FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 16

Religious parties regroup to regain lost glory

Five religious parties of the country have revived an old alliance with the manifesto of the protection of the Islamic identity of the country, its safety and democratic stability, 10 years after it was dissolved over differences following its golden period in the Musharraf era. The future of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) appears to be uncertain and it will be a great achievement if it bags more than one dozen seats of the National Assembly in the next election.


Two major parties of the alliance, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), are still part of the government at the Centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, respectively, which speaks about their dependence on major political parties. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F is the president of the alliance while Liaquat Baloch of the JI is its general secretary. One party of the past alliance, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Samiul Haq, has refused to become part of it, which has weakened it considerably, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which could be merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The MMA fancies its chances in the election after religious parties performed well in by-polls in Lahore and Peshawar. However, it was the Brelvi Tehreek-i-Labbaik, headed by a firebrand Khadim Rizvi, that had outperformed other religious parties and it is also not part of the alliance.


The new alliance can also perform well if the formula of former Army Chief General (retd) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is tested again in the 2018 election, like the elections in 2013 and 2008. The formula provided “something for every party.” If it is applied again, a new alliance could form the government in Sindh after defeating the PPP, with the help of regional and religious parties. The Pakistan Muslim League-Q of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat could also form the next government in the Punjab with the help of religious parties and defectors from the PML-N. It could also be supported by the PTI, which can go to any extend to dislodge the ruling party from its home province. The religious alliance can also bag a large number of seats in Balochistan and form the government. Even if it is not able to win majority seats, it will be in a position to form a coalition government, which has been the past practice in the province for many decades as part of efforts of the establishment to include all parties in the government.


The PTI may come to power at the Centre but it will be dislodged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PML-N could form the next government, with the help of religious parties. Though the PPP had come to power in 2008, yet the PML-N miraculously bagged over 60 National Assembly seats. In 2013, when the PTI had become a big political force, it was given its due hare in politics by handing it the most restive province of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, it is yet to be seen whether the plan will succeed this time. The PTI will resist if it is given power in the Centre but deprived of its share in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On the other hand, the PPP will resist its ouster in Sindh tooth and nail. It has already been reduced to a rural Sindh party from being popular in all the four provinces. It will not accept any move to be dislodged from its last refuge.


The Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan-Noorani, Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith and Islami Tehreek have revived the alliance after meetings for many months. The JUI-F and the JI were not willing to join hands again from the outset and when it appeared the talks will fail, they agreed mysteriously. The MMA was created by the establishment in the Musharraf era to replace the PPP and the PML-N, whose leaders were in exile. The religious alliance formed the government in Khyber Pakhtunkawa (then NWFP) and was a coalition partner in the Balochistan government, but failed to produce desired results in the Punjab and Sindh.


The MMA, representing all the four schools of thought, Brelvi, Deobandi, Ahle Hadith and Shia, was established before the 2002 general election and it proved to be the most successful alliance of religious parties in the country. It emerged as the main opposition in the National Assembly to Pervez Musharraf’s “Kings Party” (PML-Q), and became the ruling party in the then NWFP and an ally of the ruling alliance in Balochistan. However, the alliance became defunct shortly before the 2008 polls after differences developed among the top leadership over the mode of contesting elections. In other words, the alliance went into oblivion when the establishment stopped its patronage.


Religious parties belonging to the Brelvi sect have also formed the Nizam-i-Mustafa Grand Alliance to contest the 2018 general election. Former PPP Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi was elected its temporary head. The two religious alliances have been formed in the backdrop of the success of religious parties in by-polls in Lahore and Peshawar. In NA-4, Peshawar, Dr. Shafique Ameeni, an independent candidate, who was backed by Tehreek-i-Labbaik, managed to get 8,218 votes while JI candidate Wasil Farooq received 6, 337 votes. In Lahore’s NA-120 by-polls, Sheikh Azhar Hussain, a candidate of Tehreek-i-Labbaik, got 7,130 votes.


It is not yet clear whether the establishment is behind the revival of the MMA, but it is obvious that the alliance aims to target Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Like the past, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be its prime target. PTI Chairman Imran Khan has already forged an electoral alliance with the JUI-S of Maulana Samiul Haq, who is a staunch opponent of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. In the current circumstances, it appears the PML-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might have facilitated the formation of the alliance to upstage its archrival Imran Khan’s party in the province. However, if the establishment is behind its formation, it means it is still working on a decade-old formula.