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Thursday, December 14, 2006

‘Realism’ brings the MMA down

Realism’ brings the MMA down
Daily Times.
Friday, December 15, 2006
The split in the MMA has finally burst like a carbuncle and it would be a fig-leaf job if the clerical alliance were still to go on brandishing the common flag. Realism has dawned twice on the JUI in quick succession. First, its leader and secretary general of the MMA, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had problems with going along with the strategy of the MMA president, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, of resigning from the assemblies and then taking to the streets against President Pervez Musharraf. He stated instead that he favoured the policy of remaining in power in two provinces and in parliament and then going into agitation mode. But that, too, was not finally possible. Now the Maulana has made it public that his party is not ready to even come out and protest via any ‘million march’. The JUI was not supposed to be in the vanguard of the protests scheduled for Punjab and Sindh in the last week of January 2007; but it was supposed to come out in strength in Balochistan and the NWFP where it packed its punch. But the MMA Balochistan president, and ever the realist in a political theatre of short-term thinking, Maulana Muhammad Khan Shirani, is of the opinion that agitations in Balochistan and the NWFP will harm the governments of the two provinces.

Needless to say, Maulana Shirani’s view is not far removed from the way Maulana Fazlur Rehman thinks. Shirani has talked politics, not morality or religion which is the strong suit of the Jamaat-i-Islami simply because it is not in power and is a spoiler par excellence. The MMA supreme council, after having decided on the countrywide agitation in tandem with the other opposition parties, has had to suffer the humiliation of eating its words. What does this denote for the future of the alliance?

First of all, Qazi Sahib is to blame for pressuring the alliance beyond its point of maximum agreement. He knew that the other big party in the MMA was reluctant to act radically; why did he push it to a premature crunch moment? For practical purposes the alliance is no more, no matter if Mr Liaquat Baloch asserts that the Quetta and Peshawar ‘million marches’ have been put off because of the feared snowstorms in the two cities in January next.

The JUI’s realism is based on the past performance of the alliance in a similar situation of over-valuation of strength and great clerical bragging. In January 2005, after President Musharraf refused to remove his uniform, the MMA announced its ‘million marches’ in all the big cities of the country. But practically no one turned up. Around 300 MMA supporters showed up in Peshawar; another 400 people attended a rally in Multan. Similar rallies were held in Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan. The rallies failed miserably in Karachi and Lahore, where the ARD did not join in. In Islamabad, both the big leaders of the MMA were in the city but did not go out to address the meagre crowd for fear of losing face.

Realism is the attribute of a man who desires survival for the sake of his assets. Its opposite is the attribute of the man who has nothing to lose. Clearly, the MMA is divided between two kinds of attitudes. In politics, the ‘spoilers’ always outnumber the ‘fixers’ and the MMA has been damaged badly by its spoilers. The JUI has a stake in the present setup and wants to survive in better shape in order to live another day. Radical action always attracts those who want change without thinking too much about how they will fix the damage brought about by change.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad is not a cleric like Maulana Fazlur Rehman and those who are committed to the JUI know this fact. They also know that Qazi Sahib’s successor, Liaquat Baloch, is simply Mr Liaquat Baloch and will have a tough time increasing the Jamaat’s outreach outside Lahore and Karachi, while in Lahore much of the Jamaat thunder has already been stolen by the PMLN. The only way to go for the Jamaat was its radicalism with which it constantly rebuked the JUI.

The crunch time was brought on by President Musharraf when he signed the Women’s Protection Bill (WPB) after the MMA had threatened him with dire consequences. Already greatly put off by the public support which the debate over the Hudood laws had garnered for President Musharraf, the MMA supreme council inclined to the extreme position taken by Qazi Sahib. But if the MMA thought it could get out of this through muscle power it was mistaken. It did not have that muscle. And the WPB was actually a death knell, a change of the central dogma that no one had attempted in the Islamic world.

Unless he wants the MMA dead, Qazi Hussain Ahmad will have to cool down a bit. The MMA knows it cannot win many seats without the clerics getting together. Qazi Sahib will want to win some seats in the 2007 elections and he knows the MMA may not get as many as it did in 2002, but it will still be a better option than going it alone.

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