Politics sans religion

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The other day voices were heard in the British Parliament regarding the sad plight of minorities in Pakistan following recent incident of killings of members of Ahmadiyya community and what is called systematic genocide of Shia Hazaras of Quetta. As a Pakistani who had held twice the distinguished position of Pakistan’s High Commissioner in the Court of St James covering nine years, often I have to hang my head in shame when face-to-face in meeting members of British Parliament now and then. When I am asked what is happening in Pakistan I have no clue what to tell them.
When PPP was in government under President Asif Ali Zardari and there was trouble in Quetta we used to have strong Hazara Community in London protesting outside the PHC. My doors were never closed to them, I used to talk to them and instantly convey their grievances to the President and the Prime Minister. On some occasions realising the gravity of the situation I would even ring up the President, Prime Minister and the Interior Minister late in the night in the presence of Hazara community leaders. Credit must be given to President Asif Ali Zardari that action used to follow immediately, heads rolled, peace and confidence of the community restored. I am sure Hazara community leaders in London will bear me out.

Members of Shia community demonstrating to protest killing of their faith followers. (File picture)

Unfortunately times have changed. We don’t know whether the government is coming or going. Everybody knows the plight of current Interior Minister Rao Ahsan Iqbal who cut a sorry figure the other day when he found Rangers in siege of the NAB court without his orders and without his knowledge. To add insult to his injury when he wanted to go in Rangers did not allow him. Obviously the Minister lost his cool and threatened he will not rest in peace until he gets to the bottom of the conspiracy as well hold those responsible accountable for this gross misdemeanour. He also said that if he can’t have control over his own department he would rather resign than remain an ineffective Minister. As poet Ghalib said there was no show of flying pieces of his resignation. Rather it was much more of the same resignation mantra that previous Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan had become notorious for. I would not dare say but to quote someone who was aspirant to take his position as Minister- ‘problem with our ministers is that they are virtually CNG mobiles- full of hot air that would bloat their egos beyond their imagination’. With such an ineffective Interior Minister Hazaras cannot expect any relief.
Poor peace-loving Shi’a Hazaras have no option other than to shift to save their lives from organised mayhem by the extremist organisations that have the protection of the government and the F.C. in Balochistan. They have failed to draw the attention of the law enforcers to their miserable plight as such now their appeal for redress is directed towards Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa since he is commander-in-Chief of Army, FC, Rangers, ISI and MI. If he cannot provide them protection and security to life/property Hazaras will have no other option but to migrate to any other country that offers them and does not discriminate on grounds of one’s religious belief. In this background I was overjoyed to hear Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s categorical declaration – a sort of assurance to people like Shia Hazaras or persecuted members of Ahmadiyya community that religion was a private affair. This assertion definitely means something and General Bajwa would go down in our history as the first and only army chief to declare without mincing words that religion is a ‘private affair’. Never before did any army chief ever had the guts to be as categorical as General Bajwa in putting it straight what could be said as best and the briefest re-enunciation of the ideology of Pakistan bequeathed to us by the founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. No doubt General Bajwa expressed what is the need of the hour especially in an environment vitiated by an ex-captain of the army, son-in-law of the ex- prime minister and religion-wise a devotee of a murderer – Mumtaz Qadri. Whatever non-sense Captain (Retd) Safdar blurted out in the National Assembly in his quixotic speech was more of a well-calculated method for madness that he thought would save Sharif Clan from paying the price for the sins of mega corruption.
It is easier desired than achieved. More than most of the politicians know that MAJ wanted Pakistan to be a secular democracy where religion was to be very private and personal affair but are scared to say so due to the fear of violent retaliation by the religious extremists that somehow hold hostage the premier institution because of the bigoted legacy of General Ziaul Haq’s religious mindset. Unfortunately not many-except leaders of PPP and ANP – can dare say what General Bajwa unequivocally declared in the seminar that he addressed recently – in which among other things – he also exposed the precarious state of our economy.
General Bajwa deserves all plaudits for declaring fearlessly that religion is a private affair. But that’s not enough. He shall have to do more for reviving the great spirit of MAJ’s secularism to honour sacrifices of those millions who left their hearths and homes and gave their life and blood for Pakistan- a homeland for all those who believed in religious freedom irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender. The Tafkiri poison injected by General Zia in the his constituency needs a drastic brain washing or purge to get rid of the despicable elements. May be they are in negligible minority – they are afflicted deep with Ziaist mindset of Tafkiri bigotry. Unless this evil is buried for all times and religion not allowed to be used as a crutch to political power – we cannot even hope to save Pakistan from an inevitable and shameful denouement.
Religion being a private affair is the key to moving forward on path to peace, progress and prosperity. In the initial days after its birth, Pakistan’s overly Punjabi establishment/ power troika never openly questioned MAJ’s secular and democratic ideology as an edifice for building a social welfare state. It was gradually replaced with the idea of a garrison state in cahoots with religious parties such as Jamaat-i-Islami and Ahraris who had opposed establishment of Pakistan and called MAJ Kafir-e-Azam. To put the record straight and set an example we must learn from the English people. They dug the skeleton of Oliver Cromwell and hung it in the centre of London as a reminder of that ignoble fate to others with similar ambitions.
Zia did the utmost harm to Pakistan by hijacking MAJ’s secular, liberal and progressive country. He somehow had the impression that he has been divinely ordained to converting Pakistan into a Salafi/Tafkiri/Wahabi state. Had there been no divine intervention to bring him down, he might have by now declared himself a false prophet. General Zia raped history, distorted the constitution, put in place perverted value system giving it a cover of what he thought his Islam was. As a result neither we are a nation nor a people with any singularity of purpose. Thank God, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the leaders of the smaller provinces of residual Pakistan following surrender to Indians in 1971 by General Yahya and his military coterie, managed to clad the remaining federating units in the cast iron frame work of 1973 Constitution that has so far proved to be a stronger bind than the religion to keep the country together and united.
General Zia’s master strike of deceit was to convert PNA movement in 1977 against alleged rigging of elections into first movement for Nizam e Mustafa and then to oust Bhutto to impose Martial law. What Nizam e Mustafa was, no nobody knew as the mullahs in PNA would not offer prayer behind each other. An electoral dispute over less than 20 seats was transformed by Zia’s ISI into a violent campaign much more like CIA’s against Iran’s Prime Minister Dr Mossadegh.
Obviously the whole rigging drama was a plot to oust Pakistan’s populist Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. If it had not been so then why did General Zia stage his coup soon after meeting American Embassy’s Political Counsellor Arnold Rafael (who as US Ambassador died with him on August 17, 1988 in the air crash) when later on July 5th 1977 agreement between PPP and PNA was to be signed for fresh elections.
General Zia inflicted greatest harm to Pakistan by ousting Bhutto and subverting the constitution. He fractured and polarised the society by judicially murdering Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on a judgment most foul in which – as ordered by him-four Punjabi judges convicted ZAB under pressure, while three from the smaller provinces-acquitted him on the merit of the case. Having put Bhutto Sahib to eternal peace, Zia still could not counter the man who continued to rule from his grave.
To divide ZAB’s people’s power, Zia created ethnic and sectarian groups – a curse that continues to implode Pakistan from within. His evil legacy of bigotry has straight jacketed some people in all walks of life and in all institutions – civil or non civil – irrespective. Thank God PPP and ANP continue to be standard bearers of MAJ’s secular ideology while Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI-F, PML-N and PTI are supporters/sympathizers of Taliban-like characters – mainly in Punjab. It is regrettable that despite knowing the lethal threat that religious extremism poses to the very existence of Pakistan, the leaders of PML-N, JUI-F, Jamaat-i-Islami and PTI have no guts and conviction to endorse MAJ and General Bajwa’s declaration that religion is a private affair.
Time is running out fast. If there is no national effort to separate religion from politics and ban its use in seeking political power- regretfully Pakistan has no future. One wishes and prays for a time to come when exploitation of religion for political ends is made a punishable crime. While religion has come to be handmaid for most of the politicians-its most recent abuse was seen when PTI’s leader Imran Khan made a mountain of the issue of his heavily armed security guards not being allowed to enter Lal Shabaz Qalandar’s Shrine for security reasons. He claimed that the Sindh government stopped him from praying inside the shrine. He forgot that the ‘Urs’ was heavily covered by TV channels and when he was protesting one could see TV cameras focused on PTI leaders Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Arif Alvi inside the shrine. Such blatant abuse of religion much like Capt (R) Safdar’s to demand expulsion of the members of Ahmadiyya community from the armed forces and government- would only mar the future of the country rather than build it into a progressive, liberal and secular democracy as per the vision of the Quaid.
(The writer is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)