By Shahzad Raza
28 Nov 2014
He was a communist some six decades ago – a president of the National Students Federation. But in 1960, he underwent a complete transformation when he became acquainted with the works of Maulana Maududi. He joined Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, and eventually became its emir.
Munawar Hassan, who was voted out of the office in March, surprised even his critics – who compare him with Taliban ideologues – when he said in a recent statement that Pakistan’s ills could be cured with fighting in the name of Allah (Qital Fi Sabililllah).
In a three-day gathering of the JI at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, the radical politician dwelt upon the sensitive subject of Jihad. He criticised the liberals for distorting the meaning of Jihad at the behest of their so-called foreign masters.
“In Pakistan, the word Jihad has been made very controversial. But the only way of uprooting evil from the Pakistani society is to wage Jihad and Qital Fi Sabililllah,” he told thousands of cheering supporters. The rest of JI leadership listened to him with no signs of disapproval. It is not trying to downplay the matter, saying his statement should be understood in its philosophical context.
Not very long ago, when he was the emir of Jamaat-e-Islami, he made headlines when he said Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was a martyr and the army soldiers fighting against the Taliban were not.
The JI had opposed the creation of Pakistan, and its leaders had questioned the faith of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
“Owning or disowning the statement is not the real issue. We need to understand what he really meant,” said Mi’raj ul Huda, the emir of JI’s Sindh chapter. He made it clear that the party was not going to issue a show-cause notice to Mr Hassan, who he said was talking about injustice against Muslims in places like Palestine and Kashmir. “We believe in democracy and are eager to change the system through democratic means,”
Mirajul Huda said, adding that his party was against violence or armed struggle in Pakistan.
But the missionary focus of the party’s founding father Maulana Maududi or the anti-Bhutto passion of its former emir Mian Tufail are no more the JI’s fortes. It continues to do commendable charity and welfare work throughout the country, but has undergone a policy shift during the long years of Afghan Jihad and its aftermath. Several senior JI leaders are proud to have participated in the Jihad, which their critics say was financed by American dollars and Saudi riyals.
While the JI still idealizes Saudi Arabia, it abhors America and its allies. Paradoxically, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most important Muslim ally of the Americans in the Middle East.
After 9/11 the party joined hands with other religious outfits (some of them were later proscribed) to pressure the Musharraf regime against facilitating the US-led war in Afghanistan.
Even its detractors admit that the party is among the most organized political entities in Pakistan. But that did not translate into significant electoral success until the 2002 general elections. To capitalize on the aftermath of 9/11, the JI cobbled a religious alliance with other reactionary groups and managed to form a government in the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) province. Many believe the coalition, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, was a handiwork of intelligence agencies to remind the US that Gen Pervez Musharraf was their only ally that would keep a check on the spread of Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The ideological upbringing of JI’s operatives worked in favor of Al Qaeda at large. In 2003, 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammad was arrested from the residence of a JI worker in Rawalpindi. Major Adil was arrested and spent almost 10 years in jail. Upon his release, he took his family and shifted to North Waziristan only to be killed in a drone attack. The JI kept silent on his death, but the Taliban commanders paid him rich tributes.
The MMA then helped Gen Musharraf get parliamentary legitimacy through the controversial 17th constitutional amendment.
In 2009, Mr Hassan was chosen as the successor of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, but his critics say he lacked the political skills of his predecessor and his rigid stance on many issues including the military operation against militants in the tribal areas cost JI its sympathizers in the establishment.
That is perhaps why he was the only emir in JI’s history who was not re-elected after completing his first term. But he continues to make headlines even after his retirement.
Recently, firebrand politician Sheikh Rashid urged his followers to resort to violence at a public rally. A district court directed the authorities to book him under anti-terror laws. It is unlikely that a similar note will be taken of Mr Hassan’s statement.
Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist