13 September 2018
Imran Khan’s government came with the
promise of establishing a new Pakistan. There were huge expectations when he
tried to steer clear from the trappings of royalty like deciding not to stay in
the official residence of the prime minister. But then, recent happenings,
especially the controversy around the economist Atif Mian, perhaps is a
reminder that the slogan of Naya Pakistan was just an empty rhetoric aimed at
deflecting attention from the deepest structural defects that this country
Mian is a celebrated economist who teaches at Princeton. His inclusion within
the Economic Affairs Council (EAC) should have been looked at from a purely
professional point of view. But then, in Pakistan, increasingly, everything has
to pass through an Islamic lens whose focus is getting narrower with each
passing day. All hell broke loose when it was discovered that he was an Ahmadi
which the Pakistanis for some curious reason consider non-Muslim.
Everyone forgot his brilliance as an economist
and what he could have done for turning around the country’s sagging economic
prospects. All that people in Pakistan could see was his religious identity.
True, the government initially supported him, but then faced with the onslaught
of the Mullahs, it had to backtrack. Atif Mian resigned in disgust or perhaps
was asked to leave by the government. The flag of Naya Pakistan wilted under
the intense heat of Islamic bigotry, some of the bigots being close allies of
the ruling party.
It was not so long so long ago that Imran
Khan’s PTI was in an informal alliance with the leading Barelwi organization,
Tahreek e Labaik. A fanatical Barelwi platform, it cut its teeth advocating for
more stringent blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Moreover, like many Islamist
political formations, Tahreek e Labaik, wants an Islamic sharia driven state in
Pakistan. The PTI thought that by aligning with such a party, it will be able
to reach the religious voters and indeed this is what happened. But then, such
an alliance partner, which has fascistic tendencies also knows how to extract
is pound of flesh. It was very naïve of Imran Khan to think that after forming
the government, he would simply forget about his former alliance partner and go
about building a new Pakistan.
The appointment of Atif Mian, an Ahmadi,
gave the Barelwis a new handle to remind the government of their presence. But
then, this is not just about the Barelwis. Rather, this is about how Pakistan
has conceptualised itself as a nation, and who it has defined itself against.
In many ways, this incident is a reminder that there is problem with the idea
of Pakistan itself and till the time this nation does not start confronting
those fundamental questions, there is going to be no ideological foundation for
For a country founded as the new Medina,
Islam became a master signifier for all practical purposes. No longer was the
Hindu a threat; therefore a new enemy had to be imagined. Had the new nation
been formed on the basis of secular and democratic principles, there would have
been no need for such an internal or external enemy. But then the Islamic
nation of Pakistan need an internal threat and the Ahmadis came handy. Jinnah,
the architect of Pakistan, wanted Muslims to forget about their identities in
new Pakistan. But this was better said than done.
For a person who made career out of hatred
against the Hindus, it was rather rich for him to say that Muslims of Pakistan
should cease to have an Islamic identity. Soon after his death, his law minister,
Jogendra Nath Mandal, foresaw what was to become of Pakistan and decided to
leave the country for good. Had the ruling establishment of Pakistan been
sensitive to the pain of Jogendra Nath Mandal, perhaps things would not have
come to such a pass.
then, the roots of Pakistan’s Islamic intolerance go much further into the
past. And the national poet of Pakistan, Muhammad Iqbal, contributed to this
bigotry in no small measure. After all, he was the one who publically praised
the killer of the alleged blasphemer, the publisher of Rangeela Rasul. In one
of his poems, he said that his whole intellectual production was worthless in
front of the bravery of the killer Ilm-Uddin, who murdered the publisher
Rajpal. It is perhaps not astonishing that Iqbal is revered as someone who
first dreamt the idea of Pakistan. How does one then blame the thousands who
decades later marched in favour of the killer of Salman Taseer? After all, the
killer of Salman Taseer had only done what the founders of Pakistan had called
as a divine act. How do you then condemn the Tahreek e Labaik when it demands
the resignation of minsters or when it wants the Sharia to be proclaimed as the
state law of Pakistan?
It is ironical that groups of Islamic
parties in Pakistan are executing the power of church when there is no church
in Islam. There is no one way to be a Muslim. The Munir committee, which was
constituted in Pakistan in the wake of anti-Ahmadia riots, reiterated this very
aptly: the only way in which a Muslim can be defined is negatively, i.e. by
excluding who was not a Muslim. In short, the committee came to the conclusion
that there was no single definition of being a Muslim.
The implications of this were huge: anyone
who called himself a Muslim should be able to do so without any fear or
retribution. Remarkably, this understanding of being a Muslim is closer to the
sociological reality of diverse lives that Muslims lead throughout the world.
But then we really do not know what happened to that report. Today what Pakistan
needs most is the sanity with which the report talked about Muslim identity.
Today, it is an Ahmadi; tomorrow it could a
Shia. Yet another day it can be the Sufis. There is a problem at the
ideological foundation of Pakistan itself. The country will continue to create
enemies out of its own people, till the time it actively confronts its past.
Pakistan today needs to dialogue with the ghosts of Jinnah and Iqbal and
perhaps tell them unequivocally that they were wrong in ways in which they
conceptualised Islam as the ideological bedrock of the state of Pakistan.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in
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