Closing Ranks, One More Time
By Rahimullah Yusufzai


As expected, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal managed to paper over its differences by deciding to continue boycott of the controversial National Security Council. One more time its leaders closed ranks after having realized that the break-up of their alliance would be suicidal.
However, the reprieve appears to be temporary because the decision related to the meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on June 8 only. Another MMA summit meeting would be held to finally decide the contentious issue on June 23. That meeting would also elect the new president and office-bearers of the six-party alliance on completion of the two-year tenure of the MMA head Qazi Hussain Ahmad and his team. As such, the next meeting of the heads of the MMA components would be even more crucial than the one held on June 7.
That meeting, like the one held in Islamabad on June 7, would also be termed by sections of the media as the 'make or break' summit. It appears the MMA leadership once more would prove the analysts wrong. The clergy-led religio-political alliance has defied predictions about the likely disintegration of the MMA in the past and it seems it would manage to survive in future also in spite of the strife in its ranks. The fear of its supporters, who want the MMA to remain united, and the rewards that unity have bestowed on its components in the shape of a share in power, would continue to keep together the disparate components that make up the alliance.
The build-up to the June 7 MMA summit had been dramatic. Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) head Qazi Hussain Ahmad had written a letter to the leaders of the MMA components opposing an end to the boycott of the NSC and threatening to resign as the president of the alliance if the JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman and his party colleague and NWFP chief minister Akram Durrani were allowed to attend NSC's meeting on June 7. However, he had made it clear that the JI would not quit the MMA. Obviously, the JI didn't want to take the blame for splitting the MMA.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad's tactics didn't amuse Maulana Fazlur Rahman, secretary general of the MMA and head of the largest component of the alliance. He felt Qazi should have raised the issue in-house during MMA meetings instead of making his letter public and providing it to the press. The JI leaders countered his argument by pointing out that the Maulana and his JUI-F too had gone public with their repeated demands that chief minister Durrani should attend the next NSC meeting to safeguard the NWFP's interest in such an important institution.
The verbal sparring between Qazi and the Maulana was followed by an aggressive exchange of statements featuring the second and third level of JI and JUI-F leaders, particularly in the Frontier where the MMA is in power. The war of words was threatening to cause irreparable harm but both Qazi and the Maulana intervened to ban issuing of public statements by the two sides. Once again the two top MMA leaders took steps to do damage control and prevent the situation from becoming uncontrollable.
Though the MMA summit on June 7 decided by consensus to continue boycott of the NSC, it is clear that the issue is by no means over. That is the reason that the matter would be discussed once more on June 23. In fact, the issue of boycotting the NSC would crop up whenever the federal government convenes meetings of the military-dominated institution. The MMA would thus be hard pressed to decide this issue once and for all. Postponing decision would not resolve the deep differences that plague the MMA on this count.
The JI and JUI-F stance on the NSC is fairly rigid. The JI, which enjoys staunch support of MMA component Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith of Prof Sajid Mir, considers the NSC an unconstitutional and illegal body and is, therefore, in no mood to give it legitimacy by allowing MMA representatives to attend its meetings. For the JI it is a matter of principle and recognition of the NSC with the uniformed President General Pervez Musharraf as its head amounts to a negation of the MMA's politics and policies. Qazi Hussain Ahmad remains unconvinced that Musharraf or the federal government would forego their hostility toward the MMA and bail out the beleaguered MMA-led government in the NWFP by generously providing it funds once their alliance ends its boycott of the NSC. The JI leaders are quick to point out that President Musharraf could easily go back on his promises as he did in case of his public undertaking to take off his army uniform by December 2004.
The JUI-F has an entirely different stand on the NSC. Inspired by the pragmatism of its leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman, it has been arguing that the NSC was now a reality and staying away from its meetings was an exercise in futility. The JUI-F leaders believe their representatives by attending the NSC meetings would be able to present the MMA viewpoint on issues confronting the country and the people and counter the stance of President Musharraf and his supporters. They hope the MMA presence in NSC would make it a more meaningful forum because in its present shape it is no more than a club of the President's 'yes men'.
Besides, they feel the interests of an important federating unit such as the NWFP cannot be protected if the province remains un-represented in the NSC. In fact, one of the arguments advanced by the JUI-F and its allies in the MMA is that the federal government would start releasing funds for major development projects in the province once chief minister Durrani starts attending the NSC meetings.
The JUI-F appears willing to offer a compromise formula to the JI to end the NSC impasse. It would be happy to keep Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of the opposition in parliament, out of the NSC in return for letting the NWFP chief minister to attend the forum's meetings. As the Maulana is the MMA secretary general, his non-participation in NSC meetings would in practice mean that the six-party alliance hasn't ended its boycott of the NSC. On the other hand, chief minister Durrani's attendance in the NSC meetings would be justified on the ground that he is a representative of the NWFP in the military-dominated federal institution.
The JI until now seems unwilling to accept the JUI-F formula. But the two major components of the MMA would have to bridge their differences if they are to end the stalemate that is threatening the unity of their three-year old alliance.
Acceptance or otherwise of the NSC isn't the only issue that is haunting the MMA and posing threat to its unity. There are other contentious issues as well, including the status of Maulana Samiul Haq's JUI-S which has refused to attend MMA meetings after complaining of step-motherly treatment at the hands of the JUI-F and JI. A dissident faction of the JUI-S led by Qari Gul Rahman, MNA, is still part of the MMA but the party's mainstream group headed by Maulana Samiul Haq has left the alliance for all practical purposes even though it is yet to do so formally. The last thing the MMA needs at this stage is widening of the gulf between the JUI-F and JI, two of its major components.

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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