Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (moo ta HEE da MAJ lees eh AH mal), the United Action Front, had in its fold Jamaat Islami (JI), Pakistan’s oldest religious party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (N), the political representative of the Barelvi school of Sunni Muslims, both factions of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam [Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (S)], which represents the Deobandi school, Professor Sajid Mir’s Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith and Allama Sajid Naqvi’s outlawed Shia group Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, which in its present incarnation is known as Pakistan Islami Tehrik. The alliance was initially headed by Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. The motivating force behind the formation of the MMA was one of the country’s most organised political parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The MMA coalition leaders were strongly opposed to the US-led anti-terrorism campaign in neighboring Afghanistan that ousted the Taleban from power. The group believed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had become a tool of US foreign policy. The MMA campaigned on promises to enforce Sharia law and in support of the withdrawal of US forces based in Pakistan in the campaign against international terrorism.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad of Jamaat Islami was the most visible leader of MMA in Punjab. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) was strong in Baluchistan and enjoyed the prestige of having been a defender of the interests of the Taliban in the grand Deobandi alliance mostly spearheaded by the jehadi militias. He also looked after the interests of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba of Maulana Azam Tariq. Maulana Samiul Haq is the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (S) and was in the MMA because of his pro-Taliban madrassah. Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani was the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan whose party only gradually gained some ground after the decline of the MQM in Sindh. Noorani’s anti-Americanism was offset by his less extreme Barelvi Islamic beliefs.
The 2002 sweep of the MMA caught more or less the entire country by surprise. For five years, NWFP was ruled by a puritanical alliance of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), that critics claim delivered little more than billboards with women smeared in black. Riding a crest of anti-US sentiment in
2002, the alliance grabbed 29 National Assembly seats from the NWFP while the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) won four and Pakistan Peoples Party – Sherpao (PPPS), two. In addition, the alliance won 52 seats in the provincial assembly out of a total of 99, while the PPPS won 10 seats, the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PMLQ, eight each, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and Swabi Qaumi Mahaz won single seats.
The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal religious alliance won an absolute majority in October 2001 regional elections, after which it ruled the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. On 25 November 2002, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal formed the government in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), after the alliance’s huge success in the province, at both the provincial and national level. In June 2002 the parliament in NWFP approved legislation to make Sharia, or Islamic teachings, the governing law in the region. Since taking control of the province, the ruling Islamic alliance banned music on public transport, medical examinations of women by male doctors, male coaches for women athletes and male journalists from covering women’s sports.
Taliban fighters are recruited and trained in Pakistan’s tribal areas of Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province where the central government has little influence. In the 2002 general elections, both provinces voted overwhelmingly for Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the alliance of religious parties openly critical of US-Pakistan cooperation.
The Jamiat Ahle Hadith (S) broke off with the alliance in August 2002, after differences with other members. The unity of the alliance suffered a setback with the departure of Sajid Mir, head of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith. Mir was close to Nawaz Sharif and was unhappy with Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Shah Ahmed Noorani on the meeting of Qazi with General Musharraf in August. It was believed that though the two sides could not resolve their differences, General Musharraf succeeded in reaching some sort of understanding with the Jamaat chief. After this meeting, the anti-Musharraf rhetoric vanished from the speeches of Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Shah Ahmed Noorani, although the anti-Americanism remained.
The MMA had the most direct appeal of all the parties. Prior to August 2002, it venomously attacked the Musharraf government for having betrayed the Taliban and sided with the US in its supposed “war against Islam.” They reject any change to the Kashmir policy and have emerged as the only outright supporter of the Kashmir “jihad.” They attack the presence of the American troops and agencies on Pakistani soil and speak in favour of the militant groups banned by the Musharraf government. Leaders under the MMA umbrella have issued fatwas of death on Americans and have denied the September 11th attacks in the United States as having been conducted by Osama bin Laden. The four parties are opposed to the present fiscal system and want it Islamised together with a complete enforcement of shariah law. All of the member parties are pathologically opposed to America as a world power and its “handmaiden,” the IMF, and want Pakistan’s foreign policy turned around. At the verbal level, MMA is closest to the minds of the Pakistani people.
