Rising Political Islam in Pakistan: Causes and Consequences

PakistanReligion, politics, and policy are inextricably linked in Pakistan, and together tied to Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. Pakistan embarked on its first democratic transition of power last year. The success of this experiment will hinge on how well Islamic parties—who are showing their strength within the political landscape—can contribute to civilian rule, shun violence, and mobilize support for political reform. However, these parties are diverse in their policy goals and political intentions and cannot be painted with a broad brush, as often occurs in the United States.

The speakers at this forthcoming event will provide a look at the rise of political Islam in Pakistan and how understanding these internal dynamics can help shape a better bilateral relationship.

April 14, 2014 – 2:30 pm, 1030 15th Street, NW, 12th Floor (West Tower), Washington, DC

A discussion with

Husain Haqqani

Author of Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding; and Senior Fellow and Director, South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute

Haroon K. Ullah

Author of Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan; and Member, Policy Planning Staff

US Department of State

Moderated by

Shuja Nawaz

Director, South Asia Center

Atlantic Council


The Atlantic Council’s US-Pakistan Program is a comprehensive approach to US-Pakistan relations, focusing on the key areas of security, economic development, and public policy. The program explores these issues and their relevance in order to develop a long-term, continuous dialogue between the United States and Pakistan. This project is generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

On Twitter? Follow @ACSouthAsia and use #WagingPeace


Husain Haqqani is the former ambassador of Pakistan to Sri Lanka (1992–93) and the United States (2008–11). He is currently senior fellow and director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute and co-edits the journal Current Trends in Islamist Ideology published by Hudson Institute’s Center for Islam, Democracy, and Future of the Muslim World. Ambassador Haqqani is also director of the Center of International Relations and professor of the practice of international relations at Boston University. Ambassador Haqqani is the author of Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.

Haroon Ullah joined the secretary’s Policy Planning Staff in November 2013. His portfolio includes public diplomacy and countering violent extremism. Previously, he served as director of the Community Engagement Office at the US Embassy in Islamabad. Prior to joining the State Department, Dr. Ullah served as a Belfer fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and focused on democratization, counter-terrorism, and religious political parties in the Middle East and South Asia. Dr. Ullah holds a BA from Whitman College, an MPA from Harvard, and a PhD from the University of Michigan. He also recently authored Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan and Bargain from the Bazaar.

Indonesia’s Islamists struggling to win votes in world’s largest Muslim-majority country


Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Islamic-based parties are poised for what could be their worst showing since Indonesia’s democratic era began in 1999. At least two of the parties are polling so low that they might lose any presence in the House of Representatives, The New York Times reports.

“You’re looking at a substantial drop for them,” said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based political consultant. “They are not a significant factor,” he tells Times reporter Joe Cochrane:

The slide in popularity, first noticed in the 2009 elections, appears to be worsening despite studies showing that Indonesians are becoming more pious.

Why political Islam has not taken deep root on a national level in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country — where about 90 percent of people are among the faithful — is a complicated question. The reasons lie in Indonesia’s history as a secular nation and in the Islamic parties’ own recent record.

No Islamic-oriented politician has been a serious candidate since direct presidential elections began in 2004. A poll released last week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta found that the top five contenders in Indonesia’s next presidential election, to be held in July, each represented a secular nationalist party.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and resurgence of Wahhabi/Salafi groups in the wake of the Arab awakening prompted some observers to call for “a renaissance of Islamic pluralism, tolerance and critical thinking.”

Indonesia Nahdlatul_Ulama_Dinamika_Ideologi_Dan_Politik_Kenegaraan“What we are facing today is even more dangerous than physical acts of terrorism: that is, the onslaught of extremist ideology, which is provoking a visceral backlash in the West, in an ever-escalating cycle of hatred and violence,” said Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri, deputy chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s mass Islamic movement, and Holland Taylor, the head of LibForAll and its International Institute of Qur’anic Studies.

With 50 million adherents and some 14,000 madrasahs, the NU is the world’s largest Muslim organization.

Indonesia has been held up as a potential model for Arab transitional states for demonstrating the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and the pluralist potential of its distinctive form of civil Islam.

Widely considered a democratic beacon in a volatile region, Indonesia’s reform process was characterized by a “remarkable opening-up of political space [and] regeneration of civil society.” Its transition reportedly has a particular resonance for U.S. President Barack Obama, who lived there as a child and has lauded its shift from authoritarian rule.

