Militants Turn Against Pakistan’s JUI-F Islamist Party
By: Zia Ur Rehman
Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam-Fazlur (JUI-F) is one of the leading Islamist political parties in Pakistan. The JUI-F is considered ideologically similar to the Taliban, and the party is popular in northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Yet in the past four years, several activists and leaders of the JUI-F have been targeted and killed in KP and FATA by unidentified Islamist militants. Even the JUI-F’s right-wing leader, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, has been targeted in two failed assassination attempts.
Although no group has claimed credit for the attacks, analysts believe that the operations have been executed by irreconcilable Pakistani militant groups that disapprove of the JUI-F’s “appeasement” policies. These include the JUI-F’s decision to support the present ruling coalition in Islamabad, which is carrying out military operations against Pakistani Taliban groups in FATA, as well as the party’s reported attempts to engage the United States on peace talks for the war in Afghanistan.
Attacks against the JUI-F can be dated to 2008, when the JUI-F became part of Pakistan’s coalition government after participating in the country’s general elections. The JUI-F took control of three federal ministries as part of the coalition. By partaking in democracy, the JUI-F appears to have turned its former patrons in the Pakistani Taliban into enemies.
This article profiles the JUI-F and examines the party’s ties to Pakistani and Afghan Taliban factions. It also explains why Taliban factions have turned against a party that, to outside observers, appeared to be an ally.
A Profile of JUI-F
The JUI-F, led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, is Pakistan’s leading religious political party. It follows the Deobandi movement within Sunni Islam, and it is the most influential organization in Pakistan calling for a “pure Islamic state.” It primarily functions as an “electoral party” where success in elections, no matter how limited, provides the party the opportunity to form governments at the provincial level as well as have a presence in federal cabinets. This gives the party resources and power.
The JUI-F has a firm organizational structure, and it has widespread support in KP, FATA and Baluchistan Province. Indeed, it is considered Pakistan’s only political party that has a strong organizational structure in the volatile tribal areas. Much of the party’s support derives from its connections to northwest Pakistan’s network of madrasas (religious seminaries).
The JUI-F has influence with many of Pakistan’s militant groups, including those led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Waliur Rahman Mehsud. In June 2010, for example, the JUI-F pressured the government to release approximately 300 alleged Taliban members from prison, as the men were also JUI-F party members.
The party is known for its close ties to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime. Demonstrating the connection between the groups, on October 26, 2011, the Afghan Taliban issued an unprecedented condolence statement for the death of Maulana Abdul Ghani, a deputy leader of JUI-F who died in a car accident in Baluchistan Province. Members of the Afghan Taliban leadership were also in attendance at Abdul Ghani’s funeral.
Nevertheless, although the JUI-F is linked to Taliban militant groups operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the party has never openly supported sectarianism and violent jihad. As a result, many leaders terminated their association with the JUI-F after differences erupted over issues of sectarianism and violence in the 1980s and 1990s and then formed their own militant organizations—such as Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Harkat-ul-Mujahidin (HuM) and Jaysh-i-Muhammad (JM). All of these organizations are now declared banned by the government.
The JUI-F itself is one of three splinter groups. One faction, known as Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S), was formed by Maulana Samiul Haq in the mid-1980s after Rahman refused to support the military ruler at the time, Ziaul Haq. Samiul Haq is commonly referred to as the “Father of the Afghan Taliban” due to his leadership of the Darul Uloom Haqqania madrasa in Akora Khattak, from where many of the top leaders of the Afghan Taliban movement, including Mullah Omar, graduated.
Another faction, Jamiat-i-Ulama-Islam-Nazariati (JUI-N), was formed by hardcore pro-Taliban leaders of the JUI-F in Baluchistan Province in the 2008 general elections. This splinter group complained that the JUI-F leadership had abandoned the preaching of “jihad” and had stopped supporting the Afghan Taliban. Incidentally, the JUI-N, led by Maulana Asmatullah, a member of parliament from Baluchistan, was the first religious party that organized a protest rally on May 2, 2011 in Quetta to pay homage to slain al-Qa`ida chief Usama bin Ladin. The JUI-N, unlike the JUI-F, is openly supportive of the Afghan Taliban.
