Origins and Early Development
The roots of IJT can be traced to Mawdudi’s address before the Muslim Anglo-Oriental College of Amritsar on February 22, 1940, in which, for the first time, he alluded to the need for a political strategy that would benefit from the activities of a “well-meaning” student organization. Organizing Muslim students did not follow immediately, however. Not until 1945 did the Jama‘at begin to turn its attention to students. The nucleus organization was first established at the Islamiyah College of Lahore in 1945. The movement gradually gained momentum and created a drive for a national organization on university campuses, especially in Punjab, that would support the party. The IJT was officially formed on December 23, 1947, in Lahore by twenty-five students, most of whom were sons of Jama‘at members, and the newly formed organization held its very first meeting that same year. Other IJT cells were formed in other cities of Punjab, and notably in Karachi. It took IJT three to four years to consolidate these student cells into one organization centered in Karachi, and IJT’s constitution was not ratified until 1952.
IJT was initially conceived as a missionary (da‘wah) movement, a voluntary expression of Islamic feelings among students, given shape by organizers dispatched by the Jama‘at. Its utility then lay in the influence it could have on the education of the future leaders of Pakistan, which would help implement Mawdudi’s “revolution from above.” IJT was at the time greatly concerned with attracting the best and the brightest, and it used the exemplary quality of its members—in education as well as in piety—as a way to gain acceptance and legitimacy and increase its following. Although organized under the supervision of the Jama‘at, IJT was greatly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, which its members learned about from Sa‘id Ramazan, a brotherhood member living in Karachi at the time. Between 1952 and 1955, Ramazan helped IJT leaders formalize an administrative structure and devise an organizational strategy. The most visible marks of the brotherhood’s influence are IJT’s “study circle” and all-night study sessions, both of which were means of indoctrinating new members and fostering organizational bonds.
Initially IJT saw its primary concern as spreading religious propaganda on university campuses. In 1950 it launched its first journal, ‘Azm, in Urdu; it was soon followed by an English-language magazine, Student’s Voice, in 1951. IJT members were, however, as keenly interested in politics as in religious work. Hence, it was not long before they turned their attention to campus politics. Their involvement was not at the time an end in itself, but a means to check the growth of the Democratic Student Federation and the National Student Federation, the two left-wing student organizations on Pakistani campuses.
Throughout the 1950s, opposition to the left became the party’s propelling force. It was on a par with Islamic consciousness, to the extent that the student organization’s view, in large measure, took shape in terms of its opposition to Marxism. All issues put before the students were soon boiled down to choices between antithetical and mutually exclusive absolutes, Islam and Marxism. Although this was a missionary attitude inferred from the Jama‘at’s doctrinal teachings, in the context of campus politics it controlled thought and, hence, action. The conflict between Islam and Marxism soon culminated in actual clashes between IJT and leftist students, confrontations that further radicalized the IJT and increased its interest in campus politics. Egg tossing gradually gave way to more serious clashes, especially in Karachi and Multan. Antileftist student activism had become the IJT’s calling and increasingly determined its course of action. Once part of the Jama‘at’s holy community, it now began to look increasingly like a part of its political organization, hardly a source of comfort for the Jama‘at’s leaders, especially as between October 1952 and January 1953 leftist student groups clashed violently with police in the streets of Karachi, greatly radicalizing student politics. The tactics and organizational power of left-wing students in those months taught the IJT a lesson; it became more keenly interested in politics and began to organize more vigorously.
As radical politics spread in Karachi, the Jama‘at persuaded the IJT to temporarily move its operations elsewhere to keep it away from student politics. From that point on, Lahore was its base of operations, and the IJT found a voice in Punjab, Pakistan’s most important province. It recruited in the numerous colleges in that city and across the province, which proved to be fertile. In Lahore, IJT leaders could also be more closely supervised by Jama‘at leaders, and as a result the students became more involved in religious discussions and education. With increasing numbers of the organization’s directors elected from Punjab, in 1978–1979 the organization’s headquarters were permanently moved to Lahore.
Despite its moderating influence, the party proved unable to restrain the IJT’s drift toward political activism, especially after the anti-Ahmadi agitations of 1953–1954 pitted Islamic groups against the government. The Jama‘at had had a prominent role in the agitations and as a result had felt the brunt of the government’s crackdown. The IJT reacted strongly, especially after Mawdudi was tried for his part in the agitations by the government in 1954. The student organization had ceased to view itself merely as a training organization for future leaders of Pakistan; now it was a “soldiers brigade,” which would fight for Islam against its enemies—secularists and leftists—within the government as well as without. The pace of transformation from a holy community to a political organization was now faster in the IJT than in the Jama‘at itself. By 1955 Mawdudi had begun to be concerned with this new direction and the corrupting influence of politicization. However, the Jama‘at’s own turn to political activism following Machchi Goth obviated the possibility of restraining the IJT’s political proclivities, and by the mid-1960s it had abandoned all attempts at checking the IJT’s growing political activism and was instead harnessing its energies. With the tacit approval of Mawdudi, the students became fully embroiled in campus politics and to an increasing extent in national politics.
