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Remembering Qazi Hussain Ahmed

People who fight for a cause deserve praise. And someone with a lifelong commitment towards a cause is worthy of respect. Qazi Hussain Ahmed was one such person.

He passed away on January 6, just six days short of his 75th birthday. His largely attended funeral was the third in Peshawar in two weeks for someone with a large following. The first one was for Maulana Mohammad Amir Bijlighar, a reluctant politician belonging to the JUI-F who was a credible religious scholar and popular orator.

The next funeral was for the ANP’s Bashir Ahmed Bilour, who rose in stature after death because he was killed in a suicide bombing. He now occupies a prominent place in the ANP’s list of martyrs who died fighting militancy. The three men were different from each other, as Qazi Hussain was a serious man focused on his Islamic mission, Maulana Bijlighar was funny even when imparting religious education, and Bashir Bilour was a street-smart politician keeping an eye on the next election. All three funerals were huge and had to be held in stadiums or in a vast open space, as in the case of Qazi Hussain’s, to accommodate the mourners.

Qazi Hussain survived a suicide attack on his convoy in Mohmand Agency one-and-a-half-month before his death. Earlier, the TTP head, Hakimullah Mehsud, had in a recorded message accused him of distorting the concept of jihad and defending Pakistan instead of Islam. He had also questioned Qazi Hussain’s stance on the issue of TTP attacks in Pakistan.

Though no group claimed responsibility for the failed attack on Qazi Hussain, he and his one-time ally Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who survived two suicide bombings, suspected the hand of foreigners, or, to be precise, the Americans, and intelligence agencies in these attacks.

Qazi Hussain had survived bombings and heart attacks and undergone bypass surgery twice. However, he continued with his hectic lifestyle, as sitting idle would have been out of character for a man with a missionary zeal. Politics had been his way of life and he didn’t want to give up even after relinquishing charge as the Jamaat-e-Islami head for 22 long years in 2009.

He soon set up a sort of think-tank to organise seminars and discussions on issues facing Pakistan, the region and the Islamic world and invited speakers from even rival parties and opinion to these events. He was also considering contesting the 2013 general election for the National Assembly seat from his native Nowshera.

Apart from heart attacks, Qazi Hussain had also suffered heartbreaks due to political setbacks suffered by his party when he was at the helm of affairs. One such occasion was the 1997 general election when he and his colleagues decided to throw open the doors of the Jamaat-e-Islami by setting up the all-encompassing Pakistan Islamic Front to attract those put off by the party’s tough membership rules.

Reports said 4.5 million people became members of the party and tickets for contesting the election were issued even to candidates who didn’t come up to Jamaat-e-Islami standards. Shabab-e-Milli and Pasban were set up to mobilise young people and campaign against injustices. The normally dour election campaign associated with the party was made innovative and colourful and one popular slogan coined at the time was “Zaalimo Qazi aa raha hay!” which was kind of a warning to the cruel and the corrupt to beware, because Qazi Hussain was coming into power. Though the kind-hearted Qazi Hussain wasn’t the sort of person who would hang someone upside down, the slogan emphasised the revolutionary change that was being promised.

However, the effort to transform the image of the Jamaat-e-Islami didn’t work as the 1997 election results turned out to be a huge disappointment for the party.

The situation, however, changed five years later in 2002 when the Jamaat-e-Islami under Qazi Hussain’s leadership won its biggest electoral victory from the platform of the six-party alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

It was also a personal triumph for Qazi Hussain as he won two National Assembly seats, one in Nowshera district where the ANP and the PPP had taken turns to win in the past, and in Lower Dir, which traditionally has been a Jamaat-e-Islami stronghold. It was his first electoral victory on a general seat in his long political career.

Way back in the 1970 general elections, he had polled only 2,475 votes to bring up the rear in a high-profile contest in the National Assembly’s N-1 Peshawar constituency, in which the other losers were the PPP’s Hayat Sherpao, the NAP’s Arbab Sikandar Khan Khalil and the JUI’s Maulana Abdul Qayyum Popalzai. The seat was won by the PML’s Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, with 27,215 votes.

It was also in the 2002 polls that Qazi Hussain’s daughter Samia Raheel Qazi was elected member of the National Assembly on seats reserved for women. It was a defining moment as a religious scholar and Islamic politician was willing to allow his highly educated but purdah-observing daughter to enter politics. One of his two sons, Asif Luqman Qazi, has also been active in politics and would most probably contest one of the two National Assembly seats in Nowshera.

Most Pakistani political parties are run by families and have become dynastic. The Jamaat-e-Islami is different in terms of organisation, discipline and leadership. Committed party members seldom aspire for office.

The party has only had four ameers since its inception. The founder, Maulana Maudoodi, who died in 1979, had remained party leader until 1972, and his successor, Mian Tufail Mohammad, and Qazi Hussain also stepped down during their lifetimes. Syed Munawwar Hassan replaced Qazi Hussain in 2008 when he opted not to run for office after serving five terms.

Owing to the checks and balance system in place in the Jamaat-e-Islami, party leaders and lawmakers have to be on their toes in their public dealings and money matters. It goes to Qazi Hussain’s credit that he managed to retain the trust of his party members for 22 long years and was never accused of any wrongdoing, moral or financial.

Qazi Hussain was someone who inspired trust and was capable of mediating between individuals and groups. When the JUP leader and the MMA’s first head, Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani died in 2003, Qazi Hussain was the automatic choice to replace him. He also headed the Milli Yakjehti Council for forging unity among different sects and schools of thought in Pakistan.

In the past, he had attempted, though without much success, to remove differences between Afghan mujahideen groups, which were notoriously fractious. Jamaat-e-Islami was close to Gulbaddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami, but Qazi Hussain also maintained friendly contacts with the other mujahideen groups. He was also desirous of establishing friendly ties with the Afghan Taliban, but his party’s closeness to Hekmatyar remained a hurdle in the way.

As a pan-Islamist leading the Jamaat-e-Islami that had links with Islamic movements in many countries, Qazi Hussain actively backed both peaceful and armed struggles of Muslims everywhere. Invariably, he and his party spoke out against the US and its western allies, Israel and India for suppressing Muslims. He used to argue that acts of terrorism in the country won’t end unless Pakistan quit the US-led ‘war on terror’.

At times one felt he was unknowingly downplaying the terrorist threat facing the country. It often seemed that he and the Jamaat-e-Islami were preoccupied more with issues outside Pakistan than those confronting Pakistanis. However, his sincerity and patriotism was beyond doubt, as he did what he believed was in the interest of Pakistan and Muslims worldwide.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai@yahoo.com

Rahimullah Yusufzai, "Remembering Qazi Hussain Ahmed," The News. 2013-01-23.