FOR someone who has grown up alongside Jamaat-i-Islami, Syed Munawar Hasan appears to personally illustrate the various moods associated with his party men.
His demeanour is austere when it is not agitated and his sarcasm, manifest sometimes in only a smile, is of the prickly variety you would find on many Jamiat faces at college.
There is this temptation to label these as expressions of reluctant players – for democratic politics is not the fastest route to the ultimate set objective of social transformation. For those gone astray and not necessarily inclined towards voluntary redemption, the customary Jamaat-Jamiat embrace has to be invariably followed by a pinch, a brute, probing tug at the conscience of the guilty.
Born in Delhi in August 1941, a fortnight before Abul A’ala Maududi launched the Jamaat-i-Islami, politics came to Syed Munawar early in life. In the late 1950s, he was pressing to play the change-maker first by aligning himself with National Students Federation before quickly crossing over to Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba.
Those were the easier times, even when people like Syed Munawar had to work hard to organise their cadres: Him in the mould of an ideologue, others finding more popular – even sinister roles.
Even in a group of the pious, Syed Munawar is cited as an example: “For decades he lived in a two-room portion in the house of Jamaat leader Naimatullah Khan in Karachi, content with the stipend from his party.”
As a long-time paid member of the party who had little at stake and who was known for his boldness, Syed Munawar’s ascent to the office of the Jamaat amir in 2009 stoked uncertainty within the ranks.
He was deemed to have lacked tact to be able to strike the necessary alliances in a most challenging moment in his party’s history.
The situation demanded a careful approach from the Jamaat chief. Much of the territory Jamaat had to itself as an ideological party had since been conceded to the more worldly usurper and long-time ally, Pakistan Muslim League-N.
On the other hand, Jamaat’s own attempts at infusing pragmatism into its politics – Pasban, the Islamic front put up by Syed Munawar’s predecessor, Qazi Husain Ahmed – had not been too successful in popularising the party. The party was being accused of links with extremists, if that was ever something to guard against.
And then there were differences in personalities.
“Personalities matter,” says Jamaat’s naib amir, Farid Paracha. “Qazi Husain’s was an event-oriented style. He would mobilise people around an event. Syed Munawar by comparison places his trust in a continuous process.”
The ideologue, however, does blurt out occasionally. The jury is divided over the curt remarks Syed Munawar is known for. An old NSF comrade puts it down to strategy for impact.
A journalist and a Jamaat watcher in Karachi says Syed Munawar is a witty man who likes his one-liners and often strays into area where he appears to have a short temper. But a Lahore-based journalist finds the politician to have mellowed down since his appointment as the amir.
For someone not known to have the expertise to strike an alliance nor an appetite for the popular slogan, Syed Munawar has indulged in both as amir.
During his tenure, his party seems to have lost ground, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi, two strongholds, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why the amir is seeking to reassert the original Jamaat role: As the definer of camps.
He has a couple of two very sensitive projects to take into his second term, should the Jamaat shoora pick him in the election for which the process has already begun.
When he recently declared Hakeemullh Mehsud a martyr he signalled one of the tensest moments in the relationship between his party and the Pakistan Army. But this slogan has helped redefine or consolidate the opposite camps in Pakistan across current fault lines. That has been one of Jamaat’s main jobs throughout. This is how it is today.
The original role, aided in today’s realities by the Jamaat’s closeness with militants.
The second project is his alliance with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Not only that, away from the complicated world of negotiations, Syed Munawar has been lucky in inheriting from Qazi Husain Ahmed an ally with a reputation of keeping things simple. In ‘straight-talking’ Imran Khan Jamaat has an ally neither the ideologues nor the popular-minded cadres on either side would have any qualms about.