LAHORE - Syria situation, formation of Saudi-led Islamic military alliance and cold war between Riyadh and Tehran have further increased the already prevailing gulf among religious parties in Pakistan, largely shunning possibilities of their future electoral alliance.

With every religio-political party of the country siding with either Saudi Arabia or Iran, their leaders and followers are not ready to sit with each other to keep their vote intact, which is entirely based on sects. Since religious parties’ politics is based on sect representation, they are in practice of issuing statements on daily basis condemning or praising acts of two powerful Muslim states representing Ahle Hadith/Deobandi and Shia schools of thought.

Majority of Brelvi parties and Shia organisations back Bashar-ul-Asad regime in Syria while Deobandi and Ahle Hadith groups want end to what they call brutalities of his armies against innocent people.

The strategy of their politics is evident from the fact that no scholar from Brelvi or Shia sects held a meeting with Imam-e-Kaaba Sheikh Saleh bin Muhammad during his three-day visit to Pakistan. Only Dr Raghib Naeemi, the head of Brelvi seminary Jamia Naeemia, met Sheikh Saleh in the Punjab Chief Minister House along with other religious scholars on the invitation of CM Shehbaz Sharif. Dr Raghib Naeemi who stays away from politics always respects Sharifs and backs them in every election because of his good relations with them.

Almost every faction of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan whether it is Noorani, Masoom Naqvi or Central Jamiat, and both Shia representative parties, Allama Sajid Naqvi’s Islami Tehreek and Majlas-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen, are openly in favour of Asad’s rule over Syria, condemning the US strikes in the war-torn region and its Saudi backing.

The parties have severe reservations over the formation of Saudi-led Islamic military alliance whose commander is former COAS General Raheel Sharif.

Shias form almost 20 percent of the country’s population, according to some unconfirmed surveys, while Brelvis are considered 50 percent of the population though majority of them avoid voting in the name of sects, which is the main reason behind their weak position in Pakistan’s politics.

The situation of powerful Deobani parties is more interesting. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman’s JUI-F is considered the strongest religious party, but Maulana Sami-ul-Haq’s JUI-S, another major Deobandi organisation, has differences with it. JUI-S chief was not even invited to the recent centennial event of JUI-F in Noshehra. Both the parties back every Saudi act, but Maulana Fazl also enjoys very good relations with Iran. He is considered a moderate scholar and always advocates unity among Muslim ranks. But his hegemony is not acceptable to Maulana Sami and Jamaat-e-Islami, the second powerful religio-political party in terms of vote bank. JI which is also considered the most organised religio-political party of the country does not represent any sect, but never opposes any Saudi move. Some Shia and Brelvi scholars term JI a Wahabi/Deobandi party as all its leadership belongs to both the schools.

The JI is in favour of Islamic military alliance, but also wants Iran’s representation in it. The late Syed Modoodi’s party, holding flag of Pan-Islamism, wants peaceful solution to the Syria problem.

Ahle Hadith parties, Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith of Professor Sajid Mir and Jamiat Ahle Hadith Pakistan of Allama Ibitesam Elahi Zaheer, are powerful allies of Saudi Arabi in every situation, but also have clear differences with each other.

The entire situation has made it difficult for the leaders of religious parties to sit together as any such move could harm their vote bank which they want to keep intact in any case.

An Islamic Studies professor of Punjab University, seeking anonymity, said: “There will be a miracle if all the religious parties sit together and make an electoral alliance in the present situation.”  To further strengthen his claim, he questioned: “Can you name a single Brelvi in the country having soft corner for JUI-F or JUI-S? Can you mention any Shia in favour of Ahle Hadith or Deobandi party?”

Jamaat-e-Islami spokesperson Ameerul Azeem, talking to The Nation, said religious parties always remained in touch with each other on different issues and JI sincerely believed the minor differences among them could be resolved. But, he added, electoral politics in Pakistan had changed and the religious parties were part of this overall system. So alliance of only religious parties did not seem possible, Azeem said, adding no discussion for the formation of alliances had so far been held among them.

“Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman had contacted us to discuss electoral alliance some six months back, but then we were busy in our organisational matters, so we requested him to defer the things for some time. Later, Maulana Sahib himself got busy in his party’s activities and we could not hold any kind of discussion on the possibility of the future alliance. “It is my personal view that religious parties would make alliances with different political parties, especially with PTI, PPP and PML-N, in the coming elections instead of forming their own alliance,” he concluded.