Monday, 6 February 2017

QK archives: Divided we stand

• Divided we Stand
Profile of the MMA
Circa 2002

Rahimullah Yusufzai

The clergymen come to mind whenever an analysis of the sectarianism afflicting Pakistan is attempted. Preachers are often blamed for contributing to the rise of sectarian strife through their intolerant religious discourses. Imams associated with religio-political groups that seek power via democratic elections are, therefore, expected to shun vitriolic and chauvinistic sermons and teachings to ensure sectarian harmony.

Religious parties that practice politics in Pakistan have always maintained that they are against sectarianism. Some of their more radical members defected these parties after complaining about their weak and compromising policies on issues of faith and launched their own hardline factions. One major and laudatory initiative to combat sectarianism some years ago was the formation of the Milli Yakjehti Council (MYC) by the religio-political parties.

In a way, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) is a successor to the (MYC) that for the first time brought together Islamic parties espousing different schools of thought. And the now defunct MYC was widely credited for curbing sectarianism through increased interaction between religio-political groups claiming to represent both Sunnis and Shias.

The MMA was primarily an electoral alliance that was formed before the October 2003 general elections. It was built on the edifice of the multi-party Defence of Afghanistan Council, which in turn was launched to pool support for the Taliban against the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. The organization, with a membership of more two dozens big and small religio-political and jehadi groups, was later renamed as the Defence of Afghanistan and Pakistan Council.

The composition of the MMA is such that its six component parties agree on certain issues while still maintaining their independent entity. They are broadly anti-US in view of their perception that America and its Western allies were opposed to Muslims. The MMA components are also against President General Pervez Musharraf's policy to align Pakistan with the US in its war on terror because they feel America is waging "crusades" against Islamic countries to strengthen its stranglehold of the world. These parties also want Shariah to become the supreme law in Pakistan.

But the MMA components also have their differences. The form that Shariah rule would take once the MMA is in power in the country would likely trigger disputes between the Sunni and Shia interpretation of Islam. Their diverse outlook on certain religious issues didn't get out of control in the NWFP where the ruling MMA is seeking to enforce Shariah because its two component parties, JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami, and to some extent the JUI-S, that matter in the province generally have the same pro-Deobandi take on matters deemed controversial.

One important success of the MMA is to put aside differences that divide its components and concentrate on unifying aspects. At a secondary level, the MMA partners do follow different schools of thought spearheaded by the Deobandis, Barelvis and Ahle Hadith. The two JUI factions led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman are followers of the Deobandi school, Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani's JUP is an adherent of the Deobandi thought, and Professor Sajid Mir's Jamiat Ahle Hadith as the name suggests espouses the Ahle Hadith creed. Syed Sajid Naqvi's Tehrik-i-Islami, which functioned earlier under the name of Tehrik Jafria Pakistan, is a party of Shias. The Jamaat-i-Islami stands out as a truly Islamic party that tries to transcend the sectarian divide and offer a modern version of Islam to its followers. That also explains its ability to work as a bridge between the other, more religious-oriented parties and form and hold together alliances such as the MYC and MMA. In fact, the Jamaat-i-Islami and its leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad are credited for keeping the MMA intact despite its many inherent contradictions.

However, the formation of the MYC and subsequently the MMA hasn't rooted out sectarianism. Problems persist and there has been an escalation in sectarian violence in recent months. Just as the Musharraf-led government failed to demolish the sectarian and jehadi groups by banning their activities, the MMA also concentrated more on politics and thus ignored one of its expected tasks to maintain religious and sectarian harmony. Too much politics has taken a toll on the MMA's ability to deliver on the religious/sectarian front. The MYC did succeed for a while in curbing sectarian violence but that could be summed up as a lull before the storm. As soon as the MYC became inactive and ineffective, there was a noticeable rise in violence for which extremist Sunni and Shia outfits were blamed. The formation of the MMA raised hopes that it would be able to curb sectarianism to an extent. The presence of the Tehrik-i-Islami in the six-party religious alliance on the one hand and that of the two JUI factions on the other was indeed a hopeful sign because most of the hardline factions have split from these mainstream religio-political parties. But the expectations that the mainstream parties would exercise enough influence on the extremist and radical factions to curb sectarianism were rather far-fetched and, therefore, unfulfilled.

A case in point is the rejection by the Millat-i-Islamia (known as Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) before it was banned) leadership of a conciliatory proposal by Qazi Hussain Ahmad to enable Syed Sajid Naqvi to reassure the followers of the late Maulana Azam Tariq that he wasn't involved in the latter's murder. The Millat-i-Islamia has named Syed Sajid Naqvi and some of his party leaders for Maulana Azam Tariq's murder in their First Information Report (FIR) with the Islamabad Police. Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who took over the Millat-i-Islamia's leadership after Azam Tariq's recent death in an ambush in Islamabad, used strong words while rejecting Qazi Hussain Ahmad's proposal and castigated all the Sunni politicians and Ulema for trying to protect Sajid Naqvi. Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Maulana Samiul Haq too have no influence on the Millat-i-Islami even though the latter owes its origins to the JUI and the Deobandi school of thought. Even otherwise, Maulana Azam Tariq by siding with the PML-Q had already alienated the MMA leadership and lately the two sides had been engaged in some verbal sparring.

The other splinter factions that have embraced extremist Sunni and Shia positions too have moved away from their parent parties. These groups are angry with the mainstream Islamic parties now grouped in the MMA for abandoning them in their hour of difficulty when the government under US pressure branded them terrorist and banned their activities. The MMA components accuse their extremist branch-offs of bringing a bad name to Islamic parties due to their involvement in acts of violence and revenge killings. This antagonistic relationship is a bad omen because it has made the MMA incapable of doing much to restrain the extremist Sunni and Shia factions from bleeding each other to death. And with foreign interference in our political and religious life continuing unabated and the government severely handicapped in curbing sectarian violence, one would have to conclude that Pakistan is destined to suffer more as a result of senseless killings perpetrated by misguided gunmen operating in the name of religion.
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