NationalVolume 13 Issue # 16

Why has the MMA been revived?

The defunct Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of Muslim clerical parties of Pakistan, has finally been fully revived. However, unlike the past when the MMA was comprised of six parties this time so far only five groups joined hands to resurrect the MMA. The four component parties of the revived MMA include the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Jammat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI), Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan-Noorani (JUP-N), Tehreek-e-Islami (TI) and Jamiat-e-Ahle-e-Hadith (JAH). The Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) head, Sami-ul-Haq, has refused to make his group part of the revived MMA.


Fazlur Rahman of JUI-F has been made the convener of the MMA in a meeting of clerical parties in Karachi held on March 20. While JI leader, Liaquat Baloch, has been appointed as the alliance general secretary. The revival of the MMA just a few months before the national elections in the country would appear to be a significant development. However, from the dynamics of the national political scene it seems that the MMA has not been revived to play a significant role in the country’s politics in the years ahead. Rather, the obvious objective of forging an alliance of clerical parties is aimed at winning as many parliamentary seats in the national and provincial assemblies as possible. The greater the number of seats the alliance were to win, the stronger bargaining position the clerical parties would be in to join coalition governments at the federal and provincial levels.


The MMA, in fact, has never been a political alliance or has any true political objectives to achieve. The alliance came into existence also as an electoral alliance in the year 2002. The MMA was formed in peculiar circumstances when the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization had forcibly ousted the Afghan Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the wake of Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the American mainland on September 9, 2001. The US-NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and dislodging of the Taliban government was exploited for political gains by Pakistani clerical groups. First they formed a Defence of Afghanistan Council and later it was turned into an electoral alliance in the shape of the MMA. The then military regime of General Musharraf rigged the 2002 national elections in favour of the MMA and handed it around 60 National Assembly seats and majority in the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, then called the North West Frontier Province. General Musharraf helped the MMA or clerical parties of Pakistan win an unprecedented electoral victory so as to intimidate the US and the West that they should not force him for the revival of genuine democracy in Pakistan, as this would mean that anti-US forces in the shape of the MMA could sweep elections.


However, the MMA was facilitated by General Musharraf to form the government in the KP province. However, the five years of misrule in the province, vested interests and sectarian conflicts resulted in the dilution of the MMA in 2007. Apart from extremely bad governance the MMA facilitated Taliban groups in the province and the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to organize and thrive. So it was not a surprise that the very same year when the MMA ended its rule, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerged.


Today in Pakistan the political situation and circumstances are far different from what prevailed in 2002. Today the Afghan Taliban have offered the US talks in Afghanistan after almost 17 years of insurgency. A military regime is not there to help the MMA. Yes, behind the scenes the alliance may solicit some support from sympathizers within the establishment.


The MMA has been revived on the argument as explained by its convener, Fazl, that people have tested all secular parties but the conditions in the country have been going from bad to worse. Therefore, the only option left for the people is to attempt an Islamic system of governance, which could only be provided by the MMA. This is quite an old argument but it has never find much currency among people in Pakistan. Therefore, one does not think that this argument has many takers among the citizens of Pakistan. Even the leadership of clerical parties knows that in order to remain relevant in the politics of Pakistan they somehow have to come up with such arguments. This time the clerical parties genuinely think that whatever miniscule political clout they have may also vanish unless they forge an alliance. These clerical parties know a very strong opinion prevailing among people in Pakistan that when the clerical parties could not come together on a single platform how come they could unite the Muslims of Pakistan and genuinely struggle for their rights and, above all, for Islamic Shariah. So being conscious of this shortcoming of the clerical parties, the latter have now forged another alliance to give a strong message to the masses that they have come together for enforcement of Shariah in the country. However, this is not the case at all. Even if the MMA would win a landslide victory in the elections, which is a remote possibility, the clerical parties could not bring an Islamic system of governance to the country. Such system cannot be brought into being through popular electoral politics. Rather, it requires a society-wide struggle so as the people could be convinced to make a popular demand for Shariah. These clerical parties of Pakistan have totally failed to organize people in Pakistan in such a way that they may demand enforcement of Shariah.


It is important to note that the main components of the MMA, that is JUI-F and JI, have only a genuine political constituency in KP, FATA and Balochistan. The alliance has been revived on the premise that in the last national elections held in May 2013, there were tens of seats in the KP assembly in which the vote polled for the JUI-F and JI, if polled together, could surpass the tally of votes of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidates, who returned in majority to the KP assembly. However, this argument of the leaders of JUI-F and JI may have some substance, but again it would be extremely difficult to convince the voters of JUI-F and JI or, for that matter, all other clerical groups, who are all entirely formed on the basis of various Muslim sects, to vote for each other.


The fact of the matter is that both the JUI-F and JI genuinely fear that their political constituency would be further eroded by the sweeping political challenge from the PTI. The PTI and its head, Imran Khan’s challenging of the clerical parties has been unprecedented in Pakistani politics. Imran throwing down a gauntlet to the clerical parties won a lot of liberal admirers and this resulted in the PTI defeat of the JUI-F candidates in its traditional strongholds of D. I. Khan, Tank and Bannu districts of KP. Whereas, the PTI has been slowly gaining grounds in the political forts of JI in Dir and Buner districts of the province. The fear of eroding of political constituency to the PTI also is the main cause of the revival of the MMA. This is despite of the fact that the JI is still part of the PTI-led coalition government in KP and has been holding key ministerial positions of finance and local government there.


Keeping in view the prevailing political situation, the resurrection of the MMA would not make much difference to the results of electoral politics and, even if elections are held in a transparent manner, the alliance may lose more than gain.