Jamaat-e-Islami is forever busy holding one event or the other to convey its message to the people and win support for its Islamic agenda, but its recent three-day convention in Lahore was a major political activity aimed at reviving the fortunes of a party that has yet to achieve electoral success despite possessing significant street-power.
The Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) Ijtema-e-Aam (congregation) held under the shadows of the Minar-e-Pakistan had been widely publicised and preparations had started weeks before the event. Under its new ameer Sirajul Haq, the party was hoping to assemble a large gathering from all over Pakistan and make public a ‘people’s agenda’ to attract popular support.
The JI did manage to hold a big public meeting and Sirajul Haq spoke as a conventional politician seeking public backing by espousing populist causes and making many promises to potential voters.
However, his predecessor Syed Munawwar Hasan nearly spoiled the show as he reiterated his hawkish position on a number of issues and declared that democracy and military operations won’t help in overcoming challenges facing Pakistan. Though he later clarified his statement regarding “jihad” by explaining that Muslims have been commanded to wage “jihad” and “qital” in the name of Allah only as fighting for any personal cause, prejudice, property and wealth was un-Islamic and amounted to mischief, the damage had been done.
Certain analysts questioned the JI’s democratic credentials and started tracing its links with al-Qaeda and other militant groups. To its bad luck, two alleged al-Qaeda militants linked in the past to the JI were killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in an area close to the border with Afghanistan around the time the JI’s Lahore convention was underway.
The death of Dr Sarbaland aka Abu Khalid along with his two sons and brother-in-law, Major (Retd) Adil Abdul Qadoos in the missile attack by the CIA-operated drone was mentioned as evidence of the JI’s not-so-secret linkages with militant and terrorist groups fighting the state. However, no real effort was made to point out that such linkages were of an individual nature as some JI members had forged contacts with certain militants on their own. No evidence has yet been presented about the JI maintaining contacts with the militants as an organisation and offering them help and protection through some of its members.
Munawwar Hasan also managed to raise eyebrows in his Lahore speech by proposing that the JI should join hands with the Tableeghi Jamaat to bring about a change in the society. However, he didn’t elaborate how the apolitical Tableeghi Jamaat would be persuaded to join hands with a political party such as the JI, as the move could cause rift among the Tableeghis.
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Sirajul Haq, who had defeated Munawwar Hasan and the party’s secretary general Liaquat Baloch in the election held through secret ballot for the office of the JI ameer early this year, emerged as a cool-headed and sensible politician at the party convention. He also showed his skills as an orator in Urdu despite being a Pashto-speaker. Oratory should come naturally to the former student leader who once headed the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba, the JI’s students’ wing, and spoke to gatherings almost on a daily basis. Simple and humble, Sirajul Haq comes across as a commoner wearing shalwar-kameez and his trademark white cap. In fact, he certainly is a common man — the son of a village cleric living in a small house in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Lower Dir district.
The JI has had five heads to-date in its long life and all five possessed different characteristics.
The founder Maulana Abul A’la Maudoodi was a renowned scholar and widely respected while his successor, Mian Tufail Mohammad lacked charisma and was incapable of making rousing speeches.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who came from a teaching background and also belonged to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, tried hard to rejuvenate the party by identifying with the needs of the people and taking up populist causes such as delivering justice to the needy, but was unable to make an impact in the general elections, except in 2002, when six Islamic parties joined hands to form the MMA to record their best electoral performance to-date.
Emotional and inflexible, Munawwar Hasan couldn’t make or sustain alliances and the JI during his tenure was reduced to a marginal player in the country’s politics. He even annoyed the powerful military in November 2013 by questioning the sacrifices rendered by the soldiers and insisting on referring to the slain militants as martyrs. No wonder then that his own party members preferred Sirajul Haq over him in the election for the ameer as they were looking for someone new and better.
Sirajul Haq’s election as the JI chief seems to have raised the morale of the party members and supporters. He is a proven vote-getter, at least in his Lower Dir constituency having won elections as MPA. He also has experience as a minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, managing the finance department. Even though he resigned as senior minister after becoming the JI head, he is keeping his seat in the provincial assembly without attending its sessions.
Buoyed by the attendance at the JI’s Lahore convention, he has now announced plans to hold a public meeting at the mausoleum of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi on December 25. He has promised to come up with the line of action for achieving an Islamic welfare state on the occasion.
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At the Lahore convention also, Sirajul Haq spoke as if he was promising the moon to voters in case they brought the JI to power.Unemployment allowance was promised to the jobless youth, those earning below Rs30,000 a month were to be provided flour, sugar, tea, pulses and rice on subsidised rates, farmers and industrial workers would be given share in the profits earned from the land and the industries, senior citizens would be paid old-age allowance, free treatment would be ensured for patients suffering from heart, hepatitis, cancer and kidney diseases, VIP culture and interest-based banking would be abolished, uniform system of free education up to matriculation would be introduced, full protection to the minorities would be guaranteed and prayer leaders at all mosques would be paid salaries by the government. What’s more he made the revolutionary promise to retrieve the land gifted by the British colonial rulers to their cronies and distribute it among the masses.
There is something for everything in these and many more promises made by Sirajul Haq in case the JI was voted to power. Under his leadership, it is clear that the JI would make a determined bid for power in the next general election by using every trick of the trade. The late Qazi Hussain Ahmad too had made such a bid but the outcome of the 1997 general election shattered his dreams. It would be challenging for Sirajul Haq to perform better than his mentor, Qazi Hussain Ahmad.