Tag Archives: Jamaat-i-Islami

Media Giving Jamaat-i-Islami Outsized Attention

Pakistan hijraThe headline of a recent AP article declares that “Pakistani Muslims condemn US gay rights meeting“. But according to AFP, the protest was attended by “around 100 demonstrators”. If only 100 people show up to protest in a nation of 180 million, can this really be said to represent the views of “Pakistani Muslims”?

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) may be, as the AP notes, “Pakistan’s largest Islamic party,” but they could only muster up 100 demonstrators in Karachi – a city of over 14 million. In fact, JI’s electoral success has only been noteworthy when subsidized by military regimes as a means of establishing a facade of democratic elections. Following the free and open elections in 2008, the current makeup of the National Assembly includes no JI representation*. In the Senate, JI was only able to secure 3 seats – fewer than independents. Simply put, JI represents a tiny minority of Pakistani’s views.

In 2009, Pakistan’s supreme court ruled that ‘hijras’ (transgendered people) should be further integrated into society following a petition by an Islamic jurist who wanted to “save them from a life of shame.” As with many countries in the world – including the US – Pakistani attitudes about sexuality are complex and changing.

Jamaat-i-Islami is no more representative of Pakistan and Pakistani Muslims than Pastor Terry Jones or Westboro Baptist Church are to America or American Christians. To equate a small rally of JI demonstrators with the attitudes of Pakistanis or Pakistani Muslims more generally is to create an inference where none exists.

Stories about street demonstrations by radical religious groups may provide sensational headlines for a struggling news industry, but they only confuse Americans about what’s really going on in Pakistan. Jamaat-i-Islami’s power comes from its ability to organize loud and colorful street demonstrations, and to have these protests covered widely in the domestic and international media. By falling for this ploy and giving outsized attention to these made-for-TV events, American media is undermining the hard work of civil society groups in Pakistan that are promoting greater freedom and tolerance.


* JI boycotted the 2008 general elections. The only religious party to participate, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), won only 2.2 percent of the vote and secured only 6 seats.

Reading Raymond Davis, Reading Rodney King

Negotiations between the US and Pakistan over the fate of Raymond Davis appear to be approaching a new phase as Pakistan’s media reports that the country’s Foreign Ministry has affirmed the American’s diplomatic status. But recognition of Raymond Davis’s diplomatic status will not be sufficient to resolving the larger issue: American recognition of Pakistan’s dignity. To understand this issue, we might look to another chapter in America’s recent history: Rodney King.

LA police beating Rodney KingWhen LA police brutally beat Rodney King following a traffic stop in 1991, the initial response from law enforcement was that the officers involved were justified in their use of force because they had reason to believe that Rodney King was not only resisting arrest, but presenting an imminent threat to their own safety. A year later, a jury in Los Angeles agreed. But that was hardly the end of the Rodney King saga.

Upon acquittal of the police officers, Los Angeles erupted in violence. Fifty-three people died, over two-thousand were injured, and the city suffered financial loss of almost $1 billion. The US military was eventually called in to restore order. To many Americans, the question should have been resolved by the official trial and acquittal of the officers. This perception ignored the underlying issue of dignity in the African-American community of Los Angeles.

The LA riots of 1992 were about more than simply one incident of police brutality – they were a manifestation of the anger and frustration of a community that felt it was being denied basic human dignity, that white police officers could attack, humiliate, and even kill African-Americans with impunity.

It was not until after the 1992 riots that the Department of Justice held investigations that resulted in the indictment of the officers for federal civil rights violations. The federal trial examined not simply the isolated incident of Rodney King’s beating, but the larger context of power and police culture in which the incident took place.

Power Asymmetry

Like the asymmetry of power between Los Angeles’s African-American community and the largely white law enforcement and criminal justice system that policed it, US-Pakistan relations are plagued with a perception that the US imposes its will upon a Pakistan that is unable to adequately represent and defend its own interests. Some of this perceived asymmetry may be based in myths created for political convenience, but much of it is very real.