Attacks on JUI-F Leaders
After the JUI-F’s successes in the 2008 general elections, many Taliban militants appeared to turn against the party. From 2008 forward, Pakistani Taliban groups began to execute suicide attacks against the JUI-F’s leadership. Dozens of JUI-F leaders, including former parliamentarians, have since been killed.
Most recently, on January 25, 2012, Haji Gul Rahman Afridi, the former local chief of the JUI-F in the Landi Kotal area of Khyber Agency in FATA, was shot to death in the Shahi Bagh area of Peshawar by unidentified assailants. Another JUI-F leader and former mayor, Haji Muhammad Azeem, was killed on January 3, 2012, in the Naverkhel area of Lakki Marwat District of KP.
Maulana Merajuddin, a former member of parliament from South Waziristan Agency and head of the JUI-F in the FATA region, was shot dead in May 2010 in Tank District of KP. Merajuddin was a key figure in the government’s talks with tribal elders and militants, and he helped to broker peace deals in South Waziristan Agency in 2005 and 2007. Maulana Salimullah, a leader of the JUI-F, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Karak District of KP on May 29, 2010.
Similarly, another former member of parliament from South Waziristan Agency, Maulana Noor Muhammad Wazir, was killed along with 30 other people in a suicide attack at a mosque in Wana in South Waziristan on August 24, 2010. Muhammad was also an influential figure who had several times acted as a negotiator between the Pakistani Taliban and the government, but was opposed to the presence of Uzbek militants in the region, providing support to dislodge them.
Haji Khan Afzal, the former district mayor of Hangu District in KP and a central leader of the JUI-F, was killed on September 18, 2009, when a bomb ripped through a mosque in Kach Bazaar Killay in Hangu. Afzal played an important role in freeing government employees and others kidnapped by the TTP during and after clashes with Pakistan’s security forces in the Doaba area of Kohat District in 2009.
Then, in 2012, the most egregious attacks on the JUI-F occurred. On March 30, militants attempted to assassinate JUI-F head Fazlur Rahman near Swabi District in KP. The following day in Charsadda District, militants again tried to assassinate Rahman. Both attempts failed.
Although political killings are part of Pakistan’s history, attacks on the pro-Taliban JUI-F—especially on Rahman himself—are especially peculiar. The assassination attempts on Rahman came days after leaked U.S. State Department cables revealed that the JUI-F leader purportedly wanted to mediate between the United States and the Afghan Taliban in 2007. After this disclosure, Afghan Taliban militants and the al-Qa`ida leadership reportedly decided to sever links with the JUI-F. Some experts believe that this development could be one of the causes for the attempts on Rahman’s life. Other analysts believe that the attacks on the JUI-F’s leadership are a result of a growing ideological divide among Pakistani Taliban militants concerning the legitimacy of the Pakistani state. Pakistani Taliban militants openly denounce democracy and label the Pakistani state “un-Islamic,” while the JUI-F supports democratic means as well as the authority of the Pakistani state. Indeed, it participated in the ruling coalition government.
It is difficult to say which factions among the Pakistani Taliban have an interest in attacking the JUI-F. The North Waziristan-based militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, however, condemned the attacks and announced that an investigation will be conducted into the assassination attempts. Security analysts believe that the TTP may be behind the attacks, as it is thought that the TTP’s relationship with the JUI-F has deteriorated over the last five years, and that the JUI-F has reduced some of its political support to the Taliban in general. As a result, the TTP and other Taliban groups have viewed the JUI-F’s actions as a betrayal, and have attacked its leaders and activists.
The JUI-F’s members have also reportedly become concerned about the “new Taliban” leaders in Pakistan who do not seem to appreciate the party’s long-standing contribution to the Taliban’s cause. Attacks on public rallies and the killing of JUI-F leaders have likely caused the party to rethink its support to Taliban militants of all factions going forward.
It is pertinent to mention that the JUI-F has not joined the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC)—an alliance of religious parties—formed after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. After the incident, Pakistan blocked NATO’s road-bound supply routes into Afghanistan. The DPC and Taliban militant groups opposed the resumption of NATO supply convoys to Afghanistan, yet on April 12 Pakistan’s parliament recommended allowing the convoys to continue. After a meeting among JUI-F chief Rahman, U.S. ambassador Cameron Munter and President Asif Ali Zardari, the JUI-F reluctantly approved of the decision.
