Monday, 10 May 2010

Hizb ut Tahrir’s Call for Power in Pakistan

A Betrayal of Ideals?

On the 9th of May, 2010, Hizb ut Tahrir Pakistan (HTP) the trans-national Islamic party issued in its words ‘a bold statement’ to the people of power , namely the armed forces to support HT in its quest to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the country. The declaration was delivered by HTP official spokesman Naveed Butt via the
web and by another member, Akmal Khan at the press club in Islamabad. The
declaration highlighted the societal and geopolitical problems facing Pakistan focussing the blame on external interference, internal corruption and systemic failure and advancing in return an Islamic solution applied through the state mechanics of the Caliphate. Since it’s public emergence in Pakistan in the year 2000,HTP has focused somewhat exclusively on provoking the armed forces in order to overthrow the secular regime and system in the country. Without doubt the armed forces in Pakistan hold the effective reins of power and according to former senior members from the HT leadership in the UK such as Majid Nawaz ( who now advises the UK government and intelligence services on HT), HTP members have been active amongst members of country's armed forces. However, the obsessive focus by HTP on the armed forces raises crucial questions as to whether it is looking for power in Pakistan purely through the mechanism of military power without effective legitimacy in society.In this article I will argue that despite such ‘bold’ statements, not only does HTP severely lack the authority and popular legitimacy, but its efforts to seek
power in Pakistan also violates its intellectual premises on societal
transformation as well as the location most suitable for the establishment of the Caliphate.


HT was founded by a Palestinian scholar and judge, Taqiudine an Nabhani in 1952, with an explicit and detailed programme to revive Islam in the Muslim world via popular legitimacy and through the institution of the classical trans-national Caliphate with the support of power structures such as the armed forces. With the intent of establishing the Caliphate first in the Arab and then expanding its influence throughout the Muslim world and beyond, HT became truly trans-national with operations now in over 40 countries. However, it is outside of the Arab world such as Central Asia, Indonesia, Europe and South Asia that it has gained most influence and attention. In Pakistan, HT publicly declared itself in the year 2000 and mysteriously broke with its stated policy on the Arab world by declaring Pakistan a Wilayah or place suitable for the assumption of power. However, despite its non-violent methodology, former president Parvez Musharraf banned the movement in 2006 under anti-terror legislation. The ban has not however dissuaded its members
from activism and continued arrests and charges against them have been thrown out by successive courts due to lack of credible evidence and threat to national security.

Rhetoric vs Reality

Despite the media based rhetoric generated by HT in Pakistan and supported by its global media arm in the UK, there is an obvious deficit in popular legitimacy for the party in Pakistan and consequently the credibility of its claims concerning the country’s desire for Islamic law and the Caliphate. This harsh political reality
which seems to have been ignored consistently by HT is that beyond the religious and tribal hotbed of the deobandi orientated North WestFrontier Province (NWFP), the majority of Pakistan remains heavily influenced by apolitical Sufism, whose deep penetration by Indian philosophy renders its adherents doctrinally sterile to the call of Islamic political revival.Consequently, Pakistan’s religious based
political parties despite their adherence to constitutional norms and electoral participation have remained on the fringe of popular support. There can be no better example of the people’s rejection of Islam’s political role than the victory of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in an open election despite the wave of anti-Americanism, upheaval in Afghanistan and the tribal areas and tested failures of the pro-western secular political leadership. The depth of humiliation tendered upon
the Islamic parties was such that they were shunned in favour of discredited and reviled political figures such as Asif Zardari and Nawaz Shareef. There is little doubt that if HT is to be taken seriously it has to demonstrate more than media profile and agitational politics. The public’s anti-Americanism does not translate into a mandate for Islam and without a manifest ideational supremacy in the popular base; HT will remain in fool’s paradise.

Ideology vs Material Power

HT’s very superficial approach in Pakistan is all the more surprising considering the fact that it has laid out an understanding of considerable intellectual substance on how to bring Islamic revolution within society. On paper, HT outranks by far all the Islamic movements in terms of its revolutionary theory, Islamic scholarship, details of an economic, political and social programme being the only movement to have put forward a comprehensive Islamic constitution and blueprint for
a Caliphate. However, its prowess in the intellectual field has not translated into an effective popular base and seizure of power which until the death of its founder an-Nabhani was focused exclusively on the Arab world.

The reason for Pakistan’s inclusion into HT’s majaal or place suitable for the power has never been properly explained by its leadership, especially since a delegation sent to the country in the 1960’s rejected the suitability of its society based on the weakness of the people’s Islamic doctrine stemming from the deep penetration of
primarily Indian philosophy and culture. The only explanation so far has been forwarded by Maajid Nawaaz (who spent some time with HT in Pakistan), claiming that it was Pakistan’s nuclear declaration which tipped the argument for its inclusion. If so this reasoning does not correspond to an-Nabhani’s argument in that consideration should only be given to the strength of the Islamic ideology existent in the society and not to any material factors. In a leaflet dated 7 March 1962, Nabhani makes this point explicitly,

"The establishment of the Caliphate is not like building a house, measuring and judging according to the material possibilities. In contrast, the Caliphate is a political entity resting on an intellectual basis. Wherever this entity matures it will arise naturally and inevitably, regardless of the site or the material
conditions of the location" (leaflet Min al kahata al fadih al zann bi-anna-l-amal fi qutr min aqtar al hizb)

Therefore, as an analogy, the strength of the Soviet Union originated in its Communist ideology and despite its military power and nuclear capability the seizure of the ideology to command popular conviction lead to its inevitable collapse. Therefore, according to HTP’s own basis, Pakistan’s nuclear and conventional capability has no merit without the Islamic ideological engine driving the society, something which cannot be manufactured even if the armed forces of Pakistan were
to respond to HTP’s call.

