By A. K. Verma
One often hears from a class of Indian analysts watching Pakistan that there is a certain resonance between members of the civil society of the two countries, not shared by the rest, which will ultimately shear through all the obstacles and bring the two countries together. How valid is this judgment? Is it not just a pipe dream?
Those who speak on these terms are either nostalgically thinking of the times when partition of India, with all its brutal consequences, was yet to happen, or base their views on what they hear from personal contacts from across whom they meet at seminars, think-tank discussions, informal chitchats and so on. There is hardly ever an individual research effort to gauge the mood and thinking of different cross sections of the civil society there.
The fact is that the civil society in Pakistan today is a completely transformed polity, bearing little resemblance to its pre 1947 persona. The change started occurring from day one of the new nation’s birth. The earlier society, dominated by the ethos of the British raj, was bereft of the hard edges of religion and politics that it developed later. The society was placid, feudal, governed by long time local customs and traditions, practically untouched by consuming awareness of nationalism or sub nationalisms or confrontational religious identities. This scene was to change drastically and unrecognizably.
Even Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan had absolutely no idea of the changes which lay ahead in Pakistan’s destiny. He had dreamt of a secular Pakistan, following values which were the byproducts of the British era of India, constitutional government, strong institutions and multi party democracy. What Pakistan has experienced in the 65 years of its existence is quite a reversal of such dreams.
One of the earliest tasks undertaken by the leaders of the new country was to find an anchor and a foundation for it. Most Muslim societies seem to identify, stability and security through religion. Pakistan was no exception. Islam became its ideological foundation. The state was declared an Islamic republic by its first constitution of 1956.
The Rulers of Pakistan at that time were a coalition of feudals, British trained bureaucrats and military who believed in the secular principle. But the addition of the word “Islamic” to the designation of the republic was a concession to the religious groups that had already entered the political fray and were demanding acceptance of Sharia as the law of the country.
A losing battle for the secular principle had already commenced. The battle was finally lost during the tenure of Zia-ul-Huq. Although himself a devout Muslim and an ardent supporter of Tableegh Jamaat, he conceded to the religious lobby only that much influence in the political management of the country as was necessary to obtain support for his military dictatorship. But the modernist approach in the Constitution which had survived till then was finally overcome by the heavy ideological overload which Zia placed on all the functional systems of Pakistan.
Religion had started acquiring a higher and higher profile from the time of Ayub Khan in the politics of the country. An early manifestation was the demand for declaration of Qadianis as non Muslims and the 1953 riots where such a demand was vociferously made. Justice Munir Khan, who looked into the cause of these riots, had rubbished the idea, observing that no two Ulemmas in Pakistan were agreed on a definition of a Muslim. By 1974 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the President, the same demand had received the legislative approval. Pakistan’s Parliament had thus felt compelled to give a political judgment on a religious issue. This decision reflected the power which religion had acquired over the public discourse, underscoring the inability of a popular leader who cherished Islamic Socialism, to stand against its onslaught. It also provided a measure of how much the Pakistani Society had travelled into the dark recesses of conservatism from the time of Munir Khan. But this marked only an early stage of the long troublesome journey of the country towards obscurantism and Islamism in Pakistan.
This dynamics was following the script of all revivalist movements in Islam which took shape from the times of Shah Wali Ullah in the 18th century who intoned that the drift away from Islam had brought decay to the Islamic people. Wali Ullah was followed by another influential thinker, Syed Jamaaluddin Afghani (1838-97) who, while opposing European imperialism of the day, held that modern progress was possible within the principles of Islam. The idea was picked up by Mohd Abduh, a stalwart follower of Afghani in Egypt, who became the inspiration of Hassan Banna, founder of Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. Abduh’s thesis was that every modern concept of morality and ethics could be explained within the framework of Islam: one, therefore, need not go beyond Islam or look to the West.
These formulations were extensively developed by Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi founder of Jamait-e-Islami, whose impact on the Pakistani society along with that of the Deoband school, has been the profoundest. The Deobandi movement had grown in India as a reaction to collapse of Muslim aspirations in 1857. Its core theme was that Muslim fortunes could be improved by adhering to the fundamental puritanism of Islamic scriptures. Sections of society in Pakistan which accepted early the Maududi teaching and Deobandi traditions, had no space for the idea of moral and humanistic evolutionary growth in mankind’s consciousness: according to them early Islam had already established a perfect framework. Secularism was an anathema in such thinking.
Maududi’s views about non Muslims in a Muslim country also have echoed heavily in Pakistan. According to him non Muslims cannot enjoy rights of equality with Muslims in a Muslim country. No wonder, Hindus who numbered over 10% in Pakistan at partition have felt driven out and are now reduced to about 1% to its population. Clearly, the Hindus there have experienced personally the rejection of principle of plurality in Pakistan. Maududi’s ideology had a significant following among urban and business classes.
Zia’s Pakistan saw a multiple growth of conflicting strands of thinking among the Pakistani people. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s hanging had angered the Shias whose morale was otherwise bolstered by the Iranian revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets, mostly a Sunni phenomenon, and the flow of Saudi money to wage the Jihad boosted the Sunni profile. With arms freely flowing in for Jihadis, sectarian militancy took shape in Pakistan, polarizing people in Pakistan differently in different regions Pakistan. Southern Punjab and Pashtuns were by and large more for the Sunnis. The Deobandi outlook, already politicized, developed links with Saudi Salafism. The tribals and the poor classes embraced Salafism quite readily as over 1 million expatriates in Saudi Arabia, financing families back home, became natural supporters of its cause. Yet, as sectarianism grew, the general mood in Pakistan was not of alarm. Public discourse could not imagine the end product. The loss of liberal values in the body politic was also not commented upon in the media. The prevailing psychological and the absence of intellectual scrutiny of the new atmosphere in the country became a cause for confusion in the public mind. The moderates were leaving all issues of religion to be decided by the fanatic clerics. No longer any clarity acceptable throughout the length and breadth of the country remained as to the purpose and meaning of the state. Identity so necessary for the citizens, got mired into conflicts engineered by multiplicities of clashing claims of ethnicities, sub nationalisms, languages, geography and resource allocations.
