on Pakistani soil, and have been sponsored and supported by the Pakistani establishment. Pakistani backing of the Taliban, a Pushtun group emerging from theological schools in Balochistan and the NWFP, run by the JUI (Fazlur Rehman) is no secret. 38 While the rise of the Taliban was a great morale booster for the JUI, the image of the Taliban as perceived in Pakistan has not helped the JUI in winning over the people. The party is divided into two groups called Fazl and Sami, and both groups have reorganised themselves along the lines of "revolutionary politics". Also, it is believed that instead of controlling the Taliban, the JUI has become subservient to their dictates as its own militant cadres are directly influenced by the Taliban. Members of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen receive training in Afghanistan, and pledge allegiance to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The two factions of the JUI compete to get closer to the Taliban, which also explains Maulana Fazlur Rehman's anti-US campaign. 39

Meanwhile, the JUP has been almost wiped out of the political arena. Representing the Barelvi sect, which Wahabi Arabs detest, the JUP could not hope to receive Arab money or participate in the Afghan War. To fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the JUP, the Pakistani Awami Tehrik (PAT) emerged in the Eighties. Set up by Maulana Tahirul Qadri, the PAT took part in the 1990 elections, but lost ignominiously. 40

A worrying trend which is the direct outcome of the Afghan jehad and General Zia's Islamisation process is the emergence of dozens of fundamentalist, religious movements of varying persuasions, each more militant than the next, some examples being the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, the Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, the Sipah-e-Mohammed, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Sipah-e-Jhangvi. The growing religious intolerance is evident if one sees the statistics of sectarian strife in recent years. In 1997, more than 300 people were killed in outbreaks of sectarian violence. In the beginning of 1998, the Mominpura massacre took place in which 24 Shia worshippers were killed while offering prayers. Among other numerous reports of religious intolerance, the example of Salamat Masih, a 13-year-old Christian boy stands out. He was accused and subsequently acquitted on the charges of blasphemy, but his relative was shot down outside the Lahore High Court in 1997. 41

The level of extremism has become a matter of concern as people from all walks of life are affected. People are increasingly alarmed over incidents like the occupation of a newly built hospital to be run by well known social worker, Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi in Karachi in December 1997, by religious students from a madrassa run by Maulana Fazlur Rehman's JUI. Just eight days after the incident, Maulana Fazlur Rehman went there and made a speech against Edhi, calling him an infidel and defending the action of his students by calling it a holy war against Edhi. 42 In another incident, the second largest parliamentary group in Balochistan's five-party coalition government, the JUI (Fazal), decided to boycott Cabinet meetings in early March 1999, due to government action taken against JUI members responsible for ransacking the newly built Capri cinema in the provincial capital. The JUI (Fazal) celebrated Ramzan by stepping up their drive to enforce a Taliban style Shariat in Balochistan. Some of its activists attacked and ransacked video shops, and burned down the cinema. The Balochistan coalition government was eventually forced to take action against its coalition partner, arresting JUI activists and conducting raids on madrassas and the residences of JUI leaders. 43

However, it is obvious that the leaders of religious parties do not share these concerns, nor are they willing to take the blame for such happenings. In an interview given to a leading Pakistani newsmagazine, Newsline, the amir of the JI, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, stated that the Jamaat is a religious party and not a sectarian one. He further stated that it would be very simple for them to control sectarianism because the party had in its fold Shias, Sunnis, Deobandis, Barelvis, members of the Sipah-i-Sahaba, Sipah-e-Mohammed, Ahle-Hadith, etc. and it would be possible to hold a dialogue and exchange ideas. 44

The Islamic parties continue to show their ability to garner support for or against political decisions and events. Nawaz Sharif's attempt to consolidate his control over the state in the name of Islam, by moving the 15th constitutional amendment in 1998, met with unprecedented resistance. Ironically, even the religious political parties like the JI and JUI were not prepared to back the government on the issue, and declared that the bill had nothing to do with Islamic Shariat. Almost all the major political parties from the JI to the PPP referred to Nawaz Sharif's action as part of a plan to establish autocracy in the country. Some analysts suggested that the proposed bill was aimed at pre-empting the increasing political power of the radical Islamists. The increasing militancy of the extremist religious groups was evident during the countrywide anti-American and anti-government protests following the US missile attack on the hideout of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in August 1998. They accused the government of colluding with the Americans. 45 The US military strikes gave an impetus to Pakistani religious extremists to pressure the Pakistan government for Islamisation. Using the US military action to mobilise domestic support for their cause, the Islamist parties successfully demonstrated their street power. 46

