For the past several months, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl, the country’s leading Islamic political party, has been busy preparing for the centenary celebration of the party, which was formed in November 1919 in Dehli as the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind.
The three-day international congregation (7-9 April) will convene near Azakhel area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Nowshera district, where, according to the party, Imam-e-Kaabah Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, Darul Uloom Deoband’s (India) administrator Abul Qasim Nomani, the JUH President Maulana Syed Arshad Maadani and secretary general Maulana Syed Mehmood Asad Madani are among the prominent international guests supposed to attend.
The JUI-F was formed within the ranks of the JUI, a party that splintered from the JUH in 1945. In colonial India, JUH set out to put political pressure on Britain to grant India independence. Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, former director of the University of Karachi’s Pakistan Study Center, writes in his recent book ‘Pakistan: Historical legacies, contemporary issues’, that the because of its vehemently opposition to British rule, some of the JUH’s founders had undergone difficult trials and suffered. Shiekh ul Hind Maulana Mehmud Hasan and others had served long imprisonment.
“The party also opposed a separate country for the Muslims on the ground that it would deprive the Indian Muslims of their strength. It also charged Muslim League of toeing the British policies,” Ahmed writes.
However, a small group, headed by Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, in 1945 disassociated itself with the JUH, formed the JUI and supported the Muslim League for a separate Muslim state. In Pakistan, the JUI, under the leadership of Usmani’s sons, refrained from direct electoral politics, and instead, supported the Muslim League, and focused on spreading its network of mosques and madrassas in the country. But in 1956, a group of Deobandi clerics, headed by Maulvi Ahmad Ali Lahori, Maulana Ghous Hazarvi and Maulana Mufti Mehmud (the father of the JUI-F’s current supremo Maulana Fazlur Rehman), stressed on taking part in politics in Pakistan, re-organised the JUI, after successfully sidelining Usmanis, and reconnected the party with its roots in Deobandi seminary and the JUH.
In 1969, the JUI under the leadership of Mehmud, took part in the movement against Ayub Khan’s dictatorship, and in 1970 general polls, a number of the JUI leaders, including Mehmud, Hazarvi, Maulana Abdul Haq (father of Maulana Samiul Haq) and Maulana Abdul Hakeem, became assembly members.
During this period, the party also pressured the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government to declare the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslims.
In 1980, Mehmud was succeeded by his son Fazlur Rehman. Under Rehman’s leadership, the JUI was the only religious party, which joined the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy after the then military dictator Ziaul Haq. To the party leadership, the establishment punished the JUI for joining the MRD by splitting the party, carving a faction under the leadership of Samiul Haq and Abdulllah Darkhwasti, who attracted the party’s entire Punjab leadership. Also, the JUI’s Punjab deputy head Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi left the party and formed the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, an anti-Shia organization.
Throughout 1980s during the ‘Afghan Jihad’, Pakistan’ security establishment conducted its Afghan policy with the help of the Jammat-e-Islami and Gulbadin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami and there was no or little role of the JUI-F in Afghanistan’s affairs.
Sartaj Khan, a Karachi-based researcher who studies religious movements, however, says that after the establishment of Afghan Taliban’s regime in 1996 that replaced all jihadi groups, including Hekmatyar’s group involved in the internal bloody war in Kabul, the JUI-F replaced the JI completely. “Most of the Afghan Taliban’s leaders had studied in Pakistan’s seminaries associated with the JUI-F or some with the JUI-S,” Khan tells TNS. “Though the JI extended its moral support to Taliban and oppose the war in Afghanistan, it kept its distance from those waging war against the US-led Coalition in Afghanistan.”
After 9/11, the US invasion of Afghanistan provided an opportunity to Pakistan religious parties, especially the JUI-F, to generate enough heat on the streets under the Afghan Defence Council, and then the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of six religious parties, to win significant seats from the then NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Karachi. In the 2008 and 2013 general polls, the party has won significant seats from KP and Balochistan and became part of the federal government.
The JUI-F is commonly described as a religious party that exists for elections, and as an ‘electoral party’, successes in elections, no matter how limited, have given them the opportunities to form governments in the provincial level in KP and Balochistan as well as a presence in federal cabinet, and hence have access to resources and power. Also, its supremo Rehman is known as a sharp politician and expert in the art of political maneuvering.
Sartaj Khan says the JUI-F apparently is a religious party and its organization is mainly operated by clerics. However, it also draws its support from traders and merchant class. “There are several examples that instead of clerics, the party gave tickets in elections to businessmen,” he says.
The JUI-F has a complex relationship with militancy. The party has had a strong influence on Pakistan’s militant groups, and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Waliur Rehman Meshud and most other militant leaders in the region were affiliated with the party in the past. However, in recent years, the party leadership came under attacks from militant groups, which disapprove of JUI-F’s policies, especially their supporting the consecutive governments that launched the operation against them.
An official pamphlet issued by the JUI-F regarding the centenary celebration also stated that “because of party’s efforts, a unanimous fatwa against terrorism and suicide attacks in the country was issued, and in 2010, key Deobandi clerics gathered in Jamia Ashrafia Lahore announced disassociation with the armed struggle. It was key reason that a number of the party’s key leaders were killed and party chief Rehman survived in three suicide attacks”.
Interestingly, the JUI-F kept its distance from jihadi and sectarian groups and did not join the Difah-e-Pakistan Council, an alliance of several religious and banned jihadi outfits, including the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (former SSP), the Jamaat-ud Dawa and the JUI-S. Even, a faction, calling itself ‘Nazaryati’ splintered within the party in Balochistan on the issue of supporting jihadi groups.
Currently, the JUI-F has been working to portray it a ‘moderate political force’. In line with preparation of its centenary celebration, the party has organised its first ever women workers’ convention in open space, and to show its’ soft image’, the party succeeded in bringing a Karachi-based bishop into party ranks.