As Pakistan finally seemed to be in the process of taking a final and decisive action to counter religious militancy in the country, expectedly a number of religious parties have decided to be a hurdle in the process. They have started with a deceptively principled stance of opposing the 21st Amendment. Indeed the 21st Amendment can and should be criticized for conceding democratic values and human rights. However it is not their love for democracy that religious parties have found this constitutional amendment questionable. It is also not a testimony to their seemingly upright stance of opposing military’s encroachment into politics. It is anything but a statement of their loyalty to the constitutionalism.
Religious parties and other conservative sections of society actually opposed the 21st amendment because they wanted to delink terrorism from religion and sect, and now they are resisting the implementation of National Action Plan for the same reason. How can one possibly think of dissociating a problem from its cause? It’s true that religious terrorism is not the only form of terrorism present in Pakistan, but every other form of terrorism traces its root to some genuine political conflict or grievance. The whole paraphernalia of religiously driven violence demands a separate treatment from other sorts of politically driven violence. Conflating both will jeopardize the already fledgling plan of eradicating the Frankenstein’s monster of Talibanization.
Religious establishment wants to widen the application of military courts to nationalist, separatist and other kinds of ‘anti-state’ elements. They want to blur our focus on religious militancy, create breathing space out of that, and eventually help the establishment wipe out dissidents and nationalist separatists. While a great majority of our fellow citizens were failing to differentiate between the illegitimacy of religious terrorism and the legitimacy of a nationalist separatist attitude, the religious parties were fed to thrive on the confusion and further hijack our national narrative.
Generally whenever they were on the verge of eventually being rendered totally irrelevant, religious groups tended to change their tactics and almost always co-opted with the deep state. It’s is no different now; by apparently opposing the military courts and National Action Plan, they are pushing their agenda of taking armed state action and building public opinion against secular ‘anti-state’ elements.
An occasional concession to some liberal value or even one or two examples of opposing military regimes do not alter the overall role of religious right wing. The real problem with politico-religious agenda is that in the final analysis it is anti-democratic and dystopian. Their lip service to democracy does not transform the authoritarian tendencies of their political beliefs. Some analysts have been arguing that such Islamists are eventually secularizing now under the forces of global neoliberal paradigm. However, from supporting Zia’s Islamization to Musharraf’s so-called liberalization, Pakistan’s short and turbulent history is ripe with examples which prove that religious right wing and military establishment have been natural allies. Despite their later years’ opposition to Pervez Musharraf’s regime, have they not been supporting the same dubious Musharraf era policy of maintaining a strategic difference between good and bad Taliban?
While our national policy makers and international actors will continue to push their strategic and security concerns, the concerned citizens of Pakistan must not lose sight of a broader democratic project. Let’s not be deluded about the hypocritical and unflinchingly anti-democratic role of religious right wing in this country. Let’s also not forget that a number of these religious parties have blood on their hands, either by directly aiding or abetting religious terrorism or by condoning their actions, giving apologies and justifications, and sometimes by calling killed terrorists as martyrs.
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