New Shia party emerging

shiajamatA new kid is ready to enter the sectarian political bloc – Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen (MWM), and observers feel it may challenge the mainstream Shia political group led by Allama Sajid Naqvi.

The aggressive posture adopted by the MWM in recent days in Islamabad to highlight sectarian killings has brought the group to the forefront within the Shia community.

On April 12, the party refused to vacate the Parade Lane outside parliament, even after the camp established by Amina Janjua for the recovery of missing people was relocated by the authorities. Similarly, the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat – ASJ (formerly the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan – SSP) was not allowed to hold its protest camp there.

The following day, MWM proceeded to hold Friday prayers at Parade Lane – a first ever for any group let alone a Shia one.

An official of the interior ministry confirmed that the MWM leadership even turned down an offer to negotiate with Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik on Friday, April 13.

Similarly, its seemingly unknown leaders have gained greater recognition among the authorities – the MWM leaders were invited to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights to speak about the killings of women and children in Chilas while no-one from the Allama Sajid Naqvi group was invited.

“We are not terrorists and neither do we believe in destabilising the country and its systems,” said MWM secretary general Allama Nasir Abbas. “It is our right to protest.”

He added that his party was entering politics in ‘national interest’, and MWM leadership plans to announce it at a rally in Lahore on July 1.

The MWM emerged in 2007 to highlight the woes of ordinary citizens in general and the Shia residents of Kurrum agency in particular where Parachinar had been cut off from the rest of the country for months on end.

The party was still in its infancy stage as its organisational structure was established in April 2011, with the highest post of secretary general going to Allama Nasir Abbas, followed by deputy secretary general to Allama Amin Shaheedi. Their three-year term expires in April 2013, while the highest forum in MWM, Shoora-e-Aali, is composed of 10 ulema with one vote each.

However, what has allowed the group to gain strength is political vacuum in mainstream Shia politics due to the low profile adopted by the Shia Ulema Council (SUC) – a group led by Allama Sajid Naqvi in the past five years since the demise of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

Allama Sajid Naqvi is a well-known name in politics, and he took over the TJP in 1988 after the assassination of his predecessor Allama Arif Hussaini.The TJP was banned in 2002 for three years; later its reincarnation Tehrik-i-Islami was also banned leading to a third avatar Shia Ulema Council (SUC).

After Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) was formed, Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi became its vice president. But when the MMA disintegrated, party activities slowed down – partly due to the high risks of sectarian attacks, which have become more brutal than in the past.

Meanwhile, the spokesman of the SUC, Maulana Ashfaq Waheedi, said that Allama Sajid Naqvi is Quaid-i-Millat-i-Jaferia (leader of the Shia nation) and has played a key role in forging unity among Shia-Sunni brethren.

Friction within the SUC is more visible in Karachi, Quetta, Gilgit-Baltistan, Kohat, Parachinar, D.I. Khan and western districts of Punjab.

“At least the MWM was doing something by highlighting the routine killings,” said Qasim Ali of North Nazimabad, Karachi, a one-time supporter of TJP.

Another blow to the SUC was the traffic accident of Allama Sajid Naqvi’s trusted comrade, nephew and son-in-law Maulana Jalil Naqvi around two years ago. The accident left him paralysed, which has in turn paralysed the party that he handled.

“The best solution for Quaid sahib (Allama Sajid Naqvi) is to delegate powers to somebody else now as everything revolves around his family,” said Amjad Sadaf, a diehard party worker from Dhok Ratta, Rawalpindi.

Due to this communication and organisational gap, Allama Sajid Naqvi has lost support among the party cadre and the urban middle class.

“Currently there are other internal rifts too – between clergy and the non-clergy,” said Chaudhri Bashir Ahmed, former president TJP, Rawalpindi city. “In other words there is a gap between the revolutionary / progressive minded people and the traditionalist.”

The ‘traditionalists’ within the Shia community are generally the clergy from rural areas who have only madressah education.

The ulema conference organised by the SUC in Islamabad on April 18 this year also witnessed a heavy presence of traditional clergy from Punjab with limited participation of urban-based workers and clergy holding non-religious degrees such as doctors and engineers.

Such internal rifts and the growing resentment among the party supporters, observers feel, can help the MWM attract the middle order of SUC.

Earlier, the main Shia party lost workers and members when Sipah Muhammad parted ways with TJP. The main reason then too was Allama Sajid Naqvi’s soft stance on the ‘enemy’, a euphemism used for SSP or ASJ.

“When we started to retaliate against the Sipah-i-Sahaba, the Allama joined them in the Milli Yakjehti Council in 1995. Later when they were in trouble due to international politics, he joined them in the MMA and now when Shias are being killed all over country nobody is coming up,” said a former area commander of Sipah Muhammad, who prefers not to be named due to pending court cases.

This is also a party that is embracing the social media and other modern forms of communication. The younger lot in MWM, which includes many students from Parachinar, are using the internet to highlight party activities, including footage of public gatherings in Karachi and Jhang.

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