By Busharat Elahi Jamil
Although Pakistan came into being in August 1947, after effectively gaining independence from British rule, it has never truly known freedom. Today, the country is still beholden to what may be best termed as global imperialism. Before Partition from India, the very concept of a separate Muslim homeland faced much opposition from religious groups such as Majlis-e Ahrar-e Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, among others. The British colonial administration co-opted the mandate of these parties in order to undermine both the Muslims of India and their leadership.
These fatwa ‘dealers’ issued decrees against the creation of the anticipated new state of Pakistan. Thus these cheerleaders of communalism busied themselves with a little subversive word play. Thus did they take Pakistan (land of the pure) and turn it into ‘Palidastan’ (land of the unclean and impure); and Jinnah was no more Quaid-e-Azam (supreme leader) but ‘Kafir-e-Azam’ (chief infidel). But they didn’t leave it there. Meaning that they issued yet another fatwa declaring that anyone daring to recognise Jinnah as the Quaid would face having his nikkah annulled. And just so that there would be absolutely no mistake – whosoever was sufficiently audacious to resist would himself be proclaimed ‘Kafir’. Thus this particular band of merry mullahs outdid themselves when they began chuckling about how the founding father of this country wouldn’t even make the P in Pakistan. Yet on a more serious note, following on from the above, three separate classifications are needed.
Firstly, the independence of Indian Muslims was not so much a fundamentally Islamic or religious issue – but, rather, a political one. Admittedly, Indian Muslims were seeking, under Jinnah’s leadership, a new and separate state where they could practice Islam freely. But this is a concept very different to that of an Islamic state; something that neither the Quaid nor Allama Iqbal supported. Moreover, the minority members of Pakistan’s first National Assembly, particularly those from East Bengal, rejected the Objectives Resolution in 1949; pronouncing it contradictory to the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Secondly, and paradoxically, comes the interesting question as to how this ‘infidel’ supreme leader could go on to found an Islamic state? Yet today, these religious parties are living and breathing and thriving in their once ill-fated ‘Palidastan’. In fact, it was the Objectives Resolution that allowed them to save face before worming their way into the very socio-religious fabric of Pakistan.
In a bid to consolidate their hold on power in the new state – these anti-Pakistan mullahs made the calculated move of entering into politics. Thus did they raise dispute after dispute to earn recognition among the masses. The Khatm-e-Nabuwat movement of the 1950s, pertaining to the finality of the Prophet-hood, remains one case in point. Here, they carefully manipulated public sentiment with a view to validating their due role as leaders of the faith. By 1974, they were able to demonstrate the extent of their authority when they compelled Bhutto’s Parliament to declare the Ahmadia non-Muslim; within the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. This was a move to strengthen the Saudi idea of unanimous representation of Muslims, globally. Today, the anti-Ahmadi legislation of 1974 and 1984 still has Pakistan gripped firmly in its deadly embrace.
Thirdly, according recognition to these so-called religious contractors forcefully negates the sacrifices of those who secured initial freedom for every religion at the very cost of their own lives. It has also allowed these groups to slowly yet steadily concentrate their hold on Pakistan’s socio-political system. Today, the country is home to more than 35 registered religious political parties. These not only enjoy strong electoral support but tangible street power, too. What is more, the last general elections recorded the following in terms of the religious right ballot gains: Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F) won 1,461,371 votes; JI 963,909; Mutahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM) 360,297; JUI (Nazriyati) 103,098; and JUI (Nurani) 67,966 when it came to National Assembly representation. These Islamic religious parties are split along sectarian lines and follow different schools of thought depending on their respective political agendas. Which naturally begs an important question: if the religious elite are divided on the matter of faith – how do they hope to unite the nation under the umbrella of Islam? True to form, the clergy here in Pakistan are profiting from both religion and so-called democracy. Yet this doesn’t serve their constituents, who are verily encouraged to confuse politics with religion.
The religious right’s dominance of the political system has reached the point where parties like JI and JUI-F have the clout to destabilise any ruling regime of the day. Even figures like Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman don’t discriminate when it comes to joining hands with democratic or authoritarian regimes; including the current PMLN government. He is, after all Chairman of a bogus Kashmir Committee; while his party colleague Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri holds the Senate vice-chairmanship. And then we have the contentious issue of PTI’s ties with Maulana Samiul Haq that have extended to funding. Thus who can blame the general citizenry for not being able to conclude whether these religious men of steel stand with democracy or dictatorship? When politics remains the name of their game as opposed to serving the nation.
