Not only has PTI chief Imran Khan not gotten over the alleged audioclips leaked almost a fortnight ago, in which he allegedly engaged in explicit talk with a woman, but there is talk of two videoclips having been given a limited release, which are not just explicit but perverted. While the audios barely passed muster for general circulation on social media platforms, the videos would not.
Imran has said the audioclips were a violation of Quranic injunctions to place a curtain over the sins of others. Opponents promptly pounced upon his not denying them.
He has already girded himself up for battle by declaring that videos would be used against him, which would be the result of ‘deep fake’ technology. However, now he seems to be maintaining a silence on the issue. He may be relying on a remark attributed to former US President Donald Trump, himself mired in scandals, who once claimed that he could commit a murder in public and get away with it.
However, his latest appeal to religion deserves closer attention. While Pakistan itself was created on a religious basis, religion has not figured all that much in its politics.
It is just possible to discern a sort of evolution of Islamic, or rather Islamist, politics in Pakistan, which corresponds to the change of attitudes among Muslims. Initially, the colonial experience brought Muslims to the examination of what had happened. They had been deposed, after all.
One solution was to return to the past. That was on offer by the JUI and the JUP, which were sectarian parties, headed by Ulema, which looked the most towards a glorious (and perhaps mythical) past.
However, there was some movement forward, as it could be seen that the Ulema had cooperated with the Raj. There was some resistance, no doubt, but there was a great deal of cooperation. There were some reformist movements, ranging from the Khaksar Tehrik of Allama Mashriqi, to the Jamaat Islami. The Jamaat was very influential, and it should come as no surprise that the Indian and Bangladeshi branches still exist.
If he had not been such a vocal proponent of the Riasat-i-Madina, he might have got away with it. Take the example of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He has been accused of much, but none of it stuck. Even before his 1979 hanging, his opponents held as an article of faith his indulgence in every evil (except using drugs, probably because no one thought of it), his supporters either denied it stoutly or said it was OK. Bhutto’s PPP was not particularly religious, and was even secular. Bhutto’s morals did not lose him support, because voters likely to be swayed by such considerations stayed away from his party anyway.
However, another party, the Ikhwanul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) with a similar ideology arose in the Arab world, and has given rise to several parties with a greater record of success. It has had a better record of electoral success than the Jamaat, as its Egyptian branch achieved the Presidency of Egypt, and the Ennahda Party in Tunisia and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, won elections. The latter two are Brotherhood foundations, but are not affiliated to the main party in Egypt.
After Partition, neither the Jamaat nor the Jamiats did well enough in elections to achieve power. However, they did develop a nexus with the military. The Al-Badar and Al-Shams organizations which fought to keep Pakistan united were Jamaat organizations. The Jamaat Islami Bangladesh leaders tried and executed for war crimes over four decades later were members of these bodies.
It is not that other parties did not make gestures. The Muslim League included the religion in its name, The PPP proclaimed as one of its slogans “Islam hamara din hai’ (Islam is our religion). However, neither party has deviated from the Objectives Resolution of 1949, which formed the preamble to the 1973 Constitution, and was later included in the Constitution itself by Zia ul Haq: that no laws were to be made in contradiction to the Quran and Sunnah, and that sovereignty belonged to Allah Almighty, to be exercised by the chosen representatives of the people.
However, these parties made sure these remained gestures. While governing or legislating, neither paid much attention to the latter of Islamic law, but propounded the Constitution as supreme law. The religious parties did not object, rather joined them. However, this dilution does not seem to have worked, and these parties have done badly at the hustings. Only twice has the JUI been able to head a coalition in one province. The second time, it was the MMA coalition under the Musharraf martial law.
The Jammat route, of closeness to the military, involved taking part in the Kashmir jihad. This was an area where the Jamaat got involved, after its participation in the Afghan Jihad. The Army did not use it for the next two experiments in political Islam, the Pakistan Awami Tehrik or the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf. Neither had any cadres involved in the Kashmir freedom struggle.
Both were more broadly based than the Jamaat. The Jamaat, which was something of a reformist party, had more in common with the Deobandi School or the Ahle Hadith sect. PAT was an explicitly Brelvi platform, while the PTI did not claim ant affiliation, though its leader, Imran Khan, was clearly a Brelvi.
Someone somewhere had decided that the majority of Pakistanis were Brelvis. That may or may not be true, but no one seems to have won any seats on a Brelvi platform, except in Karachi. There is the one time that Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi won in Mianwali, though he had to take a PML (N) ticket in 1990, when he won from the constituency Imran Khan sits for.
The Tehrik Labaik Pakistan has also got some traction as a Brelvi party, and has got some votes, but no seats except in Karachi.
The PTI thus seems to be second phase of political Islam. Its target was the Riasat-i-Madina, and the example Imran liked to quote most was of the second Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab. Therefore, to have to face a charge of moral corruption is all the more painful. It should be noted that there has not been a leader about whom there have not been rumors in Pakistan. Those who have been proper while in office have had rumours about prior behaviour, some of it before their ascent to power. However, no one has had any clips, video or audio, leaked.
It is also to be noted that there have been no rumours or accusations of other Islamist leaders. The existence of rumours about one (the gentleman now being deceased) is perhaps evidence that others were not just more discreet, but free from guilt. Imran on the other hand has questions to answer. Unfortunately for him, even if the smears are false, they will stick. The question is, what will be their political effect?
If he had not been such a vocal proponent of the Riasat-i-Madina, he might have got away with it. Take the example of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He has been accused of much, but none of it stuck. Even before his 1979 hanging, his opponents held as an article of faith his indulgence in every evil (except using drugs, probably because no one thought of it), his supporters either denied it stoutly or said it was OK. Bhutto’s PPP was not particularly religious, and was even secular. Bhutto’s morals did not lose him support, because voters likely to be swayed by such considerations stayed away from his party anyway.
It is almost as if the people might now be ready for a new experiment in Islam. Imran was a departure from the ulema, and provided a sort of ulema-free Islam, which took account of the diaspora experience, but which allowed people to duck obeying any actual injunctions of Islam. Now it might be that the people are getting ready for an Islamic solution free of the military. That would mean turning to a party like the Hizbul Tahrir, which is active in all Muslim countries, not as separate parties, like the Jamaat or the Brotherhood, but as a single Ummah-wide party, it has been banned throughout most of the Arab world, as well as Pakistan, but it may just represent an idea whose time has come. The advantage of the Hizb is that no single military controls it. It’s unpopular everywhere.
It is possible that only a party like the Hizbul Tahrir could navigate the new political reality. Politicians in other parties have long been used to maintaining a double standard, and the public might need someone it can trust. That would have to be an outsider, not someone tainted by the system.