After a senseless boycott of the 2008 election, the JI is now in the electoral arena without the benefit of the leadership of Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who guided the party’s destiny through 22 tumultuous years.
His biggest triumph came in the 2002 election, when the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) formed a government in the then NWFP. He cashed in on anti-American sentiments following the US-led attack on Afghanistan. Does Syed Munawar Hasan, the new chief, have any other strategy in mind?
As its experience with the Pakistan National Alliance (1977), the Islami Jamhuri Ittehad (1990) and the MMA (2002) suggests, the JI stands a better chance of making its presence felt in parliament when it has electoral allies. If its attempts at ‘seat adjustment’ with ‘like-minded parties’ do not work out, the JI will have to prove it can be on its own.
Of late, there has been a toning down of its main plank, the Islamic ‘system’. The emphasis has been on political issues of the day — from Aafia Siddiqi and drone attacks to America’s hand in the assassination attempt on Qazi Hussain Ahmed.
Worldwide, Islamist parties are attempting to recast their philosophies in the light of today’s realities. The radical changes made by the Indian JI can perhaps be ignored, because its acceptance of secularism can be understood in a country where Muslims are in a minority. But greater changes are in the offing in the Middle East and Maghreb, where forces unleashed by the Arab Spring are trying to find newer grounds for relevance in today’s world. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party repudiated his mentor Necmettin Erbakan’s philosophy and publicly embraced secularism. Once in power it has made stunning changes in state policies from within. One can see the same process in embryonic form in Tunisia and Egypt. There is no evidence that the Pakistan JI has bothered to listen to these stentorian voices.
The JI’s biggest asset is its well-oiled party machine staffed by dedicated, educated and honest cadres. Unfortunately the party has so programmed its cadres they are unable to think originally and question decades-old doctrines, some of them continuing since its foundation in 1941. To the cadres, obedience to the Amir is an article of faith. Questioning it is a little short of blasphemy. Herein lie the roots of the JI’s stasis.
The only major change, effected when the party’s founder, Maulana Maudoodi was alive, was to give up its rejection of the electoral process. But this was essentially a tactical decision that acknowledged and conformed to modern political ethos. The change served the party well and made it part of the lawmaking process. Since then, there has been no attempt at redefining the party’s ideology. What the party has to offer to the people of Pakistan now is not clear.
The MMA’s five-year rule in the NWFP was singularly devoid of welfare programmes, it made no attempt to develop infrastructure, and male doctors were not to touch female patients. The JI-dominated coalition also allowed the Nato supply line to continue — a stance contrary to its policy today. With powerful media outlets on its side, the JI is in a position to convey its message to the masses. Unfortunately it has nothing concrete to offer. On terrorism it has been observing purdah.