MANSURA: Jamaat-e-Islami may be mobilising people on the streets on a range of issues but the prime focus of the exercise is the ‘go-America-go’ campaign.
Politically, it’s a brilliant move. The Jamaat thinks the campaign against the United States has the potential to win the party the mass support it has always lacked. At the same time, the anti-US platform defines the whole ambit of the Jamaat’s domestic and international agenda. It goes well with Munawwar Hassan’s brand of popular politics — though introduced by Qazi Hussain Ahmad — the new Ameer has taken the party’s anti-US stand to new levels.
Undoubtedly, an intense anti-American feeling prevails in large sections of the Pakistani society. For instance, even many liberals are unhappy with the breach of Pakistani sovereignty, the civilian deaths in the continuous drone attacks, the US policies in Iraq and Palestine and profiling of Pakistani citizens in the United States. The Jamaat wants to capitalise on this.
This movement against the US fits into the Jamaat’s global agenda and re-aligns it with the erstwhile Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanul Muslimeen) allies from Yemen to Egypt. Maulana Maududi, one should remember, designed the Jamaat to be the vanguard of Islamic revolution that inspired Brotherhood’s leading intellectuals such as Egypt’s Hassan Al-Banna and Syed Qutb, not to forget Imam Khomeini. It is believed that al-Qaeda draws inspiration from Syed Qutb.
The campaign against the US is an easier option than, say, convincing the Pakistani public of Jamaat’s abilities to solve the country’s major problems such as economy, energy and governance. In a way the party follows Nawaz Sharif’s strategy of simply criticising the PPP government without offering any solutions.
This becomes all the more clear when viewed in the context of the fact that the Jamaat’s model of ‘Islamic governance,’ as interpreted by Maulana Maududi, has not won it votes. The MMA government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from 2002 to 2007, of which the Jamaat was a junior partner, was hardly the model of the ‘Khilafat-e-Rashida’ that the party purports to aspire to when in power.
Hence, the anti-US campaign has won the Jamaat new ‘jihadi’ allies at a time that it had become quite isolated. In recent times, it had distanced itself from its biggest proxy in Afghanistan, Gulbadin Hikmatyar, though the Jamaat leadership was recently photographed receiving the latter’s son-in-law at the airport after he was released by the US. The Taliban were the offshoots of Deobandi parties and were never close to the Jamaat. But now the party has earned their respect.
While the PPP government under President Asif Ali Zardari is extraordinarily accommodating towards Washington, Nawaz Sharif too has toned down his anti-US rhetoric after winning the Punjab government. In this situation, the Jamaat stands out among the country’s political parties for its opposition to the US. It is counting on that.
A few obstacles stand in its way though. The foremost is that when the Jamaat clubs its anti-US campaign with the state’s policy war in Fata; this brings it directly in clash with the Pakistan Army.
Munawwar Hussan, when asked, refused to acknowledge the Pakistani soldiers dying in the war against Taliban as martyrs. Nor does he acknowledge Hakeemullah Mehsud or his predecessor, the late Baitullah Mehsud, as terrorists. More serious still, he declares all those who are fighting the Pakistan Army in the name of the war against the US as “shaheeds”.
This is problematic as the Jamaat has, since its Faustian deal with Ziaul Haq, always worked in tandem with the establishment or, to be precise, the security agencies – be it the jihads in Kashmir and Afghanistan or domestic politics such as the formation of the IJI to check the rapid ascent of the late Benazir Bhutto in 1988. The party still retains contacts with the ‘good Taliban’ in Kashmir who are increasingly turning ‘bad’ with their activities in Fata and the terrorist attacks all over the country.
So far, the Jamaat refuses to budge. It refuses to condemn the countless suicidal bombings in which innocents are dying by hundreds. In fact, Munawwar Hassan does not acknowledge that the Taliban are involved in them, claiming that “it’s the handiwork of the agencies”. When told that the Taliban publicly claimed most terrorist attacks, he retorted that “innocent people were also dying in American drone attacks”. So vehement was his opposition to the Americans, or the support of the Taliban, that he would not say anything to undermine the ‘war against the US’.
Otherwise soft spoken and well mannered, Munawwar has the tendency to get provoked; when the questions posed to him become aggressive, he throws caution and logic to the winds. When asked why he did not condemn the bombings of schools and market places in Peshawar and Lahore where children were the victims, all he had to say was that “the agencies were doing it”.
From thereon, he began to espouse conspiracy theories and went so far as to claims that there may not be any such thing as al-Qaeda. “Who can say that Osama bin Laden is alive; all we hear are his tapes which could be easily doctored,” he said emotionally. “The US has a political agenda and it may be using such stories to justify its actions.” The bottom line was that he would not say anything to condemn the Taliban or anything that could be construed to be in favour of the US.
When similar questions were posed to Jamaat’s Lahore Ameer, Ameerul Azeem, he offered a more succinct argument, “Let’s just say that we support the zaalim (cruel) Taliban against Satan, the US.” This was reminiscent of Jamaat’s earlier stand when it supported “the savage Saddam Hussain against Satan.” This stance puts the Jamaat in conflict with people who believe that the war against militancy is not just America’s war but Pakistan’s also.
So far, the Jamaat has been pushing its point of view through the streets. It is yet to be seen how this anti-US rage can translate into electoral success for the party. If the recent by-elections provide any yardstick, the party has a long way to go – Jamaat’s Hafiz Salman Butt got 3,286 votes in NA-123, Lahore; its candidate, Dr Mohammad Kamal got 3,109 votes in NA-55, Rawalpindi; while Professor Ali Asghar, who contested NA-21, Mansehra, from the party platform garnered 4,500 votes and Husain Kanju got 3,750 votes in PF-83, Swat. No wonder then that the party is so desperate.
The Jamaat, some say, was not less harsh when the state had capitulated even more to the US under Musharraf. It was a coalition partner of the dictator; it helped him pass the infamous 17th Amendment. This ire seems to have increased after the army operation against the Taliban. It is yet to be seen how the climax of this underlying tension between the Jamaat and the Pakistan establishment will, if at all, take place.
June 3, 2010