By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

WHETHER it was intended to be such or not, would its citizens wish the establishment of Pakistan be a receptacle for any variant of Islamic/Muslim fundamentalism pervading politics and determining social behavior?

Citing words and conduct, most would say history shows that this was not the motivation or goal of the Quaid-i-Azam and his lieutenants. Indeed, some of the leading Ulema were critical of the concept of a separate state for the Subcontinent’s Muslims.

 If historically Pakistan emerged as the consequence of a freedom movement from British Raj and a wish to avert the possibilities of subsequent communal domination and political demotion by the RSS and the Congress: Was the flipside of the coin the urge to embody an equivalent of those distortions not just for Pakistan’s non-Muslims, but also for other Muslims?  Are patriotism and citizenship now to be gauged by prescriptive standards set by self-proclaimed monopolistic custodians of faith? Whose further obligation is to punish and bully ‘the other’ into compliance? Founders’ logic would contradict this.  Yet, we are increasingly subject to diktat from theological platforms and paralytic pressures as in the series of TLP dharnas and demands.

For the devout individual— no matter which of the Abrahamic religions they are born into or adopt— it is a given that the morality of their faith pervades their actions and general conduct. It so happens such morality is vested universal human ethical values. Obviously, an organized society demands structural framework and a recognized State specific nationally acknowledged constitutional framework— but particularities of law and contemporaneous legislation evolve and are not immutable. One can cede the preacher the privilege to preach: but not the right to compel and punish: There is no compulsion in religion.

Yet, after seventy-four years of independence, both Bharat and Pakistan are beset by aggressively irrational religious irradiation of politics. To Bharat its own problems; but what of ours? We seem to be approaching a point where we may not be permitted to dub the phenomenon of clerically manifested violence and civic coercion in the guise of declarative assertions of belief a distortion.

One needs to distinguish between fanaticism, bigotry, intolerance as personality traits and a manipulative use of religious dogma for political ends and temporal power. Though of course the relationship is often symbiotic. The fusion enhances social polarization and public conflict, and weakens civil democratic effort. Civil law-enforcement agencies often prove inadequate and require paramilitary assistance. Thus, the anti-Qadiani riots in Lahore in 1952 occasioned a local declaration of martial law to control bloodshed. By now it has become life-threatening to diverge from street-upheld accusations and notions of sacrilege and blasphemy.

Early on the Objectives Resolution was taken to serve as a constitutional criterion. Referential, prefatory, or incorporated; it has been part of every constitution we have devised and also discarded in the quest for functional political ethicality. But it begs the question as to what an Islamic state demands. Quite naturally—without State intervention—cultural norms and mores in a predominantly Muslim society have a matrix in Islam. The problem arises when particularized readings occasion violence and public intimidation. More and more rampageous civic disruption is establishing a pattern of discriminatory legislation and craven submission to bigotry for political survival. This is the stuff of fascism as well as a cynical secular exploitation of mass religious reverence.

Ayub instituted the Institute of Islamic ideology for scholastic theological reference.   ZAB marched in with the slogan of Islamic socialism. General Zia was committed to furthering what he decreed as Islamization. Dissent with his ways and means was projected as an insult to faith. And was it he or General Musharraf who sought to personify himself as the popularly endorsed undisputed catalyst for an Islamic nation through a referendum? Imran Khan’s pious catchword is re-embodiment of Riasat-i-Medina. A typical Narcissistic arrogance blocks the chastening reflection that we only had a handful of Khulfa-i-Rashideen. The PM could well remind himself of the popular rejection of Nawaz Sharif when he pursued caliph-like authority for himself: Public sentiment endorsed General Musharraf’s ‘countercoup’ preferring his option of ‘enlightened moderation’. That was in 1999: it is harder to determine public sentiment in 2021’s ambience of self-contradicting governance and media fog. 

In the meanwhile the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and the promotion of Mujahideen and Talibanism in the context of competing superpower assistance/occupation to be affirmed or denied, induced a mindset in the immediate regional surround where fanaticism, patriotism and sovereignty became confused and intertwined with perceptions of resistance to godlessness and foreign domination. However, the western democratic lens on Afghan civil conflicts and nationalist guerrilla warfare inverted with the exit of Soviet troops and collapse of the USSR. Post 9/11, local Taliban resistance to foreign proximity and control came to be deemed solely criminal terroristic activity—a long way away from the lauded valiant freedom-fighter of yore.

But now the USA too has withdrawn troops; and is ‘watching’ or permitting the Taliban take charge: Possibly, the flexibility implicit in ambivalence suits America’s multiple regional interests best.

For bordering States, however, the overflow and seepage of Afghan political tensions—with its conflictive content—is immediate and inevitable. Afghanistan is both tribal and multi-ethnic. Tribes and distinct ethnicities overlap; and these commonalities precede national boundaries. Furthermore, political shadings vary even within ethnicities. Dramatic changes in Afghanistan have created new harshly jagged edges for Pakistan. Neutrality is hard to establish as well as have acknowledged in a region where superpower competition is operative.

Its boundaries with Afghanistan and Iran (also an Afghan neighbour) leave Pakistan economically strained because of its globally approved official humanitarian accommodation of fleeing Afghan refugees. But Pakistan is also politically vulnerable to non-official penetration through the naturally porous extended boundary. Apart from genuine political refugees—of varied hues– potential saboteurs out to target Pakistan state interests can make undetected crossings. Moreover, friends and relatives seeking and finding shelter because of the emotive strength and durability of tribal mores of hospitality, can, incognizant of their hosts, be exploited as well as misrepresented by elements hostile to Pakistan. Which in turn enhances external leverage over Pakistan in the Afghan context. This grimly complex reality has to be included in perspectives on our own internal groupings, fundamentalist or otherwise.

In 2014 it was only the atrocity of TTP’s murderous attack on hapless schoolchildren at the APS in Peshawar that made opposing political parties call a truce to tactics obstructing governance and administration for the incumbents. Unfortunately, the State’s continued see-sawing in democratic mainstream political promotion or weakening; and fluidity in accommodations or proscriptions have unwittingly or otherwise provided space for fanaticism. A democratic Islamic Republic of Pakistan does not envisage Talibanism or obscurantism as a module. Yet, General Musharraf was weakened by the fallout of the Lal Masjid contretemps; Nawaz Sharif by Faizabad. The indomitable Benazir was assassinated. Perhaps the Pakistani public’s amorphous doubts, fears and hopes can best be summed up in naïve querying: Is the RahmatulAlimeen Authority, recently founded and chaired by PM Imran amid the fuss and bother of the TLP crisis, to be a fallback political stick and crutch? His own stick or a loaned and transferrable one?

Two-thirds of an electoral triumph for the PTI and the resultant irrelevance of the PMLN, PPP, and others, per se, needs EVMs for those box-office ratings. All said, and much unsaid, leaves us ignorant of what outcome and reorientations are intended or hoped for in the forbearance shown to the current campaigners for Islamic fidelity as understood and formulated by them.