LAHORE - Most of the people of Pakistan are religious minded and their commitment to Islam is reflected by the huge gatherings in mosques at prayer times. But they don’t support the religious parties in elections. Whenever there is an election the real contest is between some other parties and the candidates of religious parties come much later.
This bizarre attitude of the voters always weighed heavily on the mind of the late amir of Jamaat-i-Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmed. May his soul rest in peace.
He remained head of the party for some 22 years and did his best to understand this ‘contradiction’ and make the Jamaat a popular party. However, the mystery remains unresolved even today and a kind-hearted leader left for his eternal abode at the age of 74.
Despite all his efforts the Jamaat could not become a popular party. Even his successor Syed Munawar Hasan complains that if the people don’t change their voting pattern and continue to support the corrupt and dishonest, the country will continue to face the kind of problems it has been facing for the past several decades. The coming elections, whenever they are held, will be the ‘last chance’ that he would wait for a change through ballot. It’s not clear what would he do subsequently.
To make the Jamaat a people’s party, Qazi Husain made a new experiment in 1993. He set up Pakistan Islamic Front, from which platform the JI candidates took part in the elections. The idea was to attract such voters as were ‘allergic’ to the Jamaat.
The campaign style was also changed. “Zalmo, Qazi Aa Raha Hai” (O, the wrongdoers, Qazi is coming), was a famous slogan used at the time. Some element of music was also seen then.
However, the election results were quite disappointing. Only three JI candidates were elected. This was contrary to all expectations.
This provided the critics with an opportunity to deride the Jamaat leadership. “Zalmo, Qazi Naha Raha Hai, Zalmo Qazi Pachhta Raha Hai (O wrongdoers, Qazi is bathing; O wrongdoers, Qazi is repenting) were the parodies wall-chalked at various places.
The Jamaat was also an important component of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad. But, a stage came when the Jamaat parted ways with the alliance.
In a speech that he delivered at a Juma congregation at Mansoora Masjid, Qazi Husain said he was expecting that impressed by the character and working of his party, adherents of other parties would join it. However, he said it was regrettable that the Jamaat supporters had started changing loyalties and crossing into the PML.
Qazi Husain wanted to spread the message of Islam in all corners of the world. Once he visited Russia and spent some days there. During his stay he met a number of ‘Muslims’ there.
On his return to Pakistan he held a news conference (which was also covered by the writer) to share his impressions of the visit.
He said the ‘Muslims’ were very pleased to meet him. He quoted some of them as saying “Qazi, you are our brother. We are happy to meet you. You are a Muslim, we are also Muslims. The only difference between you and us is that you believe in God and we don’t”.
The Jamaat chief was shocked while narrating his experience of meeting with faithless ‘Muslims’.
However, the situation has changed a lot during the past years and the late Qazi must have been very happy to notice it. He had a special place in his heart about the Kashmir cause. He wanted to see Held Kashmir liberated from Indian occupation. For this purpose the Jamaat has always helped veteran leader Syed Ali Geelani.
In 1999, then Indian prime minister AB Vajpayee paid a landmark visit to Lahore and held extensive talks with his counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Both sides had agreed through the Lahore Declaration to settle all outstanding issues through talks.
(Nawaz Sharif always proudly mentions that he created a situation that made it unavoidable for the Indian prime minister to come to Lahore by a bus and hold important talks).
The host premier organised a dinner at the Lahore Fort.
But the JI supporters started a protest near Bhaati Gate and even pelted some vehicles of the guests with stones. The police tear gassed the demonstrators, hitting Qazi Hussain as well. This created a gulf between the two sides. However, the wounds healed after some time.
One of the allegations that Gen Musharraf made against Nawaz Sharif after overthrowing his government was that he had ignored the Kashmir issue in the original declaration and that it was under his pressure that it was mentioned in the document.
Religious leaders in Pakistan have never arisen above their sectarian considerations. There was a time when even a senior leader like Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani used to call the Jamaat a follower of what he called Mansoora Brand Islam. He used to regard it as something different from the real Islam.
But as a result of consistent efforts made by Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Maulana Noorani not only stopped using this derogatory terminology but also worked with the Jamaat amir from the platform of the Milli Yakjehti Council and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Aml.
The formation of the MMA helped the religious parties come to power in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Balochistan after the 2002 elections, held by Gen Pervez Musharraf. This was the best period for the religious parties to prove to secularists and anti-religion forces that their governance was unmatched.
But, the 2008 elections changed the situation, bringing the secular Awami National Party to power.
The Jamaat and the JUI-F parted ways on the question of contesting the elections. The Jamaat, like many other parties in the All Pakistan Democratic Movement, boycotted the polls while the JUI-F took an active part.
The party of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remained a coalition partner with the PPP for about three years before parting ways when the prime minister removed JUI-F minister Azam Swati because of his campaign against Hamid Saeed Kazmi, who too was shown the door because of the Haj scam.
The Jamaat cannot even think of joining hands with the PPP.
At a time when Qazi Hussain Ahmed is no more in this world, the Jamaat is in search of new allies in the next elections. It has to choose between the PML-N and the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf.
But before taking a final decision on its future partner, it will have to wait whether the elections will at all be held after Dr Qadri’s long march programme. Qazi Hussain will be missed both by all.