Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.
The Jamaat-e-Islami never misses an opportunity to be on the wrong side of history. Since its inception, it has acted against the interests of the very people it pretends to serve.Last week Syed Munawar Hassan, who heads Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami (Jamaat), declared the former head of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakeemullah Mehsud, a martyr. Mehsud reportedly died of a missile fired from an unmanned drone in North Waziristan. The Pakistan Army took serious offense to the statement by Mr. Hassan and found it insulting to the memory of thousands of soldiers who have died fighting militants.
The Jamaat’s long history of being on the wrong side of history started in 1947 when the Jamaat opposed an independent homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. In 1971, it sided with the military in its campaign against the populist insurgency in Bangladesh. Later in 1985, the Jamaat sided with yet another military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, and assisted him in subverting democracy and radicalising the youth to fuel the war against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. Today, the Jamaat has come in support of the militants who have declared war on Pakistan’s establishment and its civil society. For these reasons, and despite its organisational structure, the Jamaat has failed to win over the imagination of the electorate in either Pakistan or Bangladesh.
The Civil War in Bangladesh resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands. A study published in 2008 in BMJ estimated the death toll at 269,000. The Jamaat-i-Islami in Bangladesh provided recruits for militias who joined the military campaign against the Bengalis by the East Pakistan-dominated Army. The Jamaat was banned in 1971 after Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan. The Jamaat’s leadership in Bangladesh fled to Pakistan. More recently, the Bangladeshi Supreme Court in August 2013 declared the Jamaat’s registration illegal, thus restricting it from contesting elections in the future.
It is rather surprising to see Pakistan’s army taking a stand against the Jamaat, which has always found a way to support the Army whenever it suspended the constitution or the democratic process. However, given the large number of dead and injured soldiers in the fight against the militants, the army felt compelled to take issue with the Jamaat that declared the former head of the Taliban a martyr. The spokesperson for the armed forces said:
The people of Pakistan, whose loved ones laid down their life while fighting the terrorist, and families of theshuhada of armed forces demand an unconditional apology from Syed Munawar Hassan for hurting their feelings. It is also expected that Jamat-e-Islami should clearly state its party position on the subject.
The Jamaat had an opportunity to lay the blame on Mr. Hassan and absolve itself of any direct responsibility. However, the Jamaat, which appears to be on a collision course with the state and the constitution for decades, yet again opted for collision rather than collaboration. Mr. Fareed Paracha, the Jamaat’s spokesperson rejected the impression that the Jamaat had distanced itself from Mr. Hassan’s statement. Instead, Mr. Paracha argued that Mr. Hassan’s statement reflected views of the Jamaat.
The Jamaat has always acted as a spoiler in Pakistan. Knowing that the electorate has rejected the Jamaat in every election, it runs the election campaigns on false promises, knowing that it will never be asked to deliver on the claims it made. However, this makes the life of real political outfits much difficult who have to explain to the voters why they cannot promise to double the minimum wage, which the Jamaat always readily promises.
The Jamaat this time, has made a major error in judging the political mood in the country. With thousands of deaths at the hands of the militants in Pakistan, the common man no longer sees the Taliban as an asset. Even the Army is distancing itself from the hardcore militants who have repeatedly attacked the armed forces.
It is not clear if the Jamaat would be able to learn from its mistakes and indeed apologise to Pakistanis whose loved ones have been killed in cold blood by the militants.
Hakeemullah Mehsud was the militant-in-chief who rebelled against the State and approved of attacks against civilians. He was a war criminal, and not a martyr. If the Jamaat still cannot tell the difference, it deserves to be in the political wilderness it finds itself in today.