Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Of Referendum and Liberalization in Pakistan

August 2, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi
Of all the dangling dangers, the fundamental threat is to Pakistan’s unity. The state of Pakistan is held hostage by various inimical forces, mafias and subjective ideologies. Pakistan is on the verge of fragmentation from within.

In a country where the lives of citizens are not safe, how can one talk of prosperity and social harmony. The principal problem is that Pakistan has not yet started to shape up as a modern and enlightened state.

The four provinces are like four giants vying and at war path with each other. The recent devolution of powers and transfer of ministries to the provinces has made little impact on the acute friction that exists between the provinces.

It is therefore, essential that these are broken into several administrative units or smaller provinces in order to erase and dilute the antagonism between them.

But before that is done, a referendum should be held to elicit the opinion of the people in these provinces whether they still would prefer to live within a united Pakistan and within a federal system. This is necessary because of the ethnic wars and local insurgencies going on in Karachi, in Balochistan and Pakhtunkhwa Khyber (formerly NWFP). In Punjab too, a segment of population is disgruntled because of rampant feudalism and family fiefdoms.

It is important to recreate a new Pakistan and get a fresh mandate from the people to live within Pakistan. This move would douse the flames of separatist tendencies that are leaping higher and higher day by day. This referendum was called for after the cessation of East Pakistan to give a chance to the Pakistanis to assert their willingness to live together in the left over Pakistan.

Such referendum should also be conducted in the tribal regions where people are living in no man’s land and are isolated from the rest of the population. If they opt to remain independent let them be. If they choose to live within Pakistan let them join as a province with writ of Pakistan established there.

A similar referendum should also be held in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan regions, notwithstanding their disputed status, to establish that the people there want to be part of Pakistan or otherwise. With these watershed measures the separatists movements would die their own death and Pakistan would emerge as a stronger and stable country than ever before and for the future.

A million Pakistanis with predominant portion from the youth should march on to Islamabad and camp there to press for the much needed, imperative yet stalled constitutional and administrative changes and decisions that are needed to make Pakistan a really democratic, stable, prosperous, viable, independent, progressive, peaceful, liberal, humane, accountable country.

The demand of the marchers should be the speedy reconstruction and recalibration of the nation building departments and institutions like Railways, Revenue and Taxation, police, steel mills, PIA, electoral system and so on.

The camp should press for starting and completing those projects that are fundamental for the robust economy and uplift of Pakistan. The stamping out corruption and similar vices from the society, the end of nepotism, the termination of nefarious practice of by-passing rules and transparency and similar vital demands should be on the agenda of such a march and congregation.

Pakistan can never survive or prosper as a theocratic state. The sectarianism, the extremism in religion will have to be moderated to enable Pakistan to become liberal and a viable state. The simple argument is that if in Bahrain, Syria and Iraq the main political tussle has boiled down to a conflict between Sunnis dominated country or Shia dominated state, how could be there iron clad guarantees that both these main sects in Islam would co-exist in Pakistan without spilling each others’ blood, as these have been doing for centuries.

Pakistan is more fragile and vulnerable as the religious fundamentalists have driven Pakistan to a state of incessant anarchy, perpetual chaos, lawlessness and exposed it to unrelenting violence. The sectarian animosity between the fringe yet strident sects such as between the wahabis and Deobandis on one side and Brelvis, naqbandis, Qadiris, Tabligee Jamaat and sainthood etc on the other cannot be sunk or removed.

It clearly means that the faith should be of private and personal nature and should be kept out of the portals of state and governance. The people should be free to adhere to their sects and follow their faith. But they must never be allowed to forcibly impose it on others as it leads to bloody sectarian conflicts that destroy the stability, peace and unity of a society, as we can witness in Pakistan.

No one should be allowed to use religion, sect and faith for exploitation of state, society or people that has been at the root of Muslim societies in the past and that kept them primitive and dogged by infighting between various sects.

There is no way that the sects that remain unflinching and inflexible about their specific dogmas and elements of faith can co-habitat with tolerance and without prejudice. For instance the Wahabis are against most of the ceremonial rituals and rites that Qadri, or Naqshbandia or the believers of saints and shrine culture perform and practice.

A unified and unanimous Islamic code that can govern or encompass the Islamic polities has never been worked out in the past nor can it be hammed out ever in the future. The Ommyads and Abbasids were secular dynasties that brutally suppressed the extremism and ideologies based on strict theocratic concept of Islam. But since those were family dynasties and autocracies these could not survive longer as stronger contenders vanquished them in due course.

