Countering Extremism in Pakistan: Need of Political Approach
By Jamil Junejo
ESCALATING sectarian and religious violence has made a disquieting situation for religious minorities in particular and other vulnerable sections of society in general in the country. In just less than a year, a number of such cases from murders of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and mishandling of a 10-year-old Christian girl for her alleged misspelling of a word, the Sept 19 massacre of 26 Hazara Shia in Mastung to expulsion of Ahmedi students from a university in Punjab and scores of other such incidents have put the social, religious and sectarian harmony at peril.
These incidents of violence have fatally fueled fire of sectarian and religious intolerance. The cases of violence against various minority groups especially Ahmedis, Christians, and Hindus have been every day business. Such unprecedented increasing trend in the cases of religious violence in horizontal and vertical terms has never been noticed before probably. According to a conflict monitor tracking violence in Pakistan, 179 people have been killed in sectarian attacks this year. In addition, a report of AHRC reveals that as many as 20 to 25 girls from the Hindu community are abducted every month and converted forcibly. The intensity of tragic phenomenon could also be gauged from a fresh wave of migration of religious minorities, especially Hindus, from Balochistan and Sindh to abroad.
The appalling gravity of situation indeed requires urgent serious and careful consideration at all levels before this becomes chronic and bring unwanted horrible repercussions. It has been probably forgotten that society of Pakistan is a beautifully diverse pool. It is characterised with political, social, ethnic, linguistic and religious differences deeply entrenched in historical and cultural heritage developed over the long course of history. The body politic in principle requires corresponding arrangements that could not only preserve and protect its diversity but also make constructive use of it.
It may perhaps not be incorrect to contemplate that diverse society will ultimately degenerate, if the culture of religious harmony, sectarian tolerance and political pluralism is not created and promoted.
The menace of extremism could only be curtailed through creation of political society. A real political society could only create and harness compatible, mindset, culture and values and subsequent arrangements in order to maintain integration of diverse composition and setting of Pakistan.
However, this could also be curtailed through bringing reforms into related laws, revising curriculum, banning extremist and militant outfits, and modernizing seminaries. But these all solutions require powerful exhibition of social courage and political will. And civic courage is purely a twig of political society.
Therefore, non-existence of political society is one of the fundamental reasons of escalating extremism in the society. Other internal and external factors just make add up to it. In the presence of political society, the seeds of extremism could hardly grow.
The beauty and charm of political society lies in the fact that basis of differences among the individuals and parties are only political ideology. Such society is driven by secular and democratic political parties. Individuals forming this society respect and accept divergent views.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has been lacking such strong political society
because of weak political parties and resultant process of politicization
and depoliticisation of masses. The strong parties are the genesis of political society. The absence of political society and resultant denial of diversity and stronghold of ultra-right wing and orthodox forces could be traced back as major causes behind the emergence and development of religious extremism in Pakistan. Very start of constitutional development and other political and institutional arrangements were marked with influence of clerical forces except from secular Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and his few supporters.
Soon after the partition of subcontinent, our successive rulers opted for shallow way for future of Pakistan that has virtually failed to comply with its multifaceted diversity. They wrongly aspired for homogeneity in religious, national and linguistic terms in Pakistan through ‘Objectives Resolution’ of March 12, 1949, the anti-Ahmediya agitation of 1953, and the theocratic provisions of the Constitutions of 1956.
As a result, the denial from religious diversity caused religious extremism, sectarian violence, suppression and persecution of religious minorities.
Thereafter, the occurrences of various incidents and events and such as the anti-Ahmediya agitation of 1953, the decision of Z. A. Bhutto todeclare Ahmedis as non-Muslim, Islamisation of every cell of body politic of Pakistan by Zia, and militarization of Taliban backed by CIA and ISI to counter socialism and Soviet Union, the 9/11 and subsequent war on terror has now been remaining as driving forces behind religious extremism and sectarian violence.
The existence of strong and secular political parties and resultant political society driven by principles of healthy political differences, secular mindset, respect and acceptance for diversity could have changed the future course and outlook of Pakistan soon after the partition. But masses could not be widely politicised because of limited outreach of political parties and their unsatisfactory performance.
The vacuum created by absence strong parties created space for clerical right forces from the first day of Pakistan to color political, constitutional, and social, arrangement of Pakistan with religious extremism, intolerance and sectarianism.
The movement for creation of Pakistan, driven by religious currents at societal level, encouraged and emboldened clerical forces more to take over lead of the country.
It is indeed a tragic fact that no political party has so far established itself as political entity from very creation of Pakistan. All political parties lack basic ingredients of a political party which make them to qualify to stand in line of political institutions. The parties have been remaining structurally week and flawed, financially inefficient, internally non-democratic, operationally slow and ideologically week.
As a result, masses have been disenfranchised and alienated from mainstream politics. Moreover, civic and political courage that could counter the extremes has remained by and large nonexistent due to such outlook of political parties.
Strong political parties coupled with civic courage could have indeed averted the occurrences of previous and recent cases of religious extremism and violence in Pakistan. Therefore, it is needed for our political parties to review their structure, performance and manifestoes and reorient them with parameter of international standards in order to create a political society so as to counter extremism in durable and effective way. The more society is politicised by political parties, the less there are chances for emergence and promotion of extremism.
Writer is Human Rights Activist.
Received via e-mail.