Of late the leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI), one of the key religio-political parties of Pakistan, has indicated that it is no more practically part of the five-party alliance known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The JI head, Siraj-ul-Haq, has submitted an application to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to award it the old party symbol of Tarazu, or balance, instead of book, a symbol allocated to the MMA to contest the 2018 general election. The JIP thus wants to contest the upcoming Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly elections in the newly-merged districts of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas on its own and not as part of the religious parties’ alliance.
The foremost reason for the JI ostensibly bidding adieu to the MMA is the alliance’s extremely poor performance in the last general election. In particular, the JI faced contemptuous defeats in entire Pakistan as hardly a few of its candidates could win. Even the party nearly lost its political bastions of Upper Dir and Lower Dir districts to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The withdrawal of the JI from the MMA is based on political expediency as it has nothing to do with any religious matter or some principle. The JI knows that the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), the relatively bigger MMA component which has been virtually leading the alliance, had a politically dominating position in the erstwhile FATA districts. Therefore, any intra-MMA negotiations to select candidates for the upcoming K-P assembly elections in the merged districts would give the party hardly any stake. So it is better to contest the elections alone instead of as an alliance. This is despite the fact that the JI does not stand any fair chance to secure a few of 16 provincial assembly seats from the merged districts. However, the party leadership may be thinking that it has the best chance of securing a few seats in the erstwhile FATA because of the ultraconservative social setting where clerical parties could influence the electorate.
On the other hand, the JUI-F may be thinking that FATA is still its bastion despite the drubbing in the last general election at the hands of the PTI. Indubitably, the JUI-F has strong roots in the former FATA and the party head Fazlur Rehman’s constant opposition of merging the region with K-P has also secured a huge following for him there while simultaneously making him a villain for many inhabitants of the erstwhile tribal areas, who wanted fusion of their region with K-P. Here, it is important to note that both the JIP and the JUI-F — instead of trying to change themselves, transforming their political and social narrative to adjust it with the democratic, emancipating and non-ideological issue-based political realities of the time — are attempting to win a few assembly seats in the conservative regions. This is not at all shrewd politics and would result in loss of further political base and face for the religio-political parties of Pakistan.
It may be remembered that the MMA was revived just before the last general election. The alliance, first formed in 2002, had contested that year’s general election held under military ruler Pervez Musharraf and won majority in K-P where it formed government and ruled for five years. Soon after that, the alliance had split up and its components contested the 2008 and 2013 elections separately without any worthwhile success. The MMA was not revived to play a significant role in the country’s politics in future. Rather the obvious objective of re-forging the alliance was aimed at winning as many parliamentary seats as possible. The greater the number of seats the alliance would have won, the greater the bargaining position for the clerical parties to join coalition governments at federal and provincial levels. The present weak position of the religious parties is due to their failure to secure a sizable number of parliamentary berths. Nevertheless, JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman has been trying his best to unite the opposition parties so as to create some space for his own party to have a share in government which the party had almost consistently been having for the last two and a half decades. The politics of religious parties has been rejected by Pakistanis and if they continue to remain in the political arena for expediency rather than bringing any positive change to society, their political fate is almost sealed.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2019.
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