Leading Muslim clerical political groups of Pakistan have agreed in “principle” to revive their now defunct alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The agreement to revive the MMA has been arrived at between the Jamiat-e-Ulema –e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JIP) and some other parties. Although no formal announcement has so far been made but the decision to resurrect the MMA according to the leaders of the MMA has been taken and a final declaration in this regard would be made in December.
Whether the MMA would see the light of the day or not, only time will tell, as such agreement(s) to revive the alliance had been reached between different components of the MMA in the past also, but to no effect. The MMA was a six-parties’ alliance which apart from the JUI-F and JIP had included Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), Jamiat-e-Ulema –e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S), Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqh-e-Jafaria. Noticeably, only the JUI-F and the JIP seem keen to revive the MMA and, perhaps, a faction of the JUP may also be part of the decision. Other important parties of the MMA like the JUI-S and successor or the TNFJ have not clearly announced to join the revived MMA. In fact, the JUI-S has placed conditions to join the MMA. This includes the condition that JUI-F head Fazlur Rahman give up his opposition to the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. One does not think that the JUI-F head would give up his stand regarding the merger of FATA with KP, as his stance is critically important for the political future of the JUI-F.
So the MMA, if revived, would be practically a two parties alliance. This would make the alliance not as effective as it used to be, especially in the 2002 national elections. However, JUI-S and its head Sami-ul-Haq, if the past is any guide, has not been very consistent in his politics and stand. Therefore, the JUI-S may jump on to the bandwagon of the MMA. The reason is that the JUI-S, along with other clerical parties, gained unprecedentedly due to their alliance. In fact, the JUI-S gained the most from the MMA, as independently the party may not win a single seat, as has been the case in the last two national elections. Whereas the JUI-F and JIP independently won at least a few parliamentary seats in the last two elections, or since the dismemberment of the MMA in 2007. In 2002, the MMA bagged around 60 National Assembly seats and a majority in the KP Assembly.
There are strong question marks on the reality of the 2002 mandate of the MMA. Noticeably, former head of the ISI’s political cell, Ihtisham Zameer, at one point had stated that the 2002 elections were rigged. This statement proved correct the allegations that the MMA got such a large number of seats in the 2002 elections as the military ruler General Musharraf wanted it so. It is also important to note that the JUI-S may have put conditions to rejoin the MMA but its head Sami has expressed his mind that unity of the ‘religious’ parties was the need of the hour. This is a general theme of the argument of almost all clerical parties of Pakistan.
There is little doubt in the analysis that JUI-F and the JIP have decided to revive the MMA in order to win as many seats of national and provincial legislatures as possible in the next elections particularly to win a majority in the KP province and FATA. The last two regions of Pakistan, arguably, are the ones where the influence of clerical parties is greater than in any other province.
After the 2008 national elections, the JUI-F joined the coalition government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and after the 2013 national elections, the JUI-F joined the federal government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, while the JIP entered the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in KP. But neither the JUI-F nor the JIP could come in a position to lead the coalition at the centre or even in a single province. Therefore, the clerical parties want to revive the MMA because it was the first time that it secured for them political power, at least in KP. In other words, by reviving the MMA clerical parties could realistically expect to grab political power.
The context of the revival of the MMA is very important. The political conditions are quite tough for the clerical parties or, more appropriately, for the traditional groups among them. There is a two-fold threat to the traditional political parties. The first is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the second is the rise of new clerical outfits.
Insofar as the threat from the PTI is concerned, the party of Imran Khan has made inroads into the traditional political constituency of the JUI-F in KP and FATA and JIP in Karachi. Moreover, the PTI head Imran Khan unprecedentedly fearless challenging of Fazl and his Islamist credentials has made him the bête noire of the JUI-F. Khan’s tirade against the JUI-F has extensive attraction among the masses. This is, indeed, a very bold stance by the PTI head because challenging a cleric like Fazl could be fatal both politically and physically, as the JUI-F has significant support among the conservative sections of society and the Taliban. On the other hand, the JIP although a coalition partner of the PTI, but the latter has encroached upon the political forte of JIP in Malakand division of KP and in Karachi. So the JIP fears that it could only secure its political base in Malakand after facing ignominious parliamentary defeat in the rest of Pakistan by having a deal with the JUI-F. Although, the revival of the MMA is unlikely to dent the vote bank of the PTI, as is expected by leaders of JIP and JUI-F. In fact, the parties’ bigwigs argue that in the 2013 national elections there were at least 20 seats of the KP assembly which the PTI won, but could have been won by an alliance of the JUI-F and JIP as the separate votes of the parties if combined would have surpassed the tally of votes of the PTI.
Insofar as the threat to traditional parties from the newly emerged parties is concerned in this connection, the rise of Labaik Ya Rasul Allah (LYRA) and the Milli Muslim League (MML) is quite significant. The critical situation which the JUI-F and JI, and even the JUI-S, are facing after the emergence of LYRA and MML can be gauged from the results of last two by-elections for the National Assembly seats of NA 120 Lahore and NA 4 Peshawar. In both constituencies the JIP performance was dismal. The JUI-F, supported the PML-N candidate in NA-4, who was ignominiously defeated by the PTI. Whereas in both constituencies LYRA and MML got a significant number of votes. In case the LYRA and MML also join the MMA, as well as factions of the JUP, then the alliance of clerical parties could pose a grave threat to the mainstream or non-religious parties like the PTI, PPP and PML-N in the next national elections. However, the component parties of the MMA have deep ideological and sectarian differences, which would always kept the alliance from being very effective in the long run.
Nevertheless, despite such deep-rooted sectarian and ideological differences two reasons have compelled these parties to join hands. The first has been the expectation of winning some parliamentary seats and the second has been political engineering by military-intelligence establishment at the behest of the then military ruler. The Musharraf-led military-intelligence complex wanted to form an alliance of the religious parties in order to hand over to them the governments in KP and Balochistan. This could justify the position of Musharraf and military to negotiate the concocted Islamist threat. Moreover, the general also wanted to convey to the US and the West that if they would insist on the revival of democracy then the public sentiments in Pakistan were such that they would vote for the fundamentalist parties. Against the above-mentioned backdrop the revival of MMA may not be that effective.