With Qazi Husain Ahmed, its amir (leader), in detention since October, the Jama’at-e Islami, an Islamic political party in Pakistan, is feeling somewhat adrift, although acting amir Syed Munawwar Hasan is trying gamely to lead. On February 10 the party’s Punjab branch held a one-day convention in Mansoora, Lahore, to chalk out a strategy for future action. But if the faithful were looking for bold new initiatives they must have been disappointed: the party is firmly committed to electoral politics in which it has performed dismally over the years.
One of the best organised parties in Pakistan, the Jama’at has allowed itself to be trapped in the straitjacket of electoral politics instead of becoming a movement. The arrest of its leader was the result of his criticism of government policy vis a vis Afghanistan. Yet the Jama’at was never strong supporter of the Taliban, its links being much stronger with former mujahideen leaders such as Gulbudeen Hikmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani, who were banished by the Taliban. Another party, the Jami’atul Ulama-e Islam (JUI), led by, was much more closely aligned with the Taliban, the bulk of whose cadre was trained in JUI-run madrassas in Pakistan.
During its convention on February 10, the Jama’at called for a public campaign for the release of its leader, while reiterating its policy of participating in electoral politics. Munawwar Hasan said that the party would chalk out its new political strategy only after a clear announcement about transfer of power by the president, Pervez Musharraf. The latter, however, has made it clear that he intends to remain president regardless of the results of elections, scheduled for October. Musharraf appointed himself president last July over the protests of political parties, but as the military strong man he can do as he pleases and nobody can dislodge him. His sudden U-turn on Pakistan’s two-decades’-long Afghan policy left most observers bewildered and completely speechless. A similar downgrading of the struggle in Kashmir is also under way. The struggle of the Kashmiri people has suffered a political and psychological setback, despite the fact that Kashmir Solidarity Day was observed with great fanfare in Pakistan on February 5. Celebrations, however, are no substitute for policy.
Since its creation Pakistan has struggled with a crisis of identity: is it supposed to be an Islamic state or a secular state? To its credit the Jama’at, and particularly its founder, the late Maulana Abul A’la Maudoodi, pinned the political elites in Pakistan to its Islamic moorings. As a result, every constitution of Pakistan has had to start with the declaration that the country will be an Islamic state. Yet in the Islamic/secular contest, the secularists have always had the upper hand because those who have carried the Islamic flag have been forced to play according to rules established by the secularists. The Jama’at’s current decision to continue with electoral politics is a case in point. The secularists will never allow the Jama’at or any other “Islamic” political party to win at the polls. In any case, elections in Pakistan are a farce: voters are bought, ballot-boxes are stuffed, gangsters go around terrorising people, and every conceivable fraud is perpetrated in the name of democracy.
All this is well known, yet no “Islamic” political party is willing to challenge such practices openly. In fact, the Jama’at and other “Islamic” political parties are happy to enter into political alliances with secular parties. There is at present a United Front of political parties of which the Jama’at is a member. It is this kind of mixed signalling that confuses the rank and file of the “Islamic” political parties. The fundamental error these parties make is to think that if only the Islamic parties could win elections and power were handed over to honest people, Pakistan’s problems would be solved. It is this simplistic thinking that has led to repeated debacles at the polls. It is not simply the question of a few honest individuals at the helm of affairs: the entire system in Pakistan is rotten; the bureaucracy and every other institution is tainted. There are many honest individuals working in various institutions in the country, but their honesty has been of little help in rectifying the system.
At the Lahore convention, the Jama’at leader said that his party did not want to launch a movement in the country at this time because of the presence of Indian forces at the borders. Another reason is that he does not want to give the government an excuse to postpone elections due in October. Yet Munawwar Hasan went on to point out the flaw in the electoral process when he said that the reserved seats for women and technocrats were increased to achieve the “desired results”. Given such iniquities and clear manipulation of the electoral process, one wonders why the Jama’at continues to play according to these rules. And why refrain from launching a movement just because of Indian forces at the border? There will never be a time when Pakistan does not face a threat of any kind. Pakistan has never been free of military threat.
Unless Islamic political parties throughout the Muslim world become movements, and challenge the jahili established systems in Muslim countries and societies, they will not be able to bring about significant change, no matter how many honest, sincere people fill their ranks. This simple yet profound realisation is the first step on the road to fundamental change in the Muslim world.