After independence, a number of religious scholars and parties / groups began clamoring for establishment of ‘Islamic’ or ‘shari’ah state in Pakistan. Inside the Constituent Assembly Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, founder of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), and outside the Constituent Assembly Maulana Syed Abul A’la Maudoodi founder of the Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) were two powerful voices demanding introduction of Islamic system in Pakistan.
They succeeded in getting the ‘Objectives Resolution’ passed by the first Constituent Assembly which, inter alia, proclaimed that the sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Al-mighty Allah and authority of the state was to be exercised within the limits prescribed by Him. The next year eminent religious scholars of different sects agreed on 22 Points to serve as the basis for the future constitution. However, neither did the Constitutions of 1956 and 1962, nor does the Constitution of 1973 fully reflect the viewpoint of the religious parties. In fact, the religious parties have never secured sufficient representation in the parliament through elections to think about implementing their agenda.
The first elections of real significance were held for the provincial assembly of Bengal in April 1954. At that time the Constituent Assembly was preoccupied with such issues as distribution of seats amongst the provinces in central legislature and the measure of autonomy to be granted to them in the future constitution. The politics in the country was focused on conflict and power-tussle between Punjab and Bengal whereas the issue of the role of Islam in the state had receded to a secondary position. In these provincial elections the United Front (Jugto Front) of the Awami League (AL) and the Krishak Proja Party (KPP) routed the Muslim League. The religious parties seemed irrelevant to the situation as they failed to understand the aspirations of the Bengali people.
The presidential election of January 1965 was held under the Constitution of 1962 that provided for the system of ‘Basic Democracy’. As a prelude to presidential election, 80,000 Basic Democrats were elected in the preceding November who had the right to vote. Before the elections, the mainstream opposition parties, including the JI which had decided to take part in electoral politics, had formed an alliance called the Combined Opposition Parties (COP). The other components of the COP were the AL, the Pakistan Muslim League-Council (PML-Council), the National Awami Party (NAP) and the Nizam-e-Islam Party (NIP). The COP successfully persuaded Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah to accept nomination as its candidate. The COP stood for establishment of federal-parliamentary form of government in place of the centralized-presidential system that had been introduced by Ayub Khan. Islam was not an issue, although some prominent religious scholars who favored Ayub Khan opposed the candidature of Fatima Jinnah claiming that Islam did not permit a woman to be the Head of State. Apparently, Fatima Jinnah was defeated because the incumbent government resorted to unfair practices in the election.
The first general elections on the basis of adult franchise were held in December 1970. Instead of forming an alliance, the religious parties opted for contesting the elections as separate entities. The JI spent very lavishly on the election campaign. It appeared that it had very bright prospects to win a large number of seats. The JUI then led by Maulana Mufti Mehmood and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) led by Pir Qamruddin Sialvi had sectarian appeal, the former representing the Deobandi and the latter the Bareilvi maslaks of Sunni sect of Islam. The religious parties declared the socialist program of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as unIslamic. Some religious scholars went to the extent of issuing fatwas against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Socialism. The JI was very critical of the Six-Point Program of Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman, the leader of the AL, and projected it as almost seditious in character. On the polling day, the people rejected the religious parties. In a House of 300 directly elected members, the JI secured 4 and JUI and JUP won 7 seats each. Other religious groups were nowhere to be seen. Once again the religious parties failed to attract the voters as they did not have concrete program like that of the PPP or the AL.
The general elections of March 1977, the first after the separation of East Pakistan, were apparently rigged by the PPP to secure 2/3 majority in the National Assembly. The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), which challenged the PPP in these elections, had nine political parties within its fold, including the Tehreek-e-Istiqlal (TI), the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Pagara (PML-P). Although the slogan of ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ raised by the PNA proved to be quite attractive, the credit for popularity of the alliance does not go to the three major religious parties – the JI, the JUI and the JUP – which were also PNA’s components. In fact, Air Marshal (R) Asghar Khan, the leader of TI, was generally considered a potential substitute for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The NDP had filled the vacuum created by imposition of ban on the NAP, and the PML-P was the challenger of the PPP in rural Sindh. The influence of the JI and the JUP was largely confined to urban areas, in particular Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad, and of JUI, which had got split, in parts of the NWFP and Balochistan.