The key to Pakistan’s internal strength is its economic vibrancy.The economic stability and strength comes if the factories are working with full capacity and the agricultural sector is giving its optimum output and people have jobs, self employment or business from a small cart to a factory.

The education sector should be able to accommodate all the students from class one to the highest academic level. The traffic is orderly and comfortable to take the citizens to and fro their jobs and homes. The healthcare is available in the hospitals with no spurious drugs and cost is covered by insurance. More importantly there should be no violence and law enforcement should be ideal.

In matter of faith there should be no restrictions. But for state to have faith and religion and a country to be attributed as religious must not be allowed. Pakistan can stay, survive and advance only as a modern and secular state whose majority is Muslims and where all sects and denominations should enjoy complete freedom of worship and religious practices. Yet these sects should never be allowed to hold the people in submission and exploit the state and people in the name of religion.

The sectarian wars in general and the religious radical militants in particular have been wrecking the society in Pakistan. This country came into being not to safeguard Islam but for the sake of the Muslims of the sub content.

The vision was to save Muslims from the tyranny of the majority with a hostile faith, because of their Islamic nomenclature. Unless the radicals can be bridled, the intra-religious animus is always a constant threat to the safety of the people on both sides of the divide.

We have seen that happening in the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and afterwards.
The sectarian godfathers and custodians are mafias in their field of operations. They can go to any extent in intimidation, coercion, brutalization and savagery to proclaim and impose their religious dogmas and fiat as they believe that God is on their side and whatever they were doing carried the divine sanction.

It is therefore, extremely indispensible to rein in the religious fanatics who are countless in numbers and are always braced against each other heaping the disastrous and divisive fallout on the fabric of society.

Pakistan is up for a horrendous challenge to her stability, violability and cohesion from lethal bands such as Talban, and similar cut-throat radicals that are not only projecting a savage and ugly face of Islam but can go to any extent of brutality and ferocity to destabilize the society for their over-lordship.

Anyone who thinks Taliban or a host of other religious outfits would help establish a glorious Islamic caliphate in Pakistan and elsewhere are simply deluded and victims of irrational and fanciful brainwaves as such a religious paradise never existed in the past when there were better times for religions.

An ideological group that kills its own people on the drop of the hat cannot be remotely connected with the utmost compassion and tolerance that Islam ordains or that is implicit in the teachings of this religion or were practiced by the founder and prophet of Islam.

These ferocious groups are reminiscent of savage entities such as Assassins or Hashashins who were a constant threat to the Islamic states in the past. Extremism all the more sectarian extremism brooks no humanity nor harbors any concept of a modern, tolerant and liberal state that Pakistan ought to be and that can be the starting point for Pakistan’s survival, stability and economic milestones.

Pakistan has got to be liberal, moderate and a modern Islamic state with a free society that is bound by laws, united by constitution, knit by established moral principles, woven by our cultural hallmarks and do and don’ts.

Pakistan should not be pulled in different directions by fanatical organizations tearing and fragmenting the society and instilling perpetual fear among the people. Moreover, such dogmatic regimentations keep the people mentally and socially backward and stunt their mindset for broad, progressive and constructive thinking.

Those religious scholars, ideologues, clerics and political leaders who talk of Islam and pledge to make Pakistan an Islamic state are mostly hypocritical and hide their odious pursuits behind the facade of religion.

They indulge in every conceivable malpractice and unethical conduct to grab power, earn mounds of wealth, run after sex, wallow in glamour, and steep in carnal and lecherous pleasures. Yet in public they profess and pledge to turn Pakistan into an Islamic state. However, Islamic system of governance with complete unity among disparate sects is a myth that cannot be attained.

The religious zealots act as second fiddle to the people in power in various ways. The vote bank of many political parties comes through the propaganda, support and help of the religious demagogues. It is so easy to declare a party Islamic or individual as good Muslim and other to decree as heathens and anti- Islam by quoting religious scriptures that can be interpreted in various ways. So the love of the religious clergy with Islam is subject to their being favored with money and offer of sparkling perks and privileges.

The religious groups are the overt or covert legions of the political parties and even foreign forces that use them to further their interests. The United States used these religious charlatans in a mammoth manner against the Soviet Union in eighties and afterwards. So their loyalty to religion is as peripheral and perfunctory as their knowledge about the spirit and underlying message and philosophy of religion.

