PTI's alliance with JI: When a move to the right is not the right move
PTI workers follow their leader's call, not realising that JI's idea of political Islam is far more conservative.
Now that the election euphoria is subsiding and the calls for voting have been replaced by allegations of vote-rigging, idealism has given way to pragmatism and we see signs of practical politics emerging. PML-N’s statements on not curtailing Zardari’s presidential term and consideration of Imran Khan as a possible candidate for Public Accounts Committee chairmanship signify that political acumen can trump reactionary impulses.
Decisions of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on seat retention also show that the party is not letting blind optimism guide its choices. Imran Khan’s retention of NA-56, in addition to barring Hanif Abbasi from becoming a contender, will provide PTI a foothold in Rawalpindi, already strengthened by Sheikh Rasheed’s support to the party. And given the performance of Awami National Party (ANP) in the elections and Imran Khan’s support in Mianwali, PTI would have calculated that letting NA-1 and NA-71 go to by-election will be the less risky option. Javed Hashmi’s withdrawal from NA-48 in favour of NA-149 is also part of this strategy, though Asad Umar is likely to face a tough challenge in the contest for the Islamabad constituency.
It is a travesty of the current form of representative democracy that the will of the people becomes secondary to political calculations and it is generally the constituencies, where people have already given an overwhelming support to a particular party, which are the first ones to be abandoned. The people of such constituencies are asked to renew their support for their parties, the voters are asked to pledge their allegiance again, their original will becoming only a factor on which sound calculations can be based.
PTI does not deserve any blame for playing the game to its advantage; it is merely adopting a strategy that may result in the best outcome for the party.
Some would argue that PTI’s compromises to Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are in the same vein of pragmatism – after all, compromises have to be made to form alliances and coalition governments. But the ideological facets underpinning PTI and JI coalition are far more significant than any decisions on seat retention. The news (alleged to be a rumour despite being confirmed by the Ameer of JI and publicised on the party’s website) that the K-P Education Ministry might be handed over to JI caused such a stir amongst the PTI supporters, that the party had to explicitly deny these reports.
PTI leaders have also attempted to downplay any “significant ideological differences” between the two parties. There are those, both amongst PTI supporters and commentators, who are alarmed by this apparent move by PTI towards right-wing politics. The cause for alarm may be justified, but any implication that this is a sudden movement towards the right is unwarranted. Even before the elections, there were negotiations between the two parties on seat adjustment, though the dialogue remained inconclusive.
Going further back, it came to the fore in November 2011 that PTI and JI had decided to produce a joint working paper on possible electoral alliance. And there are several factors that create a common ground for dialogue between them – both parties denounce the so-termed 'America’s war' and want to negotiate with the Taliban; both parties have taken an anti-corruption stance; both parties want to implement an Islamic system of governance in Pakistan, regardless of what the actual shape of that might look like.
However, there are crucial differences between PTI and JI as well, the most notable of which is the support base of the two parties. The urban and liberal upper classes that are PTI’s most vocal and prominent supporters may not find much in common, ideologically as well as in terms of socio-economic realities, with the largely conservative groups that JI represents. The supporters of PTI may endorse the party’s alliance with JI on the basis that it has not been in power during the last term, forgetting that JI started its politics decades before Pakistan’s two largest parties were set up.
The PTI workers may follow their leader’s call to move towards an Islamic welfare state, not realising that JI’s idea of political Islam is far more conservative than what they would agree to. The ‘Naya Pakistan’ of PTI is at odds with the old politics of JI, which has in the past supported one dictator after the other; it was JI and Zia’s alliance that resulted in the problems and confusions that still haunt our country today. In its readiness to negotiate with the Taliban, PTI and its supporters are ignoring the fact that JI had a great part to play in the rise of militancy and the creation of Taliban in the first place.
When the United Kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently stated that the governing Conservative Party is being dragged towards right-wing politics by the UK Independence Party, he inadvertently alluded to a larger phenomenon in politics that is evident in Pakistan as well. Political parties whose policies are based on reactions rather than sound, well thought out, principles, would always be susceptible to the ideological slogans of hard-lined groups. When Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s comments can provoke Imran Khan into saying that he is not campaigning to get support from Ahmadis, it shows that he may have given some thought to his personal religious beliefs, but not enough to the idea of equality of citizenship for everyone, regardless of their culture, creed, caste or belief. When PTI joins other political parties in signing a declaration barring women voters in Dir, it signifies that the party may have understood the importance of voting, but perhaps not the importance of gender equality.
Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) bowing down to political religious parties to strengthen its own power base is well documented, as is the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz's (PML-N) support for right-wing religious groups – Jamaa-e-Ulema Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and PML-N’s coalition in the centre is just another example of that. But PTI supporters should be wary of their party’s gradual move towards more hard-lined positions, mainly because it is a new party that promises equality and change.
During the recent Occupy movements across the world, one of the slogans that gained prominence was,
“If things are not going right, go Left.”
But in the absence of unified and prominent left-wing people oriented ideologies and politics, there is always a danger of parties gradually moving towards right-wing ideologies, alienating different sections of our society, marginalising some communities even further. And we as citizens or supporters of any particular political party should remain cautious and defiant towards these shifts, because in politics, a move to the right is not always for the 'Right'.