Cross-posted from Laaltain
The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has significant influence in Pakistan’s domestic politics due to its strong representation in the media, its ability to show street power and its connection with both the security establishment and militant outfits. However, as far as its vote bank is concerned, it hasn’t done too well. The main reason for this could be that the JI carries the tag of Deobandi Islam, which most Pakistanis do not follow. Another reason is that although the general public is very narrow-minded and conservative in its religious outlook, it is very liberal and secular when it comes to personal lifestyle. It wishes death on ‘kafir’ (infidel) India; but will not stop watching Indian movies. It likes to hate the USA with a passion; but craves an Americanized way of living.
Both Pakistan’s establishment and the JI have felt the need to have a front organization with a moderate semblance for quite some time now – one which has the potential to win popularity in the masses. This desire was reflected in the JI’s creation of Pasban in the early 1990s. Its name was changed to Shabab-e-Milli when Pasban was banned in 1995 after its involvement in violence. Apparently, these were independent organizations; yet it was too obvious that they were JI protégés. The public postures of these organizations leaned more towards nationalism than Islam. To arouse enthusiasm, patriotic songs were played with music in Pasban’s rallies, which was against the traditional JI culture. The Cricket World Cup victory of 1992 was celebrated by Pasban all over Pakistan by holding Junaid Jamshaid’s ‘Pepsi-Pakistan’ concerts. Pasban was publicised in all possible ways. It, however, lacked a leader possessing the magnetism necessary to attract the public. Both the JI and Pakistan’s deep state were looking for a charismatic character like Jinnah and ZA Bhutto – someone who had the glitz of Western culture but a mindset of an Islamist. One senior JI member who had previously been the nazim of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) at Punjab University, Hafeez Ullah Niazi found the right person for this job. Niazi happened to be the brother-in-law of the cricketing super star, male sex symbol and Casanova of international repute, Imran Khan.
JI’s early nurturing of Imran
It was easy for Hafeez Ullah to preach Maudaudi’s Islamic ideology to Imran, who, after enjoying the best of this world was perhaps seeking the same for the next world.
Imran retired from cricket first in 1987, after his team’s defeat in the World Cup semi-final at Lahore, but reversed his decision at the insistence of General Zia ul Haq. After winning the 1992 World Cup as captain, he attained the status of a national hero, after which he finally hung up his cricket shoes. A series of articles written by Imran from 1987 to 1992, in which he criticised western culture and the British Empire and emphasised the promotion of one’s own Islamic-nationalistic identity, reflected the JI’s brainwashing. The JI had got hold of Imran in the early stages of his reversion to his native culture.
Imran, who wished to remain in the public eye even after retiring from cricket, started building a non-profit cancer hospital in Lahore. Pasban helped him in organizing the fundraising campaign for this purpose. Here, another double standard of the JI was exposed. Since the mid 1980s, Pakistani artists had been performing in shows in India. In return, event organizers in Pakistan tried to invite Indian artists to Pakistan. However, all such events had to be cancelled due to vociferous threats by Pasban. But in 1995 when Imran invited Indian movie stars such as Rekha, Vinod Khanna, Sonu Walia and Kabir Bedi to perform in Lahore for the fundraising of his hospital, Pasban did not object even a bit.
Similarly, JI has always slandered its rivals by finding faults in their personal lives. For instance, in the 1970s it targeted the ‘un-Islamic life style’ of ZA Bhutto. In public speeches and in slogans, it called Bhutto “sharabi” and “za’ni” (alcoholic and adulterer). However, Imran’s colorful life never bothered the JI. In the case of Bhutto, the JI went as far as to allege that his mother was a Hindu. When in 1994 Imran, the critic of Western culture and British aristocracy, married a woman from a British Jewish elitist background, JI did not even raise an eyebrow.
Making of PTI under JI’s fostering
Imran’s links with the JI are too obvious. Initially JI’s Qazi deployed its expert campaign designers along with two of Pasban’s founding members – Shabbir Sial and Mahmood-ur-Rasheed (elected as member of the Punjab Assembly on a JI/IJI ticket in 1988) – to help Imran organise his campaign for the 1997 election. The JI itself boycotted that election. Sial later served PTI as its president in Lahore, a position now held by Rasheed.
Ejaz Chaudhry, PTI’s vice president and incharge youth affairs, considered to be Imran’s closest adviser, is ex-JI and son-in-law of Maududi’s immediate JI successor, Mian Tufail Muhammad. Another VP of PTI, Abdul Hafeez Khan, is an ex-IJT nazim of Punjab University.
