A right-wing religious party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam – Fazl (JUI-F) has had political and electoral alliances with Jamaat-i-Islami as well as with Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami National Party. The JUI-F has ideological links with the Deobandi sect of Islam, which is why its having partnered with ‘secular’ parties such as ANP and PPP is an interesting feature in its political record.
The JUI-F was formed from within the ranks of the JUI, a party that itself had taken shape from the cadres of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (JUH). The JUH was formed in 1919 with anti-colonial aims and was an ally of the Indian National Congress. JUI broke away from JUH over its support for the creation of Pakistan as a separate homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims.
In its present form, JUI was restarted in the 1960s by Mufti Mahmud, supposedly in order to stand in opposition to Ayub Khan’s regime. In 1980, Mahmud was succeeded by his son Maulana Fazlur Rahman.
Under Rahman’s chairmanship, the party joined the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy(MRD) after the then military ruler, Ziaul Haq, went back on his promise to hold a general election in the country.
JUI-F depends more or less entirely on Deobandi mosques and madrassahs for recruitment of new members, which is fundamentally why its middle and top ranks comprise mostly of madrassah-oriented theologians. Moreover, most of the party’s workers are those who have previously been trained in religious schools and seminaries.
The party’s organisational hierarchy is determined by seniority with respect to a member’s religious education and training as opposed to his or her political muscle.
Although the party attempts to hold political meetings and to rally support in all parts of the country, its key constituencies are situated in parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.
Since the 1980s, JUI-F has continually oscillated between politics of ideology and politics of pragmatism.
The positions taken by JUI-F on many important issues confronting Pakistan reflect the party’s ideology and policy, albeit on a rather broad level.
The JUI-F has been known to call for the enforcement of Sharia law in Pakistan, which was also one of the key aims of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) — a six party alliance of which it was a part in the 2002 general election.
On the Afghan war, the party says it has led to instability in Pakistan. The party’s chief, Rehman, has been known for offering his services as a mediator between United States and Afghan Taliban for negotiations.
Similarly, JUI-F has also played a key role in influencing the government into agreeing to hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Also recently, it held an All Parties Conference that reached a consensus for a grand tribal jirga to negotiate for peace with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, JUI-F has also been accused of ‘supporting the Taliban and promoting terrorism’ in the past.
The party also opposes US drone attacks inside Pakistan’s northwestern tribal regions and has every now and then voiced its criticism of what it calls the government’s “pro-American policy”.
The JUI-F chief has also served as chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir. As a member of the religious right, the party has maintained a staunch position on the issue. Rehman has stated that there is a need to prioritise Kashmir as far as foreign policy is concerned and also declared that the Pakistani government would continue to extend moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people.
Moreover, JUI-F has supported the idea of granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, saying it would benefit businessmen.
The party’s policy with regard to women’s rights and the role of women in society has been a matter of contention in various circles. The JUI-F has previously boycotted parliamentary committee sessions on the domestic violence bill, terming it a “conspiracy to promote western culture” in Pakistan and threatening nationwide protests if the bill was made law.
Over the years
JUI-F joined the MRD in 1983 under Rahman’s chairmanship and since then it has oscillated between various positions. During the 1990s, JUI-F alternated between supporting and opposing the policies of PPP- and PML-N-led governments, headed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif respectively.
However, before the 2002 election held during the regime of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, the party became part of MMA. It has been alleged that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had a role in MMA’s formation as a measure to support Musharraf at that time.
MMA also backed Musharraf in passing the 17th Amendment in 2003, giving the president power to dissolve the National Assembly. It also formed the governments in KP (then known as North West Frontier Province) and Balochistan from 2002 to 2007.
The JUI-F and JI who had been key members of the 2002 MMA alliance later split due to differences on a number of issues.
JUI-F’s 2008 election campaign focused on its ‘moderate’ positions in the backdrop of its perceived anti-Western, Islamist agenda and its belief in representative government.
In the wake of the 2008 election, JUI-F joined the PPP-led coalition government at the centre and remained a part of the federal cabinet until December 2010. The party decided to sit on the opposition benches after differences developed to the extent of becoming irreconcilable.
While JUI-F is looking to revive MMA, it has lacked the support of its former ally, JI, over the alliance. However, the two parties have decided to ‘cooperate’ in the coming election by supporting each other’s candidates for certain seats in KP.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan, Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, Akram Khan Durrani, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri
Sources Dawn Library archives, Political Parties in Pakistan: Organizational and Power Structure (Waseem and Mufti, Nov 2012, Lahore University of Management Sciences)
— Research and text by Soonha Abro