Islam holds an important place in the workings of society and thus politics of Pakistan, a fact even some of the most secular political parties of the country cannot ignore. Just what is the religious make-up of Pakistan’s political parties in this context, especially regarding their response to the rise of extremist violence? Let’s explore.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)
Formed in 1967 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP soon became the country’s premier progressive party. Right from the onset, three distinct groups of influence emerged in the party. The most dominant among the three (at the time) was the party’s urban leftist/Socialist group led by Marxist ideologues. This group had the support and backing of large leftist student groups, labour unions, urban intellectuals, and progressive journalists. This group was also radically inclined towards secularism.
The second group within the party was led by ‘Islamic Socialists’. Inspired by the nationalist-socialist ideologies that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s (such as Egypt and Algeria’s ‘Arab Socialism,’ and Iraq and Syria’s ‘Ba’ath Socialism'), this group attempted to construct Pakistan’s own nationalist-socialist alternative.
Keeping in mind the Islamic mind-set of the country and facing attacks from Islamic parties for being ‘anti-religion,’ Bhutto agreed to build in the term ‘Islamic Socialism’ in the party’s rhetoric. The idea was to present the PPP’s original socialist manifesto as being closer to Islam’s egalitarian notions than to the socialism of men like Marx or Mao.
The third group of influence in the party was made up of progressive-minded large land owners of rural Sindh and Punjab, and moderate Muslim ulema. This group was vehemently opposed to the radical socialist group of the party.
After the PPP’s landslide victory in the 1970 elections (in West Pakistan), the resultant PPP government padded its socialist economic policies of widespread nationalisation by adopting the moderate, anti-clergy, and flexible cultural paraphernalia of ‘folk Islam’ that was followed by a majority of Pakistanis (especially those belonging to the rural peasant classes and the urban working classes). But this could not contain the tussle between its radical socialist wing and its more conservative group of land owners and moderate ulema.
In 1973, perturbed by the criticism he was facing from the PPP’s radical wing for slowing down his socialist reform, Bhutto began a purge in the party. With the influence of the radical group curtailed and members of the Islamic Socialist group absorbed into the conservative lobby, the PPP’s ideological make-up was shifted from the left to the centre, so much so that the word socialism was severely relegated in the party’s manifesto for the 1977 general elections.
As the Jamaat-i-Islami-led movement against the Bhutto regime (soon after the controversial 1977 elections) gained momentum, Bhutto even exhibited willingness to facilitate the demands of the conservative Islamic parties of closing down night-clubs, bars and horse-racing and make Friday (instead of Sunday) as the new weekly holiday.
After Bhutto was executed in 1979 (through a sham trial) by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship, the PPP’s student-wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF), that was facing constant violence from the military regime, became overtly militant, and other confrontational cells also cropped up in the party whose members led a number of movements against the Zia regime.
The party’s radical-left group began to reassert itself. Hundreds of PPP and PSF militants lost their lives during the Zia regime. Thousands more were kept in jails (without a trial); many were tortured and flogged and at least five were hanged.
It was Benazir Bhutto who in 1986 reintroduced the word socialism to the PPP manifesto. But with the Cold War winding down, Benazir gradually pulled the PPP back towards the centre, now exhibiting it as a modern liberal-left party.
Today the PPP is one of the most vocal critics of religious extremism. It continues to demonstrate its religious side through its historical association with ‘folk Islam’, Islamic reformism, Sufism, and localised versions of secularism which attempt to keep the relationship between religion and the state at a bare minimum.
Strongholds: Interior Sindh; South Punjab; Peshawar (Pakhtunkhwa); Quetta (Balochistan); Gilgit-Baltistan; parts of Karachi.
Student-wing(s): Peoples Students Federation (PSF); Peoples Youth Organisation (PYO).
Ideological Evolution: Socialist (1967-73); Centrist (1975-77); Radical-Left (1978-83); Liberal-Left (1986-present).
Voters (Class): Rural peasants; urban proletariat; sections of middle-classes.
Years in Power: 1972-77; 1988-90; 1993-96; 2008 - present.
Party Song: Teer Bija
Pakistan Muslim League (PML)
There have been various versions of the PML, all claiming a direct link with the All India Muslim League (AIML). Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s AIML was steeped in Syed Ahmed Khan’s modern reformist Islam (Aligarh Movement). But the Muslim League soon disintegrated as Pakistan’s first ruling party.
Though it was revived in 1962 by the military dictator, Ayub Khan, to work as his civilian mouthpiece, the party broke into various self-serving factions after the downfall of Ayub in 1969.
The PML was rebooted once again in 1985, this time as a staunchly conservative civilian platform of the intransigent Pakistani military dictator, Ziaul Haq. This PML had very little to do with Syed Ahmed Khan’s reformist Islam or with Jinnah’s conservative-secularism; instead, PML became the civilian expression of the Pakistani military-establishment that had become increasingly reactionary during the Zia dictatorship.
This PML too broke into factions. PML-Nawaz became the bigger and more popular faction. In the 1990s, PML-N (in the context of religion) was associated with various puritanical Deobandi groups such as the Tableeghi Jamaat, and it also became a champion of Sharia law in Pakistan.