The US has immense leverage in Islamabad in the forms of massive military and civilian aid, access to US visas for Pakistani nationals, and the ability to authenticate Pakistan’s importance in the greater world community.

Pakistan, however, has significantly less leverage in Washington. Despite Pakistan’s geo-strategic position in relation to Afghanistan, Pakistan offers little in the way of economic opportunity. Even the country’s strategic usefulness may be overstated. Recent statements by Gen. David Rodriguez suggest that the country’s assistance in securing Afghanistan may not be necessary.

A good example of the results of this asymmetry is public reaction to the drone program. Long known to be operated in close cooperation and with the full knowledge of Pakistan’s military, complaints of the program infringing on Pakistan’s sovereignty continue. But these complaints are based less in the US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty qua sovereignty than they are in the humiliation resulting from American unwillingness to share control of the drones with Pakistan so that the program can be operated by the country’s own military.

No Justice, No Peace

Jamaat-i-Islami protesting against the release of Raymond DavisMany Pakistanis assume that if Raymond Davis is returned to US custody, he will walk away “scot-free.” From this perspective, “diplomatic immunity” is equated with a “license to kill.” A prominent Pakistani author even compared American attitudes towards Pakistan as that of hunters to a game preserve.

While US law does provide for cases of justifiable homicide, such cases do require an investigation and court hearing. Spy novels notwithstanding, there is no such thing as a license to kill. But this has not been fully communicated to the Pakistani people. Despite Raymond Davis’s shooting taking place over three weeks ago, yesterday was the first time a representative of the US government publicly assured Pakistanis that Raymond Davis would face a full criminal investigation.

“It is customary in an incident like this for our government to conduct a criminal investigation. That is our law. And I can give you the full assurance of our government today that that will take place,” Kerry told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore. “So there is no such thing as a suggestion that something is out of law or that America thinks somehow we’re not subject to the law.”

This is a crucial part of the conversation that has been missing from the US’s public response to the crisis – an assurance that justice will be served. This assurance must be reiterated, and the promise must be kept. If justice is not forthcoming, Islamist parties will continue to exploit Pakistanis frustrations and channel their anger into deeper anti-Americanism. Without bridging this ‘dignity gap,’ the US and Pakistan will never be able to move beyond a dysfunctional transactional relationship.

From Jamaat-i-Islami led street demonstrations to Taliban threats against the Pakistani government, anti-democratic groups are using Raymond Davis as an opportunity to promise respect for Pakistani dignity. But dignity is a promise at odds with their political aims. The US needs to approach this crisis not only through through the lens of law and order, but through the lens of dignity and respect for the people of Pakistan. An opportunity exists to redefine the essence of the US-Pakistan relationship. Let’s not let that opportunity go to waste.

Lahore Attack Rooted In Anti-Democratic Movement

The terrible attack on innocent Pakistanis in the midst of their Friday prayers is deeply rooted in anti-democratic movements of the past, and their ties to modern anti-democratic organizations today. Dr. Syed Mansoor Hussain, a Pakistani physician who has practiced and taught medicine in the US, writes for the English-language newspaper The Daily Times, that the dangerous sectarian attitudes are a political aberration in Pakistan, which can be traced back to opponents of the founding of the nation in 1947. His column is enlightening for Americans and young Pakistanis both, neither of whom may be aware of the history of struggle against such extremim in the nation.

After the Friday massacre in Lahore, I kept asking myself, how and why we have come to this point. I grew up in the Lahore of the late 50s and 60s. My family was not very religious but neither were they very liberal. I went through a typical upper middle class education for that time, English medium schools, followed by a couple of years in Government College (GC) and then five years in the King Edward (KE) Medical College.

During those years, I had of course heard about the Ahmedis and very probably had friends and classmates who were Ahmedi as there were Shias, Sunnis, and even some Christians, but never gave it a thought. The first time this sectarian anger against the Ahmedis came to the fore in my life was when as a second year student in KE, a classmate of ours died in a tragic swimming pool accident.