But analysts now say that Indonesian voters are more concerned with reducing poverty and improving education than with the religious symbolism of the Islamic-based parties, the NYT’s Cochrane adds:

“The Islamic parties have very little economic credibility,” said Gregory Fealy, an associate professor of Indonesian politics at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Beyond that, a poll released March 31 by the Indonesia Network Elections Survey found that less than 1 percent of voters supported a political party because it represented their particular religious beliefs.

“Sixty years ago, people thought that politics and religious behavior were inseparable in Indonesia. It was a part of the Islamic identity to vote for an Islamic political party,” Mr. Fealy said. “Today you can express your piety but vote for anyone you want.”


Time for ‘paradigm shift’ to end Pakistan military’s support for Taliban

jinnahIt’s time for Pakistan’s military to re-think its support for the Afghan Taliban, says a leading analyst.

But this would require a paradigm shift which cannot take place without civilian input and oversight, writes Raza Rumi, director of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute.

Since the start of so-called ‘talks’ between the government and a committee nominated by Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), 175 people were killed in 40 attacks by the assorted militias directly or indirectly linked to the TTP and its patron al Qaeda. The talks’ saga was baffling even for the most optimistic observers.

Is the doctrine of strategic depth dead?

For years, Pakistani state’s tolerance for the TTP predicated on the calculation that it could not annoy the Afghan Taliban due to the future transition in Afghanistan where Indian influence had to be countered.

There is a view within the state that TTP is a means for Afghan Taliban to attain strategic depth within Pakistan increasing their leverage over the Pakistani state. Perhaps this is the time for the military to re-think its support for the Afghan Taliban. But this would require a paradigm shift which cannot take place without civilian input and oversight.

RazaRumiPhotoAtherKhan-1391959657-970-640x480Is there a strategy?

While the civilian leadership and the military grapple with the extraordinary situation — 8000 security personnel have been killed by the militants in the past few years — the absence of a comprehensive strategy dogs the future of counter-terrorism operations.

Further, the issues of state capacity to tackle terrorist methods have not been fully addressed. The police which has to be at the forefront of the counter-terrorism (CT) operations remains under-funded, ill-equipped, working under varying legal and institutional frameworks. Two provinces (Punjab, KP) have retained Police Order of 2002, while the other two (Balochistan, Sindh) have discarded it. The federal territories are even more ungoverned and this explains the rise of militant hideouts in Gilgit-Baltistan, Fata and other places. The legal system especially the courts and prosecution are unable to act as effective institutions for CT related matters. Without focusing on these areas, military operations can only have limited results.

 Countering extremism

Over the past few weeks, the most dangerous fallout of the talks-mantra has been increased legitimacy for the terrorist outfits. Political parties such as the PTI, the JI and to an extent even the PML-N, have justified peace through appeasement; and the media, out of fear, has given unprecedented space to the extremist mindset.

Maulana Aziz who fought against the state from the Red Mosque platform and whose cohorts killed army officials has been arguing on prime time TV as to why Pakistan’s constitution is un-Islamic. Al Qaeda thinks the same. Former generals have also been scaring the public of the evil designs of the US and how it is responsible for almost all terrorism in the country.

There is little or no counter-narrative to these dominant voices. Political parties are divided and wary of the Islamist narratives that may result in their unpopularity at the polls. This defeatist mindset is not a new occurrence. In fact it is a perennial theme of Pakistani politics rooted in the manufactured Islamo-nationalist identity of the state.

This extract is taken from a longer article. RTWT.

The Jinnah Institute is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Erdogan blames Gulenist ‘parallel state’ for Turkey’s wiretap scandal

Turkey’s biggest opposition party urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to quit after the release of an audio tape purportedly of him discussing hidden funds. The premier said the tape was faked and an attempted coup, Bloomberg reports:

“Either you take a helicopter and flee abroad or resign,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party, told his lawmakers in parliament today. Erdogan said earlier that the tape, which was released on YouTube though it wasn’t clear who posted it, was a fabrication to undermine his party before next month’s local elections.

“Erdogan is going through the worst crisis in his career,” Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara, said by phone. “The spell around his charisma is broken and it is difficult to repair the damage. There will be consequences of this sooner or later.”

In a dramatic session of parliament after posting of an 11-minute audio tape on YouTube, Erdogan described it as a shameless and treacherous “montage”. He did not name those he held responsible but made it clear he was talking of a network run by former ally, Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, Reuters reports:

Gulen, through his lawyer, has described the accusation of complicity in the tapes as unjust and contributing to an atmosphere of “hatred and enmity” in Turkish society.