Between 1962 and 1967, locked in battle with Ayub Khan, the Jama‘at diverted the students from confrontation with the left and from religious work to opposition to Ayub Khan and his modernist religious policies. They stirred up unrest on Pakistani campuses, initially to oppose the government’s attempt to reform higher education then to protest against the concessions made to India at the end of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Their agitation led to clashes, arrests, and incarceration, which only served to institutionalize agitation—increasingly in lieu of religious work—as the predominant mode of organizational behavior; it also attested to the potency of student power.
Not surprisingly the IJT was pushed farther into the political limelight between 1969 and 1971 when the Ayub Khan regime collapsed and rivalry between the People’s Party and the secessionist Bengali party, the Awami League, resulted in civil war and the dismemberment of Pakistan. The IJT, with the encouragement of the government, became the main force behind the Jama‘at’s national campaign against the People’s Party in West Pakistan and the Awami League and Bengali secessionists in East Pakistan. The campaign confirmed the IJT’s place in national politics, especially in May 1971, when the IJT joined the army’s counterinsurgency campaign in East Pakistan. With the help of the army the IJT organized two paramilitary units, called al-Badr and al-Shams, to fight the Bengali guerrillas. Most of al-Badr consisted of IJT members, who also galvanized support for the operation among the Muhajir community settled in East Pakistan. Muti‘u’l-Rahman Nizami, the IJT’s nazim-i a‘la (supreme head or organizer) at the time, organized al-Badr and al-Shams from Dhaka University. The IJT eventually paid dearly for its part in the civil war. During clashes with the Bengali guerrillas (the Mukti Bahini), numerous IJT members lost their lives. These numbers escalated further when scores were settled by Bengali nationalists after Dhaka fell.
The fights with the left in West Pakistan and the civil war in East Pakistan meant that the IJT’s penchant for radical action had clearly eclipsed its erstwhile commitment to religious work. The party’s attitude toward its student wing was, by and large, ambivalent. Although pleased with its political successes, the Jama‘at nevertheless mourned its loss of innocence. Yet, despite its trepidations, the party in the end proved reluctant to alter the IJT’s course, for the students were delivering tangible political gains to the party, which had little else to work with. While Mawdudi may have, on occasion, chastised student leaders for their excesses, other Jama‘at leaders such as Sayyid Munawwar Hasan (himself a one-time leader of the IJT) and Khurshid Ahmad (again a former IJT leader) were far more tolerant. They saw the political situation before the Jama‘at at the end of Ayub Khan’s rule and during the Bhutto period (1968–1977) in apocalyptic terms and felt that the end thoroughly justified the means. The IJT’s power and zeal, especially in terms of the manpower needed to wage demonstrations, agitate, and conduct electoral campaigns, were too valuable for the Jama‘at to forego. Political exigencies thenceforth would act only to perpetuate the Jama‘at’s ambivalence and expedite the IJT’s moral collapse.
The Jama‘at’s ideological perspective, central as it has been to the IJT, has failed to keep the student organization in check. The IJT and the Jama‘at have been tied together by Mawdudi’s works and their professed ideological perspective, and IJT members are rigorously indoctrinated in the Jama‘at’s ideology. Fidelity to the Jama‘at’s reading of Islam is the primary criterion for membership and for advancement in the IJT. Jama‘at’s ideology is indelibly imprinted on the IJT and shapes the student organization’s worldview. But as strong as discipline and ideological conformity are among the core of IJT’s official members, they are not steadfast guarantees of obedience to the writ of the Jama‘at. Most of the IJT’s power comes from its far more numerous supporters and workers, who are not as well trained in the Jama‘at’s ideology, nor as closely bound by the IJT’s discipline. In 1989, for instance, while the number of members and sympathizers stood at 2,400, the number of workers was 240,000. The ability of the ideological link between the Jama‘at and the IJT to control the activities of the student organization is therefore tenuous. The political interests of the IJT often reflect the demands of its loosely affiliated periphery and can easily nudge the organization in independent directions; Nizami’s decision to throw the lot of the IJT in with martial rule in East Pakistan in 1971 is a case in point. In addition, organizational limitations have impeded the Jama‘at’s ability to cajole and subdue the IJT. The two are clearly separated by formal organizational boundaries, which create visible constraints in the chain of command between the them. Hence, while since 1976 a deputy amir of the Jama‘at has been assigned to supervise the IJT, his powers are limited to moral persuasion.
