Today Pakistan’s image on the international scene is everything but positive. The country is known for Taliban, terrorists related to al-Qaeda, sectarian violence, an unstable democracy, corrupt and failing state institutions and an unsecure nuclear capability—feared to be fallen in the terrorists’ hands. Even despite the successive natural disasters in the form of floods, Pakistan could not move the heart of the international community to extend a supporting hand.
Lurched in a perpetual turbulence since its birth in August 1947, the ordinary Pakistanis gained less and paid more. In terms of human development Pakistan has recently been placed at 141 out of 189 countries in the world. Poverty is on constant rise with the only variable in its intensity. Literacy rate, according to official sources is at 58%. Almost half of the population is illiterate—ones who even cannot read the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. During its short history of sixty five years Pakistan has directly been ruled by the military for thirty years and indirectly for the remaining years.
Crisis gripped the country soon after its inception when the founding leader—Muhammad Ali Jinnah—died in September 1948. Since its very inception Pakistan has been facing a terrible crisis of identity and of reason of its existence. This confusion soon led to ‘painful paradoxes’ as one of Pakistan’s renowned physicists and one of Pakistan’s public intellectuals Pervez Hoodbhoy asserts. The pressing question which haunts Pakistan even today was whether it be a state based on secularism for the Muslims as majority citizens of the Subcontinent or an Islamic theocracy with the fruits of the still much cherished Islamic law system called Shari’a. The question divisive as it is in its nature, polarized the political leaders of Pakistan in the initial stages; and eventually obverted the country to dictatorship delaying the constitution making for the newborn country.
The upholders of the discourse that Pakistan was meant to be a secular Muslim state relied on the famous speech of Mr. Jinnah to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan four days before the formal partition of the United India. In that speech he expounded that Pakistan would be a free state wherein its inhabitants would be equal citizens first and then Muslims, Christians or Hindus; and religion would have no role in politics as it is an individual matter of the citizens. Whereas the opponents held a different view that stated: Pakistan would be an Islamic state where the main inspiration in all spheres of human life would be Islam. They would also find scores of speeches and poems by Mr. Jinnah and the poet-philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal respectively. The latter had always longed for a Muslim renaissance or Golden Period. The two groups were thus at loggerheads at the expense of crafting an early constitution and democracy.
As the unfortunate history of Muslims shows Islam has always been used for political power. Interestingly, the clerics whose parties opposed the making of Pakistan before 1947 gradually came to the stage and organized street power. Consequently, they succeeded to pass the Objectives Resolution in 1949, which resolved that Islam would be the objective of the future constitution, thus making ground for the adventures and experiments done in Pakistan in the name of Islam.
The delay in constitution making and the ambition of gaining power by the civil and military bureaucrats paved way to the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan in 1958.
In search of a rationale and ideology the Two Nation Theory i.e. Muslims and Hindus of united India are two distinct nations, being attributed to two different religions—advocated before the partition by men like Muhammad Iqbal and Jinnah himself—was reinvented. The Mullahs brought the pre-partition sectarian strife to Pakistan. Riots against Ahmadiya sect which was considered infidels by many Muslims for their alleged negation of the end of prophethood in Islam after Muhammad (PBUP) broke out in all major cities of Pakistan with Lahore as the heartland.
In order to cohere a diverse newborn country Mr. Jinnah and companions faultily applied the exclusive policy of one-religion-one-language theory to the whole country. Urdu, being a major bone of contention before partition, was made the only National Language irrespective of the fact that only a fringe of population in Pakistan spoke it and consequently denied the due rights to the majority language, Bengali, spoken in former East Pakistan—today’s Bangladesh. This along with other factors aggrieved the Bengalis who used to be in the forefront of the movement for Pakistan. Ethnic riots were started in Bengal in the early fifties and these culminated in cessation of East Pakistan into a sovereign country in 1971 after a fierce civil war in East Pakistan which only ended with a direct involvement of India and a disgraceful defeat for Pakistan.
