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Transformation for survival

Religious parties have always been very instrumental in the making and breaking of governments – military and civilian – in Pakistan.

They work in pockets in different areas of the country. And running in the mainstream of national-level politics has kept them away from becoming a party of a specific region or a province. The good thing about them is that they are also the units of federation. They score less seats in the legislature, but they do represent all of Pakistan, with their elected members becoming part of the National Assembly from all four provinces of the country. Their participation in coalition governments or part of the opposition shows that they are a rather important ingredient in the country’s politics.

In the last few years, there has been a sharp downfall in religious parties’ popularity, their role in the government as well as in opposition and leadership. Take leadership, and let’s compare it with the heads of other political parties.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is a young leader with a different approach towards his party’s organization, manifesto and dealing with the day-to-day political happenings of the country. The same is the case with Maryam Nawaz of the PML-N. She is young and dynamic and has the courage and will to attract the people. She is also bringing about changes in her party’s fabric and contours.

Imran Khan is a young man of 70 years age. He looks old but acts and speaks like the younger generation of Pakistan. And so this is the era of the politics of the younger generation.

On the other end, when it comes to heads of religious parties, they are all dealing with old age. Their way of working is old and their politics is old – as old as that of the 20th century or the beginning era of Pakistan’s creation. Sirajul Haq of the Jamaat-e-Islami was under the strong influence of Qazi Hussain Ahmed. Qazi Hussain’s politics was modern during the 1980s and 90s. He had presented the JI with a new face in that era.

Unfortunately, Sirajul Haq is still following Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s trends. He doesn’t understand that a complete and drastic generational shift has taken place and that it demands a change in religious politics as well. In the very first instance, the current trend is young leadership. Hence, Sirajul Haq doesn’t fit in today’s politics. He must be replaced by a young, vibrant, vocal, modern man. For unity and integration of the party, a new face may be considered.

The Jamaat-e-Islami has to come out of its traditional politics. Its stereo typed politics forced many of its loyals to switch over to PTI. Numerous young followers of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) as well as the JI have voted for the PTI in the last two general elections owing to Imran Khan’s attractive and catchy slogans and a different mode of politics.

The JI has to accept that today’s voters focus more on presenting something new than sticking to the old-fashioned slogans of Shariah, the Islamic system and the assertive role of religion. The slogan of Shariah must be replaced by something that is the need of the time for the people of the country. In the current circumstances, religion-based politics doesn’t hold much ground. The people of Pakistan may be mostly Muslims, but they do not necessarily all of them have to be too religious. Religious parties have to understand this.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is also a senior politician who sticks to his old methods of politics. In this context, the politics of dharnas and long marches are old trends. It has also been scientifically proven that dharnas and long marches don’t bear positive results for future general elections. Had that been the case, Pakistan would have experienced at least one federal government formed by any or some of the country’s religious parties.

Like the JI, Maulana’s party also enjoys tremendous street power and popularity. However, they always join the coalition government as junior partners with mainstream parties like the PPP or the PML-N. Looking at Maulana’s recent politics, one can see that he is not taking far-sighted steps in politics. His attempts to share the stage and politics with young leaders like Bilawal and Maryam belittle his stature. This proves that the JUI-F also needs a change of command. A fresh and young leader will suit the current politics of the country.

And for the first time recently, the desertion rate in religious parties has been witnessed so high. Very recently, the JI lost some of its very important men. They joined other parties. The loss of Muzaffar Syed (former finance minister), a very prominent member of previous coalition government of the PTI and the JI is a big blow to the party. He belongs to the JI’s main area (District Dir). On the other hand, the JUI-F just recently expelled four of its major, pioneering and frontline leaders – Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, Maulana Shirani, Shuja ul Mulk and Maulana Gul Naseeb. Due to their disagreement with the party command, more desertion is expected. It is also strongly affirmed that the four leaders will raise their voice from the platform of the JUI-P. If the party is at the verge of disintegration and the leader is unable to keep it united, he must read the writing on the wall: he must call it a day.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman should now give the party’s command to a younger leadership as mentioned above. This will secure the party from disintegration. Moreover, the party will have a new face for the people. The party needs a fresh look, changed methods, and need-of-the-moment slogans with new and high spirits.

Currently, the JI and the JUI-F are following the wrong paths. No one knows if the JI tilts towards the treasury benches or opposition. The party seems to be against the government and it also condemns the opposition. On the other hand, the way the JUI-F is working with the opposition, it’s pretty clear just what Fazlur Rehman thinks about the present government.

Moreover, Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s slogans against the government are also backfiring. And his silence on the issue of the UAE’s Israel recognition as well as Saudi Arabia’s tilt towards recognition l is also noticeable and abhorred by the Pakistani populace. Fazl took the slogan of respect of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but PM took this issue at the UN level which no one from the Muslim world had ever raised. Thus, Maulana Fazlur Rehman is receiving blow after blow. Over and above, the party’s disunity is going to cost him more.

It is high time that drastic changes take place in the country’s religious parties. With the change of the dynamics of politics, these parties have to take a positive turn. Otherwise, parties perish or are limited to a specific geographical locality.

The writer is the chairman of the department of international relations, University of Peshawar.

Email: [email protected]