Paradigm shift: In political vacuum, JI stands at crossroads

Published: February 27, 2012

Party struggles with its past while facing the brunt of intelligence agencies. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Even though the February 12 Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) rally in Karachi was organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the ground was predominantly filled with Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) supporters.

Unexpectedly, JI’s green-and-blue flags were few and far between and the loudest cheers were for ASWJ leaders.

As supporters chanted “al jihad, al jihad”, JI workers tried to control the crowds — unsuccessfully.

The schism at the DPC rally elucidates the crisis faced by the JI. Once the country’s most prominent religious-political party, the JI has been overshadowed by militant groups offering a shot at participating in jihad against the US from the tribal areas.

Others, such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, let anti-US protesters participate in apparent blockades of Nato supply routes.

JI, on the other hand, does not offer jihad or an electoral alternative since it boycotted the 2008 elections. To boot, it has faced a split in its powerful student wing, the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT).

According to a report released by the former chief of the Special Investigation Unit SSP Raja Umar Khattab last January, arrested militants told an interrogation team that some IJT activists from Karachi University (KU) formed a dissident group in 2007 and named it Punjabi Mujahideen after the IJT expelled them.

They had developed differences with the IJT’s ‘moderate policies’ and the stance of the JI in general, and were more inspired by Dr Arshad Waheed, who was deputed as the chief of al Qaeda’s youth wing in Waziristan.

Dr Waheed belonged to a family of JI supporters and was convicted of providing support to Jundullah. After his release, he relocated to South Waziristan and was killed in a drone strike in 2008.

The report stated that the suspects were former IJT activists from KU who left for Waziristan without completing their education.

JI’s real stance

JI’s official stance is that its members cannot act against the state.  “We do not support jihad until all of its parameters have been fulfilled,” says JI spokesperson Sarfaraz Ahmed. According to JI’s Karachi General Secretary Naseem Siddiqui, “If anyone claims to be a supporter of JI and then, [going] against the policy of JI, finds picking up weapons is the solution, he is responsible for his own actions.”

Tufts University professor Vali Nasr and the author of The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, said this is a dilemma Maulana Maudoodi had spoken about a long time ago, “that jihad can only be declared by a proper Islamic authority in an Islamic state.”

This responsibility was delegated to the state in the 1980s during the war in Afghanistan, “because the state (led by late General Ziaul Haq) was considered Islamic enough”. “Now the current government, which they see is becoming more liberal, or President Asif Ali Zardari, cannot be considered an Islamic authority,” Nasr says. “There is pressure from the rank and file and competition with radical groups and they have no doctrine for this.”

Role of the spy agencies

JI spokesperson Ahmed blames intelligence agencies for their ‘confused’ policy and attempts to force a divide within the JI. “The way the Pakistani military has supported insurgents, they also want us to have a group that they can use.”

The dilemma faced by the JI is that if it advocated fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s, why can its members not fight against the US or its ally – Pakistan. Its Al Badr paramilitary unit fought against the Mukhti Bahini in 1971 and its members participated in the Afghan war.

Even though it “closed that chapter” with the end of the war, its members could not as easily do the same. This sense resurfaced when General (retd) Pervez Musharraf announced support for the US-led war in Afghanistan. “The entire country cannot take a u-turn,” Ahmed says.

Siddiqui explains this U-turn with the example of the Lal Masjid operation, “which brought the war inside our own country”.

“We have been criticising this u-turn by all possible democratic means because we do not want our security agencies to kill, abduct and brutally torture our own people,” he adds.

“We do not want people to pick up guns against its security agencies as a reaction.”

(Read: For the greater glory)

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2012.

Reader Comments (16)

  • MarkH
    Feb 27, 2012 - 7:43AM

    “We have been criticising this u-turn by all possible democratic means because we do not want our security agencies to kill, abduct and brutally torture our own people,”

    Those people also include TTP. I guess since they have Taliban in their name, even superficially, they’re not responsible for their actions or punishable. Usually someone’s “people” get disowned once they do things like that. Unless they support it. I can’t think of any other country that wouldn’t label them criminals and be embarrassed every time it was pointed out that they’re associated with them.

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  • Adeel Ahmed
    Feb 27, 2012 - 8:20AM

    “The entire country cannot take a u-turn,” This is a point which Musharraf didnt realize after 9/11, society accepts things but gradually. Society is not troops of any marshal that instructed “About turn” and troops turn, its shall be gradual process.

    My friend in KU left study in between, trained in centre run by Jihadi org with support of Military and left for Jihad and suddenly Pakistan’s policy U-turn. He was so pumped up that he cannot take u-turn like our policy makers.