Location, Location, Location - Intellectual Abdication

More fundamentally, according to HT’s own consideration, Pakistan is absent the very tool required for a strong ideology and sustained Islamic revival ie the Arabic language. According to HT the Arabic language is inextricably tied to the strength of Islamic understanding.This is based on the premise that without the Arabic language, the sources of Islam, primarily the Qur’an, the hadith and Islamic
jurisprudence cannot be properly understood or appreciated. In addition to the political factor HT regards the neglect of the Arabic language as critical to its evaluation of Islam’s decline and ultimately the root cause of the Caliphate’s demise under the Ottoman’s in 1924. Consequently, HT’s literature is absolute on the Arabic language as central to the society where the Caliphate should be established. In its adopted book Takkat-al-Hizb (Party Structuring) HT states;

"The entire world is suitable for the Islamic da’wah (Islamic work);however, since the people in the Islamic lands are Muslims, the da’wah must start there. Also, since the people in Arab territories (being part of the Islamic world) speak Arabic, and since Arabic is an essential part of Islam and its culture, the priority must be given to the Arab territories"

So much so, that its first official communiqué in 1953 was dedicated to the importance of the Arabic language and subsequently the Arab world in HT’s conception of the ideal geography for the resumption of the Caliphate. According to the communiqué;

"Hizb ut-Tahrir makes the starting point the Arab land as part of the Muslim land and views the Islamic State in the Arab land as a nucleus"

HT confirms its priority of the Arab societies over the non-Arab again in the book Concepts of HT (Mefahim HT, 1953)

"Carrying the Islamic da’wah (work) and the political struggle for its cause can be undertaken only in the society which the party has defined as its area for activity (majal).. it takes the Arab lands that are a part of the Islamic lands as a starting point. It considers the establishment of an Islamic state in the Arab countries as a nucleus for the Islamic state as a natural step"

No changes have as yet been made to HT’s adopted literature and no explanation has been provided officially by the leadership of HT as to why Pakistan has been afforded wilaya status. The adoption of Pakistan as a suitable society seems to be in apparent violation of its own rationale.

Legitimacy through Coup'detat - Methodological Abdication

Moreover, even if we ignore the discrepancy over the Arabic language, the political struggle outlined above and the call by HTP to the armed forces in the absence of a popular base violates the very premise of how HT understands the components of society and its transformation based on the life of the Prophet Mohammed and its rationalisation detailed in the book Takkatul Hizb which HT claims to follow. In
Takkatul Hizb there is no mention of ‘military coups’ because the concept dictates a popular revolt under the leadership of HT and its ideas. The military is seen as part of the interaction process which can either protect the party and/or cement the popular base. To seek the takeover of society with the help of the military without the popular base stands against the very premise of intellectual leadership HT claims it stands for. The objective is not intended to be the pursuit of power but revival of Islam through the society and state which requires popular legitimacy. Yet HTP seems to deliberately or otherwise ignore this obvious reality in its surreal claims concerning the heartbeat of the Pakistani society. HTP’s obsession with the Pakistani armed forces is a far cry from HT’s decision in 1958 to refuse an offer of leadership by the Iraqi army which according to its publication AL Fajr (1990) was based on the grounds that HT’s ideas had not taken root and therefore the Iraqi society was not ready to shoulder the burden of governance.

Media vs Human Interaction - Societal Abdication

The reality of HT in Pakistan is quite apparent. Its obsession with the military and its media spin masks the legitimacy deficit it faces in the country. Despite its hyperbole and agitational politics the lack of interest in HTP from the society has been continually exposed from the miniscule responses it has received for its many reactionary demonstrations and conferences. The hype surrounding Pakistan has in no
small measure been promoted by the UK branch of HT where along with Bangladesh; the focus of HT represents more a nationalist representation of its membership and one where its Arab membership and issues pertaining to the Arab world (which conceptually should form the centre of its focus) have been deliberately marginalised. HTP seems to be under the false impression that a recipe of media hype and agitational politics connected with Pakistani society’s emotional
connection with Islam and strong anti-Americanism will secure the support of the armed forces and overcome the patience required to deeply penetrate society and build popular legitimacy for its ideas.Moreover, other radical movements which have roots in religious seminaries such as the Taliban have rejected the Caliphate model and like themselves in Afghanistan, there is little indication that Pakistani society, its armed forces and religious figures are open to accept a leadership from an essentially Arab lead party. More critically for HTP, even with artificial attempts at mass contact, it is unlikely to affect the apolitical india-centric Sufism practised by the majority of people in power centres such as Punjab and Sind. Also having prematurely provoked the state security apparatus in Pakistan without protection or popular support, its political struggle will continue to be conducted within the confines of the media and through a cat and mouse game with the security services.

Noman Hanif is lecturer in Political Islam at Birkbeck, University of London