The debacle of East Pakistan in 1971 was a turning point in Pakistan which shaped the future events and the catastrophic consequences of which Pakistanis are still victims. A more intense India centric security policy took ground within the Pakistani security apparatus. The disparity between the civil and military power players deepened further and conspiracy theories became common among ordinary Pakistanis. Hatred against India reached new heights and the minorities within Pakistani society were considered in complicity with India. Once again riots against the Ahmadiya sect became countrywide and at last forced the otherwise liberal posed populist leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to declare the Ahmadiya sect non-Muslim through a constitutional amendment in 1974. Three years later Pakistan saw another martial law imposed by the fundamentalist General Zia Ul Haq. Though long before that indoctrination of the nation was started through course books in schools and state owned media, General Zia and cronies gave it a new dimension. To his rescue the Cold War was brought to South Asia by the United States which covertly armed Pakistan to fight the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Afghan war was sold as jihad—holy war—in Pakistan and radical Islamic parties and jihadi outfits like the Jama’at-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam were hired to fight the war in Afghanistan along with the Pakistan spy agency Inter Services Agency or ISI.
With this background we can understand the malaise Pakistani society is facing now; and unfortunately there is no bright side to it in the near future.
Pakistan is a diverse society with sixty small ethno-linguistic communities apart from the known major four namely Punjabis, Pushtuns, Sindhis and Balochs; and all of them have been denied their ethnic identity by forcing them into a single entity based on religion only. The social identity in Pakistan is mainly based on three entities: religion, ethnicity and tribe or caste. As with every form of identity religious identity has further divided into innumerable sects. However, the division based on religious identity in Pakistan is much more widespread and deepened. This division has given birth to the menace of sectarian violence and incessant persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. As Mr. Irfan Hussain, the author of ‘Fatal Faultlines’ rightly writes, ‘’faith is probably the most important in a Muslim’s identity—an idea quite alien to most Westerners, who usually define themselves in terms other than purely religious ideas. If asked who they are, most Muslim believers would reply ‘Muslim’ before naming their nationality or ethnic group’’.
Economically the Pakistani society presents a dismal scenario. The middle class is shrinking while the bourgeois is expanding not in number but in wealth. Feudalism could not be curbed here and the politics is still feudalistic and tribal. Since its inception feudalism in Pakistan could not be rooted out because of a number of factors including the religious sanctity to save it. Every time any move for reforms in feudalism was resisted by the religious leaders who thought land reform un-Islamic. The nexus between feudalism and religion is one of the hardest obstacles in the way of social development in Pakistan. Feudal lords backed by religion are still having a greater say in the country affairs. Kinship goes after men and the society is overwhelmingly men dominated. Most of the women lead their life in distress, misery and despondence. Religious minorities and poor are the least secure.
The woman in general is not regarded as an independent entity in her own right. She is controlled by the man—father, husband, brother and even son. Women are deemed the most significant part of family honour and any violation by woman can cause her murder. She is not allowed to work freely; and men usually consider any job by women against the honour of the family and clan. Recently a local jirga—assembly of the local men—in Indus Kohistan, one of the least developed districts in Pakistan ordered the death of five women for dancing and clapping in a wedding ceremony. Hardly any week passes without the news of women killed for honour in Pakistan.
Many Pakistani Muslims believe that educating girls might lead them to an un-Islamic and immoral lifestyle. This is very common in parts of rural Pakistan where the influence of the tribo-religious nexus is strong. Most parents usually do not permit their daughters to get education and those who let them push them out of school after the age of puberty when the child hardly attains the 8th grade education.
It is also very common in many parts of Pakistan to bar women from casting votes. This is often done well organized. In Shangla, Indus Kohistan and in some districts in southern belt of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwest frontier province, women were barred by the local tribal jirgas from casting votes.
When a state owes its making to religion; and successive carving of that ideology, one should hardly be surprised when that religion comes to dominate the public discourse and influence individual thinking and social behavior. Religion is among the most fundamental characteristics of Pakistani society which influences the society in its all contours from social development to human rights. Public opinion is immensely shaped by the mullahs—religious leaders who lead the prayers five times daily and deliver the Friday sermons. The mullah spread venom of hatred in the society and very often fans fire of sectarian strife in the society.