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  • Falcon
    Feb 27, 2012 - 9:58AM

    This is precisely what needs to be understood by our intellectuals, regardless of the reality of drones and other events in the region influenced by outside forces, the whole war thing is wreaking havoc on our society and we need to disengage from it. Nobody would have thought a decade earlier that JI will become a party that is not ‘conservative’ enough for the new extreme rightist groups

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  • BlackJack
    Feb 27, 2012 - 10:44AM

    Peace and prosperity are unfortunately lagging indicators to secular instruction and economic reform, and at least one confused generation suffers from this volte-face. However, the state will need to go through a cathartic process to wean itself away from the poisons that have been introduced over decades – which can be painful (similar to any withdrawal symptoms). But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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  • Ali Khan
    Feb 27, 2012 - 11:51AM

    There is no doubt that JI is the most organized party with educated members across Pakistan. I remember their former city nazim of Karachi, Naimatullah Khan..the way tht man worked is just awesome….these ppl have talent & team…most importantly..’credibility’ …They should come forward, take on-board all the credible people of the society & give a chance to the people of Pakistan to change their fate…once for all..!!!

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  • Abdul Rahman
    Feb 27, 2012 - 1:14PM

    JI’s stand only indicates how right decisions are taken if a party is run under a constitution and democracy. They might have lost popularity due to a position which is not extremist (both conservative and liberal) but in the long run it will pay off as the people of Pakistan will realize the truth of their position regarding the “War on Terror”.

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  • Salahuddin
    Feb 27, 2012 - 1:16PM

    Well, JI’s biggest dilemma is that IK is new darling of the “establishment” now. JI will have to share that love and bear with another “saukan” now. Good old days of 80s n 90s are over.

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  • Parvez
    Feb 27, 2012 - 1:42PM

    When one chooses to use religion as a vehicle to achieve either power or political gain one must be prepared for the ‘ blow back ‘, including the fact that you will be accused of giving religion a bad name.

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  • Hasan
    Feb 27, 2012 - 5:13PM

    JI getting a dose of its own medicine

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  • SK - Salman
    Feb 27, 2012 - 6:37PM

    @Abdul Rahman:
    Your comment seems very sincere, so I hate to dampen your optimism. But, having known the JI leaders and their ideology, from the top down for decades, please know that you can count on them to make not mistakes, but blunders. Case in point, the “Bangladeshi Muslim brothers and sisters.” Instead of supporting the civilian victims of rape and plunder, JI chose to support the perpetrators of the atrocities. An ideological party does not make decisions on nationalistic grounds but on moral grounds, or at least it is supposed to. JI does not know its’ bearings, or their right from wrong. Recommend

  • Lobster
    Feb 27, 2012 - 7:21PM

    @Salahuddin:
    JI’s love affair with establishment has long ended. But it would be sad if it vanishes, all the other religious parties are pro violent Jihad. Only JI says its state responsibility.

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  • Nadeem
    Feb 27, 2012 - 10:14PM

    JI should realize that the people of Pakistan expect its number ONE goal to be the peace, prosperity, health and welfare of the citizens of Pakistan. The paradox is that these goals and perpetual jihad (with India, USSR, USA, Israel or who ever) are mutually exclusive. They will have to come to terms with the fact that Pakistan is a highly diverse country in every sense of the word – the only way to provide such a country a unified sense of purpose, peace and prosperity is through democracy, a welfare-oriented state in which all policies are centered around the people’s interests. This is of course anathema to the army and its intelligence agencies, and therefore JI will have to distance itself from the khakis after six decades of you-scratch-my-back-I-will-scratch-yours. If they continue to be the army’s B team, they will never get elected. Their role in East Pakistan, and later collusion with zia is shameful.Recommend

  • Mirza
    Feb 27, 2012 - 10:15PM

    The fact is religious fanaticism and exterism cannot be controlled. It is out of the bottle now and even Gen Zia and JI cannot control it. These extreme groups are not based upon logic or ground realities.

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  • Bilal
    Feb 28, 2012 - 3:55AM

    JI has always been a confused party

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  • Ahsan Nisar
    Feb 28, 2012 - 5:33PM

    As you all know, America has lost its war in Afghanistan and they are now trying to move into Pakistan. This was a trap from the very beginning and JI has always condemned and is still condemning the American influence in Pakistani politics.

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  • Bataan
    Feb 29, 2012 - 3:53PM

    JI needs to learn from the Turkey model where the Islamist followed a moderate line and made Turkey an economic and political power, without insisting on enforcing Islam on everybody. JI has played in the hands of the establishment for too long. It needs to break away from the establishment as well as semi literate islamic parties and concentrate on educating people.

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