Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Recent Developments in Jamat-E-Islami, Pakistan," by Arshi Saleem Hashmi

Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan is one of the main religious political parties in the country, supported the Islamization process during Gen. Zia's regime as well as Afghan Jihad in 1980s. They have never come out openly against Taliban and always say that Taliban insurgency is the reaction of the US attack on Afghanistan. They are in the forefront in all the anti-American protests in the country. Interestingly, they never get more than 1% of the total vote in general elections but always find ways to be in coalitions. Below are excerpts from a commentary on their political role in Pakistan and their policies in the region written by Arshi Saleem Hashmi for the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. There are similar branches of Jamat-e-Islami in India and Bangladesh adn there is a very strong Jamat-e-Islam women's wing as well. You can find the complete report here. Arshi Saleem Hashmi is a Senior Research Analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad, and an Assistant Professor at the National Defense University, Islamabad.

Syed Munnawar Hasan is the new Amir of Jamat-e-Islami (JeI). Considered to be a hardliner in the party, it is fair to say that he has a life from one extreme to another. The JeI leadership is not dynastic; the party has always held elections to choose its office holders. Party members cannot seek leadership; instead a politburo of sorts (Shura) proposes three candidates from whom the party members then choose their Ameer for a four-year term.

JeI is an ideological party but it is clearly divided between the ideologues and pragmatists. Another important issue within the party is ethnicity: there are Pashtuns and then Muhajirs (Urdu-speaking migrants from India).

Given the fact that the current leadership is quite inflexible vis-à-vis the West and its policies, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there will be a hard-line approach on part of the Jamat-e-Islami in future. An indication is the recent initiative by JeI and other religious parties in Pakistan who agreed to adopt a joint strategy against the US intervention in the country but the expected announcement of the revival of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has not been made. However, a lot has to be sorted out before another MMA alliance takes shape. The Sunni Itehad believes that fundamentalism and terrorism would re-emerge in the country with the reunion of the MMA, as its last regime in the North West Frontier Provinces (NWFP) provided the Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups safe havens there.

When it comes to Kashmir, JeI is adamant on its decades-old policy of no compromise on the future of Kashmir. It seems that JeI still believes in "Kashmir jihad."

JeI Pakistan described the US's new Afghan policy as "a declaration of war against the tribesmen in Pakistan's tribal region."

It seems that JeI Pakistan will remain a small group. The 2008 elections clearly indicated the frustration with the religious right, but people have very short memories and now that the "secular," "progressive" government of PPP is not doing enough for the people, they might again turn towards the Islamists. Within just two years, public opinion is once again changing, and JeI is shrewd enough to make the most out of it.

Like in the past, religious parties, particularly JeI, would in some way or the other remain in close alliance with the military if not overtly; they would reach an understanding together as the military now does not want to be seen as criticizing the government. We should not underestimate JeI’s street power and mosque to mosque network. Its presence in universities and neighborhoods are unmatched for mass mobilization.

JeI will continue to remain active through its vast network in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. However, on the domestic front, the rivalry with the MQM would hamper any hope for JeI to monopolize the politics of urban Sindh. JeI is desperate to expand its political influence which is fast fading away; there will be more show of street power against government’s inability to provide basic needs to people, against drone attacks, against the occupation of Afghanistan and against the US facilitated India-Pakistan normalization of relations.

In desperation to achieve political influence, the JeI might come under Nawaz Sharif flag. Hence the possibility of a new alliance emerging from Raiwand (Lahore) led by Sharifs does exist, but it depends on a numbers of other factors as well. The pro-Taliban slogan may not help them this time but anti-US stance would surely fetch them many votes.

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