The IJT grew more independent of the Jama‘at, and the party more dependent on the students, with the rise to power of Bhutto in 1971. The Jama‘at had been routed at the polls that year, while the IJT, fresh from a “patriotic struggle” in East Pakistan, had defeated the People’s Party’s student union, the People’s Student Federation, in a number of campus elections in Punjab, most notably in the University of Punjab elections, and had managed to sweep the various campuses of Karachi. The IJT’s victories breathed new life and hope into the dejected Jama‘at, whose anguish over the student organization’s conspicuous politicization gave way for now to admiration and awe. The IJT had “valiantly stood up” to the People’s Party and won, parrying Bhutto’s political power. The victory had, moreover, been interpreted to mean that Mawdudi’s ideas could win elections, even against the left. Following its victory, the IJT became a more suitable vehicle for launching anti–People’s Party campaigns than the Jama‘at, which as a defeated party was hard-pressed to assert itself. Unable to function as a mass-based party before the widely popular People’s Party, the Jama‘at increasingly pushed the IJT into the political limelight. The student organization soon became a de facto opposition party and began to define the parameters of its political control accordingly. When in August 1972 the people of Lahore became incensed over the kidnapping of local girls by Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the People’s Party governor of Punjab, for illicit purposes, they turned to the IJT. The organization obliged, raised the banner of protest, and secured the release of the girls by staging sizable demonstrations. The IJT performed its role so effectively that it gained the recognition of the government. IJT leaders were among the first to be invited to negotiate with Bhutto later that year, once the People’s Party had decided to mollify the opposition.
The IJT’s rambunctious style was a source of great concern to the People’s Party government. The student organization had not only served as the vehicle for implementing the Jama‘at’s political agenda but also was poised to take matters into its own hands and launch even more radical social action. While the Jama‘at advocated Islamic constitutionalism, the IJT had been advocating Islamic revolution. The tales of patriotic resistance and heroism in East Pakistan gave it an air of revolutionary romanticism. The myths and realities of the French student riots of 1968, which had found their way into the ambient culture of Pakistani students, provided a paradigm for student activism which helped the IJT articulate its role in national politics and to formulate a strategy for mobilizing popular dissent.
The IJT thus became the mainstay of such anti-People’s Party agitational campaigns as the nonrecognition of Bangladesh (Bangladesh namanzur) movement of 1972–1974, the finality of prophecy (khatm-i nubuwwat) movement and the anti-Ahmadi controversy of 1974, and the Nizam-i Mustafa (Order of the Prophet) movement of 1977. As a result, the IJT found national recognition as a political party and a new measure of autonomy from the Jama‘at. The organization also developed a penchant for dissent, which given that it was an extraparliamentary force, could find expression only in street demonstrations and clashes with government forces. The IJT soon adapted well to militant dissent and proved to be a tenacious opponent of the People’s Party—a central actor in the anti-Bhutto national campaign that eventually led to the fall of the prime minister in 1977. Success in the political arena took the IJT to the zenith of its power, but it also restricted it to being a consummate political entity.
Following the coup of July 1977, the IJT continued on its course of political activism. It collaborated closely with the new regime in suppressing the People’s Party, used government patronage to cleanse Pakistani campuses of the left, and served as a check on the activities of a clandestine paramilitary organization associated with the People’s Party, al-Zulfiqar, in urban centers. The IJT also played a critical role in mobilizing public opinion for the Afghan war, in which the organization itself participated wholeheartedly, producing seventy-two “martyrs” between 1980 and 1990.
Political activism, therefore, contrary to expectations, escalated rather than abated during the Zia period. It had proved to be an irreversible process, an end in itself that became detached from the quest for an Islamic order. As a result, even though Pakistan was moving toward Islamization, the pace of political activism only increased. The students became embroiled in a new cycle of violence, fueled by rivalry with other student organizations.
Campus violence by and against the IJT and continuous assassinations, which claimed the lives of some eighty student leaders between 1982 and 1988, began to mar the heroic image which the IJT had when it was in opposition to Bhutto. Violence became endemic to the organization and was soon directed against the IJT’s critics off campus. The resulting “Kalashnikov culture,” efficacious as it had proved to be in waging political campaigns and intimidating opponents, was increasingly difficult for the Jama‘at either to control or to approve of. Nor was General Zia, determined to restore stability to Pakistan, willing to tolerate it.
Despite pressures from Zia, the Jama‘at was unable to control its student group. Zia therefore proceeded to ban all student union activities in February 1984, which led to nationwide agitation by the IJT. Mian Tufayl (then amir), following pleas from the general, interceded with the IJT, counseling patience, but to no avail. The IJT’s intransigence then began to interfere with the Jama‘at’s rapport with Zia and affect the party’s image. It was only when the IJT realized the extent of popular backlash against its activities, which translated into defeats in a number of campus elections between 1987 and 1991, that it desisted to some extent from violence on Pakistani campuses. The tempering of the IJT’s zeal was, however, merely a lull in the storm; the transformation of the student body into a militant political machine has progressed too far to be easily reversed.