A good deal of the blame for this sorry state of affairs in Pakistan has to be shared by its educational systems, particularly the curriculum in the Madarassa schools . Zia was responsible for giving the entire spectrum of education in Pakistan an anti India twist and an ideological religious orientation which fed into the jihadi culture set into motion by the war against the Soviets. Madrassa education, injected a new thrust to religious extremism already sponsored by the increasing sectarianism and produced graduates whose xenophobia was an antithesis to modernity, pluralism, tolerance and scientific temperament. The religious political parties saw in the Madarassa trained an invaluable asset, making them opposed to the reforms which Pervez Musharraf, after seizing power, wanted to introduce to modernise the system. The reforms also failed because there was little public and media support and also because the Govt machinery and politicians did not display adequate political determination. Intended mosque reforms to stop venomous sermons also got nowhere.
By the time of the Afghan war II, commenced by the US to drive out the Taliban Govt in Afghanistan, the culture of religious zeal established by Zia-ul-Huq in Pakistan, had been substantially transmuted into a culture of religious extremism. The direction of Madrassa education, the free flowing rhetoric on Kashmir and Afghanistan, behind the scene encouragement of the ISI and military, and the negative perception in the public mind about the US launched war on terrorism all contributed towards this. Earlier Taliban success in establishing a government at Kabul had already inflamed Pashtun nationalism, leading to Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line to collaborate more with the Taliban than the Pakistan government. Likewise, The people of Balochistan and Sindh were getting alienated from the idea of Pakistan.
Dangers being posed to the identity and the purpose of the state became apparent during what came to be known as the Lal Masjid episode in 2007. The Govt’s stern action against the militants holed up inside the Lal Masjid of Islamabad, after weeks of dithering, killing over a hundred militants, became a decisive moment in Pakistani history. While the Govt itself went to support the US war on terrorism, public criticism followed over the episode, with even liberals joining as the action was seen to be against religion. Public reaction in reality amounted to a retreat when confronted by militancy and terrorism. It indicated that deep within the recesses of a Pakistani heart lay now sympathy for militant and terrorist ways when issues can be identified as those of religion.
There was a blowback to Lal Masjid in Swat and tribal areas of Pakistan. A rebellion was mounted by Pak Taliban against the Pak Govt in these areas. Several terrorist attacks were organized also deep in Punjab. In 2009 the Pak militancy brought an end of this rebellion in Swat and some tribal areas. Sections of public opinion now sided with the army action as to them, events in Swat and its neighbourhood appeared as a counter revolution. But whether it made a basic change in the psyche of an average Pakistani can be ruled out as belief systems do not grow in a human heart overnight. Whatever public condemnation that followed was not a condemnation of terror and religious militancy as such. It was on the use of armed violence against the state. In the public mind generally religious militancy still did not amount to a strategic threat.
The historical narrative fostered in Pakistan post 1947, denying the legacy of its Vedic and Buddhist periods, is intended to evoke an Arab cultural ethos and identity. The jihadi discourse has produced a new amalgam of religious activism, misplaced security and xenophobic patriotism which charges the agenda of the clergy, land owning gentry and the establishment none of whom really care for new socio political reforms in the country. Lip service is paid for the evolution of a democratic system but ground conditions hobble it. Free thinking is taboo. Otherwise also, the civil society faces an oppressive environment with restrictions about dress, music and pursuit of arts. Women and minorities are treated as less than citizens. Blasphemy laws cannot be tinkered with for fear of retribution. An example is that of Governor Taseer of Punjab who paid with his life for showing sympathy for a victim of blasphemy laws. Failure to condemn this act at most levels in Pakistani civil society underscores the rising apathy towards obscurantism and bigotry in almost its entire cross section.
Pakistanis are not fully radicalized yet but seem to be inching towards it. The experience of Islamic societies in turmoil in other parts of the world is similar. Whether through elections or otherwise, Arab countries, facing a politico social churning, are sending Islamists to the top. Thanks to the liberal outlook within the armed forces of Pakistan, capture of power there by Islamists cannot be said to be imminent but cannot also be ruled out all together.
In either of the two scenarios it will be a folly to expect compassionate approach towards India. The wounds caused to the national psyche in Pakistan on creation of Bangladesh in 1971 are far from healed. ISI and military protection to rabidly militants like Hafeez Mohd Saeed and their organisations convey a clear message to the people of Pakistan that peace with India is not on the cards. A 2010 survey by the Pakistani Institute of Peace Studies had found that 56% of people favoured a continuing jihad in Kashmir. Maududi’s instruction to all Muslims was to establish the rule of Allah all over the world. Saeed has been repeating the same message in recent times.
The average Pakistani has, therefore, been overtaken by a siege mentality. He has become more receptive to dogma. He seeks refuge and security in his religion. The West and Western values repel him. His inspiration is no longer South Asian or sub continental. He imagines his roots lie elsewhere. He yearns for the transnational glory of Ummah. He identifies all Islamic causes as his own. The Ashraf families in Pakistan provide him with the impetus to think on these lines.
A typical Pakistani cannot be a friend of India now or ever. This sums up in one sentence the gravitas of being Pakistani.