By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
It is more of mother of all fatwas -call if you want to -the Paigham-e-Pakistan edict launched the other day with great presidential fanfare. It seems to be a document prepared by so-called religious experts to outlaw suicide bombing and terrorism as un-Islamic acts. One wonders how would it do it despite the collective Approach of the best religious brains in Pakistan-some of who were seen in Dharna at Faiazabad chowk for nearly three weeks, disseminating pearls of their religious wisdom in more rudimentary language some times crossing into the pale of four lettered indulgence.
The Grand Fatwa is apparently designed as panacea to all the ills in the Pakistani society primarily targeting suicide bombing as un-Islamic. One would not like to subscribe to the hostile view to most of the hundreds of signatories as merely proxies on the pay roll of the dark state to be part of its well-knit mechanism to management of the affairs of the state as it pleases.
Although the impression is that Grand Fatwa is the finest thing to happen legitimizing the hold of the clerics on the society. Thank God-notwithstanding its sanctity by a presidential cahier, it would remain no more than a piece of paper since the clerics do not carry weight or their commitment matters. It has no legislative stamp of authority and parliamentary approval.
It is no more than hogwash to show to the people that the state is doing something -without doing much practically– to arrest the moral, social and religious decline brought into focus by 7-year-old Zainab’Ansari’s sexual assault and murder. Ever since it seems to have opened Pandora’s Box with similar horrifying cases getting exposed including reports of sexual abuses in the seminaries.
It is much more of the same platitudes that one has been hearing from the pulpit every Friday prayers since time immemorial-expression of pious hopes to redeem our honour as good Muslims. Of course most important aspect of this mother of all fatwas is its timing. It obviously reflects the fact that it is more of a positive, obliging geo-strategic reaction from Pakistan itself ‘doing more’ to please the American tweeting master whose diplomatic vocabulary is as vulgarly rich as was the language used by the clerics.
There should not be any doubt that the Grand Fatwa is definitely a positive response to placate the latest warning from President Trump to Islamabad to do more against terrorism. Besides, it is being rightly marketed as counter-narrative to extremism. One can only hope and pray that the Paigham too does not meet the disastrous end of the much touted National Action Plan (NAP)-considered as major failure of PMLN government.
Notwithstanding whatever the sincerity and singularity of purpose behind the Grand Fatwa strategy of the government to stem the alarming rot in moral, social and religious decadence, one, however, feels exception to the whole idea since it has no legal or legislative sanction or status. Besides, it is a sad and deplorable reflection of the commonality of thinking between the ruling PMLN and opposition PTI.
Both are hand in glove in ridiculing and undermining the Parliament by contemptuously denying the constructive role it should be playing as a major institution for the repair and reconstruction of the moral fabric of the society rendered into shreds by various vested interests. Just when the ruling party was out there flaying PTI leader Imran Khan and MNA Sheikh Rasheed for abusing the Parliament for calling it a curse, it was busy in drafting a document undermining the elected Parliament providing legitimacy to those 1,800 odd clerics who do not represent the general or electoral will of the people of Pakistan. The clerics-at best-are part of the rent a crowd available to the intelligence agencies to disrupt any normal democratic dispensation.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has rightly raised his voice vociferously in defence of the Parliament and his condemnation of those so-called Parliamentarians drawing millions in salary and benefits without attending to legislative work or fulfilling the requirement of attendance. Such elements actually are a curse for democracy; people should reject these Trojan horses that have no respect for vote but want to be in power courtesy umpire’s finger.
Former President General Pervez Musharraf, his government and his intelligence apparatus-received millions in dollars from Washington to strengthen his political test tube baby-the MMA to collect data, enumerate addresses, scan their curriculum with a view to modernizing education in the seminaries to produce economically productive man power and to de-weaponise an overly armed society-at the end of the day it is neither here nor there. Imran Khan’s PTI has been doling out huge amounts to father of all terrorism-Maulana Samiul Haq and his seminary. Same is the case with what has come to be known as epicenter of terrorism in Punjab-JUD’s camp at Muridke receiving millions from Punjab government– all under the pretext of modernizing madressah education.
If all that is being talked about in the media is sort of counter-narrative to extremism, it needs to be formalized through debate and consensus in the Parliament-the one and the only institution that has the power and the legal authority to issue an edict of far reaching consequences such as Paigham. Since we have seen deliberate downplaying of Parliament’s role over the years, the essence of Paigham too would fall like seeds on the stony ground without legislative support.
One would not have objection to those clerics who are not disruptive, divisive and who believe in the pristine values of Islam in Wahadat. Any input by positive religious elements who believe in peaceful co-existence of human kind-should no doubt be welcome. However, the experience that one has had of the religious leadership since before partition-one cannot expect anything better from those who believe in sectarian violence to serve their interpretation of religion.
Last but not the least, the Grand Fatwa does not say anything for purging the religious seminaries of sex abuse of children and teenagers that is increasingly and glaringly coming to light at much greater frequency in recent times. The curse seems to be spreading like an epidemic. Let Paigham-e-Pakistan serve as a blue print for the Parliament to evolve it into a wider and comprehensive charter for reforming the society, its legal and criminal procedures, judicial system and decay in social values and to wage war against corruption.
Finally, the menace of sexual abuse of children and the increasing number of incidents especially in Kasur demand a bigger attempt in getting to the bottom of the crime that is strongly tied to people in power, police and is part of International multi-billion dollar slut trade. Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr Justice Saqib Nisar should initiate a high powered Judicial Commission headed by a Supreme Court judge with members of other High Courts judges to probe within the ambit of Zainab’s murder after sexual assault case the greater and more alarming issue of overall curse of sexual abuse of children in Pakistan. It must consider at length the accusations that religious seminaries serve as haven for child and teenage sexual abuse.
(The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)