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The Reorientation of the Jama‘at

Mian Tufayl decided not to seek another term as amir of the Jama‘at-i Islami, and in October 1987 the party elected Qazi Husain in his stead. Qazi Husain was a populist who appealed to the pro-Zia faction, although he belonged to the Karachi Group. He had maintained close contacts with the Zia regime as the Jama‘at’s liaison with the army in the Afghan war, but more important, he had advocated joining the MRD as early as 1983. His election therefore indicated that the majority of Jama‘at members favored populism, democracy, and the break with Zia.

Following his election mandate, Qazi Husain lost no time in attacking feudalism and capitalism, demanding rights for the impoverished many, and pointing to the obligations of the wealthy few. The party’s activities were extended into the rural areas and among the urban underclass.[52] Qazi Husain’s populist agenda kept pace with the demands of the Karachi Group, which was greatly encouraged by the words and actions of their new leader, and it also provided a basis on which to approach the People’s Party.

Qazi Husain was openly against Zia, arguing that neither Islamization nor the Afghan war justified the abrogation of democracy in Pakistan.[53] He asserted that Zia’s Islamization measures paid lip service to Islam but Islamized none of the country’s judicial, bureaucratic, or political structures. Pakistan’s political predicament could be solved only by ending martial rule, not by promulgating the shari‘at bill,[54] which had taken effect on June 15, 1988, replacing most of the existing legal code with injunctions from the shari‘ah. Zia’s persistence in using Islam to justify martial rule had hurt the cause of Islam in Pakistan.[55] The Jama‘at therefore had refused even to participate in the discussions on either the shari‘at bill before it was passed, or the eighth amendment to the constitution, which would vest greater powers in the president. On June 16, 1988, a day after the bill took effect, the Jama‘at’s secretariat issued a statement in Lahore signed by nine of the Jama‘at’s senior leaders, which criticized the bill for paying superficial lip service to Islam and deplored Zia’s use of Islam for political ends.[56] Although the final draft of the shari‘at bill was similar to Jama‘at’s own earlier proposals and the party had originally favored it, it rejected the bill outright on the grounds that it did not address popular concerns and was meaningless so long as the anglicized legal system remained the same.[57] Nor was criticism of the shari‘at bill limited to Qazi Husain and the leaders of the Karachi Group; it was also voiced by many Jama‘at leaders in Punjab, including Mian Tufayl.

Qazi Husain then attacked the military regime at its foundations. Fear of Soviet encroachment in South Asia and the jihad that was mounted to counter it had been critical to Zia’s survival. Aware of all this, Qazi Husain claimed that Pakistan’s Afghan policy had originally been conceived by Bhutto.[58] He also claimed that the Jama‘at was open to cooperation with all political forces and particularly wished to end its “cold war” with the People’s Party.[59] He had himself laid the foundations for discussions with the People’s Party in two meetings with the MRD emissary, Faruq Laghari. During those meetings the MRD had invited the Jama‘at to join its ranks, and Qazi Husain had favored accepting that invitation. Despite pressures exerted by the Karachi Group, whose views were aired through the editorials of the Jama‘at daily Jasarat, Mian Tufayl had barred the party from contemplating such a move. After 1987, with Mian Tufayl out of the way and the greater possibility of elections in 1988, the Karachi Group and the new amir made another bid for joining the MRD. The new initiative was prompted by the dismissal of Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo and the dissolution of the assemblies on May 29, 1988, which the Karachi Group interpreted as the recrudescence of martial rule.

The People’s Party was eager to secure the Jama‘at’s support. Elections were expected, and it was deemed important for the MRD to represent as wide a spectrum of parties as possible. Moreover, the Jama‘at had been the People’s Party’s staunchest opponent throughout the 1970s and was closely associated with Zia. Winning over the Jama‘at, therefore, had symbolic significance for the MRD. The People’s Party was also aware of the Jama‘at’s street power and wished to neutralize the party’s potential opposition to the MRD’s own campaign and possibly to solicit the Jama‘at’s help in mounting a more effective one.[60]

In June 1988, Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the MRD, met with Ghafur Ahmad of the Jama‘at in Karachi. This meeting resulted in an understanding between the MRD and the Jama‘at and was followed by a second more formal meeting. The purpose of this second meeting was to agree that the next elections would be party-based, held within ninety days, and governed by the People’s Party–PNA agreement of July 1977,[61] which incorporated a plan to conduct elections without the Registrations Law and provided for an autonomous election commission to oversee them. The three-point agreement was to serve as the basis for a common electoral platform which would induct the Jama‘at into the MRD. Some say that the negotiations also involved a discussion of the distribution of candidates, with the Jama‘at asking for 30 percent of the MRD’s slate.

The Benazir-Ghafur meetings were followed by two meetings between Qazi Husain and Laghari in Lahore, the second of which occurred in September 1988. Meanwhile, Ghafur Ahmad asked the shura’ for a ruling which would convert the agreements reached by him into political directives. The shura’, whose members were mainly from Punjab and North-West Frontier Province, was not eager to cooperate with the MRD, especially since it was led by a woman. Nor had they been as antagonistic toward Zia. Despite the intercession of the amir, the members deadlocked. The Jama‘at put forth a new condition for continuing association with the MRD: its political platform had to include a demand for the “creation of an Islamic order.”