It is extremely difficult for the few people to publicly call themselves secular or liberal; and seculars also subscribe themselves to religion because of the wrath of the society in general. Secularism in Pakistan is equated with infidelity or Godlessness.
An average Pakistani takes religion seriously and wishes to see it in public matters. However, many of them do not subscribe to the version held by Taliban yet the Taliban are not condemned in the way India or United States of America is bashed. An average Pakistani wants progress without losing his religious conservatism and owing to that he poses a confused posture when asked about the Taliban. On the one hand, he cannot challenge the militant outfits because of his conservatism whereas on the other hand he aspires for progressiveness expounded by media, government and intelligentsia.
Almost all the mosques in Pakistan are equipped with loudspeakers used by the clerics for their public sermonizing. People learn religion from the very beginning of their lives, in mothers’ laps, in schools, in religious seminaries; from religious teachers visiting homes, through television and print media. In everyday interactions individuals are keen to lecture others on matters pertaining to religious rituals such as five times prayers; and how to follow the injunctions ordained by God in the Koran. The overwhelming majority in Pakistan accepts the righteousness of the religious clerics, prayers leaders and preachers. Even a man with beard is usually deemed more pious than the one who does not have it.
Majority of the people wants their women to wear the Islamic purdha (veil). Many of them attribute Pakistan’s ubiquitous problems as a result of the deviation from Islam. The majority does not think a person better Muslim who does not pray five times a day.
A visible phenomenon has recently been noticed. The emerging religious rigidity is increasing day by day. Violent interpretation of Islam is replacing the relatively peaceful observance of religion. Religion grows more rigid with each passing day.
The Indian Subcontinent was home to the rich Sufi tradition and that was the most important factor for the conversion of the indigenous people to Islam on the land. Sufis have historically been symbols of love, tolerance and pluralism, but in today’s Pakistan a rigid puritanical version of Islam is rapidly spreading mainly due to the state patronage and money from Saudi Arabia. The Sufi’s shrines are blown up by the militants and terrorists. Most of the popular Sufi shrines in Pakistan have been targeted by the extremists. The mausoleum of Pashto Sufi poet in Peshawar, the shrines of Bari Imam and Golra Sharif in Islamabad, the shrine of the Ali Hajeveri (Data Ganj Baksh) in Lahore and the mausoleum of Shah Abdullah Ghazi in Karachi are among the famous which were targeted by the terrorists recently.
The spiritual spirit of Islam is now being replaced by the exhibitionist version which emphasizes on certain overt acts such as saying of prayers, observance of fast, dress code, growing a beard, abstention from drinking alcohol and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. While values such as sanctity of human life, respecting rights of others, social honesty and truthfulness, and contribution towards humanity are not considered important by the followers of the religion. Sad but true!
People are too prone to conspiracy theories. Many of the ills in Pakistan are interpreted with some specific mindset and are usually regarded the ill designs of United States, India or Israel. Natural calamities are described as wrath of God. The 2010 devastating floods and the 2005 earthquake are termed as wrath of God upon people because of their sins.
Like every calamity the recent floods in Pakistan have triggered a debate about the cause of the floods. The discussion is carried out by the clergy and the ordinary folk under the sway of the former; and by the scientific and rational minds of the society, but the clergy seems advantaged, as always in the case of an overwhelming conservative/primitive society of Pakistan where every natural phenomenon is interpreted on abstract speculation as the people in the primitive societies used to do. The majority of the people tread the way held by the clergy. For example, in Swat the overwhelming majority of the people believe that what they have been experiencing since 2007, either in the shape of the militancy or the floods and drought, is the wrath of God. Soon after the floods the loudspeakers on the minarets of the mosques were echoed with the exhortations by the Mullah in charge frightening the people of God’s wrath for their ‘sins’.
