The latest statement from the military blasting chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami Munawar Hasan for undermining the sacrifices made by the soldiers fighting terrorists has shocked many in the capital. The JI traditionally, has been the mouthpiece for the military during the 1980s Afghan jihad and fighting in Kashmir. It’s also established that the army had used the Jamaat’s street power to put democratic governments under pressure through controlled or sometimes out of control protests. It is also believed that there is a huge following of JI in the armed forces. Even the arrests of Al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from the residences of JI activists has not affected the military-JI relations in the past.
So, is it a signalling of sorts that the military is trying to portray itself as a national army now as compared to its earlier image of an ideological force whose notion of jihad is similar to Jamaat-i-Islami?
But what prompted this strong reaction by the military needs to be examined. Even pragmatic military rulers like Pervez Musharraf had to seek help from the JI to prolong his tenure. Then why is it that the Jamaat and the military are finding themselves at the crossroads today?
The issue of missing persons that began in 2006 started the rift between the traditional partners when JI followers that included lawyers approached the courts for the release of what they claimed were innocent civilians who were arrested by military intelligence agencies on the allegations of supporting Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The courts took up the cases and started questioning the role of the military behind these forced disappearances. JI-backed lawyers were pressurised by the military to drop these cases and to stop pursuing the matter. But the cases continued, despite the fact that they did not reach their logical conclusions.
The issue of drone strikes has been the main issue which alienated the powerful establishment from hardcore religious parties. The Jamaat has always been protesting US-backed drone strikes, claiming that the strikes kill civilians. But covertly, the military had a verbal standing with the US over the drone strikes. During 2004-2008, drones struck on Pakistan’s request. This was even testified by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani who claimed in his new book that the former Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike requested by the Pakistan army.
The last time the Jamaat acted in support of the military was on the Raymond Davis issue, when the military is believed to have used the religious activists to hype up the matter so as to trigger nation-wide protests. But many believe that in the end the army itself showed the US how to get their man in Pakistan custody by using an Islamic law of Qisas and Diyat. And so it happened that the Jamaat was left red-faced.
Just like the Pakistan military transformed into a national army in the past few years rather than the ‘Pak fauj’ as it still is fondly called in Pakistan for decades now, the Jamaat continued to lose its political ground as people in general started to question the Jamaat’s policy and its refusal to transform into a political force rather than a hardcore religious outfit.
Come Munawar Hasan, the incumbent chief who is known for his rigid views and little political insight as compared to his predecessor Qazi Hussain Ahmed. The Jamaat continued to find it hard to connect with the people. The elections in 2008 and 2013 proved that the people of Pakistan are not thinking the same way as the Jamaat leadership. But the new Jamaat leadership did not alter its way and things eventually came to a head.
The killing of Pakistani Taliban Hakeemullah Mehsud in a US drone strike alienated the Jamaat and even other political parties including the PML(N) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf from the response from the people in general which approved the killing of the TTP chief if not the drone strike by the US.
On the other hand, the military which was believed to have been already fuming at the peace overtures by the incumbent government to the Taliban despite the killing of their Major General Sanaullah Niazi, the recent statements of political leaders were not taken well. The JI chief Munawar Hasan stepped up the rhetoric by first declaring Hakeemullah Mehsud a martyr and later questioned whether the soldiers fighting against the Taliban were martyrs. This prompted the military to issue a stinging response not only condemning the JI chief’s statement as misleading and irresponsible but also accused him of insulting the sacrifices of Pakistani soldiers.
Although it is too premature to say that the military is signaling the end of its long standing policy of using religious parties to silence logic and vibrant political thought process in the country, but, at least, the realisation in the military to support mainstream political parties instead of hardcore religious parties is beginning to sink in.
Whether it remains the case when the change of guard in the army takes place later this month or else, is yet to be seen. All indications are that the military is in the process of reviewing its support for such parties but only after they came back to haunt the military after decades of clandestine support.