“They went and made a shameless montage and released it,” Erdogan told deputies. “They are even listening to the state’s encrypted telephones. That’s how low they are.

“There is no allegation that we cannot answer.”

The “they” cited by Erdogan was a reference to those among the followers of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Gulen he accuses of building a “parallel state” using influence in the judiciary and police. Gulen denies the accusation.

“We will reveal one-by-one the disgraces of the parallel organization and we will make those who walk with them so embarrassed they won’t be able to go onto the street,” he said.

Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, said Erdogan was likely to go further on the offensive against those he deems responsible for producing these tapes.

“This seems to be a battle to the end..The Gulenists seem to want to wound Erdogan below the waterline to undermine the AK Party’s poll performance in March,” Ash wrote in a note.

Several analysts predicted Mr Erdogan would be able to withstand the impact of the tape – he has moved to bolster his power since prosecutors in a corruption investigation staged raids on government-connected figures in December, the FT’s Daniel Dombey reports:

But they added that Turkey was likely to be rocked by further allegations in the run-up to March 30 local elections in which Mr Erdogan is looking for a large vote to answer his critics.

“Given the situation, the only way the prime minister can survive is by being more and more ruthless,” said Cengiz Candar, a leading Turkish commentator, referring to a series of recent legislative proposals to boost government powers over the judicial system, internet access and the country’s spy agency.

“But everyone expects that more tapes will be circulated in response, so it is a vicious circle, leaving the country open to all sorts of destabilisation.”

Egyptians see ‘iron fist and silver bullet’ in Sisi: Mubarak-era networks return, dissent stifled

The influential Sunni Muslim cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi today called on Saudi Arabia to stop backing Egypt‘s military, Reuters reports:

“It’s surprising that the Saudi government gave billions of dollars to support the (anti-Mursi) coup and the coup leaders and those who are far from God and Islam,” Qaradawi told Reuters ….”The only thing that links them to their neighboring countries is the language of interests and benefits,” said Qaradawi, who heads the International Association of Muslim Scholars, a grouping close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

With the head of the military, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (left), poised to run for the presidency, he is likely to benefit from the former ruling National Democratic Party’s vast patronage network, observers suggest.

Tarek Masoud of Harvard University said the return of “local kingpins” to elected office would raise questions about Egyptian democracy, adding the patronage system is “not ideal.”

“Now in Egypt you are a long way from the ideal anyway, so what you want is some regular electoral process in which people who want to have power accept the legitimacy of elections as a means to getting power,” he told Reuters. “If we can just have a few free and fair elections that are not abrogated … maybe that’s the best you can hope for in Egypt right now.”

The military will also benefit from a seriously compromised judiciary, says a leading analyst.

Since Morsi’s ouster, the judges have shown an “unusual consistency” in ruling against thousands of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and activists, said Carnegie’s Michele Dunne, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“There was what I think was a very ill-advised struggle for power between the Brotherhood and the judiciary while the Brotherhood was controlling the presidency,” Ms. Dunne told the Wall Street Journal. “The judiciary does seem to be vengeful.”

Some observers have described the public mood as a wave of collective mass psychosis, epitomized by the cult-like adulation of Sisi and the armed, the FT reports.

“It’s as if they are trying to weed out any desire of dissent and non-submission to anything other than the state,” says Mohamed Dahshan, a Harvard scholar specializing in Egypt. “It’s like I bow to you and do whatever you want. There’s this voluntary submission. It’s shocking because it’s also humiliating.”

Fear factor

In a country where many have no access to the internet, state TV is a powerful tool for selling a new narrative, analyst Trudy Rubin reports.

Even Khaled Saeed, the young man whose brutal death at police hands in Alexandria sparked the original Tahrir revolt, is no longer sacrosanct. One military source in Cairo said: ”Don’t be fooled into believing Saeed was a good guy.”

Hossam Bahgat, a human rights activist in Cairo, said: ”Our own history is being rewritten by an alternative reality. And this rewriting of history is relentless.”

“Say what you will about [former President Gamal Abdel] Nasser, but he at least appealed to people’s higher instincts, their hope for a better future, for social justice,” said Khaled Fahmy, a prominent Egyptian historian. “Sisi is addressing some of the basest instincts not only of Egyptians, but in any people: fear.”

