Who determines and manipulate Pakistan’s foreign policy narrative? The answer is quite simple: the religious right led by Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), and in some aspects by Jamait-e-Ulama-Islam (JUI). There are numerous religious formations, following politically-oriented Salafi Islam, and the media is overwhelmed by religious crusaders that popularizes foreign policy parameters determined by JI and JUI Ultimately, the right wing is validated by the military and its fearsome intelligence agencies. Most of the times the state is forced to go along with religious right’s Pan-Islamist foreign policy narrative, even though it is forced to oppose it when the nation’s vital interests are threatened.
The process of evolving such a policy narrative unfolded in the case of alleged massacre of Burmese Muslims. While scores of Shia Muslims were being butchered on regular basis in Pakistan, JI head, Syed Munawwar Hussain, started highlighting the case of Burmese Muslims, demanding that state of Pakistan should try to stop the killings. Although there is nothing wrong with raising awareness for the violations of human rights for oppressed communities, but such advocacy from the likes of JI felt strange to say the least. It seemed awkward because the JI leader was demanding something from a state that cannot save scores of Muslims being slaughtered everyday by Taliban, sectarian extremists or Karachi-like gangs. Since JI leaders are not supposed to be so naïve his statements has to be looked from another angle.
To start with Syed Munawwar Hussain did not choose Syria or some other country where Muslims are being killed in large numbers. It indicates that JI’s outreach to Pan Islamists has to do something with religious feuding in Burma. Secondly, JI may be diverting attention from Muslims’ mutual killing in Pakistan and thirdly, it fits the Pan Islamist agenda which keeps itself alive through highlighting ‘imaginary persecuted Muslims’ rather than real ones facing death and destruction from their immediate surroundings.
JI has become very expert in keeping the media focused on ‘imaginary persecuted Muslims’ to divert attention from ground realities and keep Pan-Islamism alive. For example, in this case, first the JI chief issued a few statements followed by other party leaders. In a few days, most religious leaders joined the course and media—infested with religious ideologues—started focusing on Burmese Muslim plight. The Taliban also jumped in with their typical threats and it happened so that the next day government of Pakistan expressed a ‘concern’ about Burmese Muslims. This case shows how Pan-Islamists led by JI manipulate the foreign policy narrative.
JI has skillfully crafted its dual role as a mother of jihadists and as a democratic political party. The very fact that almost every notable jihadi leader was nabbed from home of JI member or follower shows how it grooms and protects the Pan-Islamist crusaders. It projects itself as a non-violent mainstream democratic forum which has nothing to do with violence, notwithstanding its Taliban like rule in educational institution that it dominates. JI crushes the national interests for its international Islamic agenda and yet it claims to be the main nationalist party in Pakistan. Its offshoots follow extreme sectarian agendas and it successfully maintains its non-sectarian pretense. JI keeps mum on Pakistani Muslims, specifically, minorities facing cruelties and yet it pretends to be the savior of Muslims worldwide.
Questions arises as to how a party which has never won a popular vote and probably never can, overwhelms the state with its foreign policy narrative? The simple answer is that the Pakistani state from adopting ‘Qrar dad-i-Pakistan’ to the present times considers religion as the basis of existence and promotes religious ideology. To fight the Soviet Union, the US and western powers also tried to keep Pakistan a religiously conservative feudal state. Saudi Arabia was constantly used to fund religious parties and suppress enlightened Pakistani political formations.
Up to Ayub Khan era, the state believed that it could sustain ideology of Pakistan without Mullah’s help and his sentencing Maulana Maudoodi to death also shows this. However, 1965 war against India, to defeat the pagan Hindus and waving Islamic flag in Kashmir (and Delhi) was a manifestation of ruling junta’s belief in Pakistan ideology. But the most powerful institution of Pakistani state, the military, found out during operation in East Pakistan that they need religious parties: only JI sponsored fascist outfits like Al-Shamas and Al-Badar joined for Bengali Muslim genocide.
In this backdrop, the ideology of Pakistan prospered most during the Bhutto period. By the time of Zia, the religious ideologues had taken over the Pakistani state’s narrative in every aspect. The religious ideology permeated the army ranks and slowly it became an obsession. From this angle JI has assumed the role of architect and spokesperson of Pan-Islamic ideology. State agencies’ patronage transformed the media in Pan-Islamic module. By now JI has developed a sophisticated machine to manipulate and control the foreign policy narrative.