We decided to have a funeral prayer (namaaz-e-jinaza) for our classmate on the college campus. Suddenly out of nowhere appeared a bunch of students who belonged to the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) trying to convince us that the deceased was an Ahmedi and a funeral prayer should therefore not be held for him. Fortunately, a majority of students in our class ignored these IJT types and went ahead to offer the prayers.

My earliest memories of Lahore as a child were of processions, riots leading to curfews and eventually something called a Martial Law. Many years later when I went back and read about the early history of Pakistan, I realised that those riots were part of the anti-Ahmedi movement led by anti-Pakistan religious groups like the Ahrar and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Part of my reading included the ‘Munir Report’ written by Justices Munir and Kayani about those ‘disturbances’.

In that report I also found out that the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) government in Punjab led by Mian Mumtaz Daultana had aided and abetted this movement. Indeed that report was an eye-opener and is perhaps a great example of the erudition and the objectivity of the senior judiciary in Pakistan. In my opinion any serious student of the history of Pakistan must read that report.

The decade of the 60s ended with the fall of the military dictatorship of General and then Field Marshal Ayub Khan, leading to the second military dictatorship in the history of Pakistan led by General Yahya Khan. Whatever one might say about the 13 years under these two generals, Pakistan was very much a country infused by a pluralist religious ethos. Sectarianism existed but was very much in a muted and undercover form.

Towards the end of 1971 I left Pakistan for the US. When I left Pakistan it still had two wings, East and West Pakistan; however, soon the country went through a violent rupture. During the next decade, things changed a lot. The Ahmedis were declared non-Muslims by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), their mosques became ‘prayer houses’ and they were forbidden to call themselves Muslims.

Then came the evil decade of Islamisation in which Pakistan changed entirely. Religiosity of an extreme sort became the accepted norm, and virtually all Muslims not subscribing to an extremist vision of Islam became pariahs. The Ahmedis were pushed into a corner and became completely ostracised. The 1953 agitation against them had finally succeeded. All members of religious minorities who could, fled the country including the Parsees, the Christians, Hindus, and the Ahmedis.

For three decades I lived and worked in the US. Other than the family members of the close friends I made during those years, half were probably Jewish and the rest divided between Christians of different denominations, Indians including Hindus, Sikhs and a couple of Jains, and some Muslims from Pakistan. For me religion became the least important barometer of friendship. Frankly, for most of my professional life in the US, if I had to depend on somebody, it was the Jews followed by the Indians with the Pakistani sorts being quite unreliable as a group.

When I returned to Pakistan some years ago, another General was in charge, and ‘enlightened moderation’ was the slogan being touted by the General and his acolytes. Sadly, whatever the facade was, the reality was that Talibanisation and religious extremism were being pushed by the ‘establishment’. All claims of enlightened moderation were completely exposed when the attempt to take off the ‘religion’ column in the Pakistani passports failed. Like ZAB, Musharraf might have been a religious moderate, but he also gave in to the religious extremists to save his job.

The last few years have seen an escalation of both religiosity as well as religiously-motivated terrorism in Pakistan. It is true that many external factors are stimulating the extremist revival, the most important being the US-led invasion and occupation of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. But that does not absolve us in Pakistan from the charge of letting this menace grow.

It happened due to the collusion of the people in power and flourished because many ordinary Pakistanis support the violent and extreme vision of Islam that is pushed by the Taliban and their ilk. Of course the new democratic governments both at the Centre as well as in Punjab have made appropriate noises but they just do not have the gumption to come out openly against religious extremism and those that pander to it. Unless the ordinary people rise up against this menace, it will never be checked.

As far as the attack on the Ahmedi places of worship (cannot call them ‘mosques’ because that is against the law) is concerned, that is particularly despicable. People aggregate to worship Allah, and they become victims of an attack by those that claim to serve Allah. As far as I know the Ahmedis have never done anything to harm Pakistan, and yet those that opposed the creation of Pakistan are at the forefront of accusing them of being anti-Pakistan.