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Accommodation and Opposition, 1977–1988
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The Ruling Islamic Alliance

Although throughout the 1977–1979 period the Jama‘at’s activities were directed toward national elections and capitalizing on its popularity during the anti-Bhutto agitations, Zia’s use of Islamization to silence the party continued to dampen its resolve. Zia’s manipulation of the Jama‘at’s ideological platform had a certain appeal for the party’s leaders and rank-and-file members.[25]

The rapport between the Jama‘at and the martial-law regime had been established by Mawdudi two years before he died. By 1977 he was at odds with the more pragmatic leadership that had succeeded him. He no longer had any official standing, but he nonetheless publicly endorsed the Islamization initiatives of Zia. In March and April 1978 in talks on Radio Pakistan, he hailed Zia’s efforts as welcome first steps in applying Islamic principles to Pakistan’s judicial and political system.[26] While Mawdudi’s objective was to claim that this greater visibility of Islam in the political process was all his party’s doing, he ipso facto made Islam a major issue in the alliance between the new regime and the PNA—a prerogative which the Jama‘at had denied Bhutto in 1977—at a time when the two sides were locked in debate over the formation of the PNA government.

The Jama‘at’s leaders, taking their cue from Mawdudi, wholeheartedly assisted Zia in preparing a comprehensive Islamization program. It was introduced to the public on February 10, 1979, with the promulgation of Islamic edicts concerning taxation and hudud punishments (punishments for practices proscribed in religious texts). The Jama‘at claimed the new measures to be the fruits of its decades-long struggle to introduce Islamic law to Pakistan. Islamization, however, proved to be a problem: while it created concord between the Jama‘at and the Zia regime in principle, in practice it promoted conflict between the two over what the content of the Islamization program should be.

The Jama‘at had endorsed Zia’s Islamization measures, assuming it would then dominate the process. Zia, having received the party’s blessings, decided that it was not politic to restrict its patronage to one Islamic party and began cultivating stronger ties with the Jami‘at-i Ulama-i Islam and the Jami‘at-i Ulama-i Pakistan, the ulama and Sufi leaders (mashayakh), and a host of other Islamic organizations, a policy which the Jama‘at ridiculed as religiously suspect and politically motivated. As one Jama‘at leader put it, “We were interested in the siratu’l-nabi [path of the Prophet], while Zia was content with the miladu’l-nabi [the popular celebration of the birthday of the Prophet, a custom of Sunni folk religion in Pakistan].”[27] The Jama‘at surmised from Zia’s “divide and rule” that he was not sincere about Islamization and would not be easily manipulated by the Jama‘at.

Zia’s motives in diversifying the religious basis of his regime were not entirely Machiavellian. The general had been an admirer of Mawdudi and the Jama‘at for a long time, and he had looked to the Jama‘at as an intellectual force which could serve the same function in his regime as the left had done in the People’s Party. The fact that the Jama‘at had been the main ideological adversary of the left since the 1960s and had always claimed to have a blueprint for the Islamization of the state led Zia to draw parallels between the Jama‘at and Pakistan’s leftist intelligentsia. That is why the Jama‘at leaders were given cabinet portfolios and invited to serve on such prominent state-sponsored bodies as the Council of Islamic Ideology. A number of pro-Jama‘at thinkers, writers, and journalists were also inducted into the inner circle of Zia’s advisers, to help him lay the foundations for the Islamic state.

Zia’s expectations, however, came to naught. The Jama‘at proved unable to deliver on the claims it had made. Aside from abstract notions about the shape and working of the ideal Islamic state, the party had little to offer in the way of suggestions for managing its machinery. Its notions about the working of Islamic dicta in economic and political operations provided Zia with no coherent plan of action. Just as the Jama‘at became disappointed with the politics of Zia’s regime, so the general became disillusioned with the practical relevance of the Jama‘at’s ideas.

After the execution of Bhutto on October 17, Zia suspended the November 1979 elections. The Jama‘at had taken his promise of elections seriously and had mobilized its resources in anticipation of them. It also sensed that after two years the memory of the excesses of the Bhutto government had begun to fade, and the paramount political issue before the country would now be martial law, opposition to which had by 1979 become the rallying point for the prodemocracy forces to which the Jama‘at claimed to belong. The solid showing of pro–People’s Party candidates in the national municipal elections was sufficient proof that opposition was mounting. The tightening of martial law following the cancellation of the November elections was only likely to damage Zia’s political standing further. The Jama‘at saw its popularity dwindle in tandem with the waning hopes for elections. The party’s association with the ruling order, which had been designed to bring about elections and secure a political victory for the party, was rapidly becoming a liability.

