Re-inventing Pakistan

WASHINGTON DIARY: Re-inventing Pakistan
by Dr Manzur Ejaz, USA
April 7th, 2009
Courtesy: Daily Times &
The writer can be reached at
The state of Pakistan cannot survive unless the intelligentsia and the masses reconcile to the concept of keeping their belief system to themselves and letting the state be neutral to religion. Unless the masses rally around the new concept of the state, security agencies will never have the moral courage and strength to eradicate extremism.

A few weeks ago, at a literary meeting in Virginia, a retired judge narrated the case of a 60-year-old woman who was left penniless when her husband divorced her despite the fact that her hard labour was the main reason for his success. The judge, after doing diligent research of Islamic law, mandated the husband to give his divorced wife a house and provide a monthly allowance.

A conservative Muslim in the audience stood up and told the judge that he had negated Islamic law. Almost everyone in the audience was outraged by this comment, and a couple of them tried to rebut it as well. However, most kept the anger to themselves and avoided confrontation with this self-claimed puritan.

This is typical of common Muslims: they don’t confront the mullahs when such a situation arises. Consequently, the mullahs think they have the moral authority over a belief system that is shared by all Muslims. If one goes by the mullahs’ strict interpretation of sharia law, women are not entitled to many things that common Muslims, especially females, would take as a genuine right. Therefore, there is a fundamental gap between what common Muslims consider basic human rights and religious hard-liners.

Furthermore, what common Muslims in Pakistan do not want to admit is that religion cannot be adopted as state ideology. If religion is accepted as state ideology, the theocrats will take over sooner or later. When Pakistan declared itself a religious state, the mullahs genuinely thought they had a right to impose their will on all citizens, as they have been trying to do since the creation of Pakistan.

In the past, whenever a ruler imposed religion on the state, it resulted in massive anarchy and, ultimately, the destruction of the state. This is exactly how, by imposing theocracy, Aurangzeb destroyed the Mughal Empire, which had been running quite smoothly before him for about two centuries. On the contrary, all successful empires in the subcontinent, from King Ashoka (304 BC-232 BC) to Emperor Akbar (1542-1605), never mingled state business with their personal belief system. The Great King Ashoka was a strong Buddhist convert but never imposed his preferred religion on the state. As a matter of fact, Buddhist monks, like the preachers of other new religions, could not visit state-owned villages to spread their message.

Pakistan’s ruling elites adopted religion as state ideology with the understanding that they were just adding a few lines to the constitution which would never affect them or the society in any way. Most of the legislators, hailing from the rural areas, could not visualise a mullah, designated as kammi (an artisan) in their setting, threatening their political power. Therefore, they felt no conflict in passing anti-alcohol laws during the day and arranging lavish wet parties at night. Now, when the mullahs are trying to end this day-night differential, our rulers have no clue what to do.

The urban middle classes of Pakistan, consumed by anti-Hindu and anti-Jew passions fuelled by an obscurantist education system, also believed that there is no contradiction between them rapidly embracing modernism in everyday life and accepting religion as state ideology.

The Punjabi- and Urdu-speaking intelligentsia, in the media, civil bureaucracy and the military, was the most delusional in this regard. They created the doctrinarian ideology and the retrograding educational system. They never thought of suicide bombings and floggings as consequences of their ideological preferences. The military, looking for strategic depth in Afghanistan through the Taliban, never thought of the opposite effect: the Taliban finding their strategic depth in the population centres of Punjab.

In recent years, numerous religious obscurantists found justifications in the US invasion of Afghanistan, as if Uncle Sam had created the entire problem. As a matter of fact, the Taliban were ruling Afghanistan, banning females from professional life and from getting educated, blowing up Buddha statues, and targeting minorities much before the US invasion.

Of course, the US, with Zia-ul Haq, had created the Mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s but then abandoned Afghanistan, creating a vacuum that was filled by Taliban. The Americans, like the Pakistani ruling elites and middle class intelligentsia, never thought that their creation would come back to haunt them one day.

Now, when the battle lines are drawn, most Pakistanis are still confused and paralysed. On the one hand, they have their innocuous concept of religion as a state ideology, and on the other, the concrete outcomes of such an ideology in the shape of the Taliban, suicide bombers and whip-waving mullahs.

Some live in the illusion that all extremist elements will somehow evaporate, while others believe that the police and other armed institutions of the state will take care of the militants. They still think that their concept of a modern religious state will survive in the end, and they will never have to face up to the contradictory ideas perpetuated over decades. Probably, the age of miracles has long gone and none of their perceived solutions is going to come true: they have to wake up and smell coffee.

Pakistan has reached a point where the state, defining itself on the basis of religion, cannot survive: either the state or the theocratic concepts will survive. Furthermore, the state of Pakistan cannot survive unless the intelligentsia and the masses reconcile to the concept of keeping their belief system to themselves and letting the state be neutral to religion. Unless the masses rally around the new concept of the state – slogans can be sugar-coated for such a goal – security agencies will never have the moral courage and strength to eradicate extremism. The time ‘to be or not to be’ is upon us.
Courtesy and thanks: Daily Times & The

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