Accueil arrow Foreign analyzes arrow Islamist Parties and Islamist Groups in Pakistan










Dr Farhan Zahid

Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan).





There appears to be a symbiotic relationship between Islamist political parties and Islamist terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, as scores of Islamist terrorists were arrested from the safe haven provided to them by Islamist parties[1]. Nothing much is unusual as according to the seminal study of Political Parties and Terrorist Groups by Leonard Weinberg, Arie Perliger and Ami Pedahzur, such relationship does exist in other parts of the world. Weinberg et alii found 203 (47.2 %) terrorist groups out of 430 having "links of one kind or another with political parties".[2] Religious parties linked to terrorist groups comprise 32.6 % of the total.[3] They further elucidated that failure at polls paves the way for political parties to turn to terrorist groups.[4] This seems quite valid in case of Pakistani Islamist parties where the parties could not compete with center-left and center-right parties.[5] Regarding Pakistani Islamist parties relationship with terrorist groups, they say : "In Pakistan two religious parties, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam and the Jamaat-e-Islami, both supported armed militia groups for the purpose of launching terrorist attacks on Indian targets in Kashmir, thus combining religious and nationalist ideological elements"[6]

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization for maintaining freedom index, describes Pakistan a "Partial Democracy[7]", seconding Weinberg and Pedahzur claims of terrorist groups-political parties' liaison mostly happening in partial democracies (35 %).

The question arises here that why these political parties with firm political agendas, manifestos, foreign and domestic policies, educational and health sectors programs and legal status appear to support discreetly and at occasions openly, the Islamist violent non-state actors in Pakistan. It appears that :

Ÿ The principal Islamist parties - Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) - are Deobandi and Salafist respectively by virtue of their schools of thoughts.

Ÿ The Islamist parties in question believe in the same set of beliefs as that of Islamist terrorist groups, though their methodology of achieving these goals is different as per their proclaimed programs.

Ÿ The support base of these parties emanate from people belonging to the same schools of thoughts.

Ÿ There have been and still are overlapping memberships as many of the Islamist terrorist ideologues and ranks remained members of Islamist political parties and some still maintain good relations.

Ÿ Number of leaders of Islamist violent non-state actors were previously part of these Islamist political parties. It is another issue that those leaders parted ways from Islamist parties and founded terrorist groups such as in case of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed who founded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) after leaving Jamaat-e-Islami in late 1980s.

Ÿ It would be pretty naïve to believe that people belonging to same set of radical ideology, backgrounds, coming from same settings, and not abiding by each other in times of need.

Ÿ Islamist parties' vote bank during last several elections has fluctuated but never risen higher than 12.28 %[8] -popular vote when calculated is even lower in percentage

Ÿ It could be assumed that, for Islamist parties, the Islamist terrorist groups are best alternative hope for securing power, although it seems difficult in routing all other forces at higher echelons involved in brokering power. But still in ‘unknown' and drastic circumstances, these Islamist terrorist groups could become best bet for Islamist parties aspiring for greater role. Islamist parties appear to appreciate the Islamic revolution of Iran and the modus operandi of taking over the reins of state.

Ÿ Case of Iran is very well studied at Islamist circles where Islamist forces took advantage of a mass revolt against the Shah led regime and eventually successful in clinching power ; another good example is of Afghanistan under Taliban (1996-2001) where students from JUI madrasahs managed to oust President Najib ullah's government despite of the fact that Taliban represented only a segment of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and religiously pluralist society.

Ÿ Growing poverty, double figure inflation and unemployment coupled with anti-Americanism and anti-western thoughts could further alienate Pakistanis masses to slide towards Islamist extremism which would help Islamist parties achieve their agendas.

The relationship between the two in Pakistan is not an unusual one, as we could observe this phenomenon happening in many other countries, such as:


Political Parties

Terrorist Groups



Herri Bastasuna                             

Sinn Fein

Muslim Brotherhood                  

Muslim Brotherhood                  

Union Patriotica Colombia

African National Congress

Socialist Revolutionary             

National Liberation Front



Egyptian Islamic Jihad               

Egyptian Islamic Group


Spear of the Nation

SR Combat Organization

National Liberation Army






South Africa




Thus, political parties, with respect to certain reasons, tend to support violent non-state actors. The reasons are ideological. Pakistani Islamist parties are not political wings of Islamist terrorist groups per se. These are legal, registered and politically active entities with manifestos, agendas and regular participation in political processes. In spite of all that the issue of ideology and common political objectives hold the key, and of course not to mention that most of the Islamist groups were either splinter or born out of the said parties.

