The PPP and the Jamaat-e-Islami are once again exploring the possibility of an electoral alliance, something which would appear to a majority of both parties’ members as an impossibility. However, whereas the two saw each other as the enemy in the country’s first election as the ideological ‘enemy’, changed circumstances have made each attractive to the other’s leadership as a potential partner, but the respective antipathy among their vote banks are unlikely to allow them to transfer their votes to the other. Thus it is likely that any electoral alliance will prove disappointing enough to prevent any alliance from continuing.

Paradoxically, the biggest advantage that the two parties bring to the table is also the biggest obstacle in the case of the PPP and the Jamaat. The Jamaat is an older party, and an ideological one. The PPP is also an ideological party, but it was founded later. Indeed, it has virtually defined itself by its opposition to the Jamaat. There ae other religious parties, but because the Jamaat’s strength lay in urban areas, it was perhaps more prominent than others, and thus was seen as the quintessential religious party. The PPP was attractive to those who wanted religion kept out of the sphere of politics, which included the left, or those with leftist views. Thus, for them, the strongest ideological opposition was seen as coming from the Jamaat.

Though they emerged almost a generation apart, both parties had to take positions on the greatest political issue of the time, the Cold War. Because it espoused socialism, the PPP was anti-USA initially. It could not be very pro-Soviet, because that would have meant being pro-India, which is how some saw it, despite founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rhetoric, which even extended to bad language. That label was revived when the military overthrew Bhutto in 1977. In 1979, the Afghan Jihad started, and the Jamaat was at the forefront. The new military ruler reversed military policy, which had banned the Jamaat in the Ayub years so strongly that it was forbidden to military circles to read Jamaat literature.

The Jamaat had always been influential because its founder, Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi, was also a religious scholar of great ability, and whose works proved more popular than his party. Thus, a lot of his work was perused by many who did not belong to the Jamaat, particularly his Tahfeemul Quran,. His translation of the Holy Quran, and commentary thereon. Then came the 1970 election, and the need to provide an opposition to the PPP as well as the Muslim League factions (at least four large ones). The Jamaat found itself crushed. It joined the PNA alliance in 1977, and then the IJI alliance created for the 1988 election. It remained in the IJI in 1900, but in 1993, it engaged in a ‘solo flight’. Not only did it not win any new seats, but this caused the Jamaat voter to migrate to the party with a better chance of beating the PPP, the PML-N.

The Jamaat was not in an alliance in the 1970 election, when it did much worse than its profile. The only seats it won were a few in Karachi. Along with the JUP under Maulana Shah Noorani, it dominated Karachi and Hyderabad, as well as other concentrations of Muhajirs. The Jamaat was in a bit of a conflict, for while it had major Muhajir support, it eschewed any ideological representation. The All-Pakistan Muhajir Students Organisation proved too much for its student wing, the Islami Jamiat Tulaba. The IJT had always been stronger than the main party, and taught the Jamaat that elections could be won. Karachi also proved this, with the local bodies providing its nominee, Abdus Sattar Afghani, the Mayorship of Karachi. The APMSO proved its nemesis there, in its adult avatar the Muhajir Qaumi Movement, by beginning nearly three decades of victory in Sind’s urban areas in 1987. The Jamaat has always looked to Karachi as a lost area, and its recent alliance with the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has the Karachi consideration in view.

However, that alliance too has not exactly made the Jamaat very happy, making the Jamaat leadership wary of joining the PPP. The PPP has been brought to considering the alliance because it seems to be feeling weak in the Punjab, where it faces not just the PML(N), but also the PTI. The PTI is not so much challenging it as replacing it. One reason has been the fact that the PTI is part of a tradition that seeks the support of ‘electables’. The PPP was such a party, and before that the PML. (Apart from a large number of MNAs and MPAs, even the founder of the PPP Zulfikar Ali Bhutto himself, had started politics from the PML.) The Jamaat, on the other hand, initially opposed the PML, and even the pre-Partition All-India Muslim League, labelling the Quaid-i-Azam ‘Kafir-i-Azam’. It went into alliance with the PML back in 1974, when both were components of the Democratic Action Front. It was alongside it in the PNA, and then the IJI of 1985-93, leaving the IJI over Karachi, basically because the IJI had joined hands with the MQM in the Combined Opposition Parties, and its head, none other than Mian Nawaz Sharif, depended on it to support his government.

The PPP had eschewed alliances until 1990, when it was the main component of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance. It has combined with the ANP, with which it has thrice formed the KPK government. However, its electoral alliance resulted in a defeat in the last election. It has not attempted an alliance with any party in the rest of the country, and any alliance with the Jamaat would depend on whether this combination would win any seats.

The Jamaat would definitely have to be the junior partner in such an alliance, a position its leadership might find hard to sell to the party rank and file. Unlike almost all other small parties, the Jamaat has got a bloc of voters in virtually every constituency. The PPP also does, sometimes (as in rural Sindh) enough to win the constituency for its nominee. However, these Jamaat votes, even if transferable, are not enough to win the seat for the PPP.

Both parties are desperate. The PPP needs to win a majority in Punjab to add to its seats from the rest of the country to form the government, something it has only done since 1988 by forming a coalition. The Jamaat also needs seats in Punjab. However, not only do both face the PML-N, but also the PTI. It is to be seen whether the desperation caused by the PTI is enough to drive them both into each other’s arms. Apart from that, the ideological differences which have made them such deadly enemies have not changed, even though the world has.

Though the Cold War has been replaced by the War on Terror, the Jamaat does not seem to have gone past the 1957 Machhi Goth debate over whether to take part in elections or not. Opponents of participation have grown more sophisticated, and perhaps more radical. The Jamaat needs success to refute those who claim that elections themselves are un-Islamic. An alliance with the PPP might give such success, but not only might the PPP not agree, but the alliance might provide arguments to those opposed to elections themselves, let alone alliances.


n             The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.