Islamic Parties and the Army

In recent years the rise of religious militancy in Pakistan is in total contrast to the decline in the electoral fortunes of the religious parties. In fact, it is widely believed that militant outfits have managed to create a political space for themselves in Pakistan. Ever since the Kargil conflict, these organisations have stepped up political activities and appeared in public meetings. Another significant trend relates to the fragmentation of religious militant organisations, an example being the birth of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Earlier, the Sipah-i-Sahaba was created by splinters from the JUI, and subsequently, elements from the Sipah-i-Sahaba created the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Similarly, the Sipah-e-Mohammad, a militant Shia organisation, was created by members of the Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan. Al Badr, a militant organisation involved in Kashmir, was formed by rebels from the Hizbul Mujahideen who disliked the JI's interference in organisational matters. It is alarming to note that such militant organisations are organised along sectarian lines and most sectarian terrorists are reportedly trained at camps of militant groups. 47

These trends have obviously been causing the Pakistan government a lot of embarrassment. This became apparent when upon his return from a visit to Washington on April 13, 2000, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider stated that the army could be used against sectarian organisations, and four religious organisations involved in sectarian terrorism face the possibility of being banned. Religious parties involved in religious militancy united in response to the stance adopted by the government, but were restrained in showing their direct antagonism to the army. They were more concerned about the closure of madrassas involved in terrorist training. At the same time, the religious organisations targetted "secular and irreligious" elements in the government, namely, the ministers with non-governmental organisation (NGO) backgrounds, rather than the army as an institution. Qazi Hussain Ahmed stated, "After the defeat of the People's Party and the Muslim League, the hateful NGOs and secular elements have been imposed [on the nation] under the shadow of the army as a conspiracy." The JUP declared jehad against NGOs and warned that "if the army took power from Nawaz Sharif by force, power can be taken from them by force as well." 48

That the religious parties have enough fire-power to get governments to change their decisions has been more than evident in the past year or so, an example being the Musharraf government's capitulation in the face of protests by religious parties, on the blasphemy issue. At the same time, these religious parties were feeling threatened by what they perceived to be a change in the attitude of the army towards them due to the interior minister's statement on the possibility of banning religious groups having militant wings, in April 2000, after the sectarian killings in Attock. Also, Islamabad called upon the Taliban government in Kabul to close down camps where members of Pakistani religious groups were being trained. Plans were also announced to regulate traffic along the Afghan border. This was followed by a campaign against smugglers and traders which form a core support group for religious parties. This was the reason why religious groups with links to the Taliban supported the traders in their bid to defy the government. 49 Zahid Hussain states, "The unholy alliance between the country's mullahs and the trading community presents the most serious challenge yet to the military leadership which is fast losing its goodwill and credibility." Traditionally, the Islamists have a strong political base among shopkeepers and in the bazaars. In fact, the business community was encouraged to take on the government after it backtracked on its plan to crack down on smuggling. 50 Another issue which gained the ire of the religious parties was the proposal floated by the Election Commission to restore the system of joint electorates, which the religious parties have opposed since 1988. 51

On May 8, 2000, 19 religious parties got together in Lahore to work out a united strategy against the procedural changes in the blasphemy law proposed by the Musharraf government. The other demands made at the meeting included the demand that Islamic clauses of the Constitution be made part of the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) under which the present military government is ruling, that the system of joint electorates should not be revived, and that NGOs which are promoting western values in the country should be banned. Of concern to the participants was the perceived threat to the Islamic militant groups. "Religious madrassas and jehadi organizations are not terrorists," stated Maulana Samiul Haq, chief of his own faction of the JUI. "They prepare Mujahideen to fight for the oppressed Muslims of the world. No action against them will be acceptable to the nation." They called for a strike on May 19, 2000, the day the traders had called a strike to protest the imposition of general sales tax on retail outfits. The government obviously felt intimidated. The Religious Affairs Ministry declared that no procedural changes would be made to the blasphemy law. It further announced that no madrassa or religious seminary had been found to be involved in terrorism and even announced a new package of government aid for the madrassas. Also on May 16, General Pervez Musharraf himself announced the government's retreat on the blasphemy law. However, the religious parties went ahead with the strike to press for their remaining demands. 52 The religious parties will obviously keep trying to secure further concessions from the government.

