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The Elections of 1985

After the referendum the Jama‘at’s political fortunes plummeted, and the national elections, when they were finally held in 1985, proved that the popularity of the 1977–1979 period had vanished. Debate over the Jama‘at’s relations to Zia and the possibility of cooperation with the MRD only prolonged the party’s inability to act. In the elections of 1985 the Jama‘at won 10 of the 68 seats it contested for the National Assembly (compared with 9 out of 31 in 1977, and 4 out of 151 in 1970),[37] and 13 of the total of 102 contested for various provincial assemblies (compared with 4 out of 331 in 1970) (see tables 1415). These results showed Zia that the Jama‘at had lost its power, and he turned to the Muslim League and an array of ethnic parties for support. The elections, as all Pakistanis knew, had been boycotted by the left and centrist parties and were an easy prey for the Islamic and right-of-center parties. Consequently, the Jama‘at did better in these elections than it had in its previous electoral showings. It won three of Dir’s five provincial assembly seats, and for the first time won a seat in the Baluchistan provincial assembly. But these modest gains paled before those of the other right-of-center parties, especially in Punjab and Sind. The political damage caused by associating with Zia was reflected in the fact that Jama‘at candidates who were PNA ministers were not elected.

15. Votes Received and Seats Won by the Jama‘at-i Islami in the 1985 Elections
  Punjab NWFP Sind Baluchistan Total
Source: Election Bureau of the Jama‘at-i Islami.
National Assembly
Seats contested 37 13 15 3 68
Seats won 3 4 2 1 10
Total votes received 625,848 196,585 238,228 30,527 1,091,188
Average votes per candidate 16,914 15,121 15,881 10,175 16,046
Provincial Assembly          
Seats contested 53 22 24 3 102
Seats won 2 5 5 1 13
Total votes received 377,790 114,131 160,056 13,916 665,893
Average votes per candidate 7,128 5,187 6,669 4,638 6,528

The gradual dissipation of the PNA’s base of political support; the relative success of the MRD after 1981; the ban on labor unions, political parties, and, finally, student unions; and the results of the elections of 1985 had all acted to create doubts in the minds of many Jama‘at members regarding the wisdom of their close ties to Zia. If the public’s apathy over the referendum of 1984 was any indication, after seven years of martial rule Islamization had lost much of its appeal. To the extent to which Islamization measures still held sway over the masses, it was Zia and not the Jama‘at who benefited. Ghafur Ahmad, the head of the Jama‘at’s parliamentary contingent in the 1970s and the secretary-general of the PNA, was the first in the Jama‘at to show his opposition to Mian Tufayl’s alliance with Zia by not running in the elections of 1985 at all. Dissent soon spread to the Jama‘at’s rank and file.

Mian Tufayl continued to argue that Zia’s Islamization scheme was in accordance with the Jama‘at’s agenda and at odds with the spirit of the MRD, which the amir had dubbed the “movement for the restoration of the People’s Party.”[38] He pointed to the dangers that the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and the activities of the pro–People’s Party clandestine organization, Al-Zulfiqar, posed to the interests of Pakistan. This argument collapsed when, soon after the elections, civilian rule returned to Pakistan, not under the aegis of the Jama‘at, but in the form of a Muslim League government.

A contingent began to form in the Jama‘at which sought to restore pragmatic politics to its rightful place in the party. The anti-Zia faction was centered in Karachi and led by Ghafur Ahmad. The Karachi Group, as they were called, argued that if the Jama‘at was to survive it would have to cultivate support, and that meant moving away from the purely ideological concerns which Mian Tufayl was using to keep the Jama‘at in Zia’s camp. The party had to find a recipe for success, one which was rooted less in ideology and more in pragmatic considerations. The Jama‘at, argued the Karachi Group, had no choice but to adopt a populist platform demanding democracy and socioeconomic justice.[39] They recognized the limits to Islam’s appeal in the face of socioeconomic, ethnic, and democratic demands. Islam could no longer undergird a successful political campaign. Religious politics had begun to ebb.

The size of the religious vote had increased in Zia’s time, but so had the number of parties which depended on it. While the Islamic vote was divided many-fold, the MRD, and later the Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz, were left to monopolize the relatively neglected secular constituency. The political fortunes of the Jama‘at, argued the Karachi Group, could be salvaged only if the party broke completely with the Zia regime, joined the MRD, and established contact with the People’s Party, the undisputed party of populism. The Jama‘at had always thrived on dissent, and therefore such a strategy had a certain appeal for a party which had for most of its existence been in the opposition. For some, democracy was as much a basis of the Jama‘at’s message as Islamization, and neither could satisfactorily exist without the other.[40]

The new approach provided a way of shifting ground without openly denouncing the ideological basis of the Jama‘at. It began now to preach that martial law was a worse evil than socialism, modernism, or the People’s Party.[41] The abrupt shift was not entirely convincing and opened the Jama‘at to the charge of inconsistency, but the reorientation was real.

Karachi was particularly receptive to these new ideas. The city has the largest concentration of Jama‘at members. In 1990 there were 1,100 members and 7,000 workers in Karachi.[42] They are ideologically the least rigid, the most clearly driven by the desire for success, and therefore the most willing to experiment with a pragmatic approach to politics, with which they have had considerable practice since they controlled the municipal government at the time. As opposition to Zia gained momentum, the Jama‘at’s leaders became more receptive to the views of the party’s Karachi members, especially as they were echoed by IJT students and workers across Pakistan. As a result, Mian Tufayl finally agreed to split with Zia and demand the restoration of the 1973 constitution—which the Jama‘at now accepted in the interests of denying Zia the opportunity to bog down the political process in lengthy constitutional debates—and the holding of party-based elections.[43]

The Karachi Group demanded more radical action. Contacts between the Jama‘at and the MRD had gone on since 1981, when one of the alliance’s founders, Sardar ‘Abdu’l-Qayyum, had invited the party to join its ranks and had been rebuffed by Mian Tufayl.[44] Three more meetings had taken place; they had had no tangible results, in large measure because of Mian Tufayl’s intransigence.[45]

The debate grew more intense when, after the elections, Zia turned over the government to the Muslim League, to replace the Jama‘at as the main pillar of his regime. The Jama‘at became an opposition party and was once again locked in rivalry with the League.

The Muslim League government was secular and wary of criticism from the religious quarter; it was also aware of the mischief that the Jama‘at and the IJT were capable of. The Jama‘at, the League believed, was Zia’s last line of defense against any challenges to his authority—the “B-team of the martial law” as the Pir Pagaro, the president of the Muslim League at the time, put it. The League hoped eventually to inherit power from Zia and to that end embarked upon a policy that involved putting civilian rule into place and asserting its autonomy from Zia. This was a bold strategy, which Zia would not take lightly, but before launching any campaign against Zia, the Muslim League had to neutralize the Jama‘at. It began by putting up its own student union, the Muslim Student Federation, against the IJT and undermining Jama‘at’s power base in Karachi, a city crucial to any successful antigovernment campaign.[46] In February 1987 the Sind ministry dissolved the Karachi municipal corporation, arresting Afghani and 101 other Jama‘at councilmen, and called for new municipal elections, which brought the MQM into power in that city. The MQM won the mayoralty of Karachi in January 1988.[47] But most damaging were the League’s propaganda attacks on the party. The Jama‘at was identified with the martial-law regime and as Zia’s most important ally just when it had decided to abandon both. The Pir Pagaro’s “B-team” showed the isolation that proximity to the Zia regime could produce and that the Karachi Group had warned against.

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