The JUI-F might have enough traction to carry the MMA without the JI. It is the party’s changing relationship with militant groups and the establishment that is its problem

By Zia Ur Rehman

December 2012 issue


It is the country’s top Islamist political party. And as the general elections approach, the JUI-F’s strategy is coming under the scrutiny for reasons more than mere election results. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the master of Pakistani political maneuvering, has heated things up a bit by reviving the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. The latter is, however, going to be without two key components: the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S). He has brought in influential electables, including turncoats and has organised big rallies in Karachi, Sukkur and several districts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.

This latest avatar of the MMA will comprise of five religious parties: the JUI-F, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e- Pakistan (JUP), Tehrik-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat Ahle Hadith. It also includes a faction of the JUI referred to as JUI-Senior. Officially, the MMA still exists in parliament. Only that all of its parliamentarians belong to the JUI-F.

The biggest surprise of the 2002 elections, the MMA was a coalition of six religious parties, representing the Deobandi, Barelvi, Shiite and Ahl-e-Hadith schools of thought. They had first joined hands to create the Difa-e-Afghanistan Council, a greater alliance put together by Maulana Samiul Haq in 2001 to resist the U.S. arrival in Afghanistan. The MMA had gone on to participate in the 2002 polls and had emerged as the third largest party in the National Assembly, behind the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). The alliance had bagged a total of 45 seats in the National Assembly from all over the country. Among them, 29 seats were won in KP and 5 seats were won in Karachi. Similarly, the coalition won 49 out of 99 seats in the KP (then NWFP) assembly and went on to form a government in the province. Securing a number of seats in Balochistan, the MMA joined a coalition government in Balochistan with PML-Q. It is pertinent to mention that the JUI-F had emerged as the single largest party in Balochistan and NWFP and had bagged more national and provincial assembly seats than that of its allies in the MMA. In Balochistan, only the JUI-F candidates won the seats while the other MMA members including the JI failed to secure any seat in this province.

Political experts say that it had been the first time ever that an alliance of religious parties had been able to show a respectable result in the elections. Compared to their performance in the previous elections of 1993 and 1997, where the combined vote of the religious parties was between 2-4 percent. In 2002, however, they bagged nearly 11 percent of the total votes cast.

But by October 2007,  the MMA was on the verge of a split because of a widening rift between the JI and the JUI-F. Both parties disagreed on whether to resign from the national and provincial assemblies in protest against President Musharraf’s attempts to continue in power. They also disagreed on whether to contest the 2008 general elections. However, the JUI-F had a solo-flight in the 2008 general elections by using the name and election symbol of the MMA, while the other components of the alliance, most notably the JI, boycotted the elections in protest. In these polls, the MMA could only secure 7 seats of National Assembly, 8 seats of KP Assembly and 6 seats of Balochistan Assembly.

The JI leaders insist that the bad results of MMA in 2008 polls happened because of their decision to boycott the polls. Political analysts, however, disagree. “The circumstances in 2002 were totally different. After seizing power in October 1999, the Musharraf military regime extensively rigged the 2002 elections to sideline its political opposition, spearheaded by the PPP and the PML-N and supported the MMA, campaigning on the dual issues of enforcement of Sharia and opposition to the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan,” says Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a Swat-based political analyst.

Political observers believe that the religious parties still seek inspiration from their 2002 success and feel that the magic could be revived through unity in their ranks. But differences between the leadership of the JI and the JUI-F are the main hurdle in reviving the alliance.

As per media reports, central leaders of both parties, addressing public meetings and gatherings in various parts of KP, pulled no punches while leveling allegations and criticizing each other’s leadership. Even statements of heads of both parties were also interesting. “We don’t need Fazlur Rehman’s Shariat as in his Shariat, he will be the chairman of Kashmir committee and Akram Durrani will be senator,” said Munawar Hassan, the JI chief. In response, Fazlur Rehman in a statement said that having the JI in the MMA will be like adding alcohol in pure water.

Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, provincial Naib Amir of the JI, said that Maulana Rehman has already decided to revive the MMA without the JI and JUI-S. “Rehman was responsible for the destruction caused due to the NATO supplies, drone attacks, enforcement of secular policies in the country and operations against innocent people because he supported the pro-US government of Zardari,” he said.  “The MMA, without the JI and the JUI-S, is meaningless because in the past, the JUI-F won most of the seats with the support of these two parties. But now it will be impossible for it to do so.”

“The religious parties and anti-US political forces are in constant contact regarding the formation of the alliance,” said Maulana Yousaf Shah, a central leader of the JUI-S, adding that unlike the JUI-F, the new alliance would not issue tickets for the next elections to corrupt capitalists.

On the other hand, the JUI-F leaders have accused the JI of demanding 50 percent of the MMA tickets for its candidates in upcoming polls and governorship of KP in return for restoring the MMA. But the JI leaders dispelled this impression.

“Our party has a traditional vote bank and mass support throughout the country in general and in the KP, FATA and Balochistan in particular,” said Maulana Rahat Hussain, a former senator of the JUI-F, adding that It is impossible to accept each and every demand of the JI.

The JI leaders failed to enhance their influence in KP and FATA despite their hectic efforts, political analysts agree. Fazlur Rehman’s decision of restoring the MMA has implications for JI leaders. It is also learnt that the JI and the JUI-S have been working to form another alliance to counter the MMA, which may consist of political and religious parties that are part of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC). The DPC is an alliance of religious outfits that was formed after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last year. Some of the DPC’s outfits are allegedly linked with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. These also include the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), all of whom are operating under new names.

Eyebrows were raised when the JUI-F did not join the DPC. “We always oppose sectarianism and violent means of politics but the JI, at the behest of intelligence agencies, is leading the DPC. Defense of Pakistan is the job of security forces, not the political parties,” said a leader of JUI-F.

Although the restoration of the MMA has been deferred for one month, the JI is likely to witness division in its ranks on the issue of joining the DPC or the MMA. Some party members are advocating for a return to the MMA while other groups are putting their weight behind the DPC with an aim to make some adjustment with Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI). Interestingly, former JI chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, on whose watch the Jamaat parted ways with the JUI-F, is making last ditch efforts to include the JI in the MMA.

Ahmed Wali Mujeeb, a journalist who has covered religious parties extensively, is of the view that the JI, which is limited to Dir and Buner districts, cannot deny the importance of the JUI-F, the country’s most influential and resourceful religious party. Therefore, efforts to include the JI in the MMA are still going on. The JUI-F has a strong organizational structure and support in the KP, the FATA and Balochistan, which mainly relies on a large network of madrassas and mosques.  The JUI-F mainly functions as an ‘electoral party’ where successes in elections, no matter how limited, have given them the opportunities to form governments at the provincial level in KP and Balochistan as well as a presence in federal cabinets, and hence access to resources and power, he said.

Political analysts say that the JUI-F has widespread support in Southern KP and FATA, and it is considered the only political party in Pakistan that has a strong organizational structure in the volatile tribal areas. In October, the JUI-F formed a 32-member committee comprising of their leaders from several tribal agencies and six Frontier Regions under the leadership of Mufti Abdul Shakoor, which concluded the 12-day tour of the tribal region.

After reviving the MMA, the JUI-F is now focusing on mustering the support of influential politicians from various region of KP. Recently, the JUI-F has emerged as the single largest political party in southern districts of KP after two more lawmakers – Munawar Khan Marwat, an MPA of PML-N from Lakki Marwat and Atiqur Rehman, an MPA of Qaumi Watan Party from Hangu – joined it in September. Former Awami National Party MPA Shaukat Habib from Kohat and PPP’s former Lachi Town Nazim Fawad Khan also joined JUI-F a few months ago. Divisional president of  PPP Ihsanullah Ihsan, who belongs to an influential family in Surai Nowrang area of Lakki Marwat, and a PPP leader from Bannu, Malik Riaz, who served as divisional president for a long time, have also joined the JUI-F. The recent induction of “clean-shaven” politicians in the JUI-F, who would be the party’s candidates in upcoming polls, is an attempt to change the party posture, observers opine.