Zia’s postponement of the November elections led Mian Tufayl, the general’s most ardent supporter among the Jama‘at’s leaders, to warn Zia about the consequences of his policy.[28] In October 1980 the Jama‘at issued a statement critical of martial law and encouraging Zia to restore civilian order and the rule of law, end censorship, and hold elections.[29] This was the first sign of an open breach, but it brought no reaction from the general. The Jama‘at’s shura’ sessions reassessed the party’s policy and issued strong denunciations of martial law, tampering with the constitution, and strong-arm tactics in dealing with the opposition.[30] The pace and breadth of the attacks against the government increased between 1980 and 1985 as it became apparent that the martial-law regime had in good measure dissipated Islam’s political appeal and diminished the ability of religion to legitimate political action and authority. Zia’s triumph had proved to be a Pyrrhic victory for Islam.

The Jama‘at to its own detriment did not distance itself from the martial-law regime swiftly enough to put an end to its political hemorrhaging. Mian Tufayl, who was close to Zia and particularly bitter toward the Bhutto regime, dampened the party’s zeal for resuming agitational politics by pointing out that the last time the Jama‘at had opted for such a course, in Ayub Khan’s time, the ultimate beneficiary was not the Jama‘at but the left.[31] As evil as martial law might turn out to be, he argued, the People’s Party remained Pakistan’s greatest scourge. Under Mian Tufayl’s leadership, the Jama‘at was reduced to inaction, though it was compensated for its political losses with gains of another kind. The party’s status was bolstered by the regime. It dealt with Mawdudi as a senior statesman and a religious sage. He was invited to give talks on Radio Pakistan, his advice was solicited by Zia, and his words began to adorn the front page of national newspapers. This new prestige opened government to the Jama‘at’s influence to an unprecedented extent. The Jama‘at now began to infiltrate into the armed forces, the bureaucracy, and important national research and educational institutions.

Nowhere are the nature and extent of recompense for cooperation with the Zia regime clearer than in the Jama‘at’s role in the Afghan war. The Jama‘at had been privy to the government’s Afghan policy since 1977, when, following Nur Muhammad Taraki’s coup in Afghanistan, generals Zia and Fazl-i Haq had met with Mawdudi, Mian Tufayl and Qazi Husain Ahmad to explore a role for the Jama‘at in Pakistan’s Afghan policy.[32] The party had played a major role in marshaling Pakistani public opinion in favor of an Islamic crusade against the Soviet Union. Soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Zia brought the Jama‘at into his Afghan policy, using its religious stature to legitimate his depiction of the war as a jihad. This arrangement was mutually beneficial, especially to the Jama‘at. The Afghan war encouraged close ties between the Jama‘at and the Pakistani army and security forces, opened the inner sanctum of government to the party, involved it in the flow of funds and arms to the Mujahidin, and provided Jama‘at and IJT members with valuable military training.

Contact with the Afghan Mujahidin and refugees opened them to the Jama‘at’s political and religious influence. The party’s intellectual sway over segments of the Afghan refugee community, in turn, boosted its image in Islamic revivalist circles across the Muslim world and gave it a pan-Islamic image.[33] The jihad had served Zia as a useful means of harnessing the Jama‘at’s energies and diverting them away from domestic politics and was no doubt instrumental in the Jama‘at’s decision to retain its close ties to the Zia regime despite the opposition of many of its members. The Jama‘at construed these gains as beneficial because they increased the party’s power, but they were no substitute for winning elections. It eventually became clear that the party had exhausted the utility of these compensations and would have to reevaluate its role.

By 1984, after seven years of “Islamic autocracy,” the Jama‘at began to distance itself from the regime; the IJT forced the party’s hand. A formidable political force in its own right, it too had supported Zia until he banned student activity. Then relations deteriorated. This allowed the multiparty coalition, the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), organized by the People’s Party in 1981, to make overtures to the IJT, beginning in March 1984.[34] Mian Tufayl intervened with IJT leaders,[35] but rather than responding to the demands of its student wing, he tried to get them under his control, which was what the martial-law regime wanted. In defiance the students continued to agitate.

14. Votes Cast for Jama‘at-i Islami Candidates in the 1985 Elections
  Votes Received Total Votes Cast % of Total
Source: Report on the General Elections, 1985 (Islamabad, n.d.).
Lahore (1) 26,258 81,814 32
Lahore (2) 17,896 56,071 32
Lahore (3) 18,895 44,796 42
Mardan 14,063 50,031 28
Swat 20,568 54,090 38
Malakand 29,950 57,615 52
Dir 31,166 59,871 52
Karachi (1) 23,961 66,910 36
Karachi (2) 20,647 49,264 42
Turbat 16,169 32,845 49

Mian Tufayl then appealed to Zia to defuse the situation by lifting the ban on student activities, using the Jama‘at’s endorsement of the referendum Zia was pushing to legitimate his policies in the name of Islam as his reward for lifting the ban and promising that the future National Assembly would be sovereign.[36] Zia accepted both conditions, only to renege on the first after the referendum was conducted and the second when he dismissed the Muslim League government and dissolved the assemblies in May 1988. These breaches of faith greatly undermined Mian Tufayl’s position. He had promised to deliver on the IJT’s demands through his personal ties with the regime; now members decided that nothing further could be gained from cooperation with Zia.

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