The increasing stridency of the extremist and Islamic militant groups clearly shows that they are seeking a major role in the country's politics. Their targets are the liberal and progressive elements in the government. Statements by the JI and leaders of other Islamic parties declaring their loyalty to the so called "jehadi generals" raise grave questions. Some observers connect such statements with a perceived division within the ruling military junta on the direction Pakistan should take. The conflicting policies of the government give the impression that there are several power centres operating at the same time. Some reports suggest that the sympathies of hardline members of the military lie with the conservative Islamic elements who are challenging the present regime. 53 This kind of uncertain political atmosphere appears conducive for the rise of extremist and conservative Islamic elements. The Pakistan government's recent tacit understanding with militant outfits, permitting them to discreetly collect funds and recruit volunteers to fight in Kashmir is another instance of the influence that conservative Islamic elements wield in Pakistan.


Note *: Research Officer Back.

Note 1: Iftikhar H.Malik, State and Civil Society in Pakistan: Politics of Authority, Ideology and Ethnicity (in association with St. Anthony's College, Oxford: 1997), p.220.Back

Note 2: Maududi's criticism of Ayub Khan's policies ultimately led to the banning of the JI party in January 1964 by the two provincial governments. For details, see M. Rafique Afzal, Political Parties in Pakistan 1958-1969, vol II (Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 1987) p.95. Later, the JI participated in the 1965 election campaign and was criticised by Ayub Khan and his supporters who referred to the JI as a fascist organisation out to capture power. The JI shared the frustration that the Tashkent Declaration generated among many sections in West Pakistan. Back

Note 3: Iftikhar Ahmed, Pakistan General Elections (Lahore: 1976), p.82 cited in S.S. Bindra, Politics of Islamisation: With Special Reference to Pakistan, (New Delhi: Deep&Deep Publications, 1990),p.251. Back

Note 4: Ishtiaq Ahmed, The Concept of an Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan (London: Francis Pinter, 1987), p.217. The author has quoted Kalim Bahadur, The Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan (Lahore: Progressive Books, 1978), pp.125-26. According to the figures given by Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, the JI won only four of the 151 National Assembly seats which it contested, all in West Pakistan, and only four of the 331 Provincial Assembly seats it had aimed for, one in each province except Balochistan. See Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr,The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jamaat-I-Islami of Pakistan, (London: IB Tauris Publishers, 1994), p.165. Back

Note 5: Craig Baxter, Yogendra Malik, Charles H.Kennedy, Robert C.Oberst, Government and Politics in South Asia (London: Westview Press, 1987), pp191-192, and Ishtiaq Ahmed, n. 4, p.222. Back

Note 6: Tariq Ali, Can Pakistan Survive? (Penguin Books, 1983), p.139, quoted in Ahmed, n. 4, p.222. Back

Note 7: Ahmed, n. 4, p.218. Back

Note 8: The Dawn, June 19, 1988, cited in Bindra, n. 3, p.263. Back

Note 9: Reza Nasr, n. 4, p.213. Back

Note 10: Ahmed, n. 4, p.105. Back

Note 11: Reza Nasr, n. 4, p.121. Back

Note 12: Ibid., pp.156-157. Back

Note 13: Over the years, the JI gained more solid support in Punjab and the NWFP. In 1977, the Jamaat, as a member of the PNA, won four seats to the National Assembly from Sindh, two from Punjab, and three from NWFP. In 1985, it won three seats from Punjab, four from NWFP and one from Balochistan. In 1988, it won six seats to the National Assembly from Punjab and two from NWFP. In 1990, the figures were seven and one respectively. In 1987, after 46 years with a Muhajir at the helm, the Jamaat chose its first Pathan amir from NWFP, Qazi Hussain Ahmad. For details on the party's national distribution and base support, see Reza Nasr, n. 4, pp.81-100. Back

Note 14: Religious parties like the Jamaat have since 1947 provided the only gateway for the middle and lower, middle classes, urban as well as rural, into the rigid and forbidding structure of Pakistani politics. Dominated by the landed gentry and the propertied elite, political offices have generally remained closed to the lower classes. As a result, rural, small-town, and urban lower middle class youth flock to the ranks of the IJT in search of a place in national politics. For details on the student organisation and its political activism, see Reza Nasr, n. 4, p.210. Back

Note 15: Malik, n. 1, p. 210. Back

Note 16: Ibid., pp.220-221. Back

Note 17: Ibid., p.32. Back

Note 18: Ibid., p.213. Back

Note 19: Ibid., pp.32-33 Back

Note 20: Afzal, n.2, p.85. He further clarifies that it was the (Maulana Ghulam Ghaus) Hazarvi faction of the JUI that was revived. The other faction known as the (Maulana Ihtesham al-Haq) Thanvi faction, did not revive itself till after 1969. Back

Note 21: Ibid., p.87. Back

Note 22: Baxter et al, eds., n. 5, p.192 and, Ali Banuazizi and Myron Weiner, The State, Religion and Ethnic Politics:Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan (Lahore: Vanguard Books Pvt.Ltd., 1987), p.340.