A similar debate is going on in the editorial pages of the national dailies and magazines. One such example is the debate over the remarks of Maulana Tariq Jameel of the Tablighi Jamaat. The Maulana declared that the recent floods in Pakistan are the effect of our ‘sins’.
Our clergy has always been given a larger share by the state and the masses; the latter has out of ignorance. The state itself is in total agreement with what the clergy spews. Maulana Tariq belongs to the Tablighi Jamaat which has so far ‘purged’ many heretics and sinners. Our cricket team is their worst victim which now believes to win every match with the help of prayers (dua).
Maulana Tariq Jameel rides the same bandwagon of the pious. They are always there to enjoy great respect of the masses. Our masses, being uneducated and credulous, have always been easy prey to the misuse of religion for worldly gains in politics or society. They are sometimes led (misled) by slogans like Nizami Mustafa or Islamic Shari’a. The worst crimes in Pakistan have been committed by using such abstract slogans.
It is not only the calamities our clergy even attribute the acute poverty as God’s will, sometimes a blessing.
With such stark polarization the society in Pakistan can be categorized into a number of strata in terms of how they see political powers and how they indulge in it.
First, those who are entangled in the power game within the state. They are both civilian and military. The political power mainly seems a tug of war between the elites—feudal lords, religio-politico leaders, and the military generals. And now to this bandwagon the judges and lawyers have also stepped in. Amidst this situation the majority of ordinary Pakistanis are desperately waiting for a messiah. They are the largest in population whose only concern in life is now left the daily bread and the observance of daily religious rituals. They usually do not have any interest in what happens in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Politics is competition and the ordinary people just struggle to survive. This majority is conservative in their outlook but abstains from going with the Islamists. They are disinterested in politics and public discourse. Most of them lack access to either the sources of information and education. Mullah reigns here but socially only as these people are too entangled with their woes afflicted by poverty and a dysfunctional state. These people mostly live in rural Pakistan; and are mostly loyal to the landlords in their respective villages. They are less interested in vote casting and are mostly motivated by the village feudal lords to cast votes in the time of election because the competing lords contest elections from the platform of the various political parties.
The second largest class is the Pakistani state sponsored educated ones. They are usually more active in public life and political discourse. Mainly driven by the biased education and a robust but uncontrolled mass media they usually do not deem the democratic governments efficient. They are too prone to the Pakistan’s Urdu electronic media. A considerable number of them also use social media, especially the facebook. Mullah reigns here, too, and perhaps more effectively. These people are usually made the key drivers for political Islam and pan Islamism. They are divided on line of ideology with an overwhelming majority with religious orthodoxy.
Third, the urbanite civil society and business class is Westernized in lifestyle. Most of them have their education from institutions abroad. The business class has nothing to do with the powers in Islamabad. However, they exercise considerable influence in the power game in the center. They fund the election of certain political forces for their vested interest and have inroads in the country’s powerful military and other institutions as well. The real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz is just an example who recently surfaced in a scandal involving the son of the most powerful chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Ifikhar Muhammad Chodhary, in Pakistan’s 65 years chequered history.
The Westernized civil society mostly based in the country’s urban centers, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi has too limited a direct contact with the ordinary people mainly owing to their looking alien to the people and speaking English or a mix of it which the ordinary people do not understand. Of course, many of them do have good intentions and concerns of human rights; and have remarkably contributed to the society in large, yet in Pakistan they still have to go miles to get a firm ground among the general masses. Most of them do not exercise their right to vote because of their dismay with the existing political parties in Pakistan. Nonetheless, they do have genuine people among them who have been fighting for the rights of the people constantly sabotaged by the country’s various institutions.
In these circumstances there is left less room for hope. One gets frightened and meets bitter challenges working alongside the people for their wellbeing and social uplift. Perhaps an ascent from these tumultuous times lies only in the consistency of democracy with a strong support from the civil society and media.
Zubair Torwali, a rights activist, researcher based in Bahrain, Swat where he also leads IBT an independent organization for the rights, education and environment for the marginalized communities. Email: email@example.com
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