MANSURA: The change of Jamaat-i-Islami’s leadership from Qazi Hussain Ahmad to its new Ameer (President) Syed Munawwar Hassan is a singularly important event that has, so far, not gotten the attention it merits.
Munawwar Hassan has taken over the reins of the party in crucial times. His appointment coincides with many events – a decisive stage of the war in Afghanistan; Pakistan Army’s fight against the local Taliban who do not just continue to engineer suicidal attacks all over the country but have also threatened reprisal in places as far away as New York and Mumbai; the renewed pledges by Pakistan and India to talk despite the threat that a bomb blast or another attack in India can plunge the region into yet another crisis.
The new Ameer has already shown his fangs or perhaps it should be called a trailer of what his leadership of the Jamaat could mean for Pakistan, South Asia and may be for the world at large. Munawwar has launched the ‘go-America-go’ campaign with extra vigour, demanding that the US stop the drone attacks in Pakistan and leave Afghanistan. He is mobilising the streets while the Pakistan Army is consolidating its operation in South Waziristan and is being pressured to extend the war to the North. He stands out among the Pakistani politicians, much more than, say, JUI’s Fazlur Rehman, for his unequivocal support to Taliban. He is critical of the establishment’s “soft” policy on Kashmir. He opposes Pakistan Army’s war in the Fata and refuses to acknowledge the soldiers killed in the conflict as martyrs. He also refuses to declare Taliban leaders such as late Baitullah Mahsud or his successor Hakeemullah Mahsud as terrorists or condemn their actions.
This calls for a deeper scrutiny of the man who will be in charge of the Jamaat as the scenario described above plays out; he could be at the helm for decades if one goes by the party’s track record. Munawwar is, after all, only the fourth Ameer of the 69-year old party. Its founder, Maulana Abu Ala Maududi, was its Ameer from 1941 to 1972 – though he continued to exercise influence till his death in 1979. His successor Mian Mohammad Tufail stayed at the helm till 1987 followed by the firebrand Qazi Hussain Ahmad who bid farewell after nearly 22 years as Ameer.
Munawwar Hassan may have a lot in common with his predecessors. Yet he is different in many ways, especially because in his youth he was an ultra liberal who loved music, especially playing the banjo. He was the Karachi President of the National Student Federation (NSF), which was banned in the 1960s because of its communist tendencies.
The young liberal’s transformation into a right wing ideologue began when he was tasked by the NSF to win over some leaders of Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT), the Jamaat’s dreaded student wing. “I went over to convince them but they gave me Maulana Maududi’s literature to read,” he said during a discussion at the party headquarters, Mansura, Lahore. “It just turned my world upside down; I never went back.”
Such was the conviction of the ‘born-again’ Munawwar that he rose through the ranks to become IJT’s Nazim-i-Ala (President). This was during the mid-1960s when the ideological fight between the ‘progressive’ left and the ‘religious’ right on university campuses had intensified in most of the Muslim world. Four decades on, Munawwar still sees local politics in the global ideological context – the only difference being that the communist ‘enemy’ represented by the Soviet Union has been replaced by a former ally, the US.
He is the first IJT Nazim-i-Ala to become the Jamaat Ameer. In fact, Munawwar’s ascension symbolises the larger trend within the party of a generation of IJT workers taking over the Jamaat-e-Islami. The entire central Jamaat leadership, except Naib Ameers (Vice-Presidents) Professor Ghafoor and Aslam Saleemi, has come from IJT ranks. Qazi Hussain Ahmad was a junior Rafiq (Friend) in IJT but the present Ameer, Secretary General Liaquat Baloch and three Naib Ameers, Professor Khurshid Mahmood, Sirajul Haq, Dr Mohammad Kamal, were all Nazim-e-Aala (Presidents) of the IJT in their respective times. Half of them, including Munawwar Hassan, have actively participated in the first Afghan jihad. This is a band of highly indoctrinated, battle-hardened cadres who are adept at using street power to push their moral and political agenda.
Munawwar’s experience of the left wing politics will serve him well in his new position, as the structure of Jamaat Islami, analysts point out, is similar to that of communist parties. Maududi was well versed with Fascist and Communist models; Charles Smith, in his book ‘The ideals of Maulana Maududi,’ points out that the Maulana was never enamoured by such models though he was impressed by the efficacy of their organisational methods.
Author Vali Reza Nasr agrees that the Jamaat was never a ‘party’ in the liberal democratic sense of the word – an organisation that translates popular interests into policy positions; instead Nasr describes it as an “organisational weapon” in the Leninist tradition, which aims to project the power of an ideological perspective into the political arena. Jamaat’s structure and functioning closely paralleled those of bolshevism, the only difference being that it sought to use this ‘weapon’ within a constitutional framework.
Maududi learnt from the communist movement in India, especially in Hyderabad (Deccan), where the communists provided a serious challenge to the Nizam (of Hyderabad). Mian Tufail has quoted Maududi as having said, “No more than one in a hundred thousand Indians is a communist and yet they fight to rule India.” No wonder then that Maududi’s Jamaat had much in common with Lenin’s Communist Party. It had the same democratic centralism; rank and file members strictly subordinate to centralised decision-making; study circles and organised propaganda tools; wings of students, labour, women and unions.
The major departure from the Leninist model was that the Jamaat was not as focused on organising the masses as it was on creating a vanguard of ‘virtuous’ leaders. Maududi believed in “incremental change rather than radical raptures” and through political leaders, not the people. The ‘revolution’ was supposed to trickle down from above. This thinking sired one fundamental flaw.
Jamaat has not been able to achieve that final stage of Maududi’s model where the indoctrinated cadres of ‘chaste’ leaders would lead the people to the ‘Islamic revolution.’ The party has never been able to connect with the people as proved by its electoral record of the last 60 years.
It has tried every political tactic and technique in existence from the days of Socrates to Machiavelli to its self-professed avatar, Imran Khan. It has tried fighting elections and boycotting them; the party has flirted with dictators and fought against them; worked with democratic governments and then opposed them.
The Jamaat contested elections on its own in 1950, 1962, 1970, 1985 and 1997. It formed alliances with the Convention League in 1965, the PNA in 1977, the IJI in 1988 and 1990, and finally the MMA in 2002. It has tried working with dictators such as Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf and then fighting them, particularly Ayub Khan. It boycotted the 1945 elections in India because politics was construed as divergence from the original Jamaat mission of Islamic reform and revivalism.
It again boycotted the elections in 2008 after 63 years. It got in and out of coalition governments with conservatives, liberals, nationalists and religious parties. It even tried changing its electoral name from Jamaat-e-Islami to the Pakistan Islamic Front (PIF) in 1993 in the hope of replicating the electoral success of Algeria’s Islamic Front. Nothing seems to have worked.
Jamaat-e-Islami is yet to form either a national or a provincial government on its own in nearly 70 years. The MMA government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2002 was the best it ever did – even there it was a junior partner in the provincial government.
Jamaat’s dream of coming to power remains as elusive as ever. And the onus of materialising that dream now rests on the lean shoulders of Munawwar Hassan. He has never been a member of the Parliament-or even a local or a provincial assembly for that matter. He did, however, get the highest number of votes in the 1977 elections but, to his good or bad luck, his party challenged the poll results. Whether he will make it to the legislature in future and what impact this will have on his politics remains to be seen; Qazi Hussain Ahmad’s aggressive stance, many say, was toned down when he became a member of the Senate and the National Assembly.
Munawwar remains untried and untied to any multi-party compulsions. Whether this is an asset or a liability, only time will tell.
May 31, 2010