After strengthening southern districts of KP and FATA, the JUI-F is now eyeing central KP, Malakand and Hazara divisions, as its leaders, particularly former chief minister Akram Khan Durrani, are contacting other heavyweight politicians. However, the party is not strong in these areas.  In the 2008 elections, the JUI-F won only one out of the 36 provincial assembly seats from central KP. It contested elections from Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshera and Swabi. Six of its candidates lost by a small margin, while the majority of its candidates came in third. The ANP and the PPP won the polls from this part of the province. However, local political analysts say that JUI-F can win some more seats from Mardan in the upcoming polls. Similarly, The JUI-F suffered miserably in Malakand division, consisting of Swat, Buner, Upper and Lower Dir, Malakand, Chitral and Shangla, with no candidates winning in 2008. However, it performed well in the Hazara division. The ANP, PPP and PML-N all are interested in making seat-to-seat adjustments, whether at the district or division level, with the JUI-F, which will help the latter in Malakand and Central KP.

Haji Ghulam Ali, a JUI-F senator and former district mayor of Peshawar, and former KP chief minister Akram Khan Durrani, are the expected candidates for chief minister, the party sources said, adding that Ali, who is also a relative of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has recently announced that he would contest the election of provincial assembly from PK-5 Peshawar.

One interesting new aspect is the changing JUI-F ideology. Like ANP and other liberal parties, leaders of the JUI-F in KP and FATA are also concerned about their safety in upcoming elections. The JUI-F, which is considered ideologically a pro-Taliban party, is now also a target of Taliban militants. Key leaders and activists of JUI-F have been targeted and killed in KP and FATA by Taliban militants during the last four years. Even the party’s chief, Fazlur Rehman, has been targeted in two failed assassination attempts. Maulana Mairajuddin, a former MNA from Mehsud area of South Waziristan, Maulana Noor Muhammad Wazir, a former MNA from the Wana area of South Waziristan and Haji Khan Afzal, former district mayor of Hangu, have been killed by the militants.

All this is puzzling. The JUI-F had a strong influence on Pakistan’s militant groups and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Waliur Rehman Mehsud and most other militant leaders in the region were affiliated with the party in the past. Although no group has claimed the credit for these attacks, analysts believe that the attacks and assassination attempts were carried out by irreconcilable Pakistani militant groups, which disapprove of the JUI-F’s policies, especially supporting the present government, which is busy in carrying out military operation against Taliban militant groups in FATA. “The attacks on JUI-F leadership are a result of a growing ideological divide among Pakistani Taliban concerning the legitimacy of the Pakistani state,” says Raees Ahmed, a security analyst. Pakistani Taliban openly denounce democracy and label Pakistan an “un-Islamic” state, while the JUI-F supports democratic means as well as the authority of the Pakistani state, he said.

“Militant outfits have been targeting the JUI-F ever since the party started condemning suicide attacks in Pakistan,” said a party leader from the FATA . He said the attacks on Fazlur Rehman and killing of JUI-F workers were proof that the Taliban and the JUI-F were not ideologically aligned.

The militants have been distributing pamphlets in the tribal areas, warning residents not to attend JUI-F rallies and have threatened their local leadership, said the leader, adding that certain ‘hidden forces’ were trying to bring hardcore Taliban militants into FATA’s electoral politics, replacing, what he called, the mature JUI-F leadership.

The Afghan Taliban have also threatened a number of political and religious leaders from KP, citing them responsible for the death of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, according to a report in daily The News. The JUI-F chief is on top of the new hit-list prepared by the Afghan Taliban, the report said.

The writer is a journalist and researcher.  He may be reached at zia_red@hotmail.com