The recent expulsion of Maulana Khan Muhammad Sherani and three other key leaders from the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has been painted mostly as a conspiracy against the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an 11-party opposition alliance, and a revolt within the party over its participation in the anti-government campaign.
However, the crisis in the JUI is an outcome of a protracted conflict surrounding Sherani.
The crisis started with Sherani’s recent statement that has come out at a time when party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is leading the PDM’s anti-government campaign.
“Maulana Rehman himself is a ‘selected’ leader. How can he taunt Imran Khan and others for being ‘selected?” Sherani had remarked, adding that Imran Khan would complete his term and would be elected for the next five-year term as well.
Within days, Muhammad Ali Durrani, a politician currently associated with Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, an ally of the federal government, called on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore and conveyed a message from party chief Sibghatullah Rashidi (Pir Pagara), asking him to play his role in “saving the democratic system” by convincing the opposition not to resign from the assemblies.
Some analysts who link Sherani’s statements and the Durrani-Shehbaz meeting claim that both these developments are aimed at weakening the PDM.
However, JUI-F leaders privy to developments, say that the party’s recent crisis is an outcome of a rift between Rehman and Sherani that had started during the 2014 intra-party polls when the latter criticized the former for turning it into a ‘family party’.
On December 25, the JUI-F disciplinary committee expelled Sherani, a key party leader and former chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology, along with three other leaders, for “deviating from the party policy” and for “creating a party within the party”. JUI-F spokesperson Aslam Ghori announced the decision.
The other expelled leaders included the party’s central information secretary Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, former senator Maulana Gul Naseeb and provincial secretary general Maulana Shujaul Mulk.
Until 2012, Sherani was seen as the second most influential person in the JUI-F (after Rehman). He had headed the party in Balochistan province for over three decades and on several occasions was elected as an MNA and a senator.
In the 1980s, the party had split on the question of whether to ally with the military dictatorship of Ziaul Haq or support the left-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party-led campaign against the regime.
“At that time, senior leaders like Maulana Abdullah Darkhwasti and Maulana Samiul Haq exercised significant influence over the party. Sherani was among the few leaders who helped Rehman re-organize the party across the country, particularly in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” says a senior party leader in Karachi. “After that Rehman did not interfere in organizational affairs in Balochistan out of respect for Sherani.”
Sherani used to decide the party tickets in the elections and make alliances with nationalist parties to form governments in the province.
In the 2002 general elections when the JUI-F was part of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, Sherani did not allocate any seat to the other component parties in Balochistan. Even after Jamaat-i-Islami’s leaders complained about this Rehman was unable to persuade Sherani to reconsider.
The JUI-F has had a good relationship with the Afghan Taliban because the party had played a role in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s and then supported the Taliban regime in Kabul. Afghan Taliban leaders regularly attend the party’s gatherings and funerals of the ulema affiliated with the party in Balochistan’s Pashtun-majority areas.
However, Sherani’s criticism of the Afghan Taliban had affected the relationship to a point that he faced threats to his life. When Sherani escaped an assassination attempt in November 2004, he openly blamed a group linked to key Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah.
Sherani’s criticism of pro-Taliban leaders and his refusal to award them party tickets resulted in several pro-Taliban leaders in the party leaving to form the JUI-Nazaryati (JUI-N).
On December 25, the disciplinary committee of the JUI-F announced the expulsion of Sherani, a key party leader and former chairperson of the Council of Islamic Ideology, along with three other leaders for “deviating from the party policy” and for “creating a party within the party”.
The JUI-N ran its campaign in Balochistan’s Pashtun districts, complaining that Sherani’s party had abandoned the preaching of jihad and stopped supporting the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. When Dadullah was killed, the JUI-N organized a conference to pay tribute to him. It was also the first religious party to organize protest rallies and funeral prayers on May 2, 2011, in Quetta and other Pashtun districts of the province to pay homage to Osama bin Laden.
JUI-N’s aggressive politics had dented JUI-F’s vote bank in 2008 and 2013 general polls. Maulana Asmatullah, the JUI-N chief, defeated Sherani in the 2008 elections from the then NA-264 constituency. The new party also won a few provincial assembly seats.
Although the JUI-N did not win a single seat from Balochistan in the 2013 general election, political observers believe that the split benefited the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.
Sherani has also been credited with forming the Ittihad-i-Millat-i-Islamia Mahaz (IMIM), an alliance of six groups belonging to various sects, in Quetta to curb sectarian violence in the provincial capital and to openly condemn the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a proscribed outfit, for killing hundreds of Shia Hazaras.
After a string of JUI-F defeats in Balochistan, the JUI-F leadership decided to sideline Sherani considering his policies were seen damaging the party in the province.
Maulana Faiz Muhammad, seen as a lesser leader, thus defeated Sherani in the 2014 intra-party polls in the province and started a process to bring JUI-N back into the parent party. Sherani’s two close aides – Maulana Abdul Wasay and Hafiz Hadmullah – too abandoned him later.
Sidelined by the party, Sherani continued to issue statements regarding the affairs of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. This gained him popularity among Pashtun nationalist youth. Sherani also tried to mediate a truce between Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali and Begum Naseem Wali Khan.
On December 29, Sherani announced the formation of a new faction of the JUI. While addressing a press conference in Islamabad after chairing a meeting of former JUI-F members who had been expelled from the party, he named the new party Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Pakistan (JUI-P). He stated that he and his colleagues had never been a part of JUI-F in the first place. “We have always been and will always remain members in accordance with the constitution of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam,” Sherani said.
“Those who have been shown the door by Maulana Fazl would follow the Quranic teachings and the practices of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) while never siding with the wrongdoers,” he said. He said that none of the JUI-P’s members would ever take any action against the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah and that his companions needed to make their own decisions as to “whether to please God or to follow their own desires”. “Truth and honesty are lacking in a lot that is happening now,” he said. “We have inherited politics from great leaders of whom some are no longer members of this party. No political worker would be pressured under the JUI-P’s party discipline,” he said.
Speaking about his future course of action, he said: “First, no one will take any steps against the Quran and Sunnah. No political worker will be forced into doing anything. We should encourage all our colleagues not to break with the party or be stubborn about it. We are tolerant and listen to what people say about us.”
Most analysts believe that the dissenters cannot significantly dent the JUI-F even after formally launching their faction of the party.
The writer is a The News staffer. Email: zeea.rehmangmail.com and Twitter: zalmayzia