By Saad Hafiz
December 29, 2018
Is Prime Minister Imran Khan encouraging
the dream of installing an Islamic state (Islami Hakumat)? It would be a natural progression from the
Islamic welfare state which we know is very close to Khan’s heart. Radical
Islamists in Pakistan have long harboured the vision of a theocratic state,
governed by Shariah laws.
It is exciting stuff indeed! No need to
bother with untrustworthy and corrupt democratic institutions, when the Islamic
state of Pakistan could serve as a model of governance in a chaotic world.
Moreover, Pakistan as a Fortress of Islam, a true successor to the State of
Medina, will be a promised return to the golden age of Islam.
The formation of an Islamic state would
clear up any ambiguity that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. The
state would enshrine the fusion of politics and religion. Finally, the people
would find refuge from the perversion and immorality imposed by the secular
West. Presumably, the Islamic state would be led by Khan himself as the
commander of the faithful (Ameer-ul-Momineen).
But let’s pause a bit. Didn’t Khan’s hero,
our founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, desire a secular democratic state as the
country’s tiny secular minority like to tell us at every opportunity?
Jinnah initially a firm supporter of
Hindu-Muslim unity came to the late realisation that Hindus and Muslims were
distinct. He surmised that Hindus and Muslims were essentially two nations, who
couldn’t possibly evolve into a common nationality and share power. Although a
secularist, Jinnah decided then to use the “two nation” theory as a bargaining
chip to protect the Muslim minority.
Later on, when the “two nation” theory
graduated to a “two-state” solution, Jinnah still wanted Pakistan to be a
secular democratic state. He hoped as well that Pakistan would live, side by
side, in peace and harmony, with a secular India.
Since the word ‘secular’ was considered an
anathema to the Muslim masses, a secular state was an unsalable idea. Jinnah,
ever the consummate lawyer/politician, did whatever it took to create Pakistan.
He donned a karakul cap and jumped on the religious bandwagon. Jinnah publicly
advocated the more acceptable idea of Pakistan as an Islamic welfare state –
that Khan supports today.
However, Jinnah’s vain gloriousness got the
better of him. Jinnah thought that he could use the religion card and change
course later to establish a secular state.But he didn’t have time on his side.
However, like Jinnah himself, the kind of state he may have wanted is
irrelevant to the debate in Pakistan today. The leaders that followed Jinnah
successfully sold the argument that if Pakistan became a secular state without
Islam, it would collapse.
The dream of an Islamic state got an
official fillip with the passing of the Objectives Resolution by Parliament in
1949. Since then Pakistan has built the edifice of an Islamic state. A parallel
state based on revisionist history, a state religion, and a Shariah court
Since the country’s creation, the ongoing
Islamisation project served as a tool for insecure governments for
self-preservation. It was used to appease the religious clerics (Mullahs) and
the Islamist lobby. The pernicious influence of the Mullahs on state and
society has increased manifold. Mullahs have historically exploited religious
sentiments and sectarian fissures in a bid to acquire political power. With the
clout that radical Islamists enjoy in the country, there is always a danger
that a benevolent Islamic welfare state can morph itself into a hard-line Sunni
As expected, proponents sell the idea of an
Islamic state as a panacea for all ills. Such a state would eradicate poverty,
create full employment and deliver high rates of growth, promote monetary
stability, maintain law and order, and ensure social and economic justice. The
state would work to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and the
dispensation of impartial justice to all irrespective of their status.
Nevertheless, an Islamic state, in economic
terms will face similar challenges to a western welfare state. It can’t remain
isolated from external economic and political pressures. The high taxation
needed to sustain a welfare state will stifle economic growth. Besides, a sense
of entitlement among the people would encourage dependency and discourage hard
work and wealth creation.
Furthermore, there are few examples of
socially harmonious, just and equitable states in Islamic history. The
so-called Islamic welfare states today suppress the freedom of thought,
subjugate women and minorities, and monopolise power.
But the slogan of an Islamic state will
remain an inviting prospect in Pakistan. For its allure to go away, the elitist
democratic system must change to be seen to deliver tangible benefits to the
Khan’s born-again Muslim persona, his
fundamentalist outlook, and the strong presence of Islamists in his party are
worrying signs. Instead of flirting with the idea of an Islamic state, Khan
must focus on strengthening grassroots democracy in Pakistan.
A modern, progressive and democratic state
arguably would serve the people more. Khan may do well to remember that, time
and time again, the country’s much-maligned voters acted as the vanguard
against dictatorship and obscurantism.
Khan too should reinforce the spirit of the
1940 Lahore Resolution. The Resolution imagined a Pakistan not solely as a
homeland for Muslims, but as a state where pluralist ideologies and beliefs
could survive and flourish, amidst tolerance and protection. It’s the only path
to a better Pakistan.
Saad Hafiz is a freelance contributor.