In the third of a three-part series on Hafiz Saeed’s new political party, Rahimullah Yusufzai writes there is no evidence that the religio-political party would do any better than the many Islamic parties which have been losing elections for years in Pakistan. Read the first, second, and fourth parts.
When the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) announced its intention on August 7 to form a political party by the name of Milli Muslim League with Hafiz Saeed’s close aide Saifullah Khalid as its president, it was barely noticed in Pakistan.
This wasn’t surprising because most Pakistanis saw it as yet another addition to the large number of religio-political parties operating in the country. It hardly mattered to them that one more party was going to seek votes in the name of Islam from an electorate unimpressed by the ones already taking part in elections and failing to get their votes.
The best-ever electoral performance by the religio-political parties in Pakistan was in the 2002 polls when an Islamic alliance secured around 11 percent of the vote by exploiting the anti-America sentiment sweeping the country due to the US invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan. It became part of the opposition to the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) created by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf as his hand-maiden to serve his purposes. Known as the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), the alliance managed to form the government in the conservative North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), now renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and was part of the ruling coalition in Balochistan province. The MMA split before the 2008 general election and was roundly defeated.
The MMA included the two biggest Islamic parties, JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rahman and the Jamaat-i-Islami. Individually, the two parties haven’t polled more than a few percent votes in successive elections since Pakistan’s independence while the remaining four have been among the proverbial also-rans in the polls.
Being overwhelmingly Muslim, most voters in Pakistan love their religion, but are unwilling to place their trust in the clerics heading the religio-political parties to properly run the government and understand the intricacies of diplomacy, finance and governance. Most Islamic parties have been competing and losing elections for years, but one that tried its luck in the polls in recent years and fared poorly was firebrand preacher Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik that won only one National Assembly seat in 2002. There is no evidence that Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League would do any better.
It appears the decision to launch a political party was taken to circumvent the ban on the activities of Hafiz Saeed, who is wanted by India and the US and is presently under house arrest. His spokesmen have been protesting the ban by arguing that the Pakistani courts had acquitted him in all cases. He and his aides had used the JuD to remain active when the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was outlawed. When the JuD too was banned, they began using the platform of the non-governmental organization, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, to do charity work to win the goodwill of the people and promote their cause. It isn’t uncommon in Pakistan for banned parties and organizations to re-emerge with new names and platforms to be able to continue their activities. The government has been slow and sometimes ineffective in putting these groups and their front organizations out of business.
It is rather far-fetched that the Pakistan Army through the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) would put the Milli Muslim League and its associated religious parties into power and allow the jihadists to seize control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. If this was such a good idea, it could have been done by now through the many compliant Islamic and other politicians ready to do anything for the sake of power. Also, this would be the last thing to do for a country that has been reassuring the world that its nuclear weapons are in safe hands after having already faced accusations of proliferation. In fact, such an adventurous course would alienate many more countries than those already weary of Pakistan’s policies on terrorism and nuclear programme.
The far more powerful Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allied militant groups may even have harboured a desire to seize these nuclear weapons, but they were frustrated due to the tight security measures put in place. In fact, certain Western media outlets had highlighted this possibility when militancy was at its peak in Pakistan in 2008-2011, but this proved untrue.
There is no doubt that Hafiz Saeed has enjoyed considerable freedom of movement in Pakistan despite the criticism the government has faced at home and abroad for failing to curb his activities. It was only late last year that his freedom of movement was curtailed and his live television interviews were blocked. It needs to be realized that political parties and civil society groups in Pakistan opposed to him are far more in number with a high degree of public backing than those who support him. Besides, the religio-political parties suffer from chronic disunity because they have a narrow denominational and sectarian base. It is unrealistic to believe that they would unite under Hafiz Saeed’s leadership and would march to victory at the ballot to seize control of Pakistan’s nukes and start threatening India, the US and the world.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is Resident Editor with The News International, Peshawar and Correspondent with BBC World Service. Twitter: @rahimyusufzai1