These actions show that the JUI-F is now acting on the policy of adopting democratic and parliamentary politics instead of supporting militant and jihadist groups.
The attacks on JUI-F’s leaders reveal intra-jihadist struggles in Pakistan. It also suggests that the JUI-F, Pakistan’s largest Islamist political party, has likely reduced its support to Taliban militants of all factions. The attacks on JUI-F’s rallies and leaders have compelled the party to present a more moderate face in public, criticizing the Taliban for un-Islamic acts and denouncing suicide attacks. Although the JUI-F draws much of its support from the more conservative and religious sections of Pakistan, this base does not necessarily support the violent actions of the Taliban.
Additionally, the unwillingness of the JUI-F to join the DPC is also an indication that the party is interested in pursuing democracy in Pakistan rather than increasing its support to banned militant groups and right-wing parties.
Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and researcher and covers the militancy in Pakistan. He has written for several international and national publications including The Friday Times, Central Asia Online, The Jamestown Foundation, Himal South Asian and The News International and contributed to the New York Times.
 Javed Aziz Khan, “March 31 Charsadda Attack,” The News International, April 2, 2011.
 Manzoor Ali and Qaiser Butt, “Charsadda Strike: Second Target Attack on Maulana Fazlur Rehman,” Express Tribune, April 1, 2011.
 “Wikileak: Fazlur Rehman’s Votes Were ‘Up to Sale,’” Express Tribune, June 1, 2011.
 “Islamic Parties in Pakistan,” International Crisis Group, December 16, 2011.
 Personal interview, Ahmed Wali, journalist based in Karachi, March 3, 2012.
 Hafiz Gul Bahadur is a Taliban militant commander operating in North Waziristan Agency, while Waliur Rehman Mehsud is the chief of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s South Waziristan Agency chapter. Personal interview, anonymous journalist based in Bannu, March 6, 2011.
 Zia Khan, “Govt to Set Free over 300 JUI-F Activists,” Express Tribune, June 14, 2010.
 Syed Shoaib Hassan, “Rare Taliban Praise for Pakistan’s Maulana Abdul Ghani,” BBC, October 27, 2011.
 Personal interview, Ahmed Wali, March 3, 2012.
 “Islamic Parties in Pakistan,” International Crisis Group, December 16, 2011.
 Personal interview, Hafiz Fazal Barech, a leader of the JUI-N, November 12, 2011.
 Tom Hussain, “New to Pakistan’s Taliban-heavy Tribal Areas: Political Campaigns,” Christian Science Monitor, January 31, 2011.
 “JUI-F Leader Shot Dead in Peshawar,” Dawn, January 26, 2012.
 “JUI-F Leader Killed Near Naverkhel,” The Nation, January 3, 2012.
 “Peace Broker Gunned Down in Pakistan,” UPI, May 21, 2010.
 “JUI-F Leader Gunned Down in Karak,” Daily Times, June 1, 2011.
 “South Waziristan Tense After Cleric’s Killing,” Daily Times, August 25, 2010.
 Manzoor Ali, “Bomber Targets ex MNA in Wana,” Express Tribune, August 24, 2010.
 In the words of one former Taliban official, “Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who has been an ally of the Pervez Musharraf regime and is also a partner in the present ruling coalition, had strong contacts with militant groups in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan but nobody did even imagine until now that he is constantly in touch with the Americans also.” See Mazhar Tufail, “Fazlur Rehman Getting Isolated After Wikileaks Exposure,” The News International, December 8, 2010.
 Personal interview, Ahmed Wali, March 3, 2012.
 Pazir Gul, “Militant Leader to Investigate Attack of Fazl,” Dawn, April 5, 2011.
 Nicholas Schmidle, “Next-Gen Taliban,” New York Times, January 6, 2008.
 The JUI-F played a key role in the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad of the 1980s. Yet the current leadership of the Pakistani Taliban was too young to participate in the Afghan jihad, and as a result they do not appear to respect the JUI-F’s contribution to that cause.
 For a detailed analysis of the DPC, see Arif Rafiq, “The Emergence of the Difa-e-Pakistan Islamist Coalition,” CTC Sentinel 5:3 (2012).
 Raja Asghar, “No Arms Conduit, Green Signal for Non-Lethal Nato Supplies,” Dawn, April 13, 2012.