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August 7, 2018

Changing trends in religious politics


August 7, 2018

Some of the mainstream religious parties, finding it hard to meet the present-day challenges in politics and their back-to-back defeats in the last two general elections, have raised serious questions over their capacity to attract voters.

They have been replaced by some new realities including the groups which, in the past, had rejected parliamentary form of government and democracy.

They could have faced more humiliation had they contested the election from their own respective platforms. Together, they at least managed about one dozen seats and pulled some 2.2 million votes from the platform of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), the two oldest religio-political parties in the country, along with Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), always believed in bringing change in the country through elections and vote. They had contributed to framing of the 1973 Constitution. Thus, they had the more moderate approach as compared to the more hardliners.

The JUI-Fazl, in particular, is finding no answer to counter the rise of Imran Khan and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as the right to centrist party with some liberal and modern approach. Imran's charisma has badly hit the JUI-F and Maulana Fazlur Rehman's leadership. The party has also lost its credibility after remaining part of coalition of both PPP and the PML-N.

The JI, on the other hand, is facing double dilemma. On the one hand, it faced internal criticism for joining hands with the JUI-F and, on the other hand, a vast majority of its voters switched to the PTI. Whatever the JI had gained as a coalition partner of the PTI from 2013 to 2018 was lost in the July-25 election.

With the passage of time, both these parties failed to reform with the changing trends in religious politics in the post-Afghan war and particularly after 9/11. It not only gave rise to more radical politics but also gave birth to groups and outfits like al-Qaeda, Taliban and Daesh, which also took position against elections and democracy as means to bring change.

The JI fell victim to more radical politics, but it must blame itself for it, as they had been part of the narrative with the difference that now more extremist groups have emerged, which have challenged both the JI and the JUI-F. One of the reasons why the JUI-F leaders were attacked by terrorists had been their constant support for change through elections.

But, the religious party, which had suffered the most despite being part of the MMA was Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), which once used to be in the forefront of national politics in the 1970s and 1980s, led by leaders like the late Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani and the late Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi.

These parties need serious review to reform themselves and understand that they have far more serious challenge from within rather than from any liberal or centrist parties like the PPP, PML-N or the PTI.

For all practical purposes, it has now been replaced by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), led by firebrand speaker Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, which emerged as the fifth largest group in July-25 election, when it secured 2.5 million votes. Though, it got only two Sindh Assembly seats, it badly damaged the PML-N in Punjab and MQM in Karachi.

The TLP trend was completely in contrast to the JUP politics. Another reason was the split after split in the JUP in the absence of any prominent leader to the stature of Maulana Noorani or Sattar Niazi.

It is also significant to note that the TLP contested the election on its own strength and did not become part of any coalition nor they made any seat adjustments even with an alliance like the MMA. This gave them a better idea about their strength which can help them in future.

Another trend, which in the longer run, can play an important role in expanding the role of religious parties in mainstream politics was the decision of those parties and groups, which till 2013, considered participation in the elections and Western style of democracy as un-Islamic. They have now reached a conclusion that they can bring about a change through elections.

Some of them also reformed their politics and approach towards the media as in the past they avoided appearing on TV screens or even opposed being photographed.

The most prominent group among them is Jamaatud Dawa (JUD), led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. In the past, it had rejected the invitation from the MMA or even refused to convert the Difah-e-Pakistan Council (DFC) into an electoral alliance in 2013 elections.

So, what brought change in Hafiz Saeed's mindset when he first endorsed the idea of Milli Muslim League (MML) and later Allah-O-Akbar Tehreek. His own son, Talha Saeed, contested elections from NA-91 (Sargodha). Though he lost, he pulled nearly 12,000 votes, while in total their candidates secured 0.5 million votes.

They also fielded some 13 women candidates on general seats, and few of them from different sects, something missing or rarely found in other religious parties.

According to an informed source, close to the group said, it took Hafiz Saeed two years to change his old narrative against elections, vote and democracy. "It was in 2017 when he finally decided that elections are a way to bring about a change. They could not win any seat, and one of the reasons was that their supporters had not got themselves registered as voters due to confusion," the source added.

It is also interesting to note that they also allowed women to contest elections and at least 13 women contested elections from their platform.

However, most of the outlawed groups and even few others kept themselves away from elections and are still firm on their stand against elections, vote and democracy.

What many had not noticed during election fever was sudden disappearance from political scene of Dr Tahirul Qadri and his Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), after it suddenly withdrew all its candidates from elections and termed it unconstitutional.

Tahirul Qadri, a firebrand speaker who did politics both from the platform of PAT and Minhajul Quran, first laid the foundation of dharna politics in 2012, which he had staged during the PPP government at D-Chowk.

One thing is certain that Imran and PTI's success in the next five years, particularly on the economic front and foreign policy and security issues, can bring further decline in extremist outlook; however, his failure can open the space for more hardline politics.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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