In the current political scenario, when the opposition and government are locking horns in the capital, Jamaat-e-Islami is conspicuous by its absence.
The religious party opted to distance itself from the current political situation in the country. Political parties, activists and social media users have been noting the absence of the JI and its chief, who is to be seen nowhere. Memes are circulating on social media making mockery of JI chief Sirajul Haq. These pictures show him in a deep slumber and turning his back to what is happening around him.
On one hand, this attitude of the party leadership is being hailed by its activists and supporters. However, a fraction of them seem unhappy with the party’s role in the recent developments.
Those who are happy with the decision of staying neutral say that the current political scenario is gloomy and would have further pushed back the party’s position in the masses. However, some supporters and activists believe that the decision to stay neutral in the current circumstances has added another dent in the rapidly losing popularity of the party.
The party has tested itself in a coalition with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf for five years in government. This resulted in a devastating defeat in general elections of 2018.
Similarly, it had joined hands with Maulana Fazlur Rehman in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal in the last general elections, which also failed to bring any good to the party in bagging seats as per the party’s expectations.
The party leadership seemed to have lost the power to take a stand and could not decide whether to join the opposition or the government. This paralysis came to fore when it decided to stay neutral in the Azadi March.
Political commentators believe that Maulana Fazlur Rahman, a shrewd politician, grasped the political situation and took a bold and apparently a wise decision to cash space created by the absence of Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and made room for himself. Like Awami National Party, JI could have benefitted from the situation but they did not.
“In politics, you have to join somebody or make someone join you. Staying neutral and waiting for the outcome in such important political events does not favour a political force,” says Lehaz Ali, a senior journalist in KP covering political parties and politics in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
“I think this decision is not good for political parties like JI which always remains involved in reactionary politics.”
According to Lehaz, the decision will be a hit to JI’s popularity as a good number of people who were once supporting Imran Khan and his political rhetoric had turned against him due to his government’s performance and failure to control inflation.
“JI could have cashed this opportunity and won over the people in the current political situation. ANP didn’t perform well in the elections but it has recovered remarkably. In JI’s case, we don’t see any such improvement,” Lehaz said.
He added that in the upcoming general elections, JI would be limited to mere organisational setup at local council level with no popular support.
“You can’t expect an ideal situation in politics in countries like ours. JI is staying neutral because it is much too cautious which is not good for its political future,” he said. He added that there is serious scarcity of leadership in JI. “There are no charismatic leaders in the party who could muster popular support and attract the public.”
Giving his party’s stance on staying neutral in the Azadi March, JI chief in KP Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan said that there were two reasons behind the decision, “The party Markazi Shurah has decided that JI will do all its struggles – including political campaigns, election and protests – from its own platform and will not let others use the JI platform for cleaning their filth.” The second reason he put forward was the lack of unity and sincerity in the opposition.
“The opposition is not sincere and it is obvious from the results of Sadiq Sanjrani’s no confidence motion in the Senate,” he said. “We were against the incumbent government because they are in the court of the establishment. The government is incompetent and deceived the people but we also cannot put our trust in the opposition, which did not take any action against those 14 senators who defected in the no confidence move against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. They (defectors) are still attending meetings, which means these parties are not going to expose them. We can’t go with such untrustworthy opposition,” Mushtaq said.
Ziaur Rehman, a Karachi-based journalist who studies religious parties, said that the JI was once a major stakeholder in the country’s religious politics but during the last several elections, it had shrunk greatly and even lost its traditional strongholds of Dir and Buner to the PTI.
“In the current political situation, the JI has been isolating itself on the basis of its previous experiences with the JUI-F. Because of not having any narrative in today’s political turmoil, the JI has become irrelevant and unpopular,” Rehman said.
Zia also sees a leadership crisis in the party. “It seems that the JI has been facing a serious leadership crisis and this is the reason that the party could not decide whether to support the government or the opposition parties.”
The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar