Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Abdul Ghaffar Aziz, spokesman and director of foreign affairs of Jamaat-e-Islami [Pakistan’s Islamic Party], believes that President Pervez Musharraf’s days in power are numbered as his popularity continues to wane, which, according to Aziz, will ultimately have a negative effect on him in the forthcoming October elections.
He added that the Pakistani government faces rising public outrage for its suspension of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Asharq Al Awsat caught up with Aziz, en route to Istanbul to partake in celebrations held by Refah [Turkey’s Islamic Welfare Party] marking the anniversary of the capture of Constantinople, by the Ottoman Empire’s Muhammad Al-Fatih [Mehmed II].
Aziz revealed to Asharq Al Awsat that negotiations are well underway between both the Islamic and secular parties of Pakistan to unanimously resign from Parliament if President Musharraf seeks to get reelected via parliament and not general elections. He believes President Musharraf will “inevitably lose” and that Islamists will prevail and the future of Pakistan is theirs. He added “President Musharraf faces mounting problems from every direction.” According to Aziz, laymen and politicians alike do not accept him.
“Musharraf says that his military uniform is like his second skin,” mocked Aziz, “and yet he wants another term in office, claiming he’s going to make history.” Aziz went on to express that the last thing Pakistan’s various parties want is yet another general in power, tightening his grip on them. Instead, they hope for a Chief of Army Staff who upholds Pakistan’s national reputation and addresses the country’s more important issues.
Aziz, often considered a right hand man to Qazi Hussain Ahmad [the “emir”, i.e president of Jamaat-e-Islami], displayed a confident attitude about the future. He was all smiles, despite his unabashed criticism of Pakistan’s government for its involvement in the war on terror.
When speaking of the future, he was like an open book. He candidly tackled issues such as the political future of Pakistan, the game of politics as a whole, and Musharraf’s dwindling opportunities. “Thanks to the war on terror, we’ve handed 600 Muslims over to US authorities,” he said. “We sent them to prisons in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram in Afghanistan. We put our reputation on the line, and yet all we are received with on the US’s part is more and more demands.” He compared the US’s strategy with Pakistan to the stick-and-carrot approach. “The more the government gives, the smaller the carrot gets and the bigger the stick.”
Seething political anger is rising in the Pakistani street against the Army, says Aziz. “The Americans are committing massacres against our sons in the border strip, and the government claims that we committed them. While the Army has repeatedly admitted that approximately 8,000 civilians and military personnel alike have been killed.”
Aziz, a 1991 University of Qatar alum, from the Department of Arabic and Journalism, also added that “We have sacrificed a great deal during the Mujahidin War against the Russians [Soviet War in Afghanistan] to promote the message of Islam and to save our Muslim brethren from the evil clutches of Atheism.”
“Despite this, we have lost our friends in Kabul. In fact, there are even 15 Indian intelligence offices spying on us, day and night, in the Afghan border, under other pretexts.”
“The lawyers of Pakistan have become the champions of opposition due to their firm and unflinching support for Chaudhry, [who was suspended on March 9th for alleged misuse of authority].” he exclaimed.
On the subject of the real reasons behind his suspension, Aziz and Jamaat-e-Islami believe it was due to his courage of evoking crucial issues such as the lawyers, journalists and other voices of dissent that have been kidnapped. His bravest moment says Aziz, was when he sarcastically questioned their whereabouts, to the effect of “Had they been swallowed by the earth or have they ascended to heaven?” “Musharraf, on the other hand, was quick to retort that they had merely joined terrorist organizations, even though 55 of them were released later.”
The opposition group has filed a suit against President Musharraf in the Supreme Court because he is wearing out his welcome in the military service, since it officially ended in 2003. “Yet he still assumes the highest political post in the country. This,” he said, “is a violation of the constitutional oath that Musharraf had taken, in and of itself.”
The suit has been filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, said Aziz, and it was Musharraf’s decision to eliminate the head of the apex court in Pakistan’s judicial system [Chaudhry], only because he would “cause him yet more trouble in the run-up to the elections.”