However, after the second PML-N government was toppled by General Musharraf in 1999, the PML-N began to reinvent itself as a populist democratic party, albeit a conservative one. Indeed, the PML-N is not strictly an Islamic party. It whole heartedly believes in democracy and also has as members a number of conservative-secularists.
Nevertheless, its main leadership and policy-making apparatus is overwhelmingly dominated by conservative politicians, some of whom have had links with the Jamaat-i-Islami’s student-wing, the IJT.
On the issue of religious extremism, the PML-N has been awkwardly ambiguous. Some believe that the thinking of the party is still being held hostage by its ‘Zia-ist’ past and legacy.
Student-wing: Muslim Students Federation (MSF)
Ideological Evolution: Conservative-secularist (1947-69); Conservative-Islamic (1985-99); Conservative-Democratic (2002-present).
Voters (Class): Rural and urban middle and lower middle-classes; trader class.
Years in Power: 1947-56; 1962-68; 1985-88; 1990-92; 1997-99.
Party Song: Iss Kay Saath Chalian
Formed in 1941 by conservative Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Mauddudi, the JI has been a leading advocate of Political Islam and Sharia law in Pakistan. Though perhaps the most organised political party of the country, JI has never been a popular party with the voters. It has never managed to bag more than 3 per cent of the votes (ever since the 1970 elections). It supported Ziaul Haq’s coup against the Z A. Bhutto government and the dictator’s controversial ‘Islamic laws.’
JI’s already unimpressive electoral record has further deteriorated, but its Islamist rhetoric has increasingly become more radical. It openly sympathises with extremist groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Strongholds: Parts of rural Pakhtunkhwa.
Student-wing: Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT)
Ideological Evolution: Conservative-Islamic (1941-present).
Voters (Class): Sections of middle-class; trader class.
Voters (Religion): Sunni Deobandi; Sunni Wahabi.
Years in Power: 1977-79 (as part of military regime); 1990-92 ( PML-led coalition).
Party Song: Hamara Qazi
Awami National Party (ANP)
Formed in 1986 from the ashes of the left-wing National Awami Party (NAP), ANP has risen to become a most effective political and cultural expression of secular and progressive Pushtun nationalism. The ANP remains a stern critic of religious parties and extremism.
Strongholds: Pakhtunkhwa province; parts of Karachi and Balochistan.
Student-wing: Pushtun Students Federation (PkSF)
Ideological Evolution: Secular/Progressive; Pushtun Nationalist.
Voters (Class): Urban working class; and sections of middle/lower middle classes.
Voters (Religion): Liberal-Deobandi; Shia; Sikh minority.
Years in Power: 1972-73 (NAP-led provincial governments in Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan); 2008-present (PPP-led coalition government).
Party Song: Pakhtunkhwa Watan
Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM)
Formed in 1985, MQM rapidly rose to become Karachi and Hyderabad’s leading political party. Adopting JI’s polished organisational structure and the PPP’s populist imagery, the MQM applied these to Karachi’s inherent liberal sociology and pluralistic politics.
Upholding the political and economic interests of the city’s Mohajir (Urdu-speaking) majority, MQM was embroiled in a deadly conflict with the state in the 1990s, before giving itself a federalist orientation.
The MQM became increasingly secular in the late 1990s, and is one of the strongest critics of religious parties and extremist/sectarian organisations.
Strongholds: Karachi; Hyderabad; Gilgit-Baltistan; parts of Azad Kashmir.
Student-wing: All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO)
Ideological Evolution: Militant-Mohajir Nationalist (1985-97); Secular-Democratic (2001-present).
Voters (Class): Urban middle and lower middle-classes.
Voters (Religion): Sunni-Berelvi; Shia; Secular; Hindu minority.
Years in Power: 1989 (PPP-led coalition); 1992-93 (PMLN-led coalition); 2002-2008 (PMLQ-led coalition); 2008 – present (PPP-led coalition).
Party Song: Saathi
Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI)
The JUI was actually a progressive Islamic party that (unlike JI) supported Jinnah and almost got into an electoral alliance with the PPP for the 1970 elections. Though it turned anti-Bhutto in 1977, it retained its moderate make-up when throughout the 1980s it opposed the Zia dictatorship along with the PPP. A militant faction broke off and became the notorious sectarin organisation, the Sipah Sahaba.
With the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1996 (supplemented by madrassahs run by JUI), the party became increasingly conservative, even though its leader, Fazalur Rheman, is more of a pragmatist.
Though JUI is part of the recent PPP-led coalition government, it opposes the army’s operation against extremists and the Taliban.
Strongholds: Rural Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Student-wing: Jamiat Taleba Islam (JTI)
Ideological Evolution: Moderate-Islamic (1945-95); Conservative-Islamic (1996 -present).
Voters (Class): Rural lower middle-classes.
Voters (religion): Deobandi Sunni.
Years in Power: 1972-73 (part of NAP-led provincial governments in Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan); 1993-96 (PPP-led coalition); 2002-2008 (MMA-led provincial government in Pakhtunkhwa); 2008 – present (PPP-led coalition).
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.