But by moving to formally take the reins as head of state, Field Marshal Sisi is taking on a far greater and riskier challenge, David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times suggests:

Promoted by the state and private news media as a national savior, Field Marshal Sisi will have to manage an increasingly unruly domestic population, including an elite expecting a full restoration of its privileges; generals who may see him as only the first among equals; a broad section of the public that still feels empowered to protest; at least hundreds of thousands of Morsi supporters who openly reject the new government; and a terrorist insurgency determined to thwart any hope of stability.

“I think the economy eventually will be the undoing of anyone in that position, because all the same issues that led to the 2011 uprising are still there — the youth unemployment, their marginalization from politics, the overly bloated Civil Service, the unsustainable food and energy subsidies,” said Samer S. Shehata, a University of Oklahoma political scientist.

Continuing protests and violence have squashed any hope of recovery of the crucial tourism sector, he said, and “no one has the will required to take the necessary and painful steps required to move the country forward.”

Economic troubles are just one of many deep and protracted problems dogging the state, including crumbling infrastructure, a chronic energy crisis, ongoing political unrest and an insurgency based in the Sinai, TIME magazine reports.

“He needs to find out: does he have a program to deal with the poverty line or not, because the minute he steps out of his uniform, it’s a farewell party from the military. He doesn’t have their backing anymore,” says veteran rights activist Hisham Kassem, the former editor of the widely-read newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. “If he does not deliver hope and reasonable, tangible changes in the country, there is going to be a third uprising.”

In Sisi, Egyptians see an iron fist and a silver bullet, said Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

“It’s tied up with the dislocation that many have experienced in the past three years and the generalized and wistful hope for the simple restoration of stability and normalcy,” Hanna told Al Jazeera. “People are looking for a silver bullet; they’re hoping for the impossible.”

Though they are not able to present a viable alternative, activists are uneasy about Sisi. Fearing an imminent return to Mubarak-era oppression, critics say that by installing a strongman in the presidency, even by democratic mandate, Egypt could license the security apparatus to expand its crackdown.

“2014’s instability could force President Sisi to submit to full, direct, ruthless military control,” wrote Nervana Mahmoud, a critic of Sisi, in an op-ed for Daily News Egypt, an independent, English-language daily based in Giza. “Currently, the army is an empire within the state. Later, the army may expand to control the state.”

Outside the protective shell of his military-appointed authority, Sissi will find himself subject to the fickle political climate that pervades post-Mubarak Egypt, Al Jazeera reports.

“Sissi will be very afraid of joining Mubarak and Morsi. The question is, will he respond to this vulnerability by initiating reforms or further repression?” said Eric Trager, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

Sisi’s gamble

“On a personal level it is a huge gamble,” said Hanna. As president, Sisi “no longer has civilians to absorb the anger of the public when the situation doesn’t improve. He’s got a lot of public support, and he would win in an election tomorrow. But Egyptians have proven themselves fickle in their support for public figures.”

The decision was also a gamble for the military itself, since any failure by Sisi would also tarnish them as an institution, Hanna told the Guardian. “But it is hard to imagine the military doing to Sisi what they did to Morsi. It happened to Mubarak after many, many years, in very exceptional circs, but it is difficult to see that happening again.”

Wrong side of history

“In order to implement its [roadmap] they are suppressing any voice of dissent, mine included,” Egyptian academic Emad Shahin (left) told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Since being accused of espionage, he has received support from the Council for a Community of Democracies (see below) and academics at Georgetown University, who expressed “grave concern” at the charges.

The U.S. and other democracies should be wary of endorsing a political process that is all too reminiscent of the worst Arab autocrats.

“We don’t want to be on the wrong side of history,” he said. “We had the Iranian revolution and the support of repressive and autocratic regimes, and also the consequences that this brings to [the] U.S.”

 “This is reminiscent of the 99.9 per cent that people like Saddam Hussein used to get, people like Bashar al-Assad used to garner,” Shahin said.

Anyone who has tried to advocate against the new constitution, he said, “has not been tolerated throughout the process.”

That includes a prominent liberal political scientist and former parliamentarian

Democratic forces need to focus on building a constituency for liberal politics and ideas, Amr Hamzawy told NPR:

We are facing a public space which is investing trust in the military establishment. And someone like me can continue saying but, well, guys, you are militarizing the state. You are pushing us away from democracy, but no one is listening. So I have to figure out where my entry points are. As a formal politics, should I run again for parliament or should I focus on informal politics: building grassroots activities and grassroots movements and initiatives.

Foreign actors are unable to impact current developments, Hamzawy suggests.

“What we are looking at is bound to be a homegrown issue where external forces, be it international or regional, can only play limited roles.”