The shifting tide of coalitions in Pakistan has come full circle with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) reviving the Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal (MMA) again after nearly a decade.

After the 2002 elections, the MMA retained the provisional government of Khyber–Pakhtunkhwa and remained in alliance with PML-Q in Balochistan. JUI-F left the alliance due to a political disagreement over boycotting the general elections held in 2008 and became a PPP coalition partner.

The collapse of the MMA was in part due to ideological differences and intra-party fissures. Following the general elections in 2002, the JUI-S led by Sami-ul-Haq, claimed the alliance’s politics and policy had been usurped by the JI and JUI-F. In 2004, Sami-ul-Haq informally seceded, citing the MMA had failed in its implementation of Sharia, had fallen silent regarding military presence in tribal areas, raids on mosques, and the US invasion of Afghanistan. The formation of the MMA on the basis of anti-American, anti-Musharraf, and pro-Islam platforms, was solely in the context of a perceived moment of crisis. This revival is similar, an election strategy rather than an ideological melding of minds. It may dissolve as easily. The earlier MMA’s political experience derived from establishing street power, however translating such into a coherent, effective ideology was difficult. Its reputation was publicly damaged when in 2003 the MMA had breached several agreements with the World Bank by widespread corruption in KPK, where under-the-table favours and irregularities in the postings of officials were pervasive.

An MMA comeback is an interesting prospect that will probably see some electoral successes in KPK. However, conservative parties like the JUI-F joining with more centrist parties may help to moderate their stand on important issues related to women participation in the elections and after, and education and seminary reforms in the KPK and FATA. In 2005, after the police inaction regarding a violent incident where a young woman was paraded at gunpoint in Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s native district of Nowshera, the MMA refused to address the issue, defending the police and its impassivity. The same year, MMA officials were accused of distributing the medical-school examinations to prominent families in Abbottabad and Peshawar, tarnishing the image of the MMA as a supporter of the lower-middle classes. They threatened to resign from national and provincial assemblies in protest after Pakistan’s parliament amended laws to transfer rape cases from its ‘Sharia’ courts to civil courts, prohibited male doctors from performing ultrasounds on women, and tried to close the province’s cinemas.

While other parties are no better, with corruption prevalent, the MMA’s repression of choice and women cannot go unaddressed. While the new mandate of the revived MMA is unclear, it is hoped it is one of actual social welfare that includes economic uplift of the masses, rather than just a list of prohibitions.