This isn’t the first time that the JUI has suffered a split. Yet, it is very unlikely that this will cause any real damage to the political party
A new faction has emerged in Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) after a revolt by four prominent members led by Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani.
As the party’s name suggests, it identified with Fazlur Rahman as it is commonly called JUI-F even though it was registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan as simply JUI.
This isn’t the first time that the JUI has suffered a split. Years ago, Maulana Samiul Haq left the party to form his own faction, JUI-S, named after him. However, it remained a small party and never posed a significant challenge to the JUI-F. Its only electoral success came in the 2002 general election when it became part of the six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), that did well in the poll and went on to form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Still the JUI-S was the junior partner in the MMA’s coalition government dominated by the JUI-F and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) in the province.
Another faction that emerged in the JUI-F and posed a serious challenge to Fazlur Rahman in Balochistan was JUI-Nazryati (JUI-Ideological). It was headed by Maulana Asmatullah, who developed differences over policy issues with Fazlur Rahman and Maulana Sherani in 2007. His party won a few assembly seats in Balochistan in the 2008 general election, including the one for the National Assembly from Zhob where Asmatullah defeated Maulana Sherani. In the 2013 general election, Asmatullah’s JUI-Nazryati suffered a crushing defeat despite its open support for the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Fazlur Rahman was finally able to reconcile with Asmatullah, who folded his faction and merged it with the JUI-F in February 2016. However, some of the party’s office-bearers and supporters refused to accept the decision and kept the JUI-Nazryati alive under the leadership of Maulana Abdul Qadir Luni. This faction is now coming close to the four JUI-F rebels who have revolted against Fazlur Rahman.
Another almost unknown faction is led by the Peshawar-based Maulana Mohammad Shoaib. It is tiny and has no political or electoral impact.
Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F continued to be the dominant faction as the breakaway factions weren’t able to dent its support among the members. The JUI-F is the biggest religio-political party in the country and has proven street power largely drawn from the students of madrassas, particularly in the KP and Balochistan. In every general election held in Pakistan, it has won more seats than any other Islamic party, including the more disciplined JI.
The latest revolt in the JUI-F is also unlikely to cause a real damage to the party. Two of the rebel leaders, former MNA Maulana Sherani and former Senator Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, enjoy some support among the party cadres in Balochistan, but this won’t be enough to translate into electoral wins even if it may deny the JUI-F a few assembly seats. The other two rebels, former Senator Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan and Maulana Shujaul Mulk, the former MNA from Mardan, don’t have grassroots support in their native KP where Fazlur Rahman enjoys widespread backing of the party members. Gul Naseeb has been contesting and losing elections for the provincial assembly from his native Lower Dir district despite having the JUI-F ticket while Shujaul Mulk’s only victory from Mardan came in 2002 when he was armed with the MMA ticket. No prominent JUI-F members from their constituencies or elsewhere have backed their position. Rather, criticism has come their way for showing disloyalty to Fazlur Rahman.
Maulana Sherani always appeared to be a misfit in the JUI-F. He had been critical of the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda while they were enthusiastically backed by Fazlur Rahman and rest of the party.
Maulana Sherani always appeared to be a misfit in the JUI-F. He had been critical of the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda that were enthusiastically backed by Fazlur Rahman and the rest of the party. He was criticised by party members as provincial head of the JUI-F in Balochistan due to his authoritarian style of leadership. Some of his comments, including the “need for Pakistan to recognise Israel”, also earned him widespread criticism.
Though he has become more careful in his comments now; particularly after presiding over the first meeting of the JUI-F dissidents in Islamabad when he talked to the media and avoided criticising Fazlur Rahman and his former party, the damage has been done and the JUI-F cadres and religious-minded voters are unlikely to forget all that. Fazlur Rahman also critically referred to Maulana Sherani’s pro-Israel comments recently even though he described him as a respected senior. In fact, Fazlur Rahman always made an effort to appease Maulana Sherani and used his influence in the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government to make him the head of the Council of Islamic Ideology.
Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, the witty Baloch politician who runs a madrassa in Quetta, had been occasionally critical of the party leadership in the past, but like the other three rebels he has only now come out openly against Fazlur Rahman. All of them have called Fazlur Rahman opportunistic and willing to join any government for his vested interests and head of a dynasty running the JUI-F as a personal fiefdom. They have pointed out that Fazlur Rahman fielded his brothers Maulana Attaur Rahman and Maulana Lutfur Rahman, son Maulana Asad Mahmood and even female family members as candidates on JUI-F ticket and got them elected as senator, MNAs and MPAs. They said whenever an opportunity arose, he got Attaur Rahman appointed as a minister.
The revolt in the JUI-F has come at a critical time as Fazlur Rahman is the first head of the 11-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and leading the campaign to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan from power and force fresh elections. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was pleased by the infighting in JUI-F as it felt this would weaken the JUI-F. The PTI ministers pointedly advised Fazlur Rahman to put his own house in order before embarking on a futile journey to send the government packing. Hafiz Hussain Ahmad was also critical of his former party leader for agreeing to join hands with the PML-N and the PPP and use the young madrassa students in return for being made the PDM head to lead the agitation to force Imran Khan’s resignation.
The Maulana Sherani-led faction has been given the parent party’s original name, JUI-Pakistan. However, it is unlikely to find enough support all over Pakistan to be able to set up its organisational structure and identify candidates capable of winning seats in the assembly. Running a party requires resources and manpower and both would be in short supply in JUI-Pakistan.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. He can be reached at [email protected]