Since its inception, PTI’s governing body has been populated by ex-members or sympathizers of the JI. Usually, two parties develop a rivalry if members of one are snatched by the other. But in this case, JI members joined the PTI on the behest of JI, under an orchestrated infiltration of an up and coming party. Not only was Imran quick to forgive the IJT when its workers manhandled him at Punjab University in 2007, but the person he appointed as chief of PTI’s student wing (ISF), Ehsan Niazi, is also ex-IJT. Students running from the IJT because of its hoodlumism and joining the ISF will again find themselves under an ex-IJT man.
As elections draw near, the growing popularity of the PTI will attract opportunists from all political backgrounds. However, PTI will most likely retain its core group that has JI’s ideology deep-seated in its heart and mind.
PTI connections with Jihadists
During 1995-1996, just before the launch of PTI, Imran had numerous meetings with General Hamid Gul. Newspapers of the time were full of speculations that Imran and Gul were jointly launching a party to provide an alternative leadership to those fed up with bipartisan politics. This did not happen, probably to avoid the exposure of Imran’s close links with former members of the security establishment who were still close to Jihadi outfits.
However, Lt. General Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, who had served as secretary information during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime and was said to have close links with the security establishment, was one of the founding members of PTI and went on to become its secretary general. It is also worth noting that in 1997, soon after the launch of PTI, Imran toured Chechnya where, for one week, he was the guest of the president of Chechnya, Mujahideen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, who later instituted full sharia law in Chechnya.
Furthermore, PTI’s soft, apologetic stance on the Taliban issue is a well-known fact. Imran has been opposing military operations against the Taliban and trying to justify the movement as a “Pushtoon nationalist resistance against occupation forces”. He has been one voice with Islamist parties on the issues of war on terror, drone attacks, Aafia Siddiqui, Raymod Davis etc.
Imran’s right hand man, Ejaz Chaudhry, has close links with fanatic sectarian organizations like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. Chaudhry actively participated in the rallies of another extremist organization, Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, notorious for its extreme hatred and incitement to violence against Ahmadis. Chaudhry took the podium at a rally held by them in favour of Mumtaz Qadri (the self-confessed killer of Salmaan Taseer) where he declared that he spoke for Imran Khan when he said that the blasphemy law is a godly law that no one should dare touch. Moreover, his discourse on the alleged involvement of the CIA and RAW in the PNS Mehran attack is identical to TTP-SSP-LeJ-JI rhetoric.
When in 2007 Imran was arrested protesting against the declaration of emergency by General Musharraf and detained in D.I. Khan Jail, the then TTP President Baitullah Mehsud threatened to blow up the jail if Imran was not released. His statement appeared in all leading newspapers and Imran was released within 24 hours. Later on October 02, 2008 when Mehsud made a public appearance in South Waziristan, local president of PTI Toofan Burki garlanded him and put a traditional pagri (turban) upon his head.
Another PTI member, Shireen Mazari (also known as ‘Lady Taliban’), who is its spokesperson and adviser on foreign affairs, is known for her advocacy of conspiracy theories in the media. She writes a regular column for the website run by Ahmed Quraishi (who gives Zaid Hamid a run for his money in promoting baseless theories to blame atrocities and actions of the Taliban on others). Mazari is said to have close connections with the security establishment. She is a regular lecturer at the National Defense College where her specialized subject is Islamic ideology. If the curriculum of the ‘educational revolution’ that Imran Khan wants to bring in Pakistan is going to be designed by likes of Mazari, then our schools will produce more Taliban than even madrassas do.
Will PTI deliver?
In his recent rally in Lahore, Imran Khan said nothing new but pushed the single-point thesis of the establishment in which all the problems of the country are attributed to the corruption of the politicians. This is the agitprop that the deep state of Pakistan has been amplifying through the media since the restoration of the democratic system in 1988 and on the pretext of which many elected governments were dismissed halfway through their mandated period. Imran has strengthened the belief of the common man that corruption really is the actual cause of all his miseries, which is only a small part of the truth. The hyperbole of this overstatement has always been aimed at playing down and concealing the root cause of the country’s actual distress, which in fact is the jingoism and martial plans of our establishment. The establishment is eating up our country’s limited resources and, along with the bigoted mullahs, is the major obstacle to our nation’s progress. Imran Khan represents both these elements.
This disparate nation is once again seeking a remedy for its problems from the source of the problem itself. If Imran Khan now has the cure of the problems of the country, then the JI had it all along. In that case, the people of Pakistan were fools for not electing the JI a long time ago.
(Nayyer Khan’s areas of interest are History, Religion and Cross-cultural Conflicts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )