KARACHI – Preparing for the coming parliamentary election, Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the mainstream religious parties in Pakistan, is campaigning to turn the Muslim country into an ideal state based on the Islamic principles of justice and equality.
"The State of Madinah, which was established on the principals of justice, equality, and social welfare, is the model state for the Muslim Ummah," Syed Munawwar Hassan, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Pakistan, told OnIslam.net in an exclusive interview.
"We are going to elections with same agenda vowing to turn the country into a model state in line with the State of Madinah."
The JI is considered the most annexed political and religious party in Pakistan.
It is preparing to run for the coming general elections in May following the completion of a five-year term of the incumbent ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP).
“We will contest the elections under our own flag and election symbol after 43 years, and we are hopeful that the nation will take a right decision this time," said Syed Munawwar, who was elected as fourth JI chief in the party’s 70 years old history in 2011.
Before this, he acted as the secretary general of the party from 1993 to 2011.
Hailing from a lower middle-income bracket, Syed Munawwar had headed the Islami Jamiat Talaba, the largest student wing in Pakistan, for three years from 1963 to 1966.
He, however, said that options for seat adjustment, mainly with religious and right-wing parties, are under consideration.
"We admit that in current polarized situation, no single party can steer the country out of economic, political, and social predicaments, and I see a coalition government to govern the country next time too," he said.
"Therefore, we will prefer to have seat adjustments with like-minded political parties," said Syed Munawwar, who holds a master's degree in English Literature from the University of Karachi.
"However, we would prefer the religious parties for seat adjustment."
The JI got the highest number of seats in the national assembly (28) from the platform of Muttehida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a conglomerate of six religious parties, in the 2002 general elections.
But Syed Munawwar appears to be disappointed by the experience.
The MMA not only secured 66 seats in the 342-member house of National Assembly, but also managed to appear the single largest party and formed its government in north western Khyber Pakhtukhuwa province, riding a popularity tide due to its strong opposition of the US invasion of Afghanistan.
"I do not want to target any particular party or person, but that is true that the MMA government had disappointed the nation," he told OnIslam.net.
"Some individuals had exploited the MMA for their own agenda," he said, indirectly referring to Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, the chief of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), the second mainstream religious party in Pakistan, who was better known as the secret weapon of former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.
Cracks with the ruling coalition had started appearing during the Musharraf’s regime because of Maulana Fazl’s tacit support to the military ruler in defiance of decisions taken by the MMA executive council.
However, the alliance tumbled in the 2008 general elections when the JI along with other political and nationalist parties boycotted the polls, while the JUI took part in the ballot but secured only 8 seats in 342-member house.
"If formation of the government or winning constituencies was the objective of the religious alliance, it was met. But did MMA appear to be different than other governments or political parties? My answer is NO.
"Those who argue that the religious vote would be divided if religious parties contest elections separately, I want to ask them should the joint vote of religious parties be used to strengthen the current status-quo or just for the sake of formation of governments?
"That’s why we are going to polls with clear objective and understanding. We do not want anyone to use the combined religious votes as a pocket watch," he said.
"But, we still do not want secular parties to take advantage of religious parties divide. Therefore, we would go for maximum seat adjustments with religious parties in order to keep the religious vote intact."
The JI is also in negotiations with right-wing Pakistan Muslim League led by two-time premier Nawaz Sharif, and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
Syed Munawwar opines that the Arab Spring revolutions have given tonic to the Islamic forces in Pakistan.
Away from politics, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan is also seeking to engage the government and the Taliban in talks to help end a decade-long militancy in the Muslim state.
“This is a golden opportunity for the government,” Syed Munawwar told OnIslam.net.
“They should accept this offer, and give peace another chance.”
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella of different Taliban groups, have been leading a militant campaign against army troops and government facilities in Pakistan.
The group justifies its campaign for Islamabad’s participation in Washington’s so-called war on terror.
But the militant group has recently announced that it is ready to hold peace talks with the government if guaranteed by Syed Munawwar, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Nawaz Sharif.
The TTP says it is not ready to trust the army or the ruling coalition vis-à-vis peace talks.
"Any move that can bring peace to my country, am ready to be part of that," Syed Munawwar said.
Currently, Syed Munawwar and Maulana Fazl are engaged in delineating the terms and references of the peace talks through a grand tribal jirga.
The Muslim leader, however, appears to be cautious to predict about the outcome of the proposed peace talks.
"Things have gone too complicated, and cannot be brought into order by pushing a button," he said.
"It needs a lot of resolve and vigor from both sides.
"But we cannot suspend our efforts on the basis of predictions or speculations. Whatever would be the results, peace talks must be held."
The JI leader opines that a planned NATO pullout from Afghanistan may bring much harder situation in Pakistan.
"The peace talks with Taliban could be right step in right direction," Syed Munawwar told OnIslam.net.
"America will leave the region later or sooner. But we (Taliban and government) have to live here.
"Therefore, no opportunity- no matter small or big- should be missed to bring peace to our region”, he contended.
The US and its NATO allies are set to withdraw most of their troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Syed Munawwar thinks that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan, and it could take the revenge of this defeat in the form of more instability in the region, especially in Pakistan."In order to avert the US designs, it is high time to take benefit of this (peace) offer," he said.