The Islamists are stronger than ever before, believes Aziz. “We are now united under the banner of ‘The United Action Council’ [a six-party religious alliance in Pakistan], the various religious sects of Pakistan have come together, in our hope to stand shoulder to shoulder against Musharraf.”
“We also remain in close contact with Islamic groups outside of Pakistan. After all, believers, in their love and mutual kindness, are like one body. It is only natural that when one part complains, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness. Such is the way God intended it.”
“There is also renewed political momentum on the Pakistani street,” said Aziz, “And negotiations with secular parties to topple Musharraf.
“Pakistan has tried every other political party and group available, all of which have proven corrupt. If nothing else, they were unqualified to rule.” The ball is now in the court of the Islamists, he believes. “Musharraf, as per the instructions of the US has now associated himself with Benazir Bhutto, leader of the People’s Party, in efforts to revive his popularity, which has hit an all time low.”
In response to questions about Jamaat-e-Islami’s funding, Aziz said it was established in 1941 by 72 founders. “Its capital then,” he explained, “was no more than 71.5 Rupees. Today, the group boasts about 5 million members, with Qazi Hussain Ahmad as president. The Shura Council [Council of Advisors] consists of 71 members whose terms are renewed every four years, with 20,000 members eligible to elect it.”
Contrary to popular belief, Aziz explained that Jamaat-e-Islami does not reject Western Democracy altogether. In fact, according to Aziz, there are similarities between Islam and Democracy. “Muslims take what is useful and reject what they deem un-Islamic.”
“The Pakistani Constitution is considered Islamic,” said Aziz. “Our forefathers made great sacrifices for this Constitution. They have exerted much effort to pass the 1973 law which ensures that the main sources of legislation are the Koran and Sunnah [the prophetic example].”
He went on to explain, “Differences arose over the phrase ‘main sources,’ and over the Constitution itself. An agreement was reached and was thereafter known as the ‘Goal Resolution’ upon which both the Popular and National parties agreed during former President Zia ul-Haq’s tenure. This part of the Constitution was a manifestation of the real Islam,” he said.
He also divulged that he had met Osama Bin-Laden during an Islamic movement delegation whose agenda was to reconcile the disputing Afghan Mujahidin leaders after the expulsion of the Russians. “Two of his qualities instantaneously drew my attention,” he said, “his sheer humility, and his cautiousness. The meeting took place behind closed doors as heavily armed guards stood outside.”
“When I embraced Bin Laden after greeting him, I felt a hidden gun under his clothes,” he said. “By nature, Osama Bin Laden trusted no one.”
In response to accusations that Jamaat-e-Islami supported the mullahs of the Red Mosque, who declared rebellion against the authorities and publicly announced their self-styled implementation of Shariaa law, but have since been stopped as Pakistani forces stormed the mosque after negotiations with their leaders failed, Aziz shot back by saying: “We must first discuss how the problem began. When the government demolished two mosques in Islamabad and warned 18 more under the pretext that they could be used to lodge terrorists, Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi [the radical ringleader of the Red Mosque siege who has since been arrested whilst attempting to escape last Wednesday] and his brother Abdul Rashid [who has since been found dead in the Mosque’s basement] responded quickly by taking over a public library in the compound.. They demanded a new mosque to be built. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Ijaz-ul-Haq and a large number of clergymen began working on this, as a way of pacifying tempers, but nothing more was done.
Said Aziz: “After Maulana Abdulaziz threatened to carry out suicide attacks, the situation escalated, and the government resorted to force against the students at the Red Mosque.”
“Maulana Abdulaziz had earlier stated that they do not want a fight, but if violence is the government’s only answer then ours is suicide attacks and resistance until Shariaa law is finally implemented.”
“Certain secular parties overemphasize this incident as a way of discrediting Islamists, while others are using it to cause more trouble for Musharraf,” explained Aziz. “Of course, there are also pro-Musharraf parties who are using it to distract people from other, more pressing issues.”