The relationship between Islamist parties and non-state groups was encouraged during the times of military regime of General Zia ul Haq (1977-88) during which JI's involvement was sought to galvanize jihadist activities in Afghanistan, whereas to un-secularize Pakistani military Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) was allowed to indoctrinate military officials. Scores of TJ missionary teams visited Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) from 1980-85.[9] The purpose was to generate a new corps of Pakistani military officers cultivated on Wahabi/Salafist/Deobandi lines. JI was allowed to reign over university campuses where its student wing had subjugated all other secular and nationalist parties during Zia-years. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto described the situation as :"My father did not know of General Zia's connections with Maulana Maudoodi of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Later General Zia would make the works of Maulana Maudoodi compulsory reading the armed forces. The professional armed forces changed into one influenced by the politics of religion."[10]

JUI was not given much importance during General Zia's period but its services were hired for cajoling newly emerged Taliban militia in early 1990s, many of the Taliban were former students of JUI-run religious seminaries. The civilian government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, despite being aware of the radical Islamist nature of Taliban movement, had supported the development in collusion with military establishment and JUI.[11][12] Moreover JI was given the role in Islamist insurgency in Kashmir (1989-2004) which started to gain momentum during last years of General Zia.

Pakistan is the birth place of Al-Qaeda.[13] Maktabakul Khidmat (services bureau) which later turned into Al-Qaeda had maintained close relations with Pakistani Islamist parties because of being ideologically close to their cause. No wonder the Pakistani Islamist terrorist groups joined hands with Al-Qaeda after 9/11 attacks.

Al-Qaeda, the successor organization of Bureau of Services for Arab Mujahedeen (Maktabatul Khidmat wal Mujahedeen), was established in Peshawar, Pakistan, during Afghan War in 1988. Maktab was headed by Abdullah Azzam, a former professor of theology at King Fahad University Jeddah. He was Bin Laden's mentor  and the man who convinced him to join ‘Afghan Jihad'.[14] The primary reason of MKM was to provide logistical support to those Arabs coming over to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Abdullah Azzam was encouraged from all corners. AQ, which later came into being out of shadows of Afghan War, had intimate relations with Pakistani Islamist parties from the beginning. Abdullah Azzam had a close relationship with JI. It was mainly because of Azzam's background of Muslim Brotherhood and his longstanding relations with Saudis. When Bin Laden proclaimed his war against the US in 1998, it was Pakistani Islamist terrorist groups which first joined hands with him.

Amir Rana, an expert on Pakistani Islamist terrorist groups, while reflecting upon religious organizations in Pakistan states, : "as many as 21 parties (out of registered 239 religious parties) participate in electoral politics, 148 work purely on sectarian agendas, 24 are associated with militant jihad, 12 groups seek establishment of a caliphate system in the country and do not believe in the democratic dispensation, 18 are missionary in nature-focused mainly on preaching their sectarian thoughts - while 10 operate as charities."[15]

We could see similar patterns and ideologies ; not only that but we find most of Islamist terrorist groups either born out of Islamist parties, splinter groups or their leadership were once part of Islamist parties. The principal Islamist political parties in Pakistan deal with Islamist terrorist groups tactfully. The nature of their relationship could be summarized as:

Ÿ Using Islamist terrorist groups as pressure groups.

Ÿ Using Islamist terrorist groups as a threat to government and state institutions.

Ÿ Having leverage of becoming negotiators/mediators during conflicts.

Ÿ By not condemning terror tactics of Islamist terrorist groups the Islamist parties keep a smooth and working relationship with them.






The Islamist parties seem to enjoy and maintain certain level of relationship with Islamist terrorist groups as many leaders of proscribed militant outfits started their political careers from the platforms of these Islamist parties. Moreover, the role of Tableeghi Jamaat (proselytizing party) could not be ignored as it espouses the same ideology and apparently works as a ‘nursery' for recruitment and indoctrination in a particular way. As both principal Islamist parties and TJ profess the same Wahabi/Salafist/Deobandi school of thought, thus, their cooperation is natural and inevitable. If TJ works as nursery for radicalization then Islamist parties provide them primary and secondary education and finally they tend to achieve graduate level by joining Islamist terrorist groups.

For another reason the Islamist parties maintain their relationship with Islamist terrorist groups is their own security and for becoming a bridge in case of on and off negotiations with government where Islamist leaders act as mediators. Islamist parties at times act as pressure groups and in case of dealing with state for their demands they tend to bargain by pacifying Islamist terrorist groups, at least for a time being.

At some occasions (only few) the Islamist parties' leaders did try distancing Islamist terrorist groups by means of condemning their tactics (not ideology and goals), mainly because of their growing unpopularity. The result was suicide attacks against those leaders. JUI (F) leader Fazal-ur Rehman, though, a staunch supporter of both Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, became a target of suicide bombings twice in 24 hours in April 2011.[16] Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the ex-Ameer of JI, became target of suicide bombing when he In case of Pakistan it seems difficult for Islamist parties to abandon Islamist terrorist groups as they have been using them as policy instruments since Afghan War (1979-89).


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