The religious leadership rejected Bhutto's socialism as un-Islamic. Bhutto's personal lifestyle and his government were denounced as anti-Islamic. Instead, they wanted national unity rooted in Pakistan's Islamic raison d'etre in which Islamic brotherhood and solidarity would transcend regional and linguistic divisions. They emphasised that the only means to achieve this was a return to the Shariat, which provided the blueprint for a true democratic, egalitarian society based on Islamic social justice.

In the 1977 election campaign, the lines of battle were drawn between a broad coalition of religious parties and the middle class which supported the PNA and the new alliance of the upper and lower classes which supported Bhutto's PPP. Despite their appeals to Islam, however, the PNA clearly did not have the votes and Bhutto and the PPP scored what appeared to be an impressive victory in the general elections of March 7, 1977. However, amidst charges of widespread poll irregularities, the PNA boycotted the provincial elections of March 10 and renewed their political action. See Banuazizi and Weiner, n. 22, p.342. Back

Note 23: Bindra, n. 3, p.263. Back

Note 24: Afzal, n. 2, p.80. Back

Note 25: Baxter et al, eds., n. 5, p.192. Back

Note 26: Malik, n. 1, pp.213-214. Back

Note 27: Ibid., p.33. Back

Note 28: Zaigham Khan, "Losing Control", The Herald, May 2000, pp.53-54. Back

Note 29: Reza Nasr, n. 4, p.195. Back

Note 30: For details, see Jamal Malik, Colonization of Islam: Dissolution of Traditional Institutions in Pakistan (Delhi: Manohar, 1998), pp.208-209. Back

Note 31: Ibid., p.151. Back

Note 32: Khan, n. 28, pp.53-54. Back

Note 33: Zahid Hussain, "The Rise And Decline of Political Islam", Newsline, February 1998, p.43. Back

Note 34: Ibid. Back

Note 35: Ibid. Back

Note 36: Sairah Irshad Khan and Muna Khan, "Among the Believers," Newsline, February 1998, p.22 Back

Note 37: Khan, n. 28, pp.54-55. Back

Note 38: Samina Ahmed, "The (Un)holy Nexus?", Newsline, September 1998, pp.31and 33. Back

Note 39: Khan, n. 28, pp.54-55. Back

Note 40: Ibid. Back

Note 41: Khan and Khan, n. 36, pp.23-24. Back

Note 42: Ghulam Hasnain, "Edhi Under Seige", Newsline, January 1998, p.86. Back

Note 43: Shahzada Zulfikar, "The Maulana's Wrath", Newsline, April 1999, p.49. Back

Note 44: In an interview with Sairah Irshad Khan, published in Newsline, January 1999, pp.24-25. Back

Note 45: "Sharif's Last Refuge", Newsline, September 1998, pp.16-17. Back

Note 46: Ahmed, n. 38, p31. Back

Note 47: Khan, n. 28, p.56. Back

Note 48: Zaigham Khan, "Militants Versus The Military", The Herald, May 2000, p.52. Back

Note 49: Zaigham Khan, "Blundering on Blasphemy", The Herald, June 2000, p.40. Back

Note 50: Zahid Hussain, "An Unholy Alliance?", Newsline, June 2000, pp.20-21. Back

Note 51: Khan, n. 49, p.40. Back

Note 52: Ibid., pp.40-40a. Back

Note 53: Hussain, n. 50, pp. 21-22. With reference to "Jehadi Generals" see article by Nadeem Iqbal, "The Invisible Army?", Newsline, January 2001,pp.54-55 which talks about Tanzeemul Ikhwan, a jehadi organisation dominated by retired armed forces personnel. To understand the role of religious parties in Pakistan, also refer, Nadeem Iqbal, "On the Warpath", Newsline, January 2001, pp.52-53.Back