Senior Jama‘at leaders led by Mian Tufayl now began to lobby against joining the MRD, assisted by a host of right-of-center writers, statesmen, and intellectuals, none of whom were Jama‘at members and many of whom were affiliates of the Muslim League, who though they had always denounced the Jama‘at’s ideological convictions, suddenly began to complain that it had forsaken them. An array of publications began to pressure the Jama‘at to revert to its ideological fervor and forego the agreement with the MRD. Although they were foes of the People’s Party, Zia was not altogether uninvolved in encouraging this sudden concern for the Jama‘at’s ideological fidelity. Leading those criticizing the Jama‘at was the pro-Jama‘at journalist and close adviser to Zia, Muhammad Salahu’ddin, through whom Zia managed to encourage a split in the party.[62] Salahu’ddin, an opponent of the People’s Party, was particularly vociferous in his criticism of Ghafur Ahmad and the Jama‘at’s new policy. Possibly prompted by Zia, he reminded the party’s leaders of the excesses of the Bhutto government, of the People’s Party’s secular approach to politics, and of the suffering the Jama‘at and the IJT had endured under that party’s rule.[63] Citing Mawdudi’s often-quoted statement that the “Jama‘at-i Islami is not only a political party, but also an ideological one,”[64] Salahu’ddin also told Jama‘at leaders that their political instincts were drowning out their religious sensibilities and that the party was turning its back on its ideological heritage. An alliance with the MRD, warned Salahu’ddin, would turn the Jama‘at into a party with no principles and no ideological mainstay; it would be the end of the Jama‘at.

Takbir, Salahu’ddin’s magazine, has always been popular and influential with Jama‘at members and supporters across Pakistan as the party’s semiofficial but independent organ and a forum for the Jama‘at and other right-of-center groups. It is an important part of the Jama‘at’s propaganda machine and, until the People’s Party alliance, had never been openly at odds with the party’s leaders. Salahu’ddin’s editorials were therefore particularly effective in casting doubts among rank-and-file members regarding the propriety of the Jama‘at’s new strategy, and they undermined its leaders both in Karachi, which was initially in favor of Ghafur Ahmad’s position, and in Punjab, where Zia enjoyed a good following among Jama‘at members. Takbir’s campaign was particularly influential because the shura’ had postponed any decision on what action to take until a poll of the rank-and-file members had been tallied. In Karachi, pro–Ghafur Jama‘at workers responded to Salahu’ddin’s criticism by demonstrating outside the offices of Takbir, where they burned copies of the magazine. In Lahore the party’s publications bureau reprimanded Salahu’ddin, to show the Jama‘at’s annoyance at his interference with party authority.

Although the Lahore Group agreed with Salahu’ddin, it was compelled to close ranks with the Karachi Group lest the Jama‘at’s internal disputes become public. The Jama‘at’s secretariat defended Ghafur Ahmad, arguing that he had met Benazir Bhutto as an emissary of the amir and as part of the Jama‘at’s routine contacts with the leaders of various political parties. The Jama‘at was, however, clearly on the defensive, not only because the general public had been alerted to its rapprochement with the erstwhile enemy but also because Salahu’ddin had cast the new changes in an unsavory light. The implications of the charge of inconsistency and the propaganda war that surrounded it were serious, especially in North-West Frontier Province and Punjab, where followers of the Jama‘at are from small towns and rural areas and are more ideologically oriented. Radical change, especially in light of Takbir’s successful propaganda campaign, was no longer possible. The turn of events, moreover, had proved to the Jama‘at that it could not switch gears too radically without jeopardizing its traditional base of support. It had to chart its course more judiciously.

The attempts of the Jama‘at, and the Karachi Group in particular, to provide a more balanced mix of ideology and pragmatism and to replace commitment to Islamization with greater populism had been effectively checked. While some continued to press for joining the MRD, the Lahore Group resisted it. The Jama‘at began to renege on its agreements with the MRD. Discipline within the Jama‘at had grown lax, opening up the internal debates of the party to public scrutiny. Qazi Husain sought to restore party unity by denouncing Zia for undermining the People’s Party–PNA talks, for his excessive reliance on the United States, for promoting corruption in Pakistan, for creating ethnic dissension in Sind, and for sowing discord among Pakistani political parties.[65]Jasarat elaborated further on these themes and, taking its cue from Qazi Husain, stepped up its anti-Zia rhetoric throughout the summer of 1988. Zia was criticized for killing demonstrators in Karachi in 1986, for his anti-Shi‘ism, and for his sleight of hand in using the shari‘at bill to oust Junejo from office. He had used the excuse that Junejo had been reluctant to promulgate a shari‘at bill to dismiss the government, and then proceeded to promulgate a shari‘at bill of his own to obfuscate his constitutionally suspect ouster of the prime minister. “Nothing good came of the rule of the anglicized army officer, whose Islamic convictions were skin deep,” Qazi Husain remarked.[66]

This escalation of attacks against Zia went hand in hand with distancing the Jama‘at from the MRD. After three tumultuous meetings, the Jama‘at’s shura’ finally rejected the MRD option.[67] Faced with this decision, the party reaffirmed its ideological priorities and established limits to how much it could compromise on issues of principle. It would adopt a more cautious approach to pragmatic politics. Discord, however, continued to reign in the party.

Zia died in a plane crash on August 17, 1988, and this event abruptly altered the political scene. The subsequent democratization of Pakistani politics opened new vistas to the party and posed new questions to its leaders. Martial rule ceased to exist, but its departure only highlighted the fundamental problems of the Jama‘at’s religiopolitical agenda. Once Pakistani politics found new life in the post-Zia period, the same considerations that had compelled the party’s move to populism reappeared. Political expedience forced the party to search once more for an acceptable and politically meaningful equilibrium between commitment to Islamization and pursuit of political interests, which would at the same time retain the support of the religiously conscious electorate and permit the party to expand its base.

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