BY AMIR RANA
THERE is substantive evidence to suggest that Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) is gaining ground in Pakistan. Irrespective of the causes, the rise of the group from within a relatively smaller religious sect and its ability to create an immense impact both on public and policy discourse in Pakistan is considered by its associates as a great ‘triumph’.
Having conceived its objectives in a narrow sectarian and anti-democratic perspective, the JuD is now struggling to adjust itself as an important player in the country’s religious-political landscape.
During the last one decade or so, it has launched and led many mass movements: a campaign against the Prophet’s (PBUH) images by a Danish cartoonist; countrywide protests against the Iraq war; Tehrik Hurmat-i-Rasool (in reaction to the desecration of the Quran in Guantanamo some years ago); a movement against the women’s protection bill; and the pro-Saudi Arabia campaign in the context of Riyadh’s role following the unrest in Bahrain. The group is now among the leading members of the Difaa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC).
Once the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had the ability to mobilise the immense mass movements and its participation in any religious and political agitation was considered the key to success but now the JuD has taken over the role. One reason could be that the JuD has built its organisational structure on the pattern of the JI. Also, the top leadership of the group has served in the JI. Is it a sign of transformation of a hard-core militant organisation into a mainstream religious political party? Is the JuD following a pattern similar to that of Hezbollah and Hamas?
It can be discerned from the recent history of radical and militant organisations that when the infrastructure of one among such organisations expanded on a large scale, the group’s stakes grew in the same system it had been opposing previously.
Contrary to this, militant groups that failed to develop their organisational infrastructure were subjected to divisions and became more violent. The JuD has succeeded over time in diversifying its infrastructure and resources, employing the strategy of social delivery programmes and exploiting contemporary religious and political issues.
At the same time, despite internal and external pressures, it has succeeded in keeping its militant network the Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT) intact. Many militant groups in Pakistan, contemporaries of the JuD, could not diversify their ideological and physical resources and ultimately faced erosion within their organisational structures. Their breakaway factions got involved in terrorism inside the country, which forced them to limit their links with them and remain underground.
Nevertheless, the JuD is on the surface and owns a solid and stretched-out infrastructure inside Pakistan which includes more than 300 offices, mosques and madressahs. The group has set up many commercial ventures including more than 400 English-medium schools, colleges, transportation companies, residential projects and media groups and has acquired farmland on a large scale.
Its charity wing has one of the biggest fleet of ambulances in the country, seven hospitals and more than 200 health centres.
The group has the second largest charity network in Pakistan after Maymar Trust, formally known as Al-Rashid Trust. This means that the JuD cannot afford any confrontation with the state that could force it to abandon its activities in the country.
In the beginning, the JuD’s ideological discourse was built on an extremely narrow sectarian agenda of spreading hatred against the Shia and Barelvi communities, as reflected in its earlier publications. But after 9/11, it adopted a reconciliatory approach and invited opposing sects to its platform to ‘wage a joint struggle for a common cause’.
The approach worked and not only the JuD but the Ahle Hadith school of thought too gained ground in public and religious discourses. The JuD even struck roots in the Hindu-dominated districts of Sindh, where more numbers among the local population were seen to embrace Islam.
It must be a good feeling among JuD’s brothers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that the militant group has had a significant impact on Pakistan where these countries had been spending enormous resources on promoting their orthodox school of thought for decades, but had failed to attract the Sunni majority.Is JuD’s active participation in political rallies and membership of an alliance of political parties and individuals a sign that the group has ambitions to move towards electoral politics? Though their rejection of democracy was one of the prime objectives behind the establishment of the JuD, the group leadership appears to have changed tack.
It seems that the group has the willingness to participate in electoral politics but is concerned about the absence of an electoral support base. Nevertheless, JuD members had contested local bodies elections in their individual capacity and supported different candidates in previous general elections. The JuD’s taking part in electoral politics would be an interesting phenomenon for political scientists to see how a militant group had completed its lifecycle in Pakistan.
The JuD still believes in achieving its goal through the use of violence but it is becoming extremely cautious in its sociopolitical rhetoric. Although it has not yet abandoned ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) it avoids admitting its links with it at a public level.
It may not be because of any fear of public reaction but mainly to avoid external pressure. There is a dissident voice also in the organisation that this indifferent policy towards LeT could lead towards complete detachment from it.
The assessment of JuD’s probable political transformation is only relevant if the group is considered as an independent entity with no links to and patronisation from any quarter of the establishment.
Certainly, establishments use non-state actors for their legitimate and illegitimate purposes, but non-state actors gradually become independent and it becomes difficult for the establishments to control them as it happened in the case of many militant organizations in Pakistan which were created in Afghanistan and Kashmir but later turned against the state.
For instance, Ilyas Kashmiri, once an asset, rebelled and dealt a blow to the security forces. He was considered the mastermind behind some major attacks on security forces in Pakistan.
The writer is editor of the quarterly research journal Conflict and Peace Studies.