In November 2003 Pakistan cracked down on four religious groups accused of having links to terrorism. The groups had earlier been banned and reorganized under new names. President Pervez Musharraf banned three of the groups. The government placed a fourth group on a watch list, leaving open the possibility of future action. All four represent renamed and reorganized versions of groups that Pakistan outlawed two years earlier as terrorist networks. Two of the originally banned groups, the Lashkar-e Taiba and the Jaish-e Mohammed, had been named as terrorist organizations by the US State Department. Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said the government originally had taken a wait-and-see approach to the new versions of the banned groups. The crackdown sparked political debate. Qazi Hussein Ahmed, a senior member of Parliament and the leader of Jamaat-e Islami, said the banned groups had no ties to militants. Tehrik-e Islami, part of the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal, was one of the affected parties. Tehrik-e-Islami was at the time the only group representing Shia minority in the religious alliance.
On 11 December 2003 the president of the MMA Maulana Noorani, an eminent cleric and political leader, died at the age of 78. Politicians from different political parties paid tribute to the services of the late Maulana Noorani. The death was seen as a significant setback to the MMA.
Amusingly, MMA also abbreviates Mulla-Military Alliance, a term of ridicule, and the people at large have been using it for the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. The pro-Musharraf ruling party pushed a bill through parliament in November 2004 to allow the military leader to retain both portfolios until 2007, when new elections are due. Thus on 30 December 2004 Musharraf formally declared that he would retain the army chief’s post, breaking a public pledge to give up his uniform by the end of the year. Musharraf asserted that to give up his military uniform would undermine Pakistan’s political and economic stability. Musharraf said that the opposition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal party had not kept their promise to avoid what he called politics of confrontation. The MMA and other political parties strongly criticized President Musharraf for breaking his promise.
By October 2007 Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) was on the verge of split as rift between Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) was deepening day by day. The Parliamentary term ended on 15 November 2007, and new general elections for both the national and the provincial assemblies were held on 18 February 2008. The opposition parties PPP and PML(Nawaz) won a landslide victory, well ahead of President Musharraf’s party PML (Q). The voters also strongly rejected the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal party, which was voted out of power in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP).
The regional newspaper Roznama Mashriq, the most influential newspaper in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, reflected on the defeat of religious parties in the province. “In the last elections people in the nation’s two important provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan had heard the promises of simplicity, self-dependence and especially claims for the implementation of Shari’a made during election campaigns by MMA and voted them to power by the largest majority in the country’s political and electoral history; the MMA enjoyed power for five years in the NWFP fully and in Baluchistan with the help of Pakistan Muslim League (Q). Not only that. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the general secretary of MMA and member of the National Assembly, was made the Leader of the Opposition [in the national parliament] for his ‘intellectual compatibility’ with the federal government. However, it is sad to note that during these past five years, the MMA did not care for the sentiment of its voters: neither Shari’a was implemented nor simplicity was seen in the government function, nor the culture of VIPs ended; nor the meetings as promised during elections campaigns were held in madrassas and mosques for the resolution of people’s problems. This is how the MMA failed comprehensively to implement its poll manifesto.”
The Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) emerged as the largest party, though it fell short of forming a government on its own. The secular ANP, which stands against Taliban-led violence in Pakistan’s tribal region and is known for its friendly relations with Afghanistan and India, formed a coalition government in the NWFP.
In April 2009 hopes for the revival of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) were diminishing, as the meeting of the 6 religious component parties had ended without any positive outcome. The newly elected Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami did not show any interest for the revival of MMA. Jamaat-e-Islami, the key player of the religious alliance MMA, was reluctant to activate the platform because the JI leadership felt that some decisions of the MMA had damaged the image of the top Islamist party of the country.