By Muhammad Amir Rana
August 13, 2017
THE Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) has transformed its political wing into a political party, so the latter is not entirely new. Long-established but informal and not involved in electoral politics, the political wing of the under-watch militant group has been reincarnated as a political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML), whose registration with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is under process.
The move comes at a time when the country is heading towards a new election amidst political turbulence. Some political analysts see in it an attempt by certain establishment quarters to unite and launch a far-right political alliance to curtail the growing anti-establishment sentiments in mainstream politics. They believe the establishment is dry-cleaning its assets to launch them as part of that larger electoral alliance, which could include groups and parties that were part of the Difa-i-Pakistan Council. This was formed to campaign for the severing of ties with the US and to reject the government’s decision to grant India the status of Most Favoured Nation.
In a low-key launching ceremony in Islamabad, MML leaders said that the party will have two immediate goals: to defy attempts to repeal Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution; and to protect the ideology of Pakistan. The second goal is apparently set to support the Kashmiri freedom struggle. This is the modus operandi of all far-right parties — to garb their real agendas in ideological objectives with a view to seeking broader national support and outclassing their opponents.
However, security analysts see the move in the context of growing international pressure on Pakistan for not taking enough action against the Security Council’s designated terrorist groups allegedly operating in the country. In particular, the concerns of the Financial Action Task Force, an international watchdog tracking terror financing, have become more serious. The FATF is not happy with the government’s stance vis-à-vis JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and the entities linked to him, especially the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, the JuD’s charity wing. FATF’s Asia Pacific group is urging Pakistan to take tough decisions against JuD and its affiliated entities. According to reports, banning the Tehreek-i-Azadi of Jammu Kashmir, one of the many groups set up by Hafiz Saeed, and putting him under protective custody were part of government efforts to avoid sanctions on international financial transactions.
Notwithstanding how analysts interpret the arrival of the MML, hardly anyone sees its establishment as part of Pakistan’s reintegration or de-radicalisation efforts. There is no sign that the government has evolved a de-radicalisation policy framework or that it is interested in bringing banned groups into the mainstream. The MML’s establishment thus appears to be an attempt by a militant group to legitimise its actions and avert international sanctions.
Secondly, the JuD and its charities need some breathing space in the country’s mainstream media, and political and intelligentsia discourses, that are increasingly criticising it. The JuD is not happy with the government’s measures to put a ban on the coverage of its activities. On the other hand, the group continues to project itself as the custodian of Pakistan’s ideological interests as a partner of the security establishment. The establishment, too, is not dispelling this impression.
As far as reintegration is concerned, this is a serious affair and is needed to counter terrorism. The contours of a reintegration plan that could be effective in our context have been discussed many times. To recall, a process of independent consultations with different expert groups recently advocated parliamentary oversight of such a process. The findings propelled the suggestion of a high-powered truth and reconciliation commission to review policies that produced militancy and the mainstreaming of those willing to shun violence. This commission may deliberate on whether or not to identify wrongs committed in the past. Expert groups opposed the idea of a general amnesty for repentant groups, and suggested a proper mechanism to study the behaviour of militant groups to decide on the extent of their reintegration.
One may call the formation of MML forced reintegration. External pressures and the changing internal security dynamics have forced the JuD and its masters to exploit the reintegration policy rhetoric. The MML is a JuD political wing and it would be a unique case in our history if the political wing of a militant organisation were to be registered with the ECP as a political party.
Yet, some are hopeful that through the formation of the MML, the JuD will make its formal entry into democratic electoral politics, which it has thus far deemed haram. There is still plenty of literature being produced by the JuD against democracy and the Constitution — or man-made legislation. A brief background of the party’s anti-democratic ideology and practices can be found in a book Qafila Dawat-o-Jihad, written by Ameer Hamza, a JuD founder. Indeed, the JuD has the same worldview and anti-democratic attitude that are espoused by international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group. Interestingly, to save their cadres from joining the IS, the JuD has published more than 20 booklets against the latter and its ideology of takfir — declaring some fellow Muslims or Muslim rulers to be outside the pale of Islam. These books also include Urdu translations of writings by Saudi scholars.
Participation in the democratic process may provide an opportunity for JuD leaders to further review their narrow social views and ideology. As far as mainstream politics is concerned, the MML will act as a far-right party and follow a pro-establishment agenda. There was space for such a party that can organise and bring scattered far-right elements under one banner. In the past, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam provided such services. But with time, both have tended to distance themselves from the establishment. Far-right parties cannot damage the electoral base of mainstream parties but can challenge their views on religious, social and regional issues. Perhaps this is one of the purposes behind the MML’s establishment.
Muhammad Amir Rana is a security analyst. He is the Director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), Islamabad, Pakistan.