The ideology ferment - Shehzad Chudhary - 19th November 2013

The Jamaat-e-Islamiís Munawar Hassanís comments on who is a martyr and who is not may not be as innocuous as they seem. This issue has started, within this hapless nation, what can become a potently debilitating debate. Subtended below such a formulation is the perennial issue in Islam of the legitimacy of a nation-state.

Simply put, here is what the JI chief asks: is Pakistan a legitimate state? Is its army therefore fighting a legitimate and just war when it contends with an apparently Islamist TTP that has taken up arms against the state? And, if the war by Pakistan against the TTP isnít a legitimate one, on what basis can those dying on behalf of the state be considered martyrs? Repeated mention of the United States of America in all this is a convenient subterfuge.

Conversely then, when Hakeemullah Mehsud, the recently Ďdronedí TTP commander, was killed fighting against two illegitimate entities Ė the Pakistani state and its army and the pagan Americans Ė he earned his rightful place as a shaheed. Note the clubbing! The substance is being lost in the debate, and remains untended; even though there hasnít ever been a bigger threat to Pakistanís statehood than what is contained in this apparently superficial and seemingly callous verbal formulation by the ameer.

The JIís history is chequered. They opposed the creation of Pakistan. When faced with the inevitability of the new state, the Jamaat quickly asserted its Islamist writ by stirring the issue of Ahmadis as non-Muslims in 1950, soon after Pakistan came into being. Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistanís first premier, relented by including the Objectives Resolution as a preamble to the proposed constitution.

The state appeased its first tormentor who used religion as a bargaining chip; and ceded space. In 1953, the state had to undergo a martial law to retain its writ in the city of Lahore when the Ahmadi issue was once again raised by the JI. The act was completed in 1973 under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Ė ironically the only real claimant to progressive, liberal politics in Pakistanís short political history Ė when Ahmadis were finally proscribed from Islam.

By then there were many more players of the Islam card, but the then JI ameer, Maulana Maudoodi, remained the chief torchbearer. In the 1960s under Ayub Khan, the first military ruler, the relationship between the state and the Jamaat remained inimical, with the Jamaat largely perceived to be a nuisance.

In the late 1960s, however, when East Pakistan became restive and an independence movement ensued, the JI offered its robust urban base there to form anti-rebel movements that became the informal element of the stateís composite response.

This is when the state first acquiesced to the JIís assumed bona fides as a relevant player in the national power calculus. This formal baptism of the JI as a partner to the state was reinforced when the Soviet Union aggressed into Afghanistan in 1979, and pushed both the US and Pakistan to use the JIís auspices to put up contending mujahideen groups to fight their proxy war.

Another parallel movement under Hassan al Banna and Syed Qutb of Egypt in the shape of Ikhwan al Muslimeen too aimed at rediscovering and implementing puritan Islam. It too shunned Arab nationalism, which after all was built around the concept of a nation-state. These two geographically separated movements mutually complemented each other, and informed each othersí ideological, intellectual and philosophical underpinnings. Both have retained a strong academic fundament to their cause of Islamic resurgence.

Such thought eschewed the constraining domains of a nation-state, instead dreaming of a wider integrated ummah that recognised no boundaries. In an environment of an ascendant Christian west, and the institution of a post-WW II order that was organised around the nation-state, political Islamís objective of Pan-Islamism has had to take a backseat.

The Soviet aggression in Afghanistan in 1979, however, gave greater cause to a rejuvenated possibility of political Islam entrenching itself in a more permissive geopolitical formulation. Al-Qaeda found its ideological strength from Maudoodiís work, and found a more willing partner in the JI when support was needed. Post-9/11 many Al-Qaeda related arrests were made from the homes of JI workers.

Subsequently, the Taliban, both Afghan and the Pakistani ones have fed off each other; first, in the sense of physical succour, and then over time in ideological moorings. All, in nexus with Al-Qaeda, have found common cause with the idealism of the JI. Some of the Pakistani groups are surely driven by such ideological underpinnings. While it is usual to express the Afghan Taliban movement in primarily nationalist hues Ė and that may well be so Ė what drives the Pakistani Taliban is an ideological framework that finds resonance within Pakistanís resident Islamic ideological tradition espoused vehemently by none other than the JI.

If this be so, and it probably is, what Munawar Hassan said is ominous. He knew what he was doing. When the state seemed at its weakest, with the kind of response that it gave in the wake of Hakeemullahís death, and how it said what it said, it seemed to betray latent fears and the divisive strategic sense of those in power, especially when the army too was touted to be in sync with the national mood.

The Taliban, sensing the moment, urged their ideological benefactors, the JI, to test the waters of popular acceptability of their cause. What better way then, to express indignation through targeting drones as an anti-America sentiment, the war being Americaís war, and the army fighting an illegal and unjust war? Forget the semantics and the nuance of martyrdom, what is on test here is far deeper and potent.

In one stroke, the JI ameer has simply reinforced what the Jamaat has always believed in. In doing so, if the two-nation theory then becomes a collateral casualty, so be it. In that sense, the JI is back where it was prior to 1947.