During the 2002 October elections, for the first time in history, an alliance of six major religious-political parties was formed. The alliance was called the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and it won power in two provinces. The MMA promised to Islamize the society through Afghan Taliban-like philosophy and policies. This alliance of religious parties was dubbed the Mullah-Military alliance by the media.
The election campaign of this group was based on the promise of the enforcement of Sharia law and anti-US slogans. They criticized the pro-American stance of the government. They ran the provincial government in the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and shared power in Balochistan. Before the MMA, religious parties in Pakistan had been unsuccessful in ruling the legislature.
From the very first armed conflict in Kashmir in 1947-1948, religious parties have provided militants to the armed forces. Operation Gibraltar in 1965 would also have been impossible without the religious parties’ help. Young madrassa students have been used as cannon fodder to fight the proxy war in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Many militant Islamic groups have enjoyed state patronage and financing.
Another example is Hafiz Saeed’s militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. This was dubbed a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the Western democracies. And so the group rebranded as Jamat-ud-Dawa and it continues to enjoy the protection of the armed forces. Former Senior army commanders such as General Hamid Gul and General Javed Nasir were frank about their support for Hafiz Saeed whose military ventures have brought Pakistan to the brink of war with India.
Jamaat-i-Islami in the limelight
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Pakistan’s biggest religious political party, became the surrogate political party of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. JI was also the General’s closest partner in the US-sponsored Jihad in Afghanistan against the USSR. JI remained the military government’s staunchest ally and supporter on all domestic and foreign policy issues.
During the civil war in East Pakistan, the student wing of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) was used to create two Islamic militant groups: Al-Badar and Al-Shams. They were set loose on the Bengali secessionist groups and the Mukti Bahini. These Islamic militants were trained, armed, and financed by the armed forces. The JI has supported and formed groups like Hizbul Mujahedeen who have pioneered the insurgency in Kashmir.
The student wing of JI also introduced physical violence and intimidation in educational institutions across Pakistan. It was during the 1980s that weapons and torture were first introduced in Pakistani colleges, especially at Punjab University and Karachi University and their affiliated colleges. With the help and protection of the armed forces and the military regime, the JI cadres suppressed secular, socialist, and progressive parties.
Influence on elections
The 1988 election after Zia’s death resulted in the victory of the left-of-center Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister. She had to rule under strict conditions imposed by the still-powerful military. Her government only lasted 18 months.
The influential military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) clobbered an alliance called the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). The Islami Jamhuri Ittehad included the JI and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz.
During her tenure, Benazir had sacked the director general of the ISI, Lt. General Hameed Gul. He later confessed that he provided funds to, and facilitated the formation of the IJI.
In June 1996 Lt. General Naseer ullah Babar disclosed in the National Assembly that former Chief of Army Staff General Aslam Baig had withdrawn Rs140 million from a secret account. This money was used to finance the IJI election campaign with the sole objective of defeating PPP and Benazir Bhutto. Additionally, in 2012, General Asad Durrani submitted an affidavit to a three-bench Supreme Court bench in which he gave details about the amount he had authorised to be paid among politicians allegedly on the directive of former army chief Aslam Beg. This was to influence the 1990 election in favour of the IJI.
The influence of the Islamic militant groups on the military establishment increased manifold after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. The military establishment relied on the militant Islamic groups for trained fighters and for providing arms to the Afghan Mujahideen groups fighting the USSR.
This Mullah-Military alliance continued after the defeat of the USSR, and even after the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military and security establishment believed in the concept of security depth and security assets. These terms were coined by former COAS Mirza Aslam Beg.
Islamic militants were provided support by state agencies because they were perceived as ‘strategic assets’. They were to be used as instruments of our national policy for the advancement of our political objectives. It was only after the horrible and bloody attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2015 that a National Action Plan was put together and the might of the army was unleashed on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Is the nexus still intact?
The Mullah-Military nexus continues today. In 2017 Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) militants brought the entire country to a halt, and retreated only when the government capitulated to them after the resignation of the Law Minister. The role of the military was rather mysterious until a video of a senior army officer went viral. In the video he was seen distributing envelops of cash to the protestors.
The very recent agreement between Imran Khan’s government and the TLP was made possible only when the Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa intervened and called the former chairman of Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneeb, the Selani Trust’s Hafiz Bashir Farooqi and businessman Aqil Karim Dhedi. This convincingly proved that the Mullah-Military nexus is intact today.