These groups as well as their religious-political bodies are prone to exploiting such sensitive issues as Khatm-e-Nabuwat and blasphemy. They use specific legal provisions to harass the country’s minorities; with a view to keeping them bound by certain shackles that serve their political agenda. Which explains the low quotas of reserved parliamentary seats for religious minorities: just 10 for the National Assembly and four for the Senate. That these communities are largely underprivileged simply makes this under-representation even more criminal. Already hundreds of Hindu families from Sindh have migrated permanently to India, while those who stay behind face institutional marginalisation at the hands of the political set-up.
This has serious consequences for Pakistan. When those from Christian, Ahmadi and Hindu communities suffer such very real uncertainly and fear that they would rather flee this – their – country, it contributes further to the ongoing brain drain. The saddest part is that our so-called democratic governments, having already done deals with the devil, find themselves paralysed when it comes to reining in these self-serving mazhabi mullahs and their politicking. This hinders Pakistan’s development and poses a very real threat to the country’s existence.
Of course, the religious right’s real strength rests in its street power, for which they target madrasa students. Back in 1947, Pakistan was home to just 189 religious seminaries. Then came Gen Zia who openly patronised the madrasa, going as far as declaring certificates issued from these seminaries equivalent to a university Master’s degree. Today the number of madaris have crossed 35,500; with a total enrolment of around 4 million students. Most of these remain unregistered. This question of non-registration is known to be a major contributing factor when it comes to spawning militant activism and recruiting those who would wage jihad against state and citizenry. An overwhelmingly large majority of Pakistan-based terrorists have been linked to the country’s unregistered seminaries; thereby reinforcing notions of the relationship between madaris and militancy. Interestingly, here is where minorities come into their own in terms of loyalty to this country. For not one single incident of terrorism in Pakistan has ever involved a member of non-Muslim minority communities. Yet despite this – the latter are constitutionally barred from being elected to either the premiership or the presidency.
Here, we have conflicting schools of thought as well as sectarian divisions, which include but are not limited to: Wahhabi, Barelvi, Shia and Ahl-i-Hadith. Thus these prevailing differences – when it comes to specific beliefs or practices – sow seed after seed of discord, all of which threatens the unity of the country. This is especially true when it comes to organisations and movements like Labbaik Ya Rasulallah and Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwa. These are responsible for playing the sectarian card, thereby perpetually fanning the flames of communalism in Pakistan. Thus the hate preached by such outfits only increases the very real sense of insecurity among the country’s minority communities. And, in fact, it would be no exaggeration to conclude that such factionalism is sufficient to destabilise Pakistan entirely. Yet this is nothing new. Internal and external forces have, ever since the Zia era, high-jacked religion in a bid to threaten the territorial integrity of Pakistan. How much longer are we prepared to let this go on?
Currently, Pakistan is being held hostage by more than 40 militant groups, including: Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which has been renamed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaa; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP); Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). All of these, without exception, came about purely due to the religious bigotry and sectarian hatred that has plagued this country for so long. And all continue their murderous and bloody practices – in the name of their personally modified version of Islam – to challenge the writ of state. The most tragic part is that these banned outfits procure around 60 percent of funding from ordinary citizens, those suffering from blind faith; with the rest coming through ill-gotten gains, such as kidnapping for ransom, street crimes and general theft and looting. Meaning that not only do these fanatical groups spread their vitriol – they also are directly responsible for rising crime rates nationwide.
This is where the media, as society’s fourth pillar, needs to come in. Yet it is still seemingly reluctant to put industry rivalries aside to collectively confront religious extremism. The government, for its part, ought to ban the broadcasting of hate speeches, particularly with regard to electronic media. But, print media, too, also should be monitored closely to bring an end to this practice once and for all. In short, we must say no more to the deliberate mixing of religion with politics. Moreover, Islamic television channels must produce programmes based on plurality, tolerance, peace and harmony. This is something that the clergy must support – for a society at peace with itself is a productive and prosperous society. And then, only then, will Pakistan have the right to call itself an Islamic Republic.
(The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)