Our leaders use Islam for their selfish ends and for keeping their hold on power and people. The nights of these leaders are lavish with unremitting bouts of wines and women and are sunk in wealth. But deceptively they go also to the shrines to lay wreaths, speak in mosques, express their support for religious parties and make laws that favor religious cronyism, ideological favoritism and rank primitivism in Pakistan.
Pakistan, we should never forget is a political entity with a land mass and is not meant to resolve religious discords based on colliding beliefs that are patently irreconcilable. Religions offer good moral baskets but in the present times, the nature of society is diametrically different from the societal paradigms of the past.

The theocracy that was prevalent in the past cannot function in the same way as it did hundreds of years ago when conditions, systems and environment were primitive and ripe for sprouting of religions. Now the societies have undergone a sea change.

A camel cannot be driven for travel although it is a holy animal for the Muslims. It does not mean we cannot drive car or travel on airplanes because these were not there when the religions were founded.

A harmonious fusion between the eternally accepted and acknowledged moral and ethical principles enshrined in Islam with the imperatives of modern societies, (that are getting integrated by days and moments), must be brought about.

For liberalizing and opening the Pakistani society, we can take a cue from other Islamic countries. It is only in Iraq and Pakistan that the sectarian strife is at its peak and unremitting. The societies in Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and several in the Middle East and North Africa are liberal by virtue of their culture and way of life.

They have liquor stores; the night clubs, the night life, the race courses, the gambling places, and similar manifestations and facets of recreation and enjoyment. These outlets are for the minorities and for those who cannot be a obscuranists in rigid sense.

The women in these Islamic countries enjoy equal rights and are treated with respect. People abide by laws and are patriotic. These countries have enviable religious harmony both for other Islamic sects and for non Muslims.

We have in the United States and in the western societies countless mosques. Millions of Muslims go to these holy places and are free to pray and observe their religious obligations and practices, in an environment of complete freedom. The flashy and lustful culture is there, but devout Muslims are not attracted to that. So the trends and culture of modernism and liberalism can coexist with the religious rituals and practices.

In Pakistan where liquor is prohibited by law and prostitution and child labor is a sin by religious injunctions, people still indulge in these odious things everyday and the Islamic exhortations five times from the pulpit do not make any difference.
The people still drink, the prostitution and rape goes on unhindered and other vices of serious nature like bribery, adultery and adulteration still keep happening.

It means that despite restrictions people violate bans because these militate against the human nature and urge to be happy and socially free to choose which way they would like to embark upon. Or else the law is not applied with full force and with honesty.

So these are artificial barriers and restrictions that are followed more in breach than practice. The gist is that a theocracy which wants to turn humans into angels without any human desires and physical ambitions is a utopia which cannot come about.

Our cultural patterns, folklore, habits, psychologies and mindsets, have been formed in the Indian sub-continent with ingredients and inputs from Turkey, Persian and Central Asia and even Greece through invaders and travelers.

But to change it altogether into an Arabian format or mold is not going to work because for that one has to use the repressive models of the seventh to 13th century prevalent in the Islamic empires. But still under those models the people were socially free because the social life, as written in history books, was as glamorous and happy as now in Europe and Far Eastern countries.

So while religions can be imbibed as a faith, the culture remains wedded to the indigenous soil and cannot be planted with seeds from outside. The Islam that we find in Malaysia cannot change the color or features of the people there, nor their folklore and cultural festivities have become nonexistent because they have a religion that negates such festivities.

Pakistan needs to build up a society that is studded with civic galore and resplendent with high social and moral values such as honesty, hard work, dignity, supreme nationalism, human and fundamental rights for its citizens.

It should be a society where the citizens are proud to be patriots and partake in national building with diligence and devotion. In this society there should be a harmonious blend between the mundane and temporal niceties.

There should be societal liberty within the framework of law. The state should not to be hijacked by bigots or the society not to remain in bondage of the reactionary forces and apostles of obscurantism. Here should be no coercion or prejudice or discrimination on the basis of faith, race, region, ethnicity, language, caste, affluence, power or high office. Law should be equal for all.

Pakistan is in dire need of socio-economic and political freedom and individual emancipation particularly women, both within and without as an honorable and proud nation. The camp of one million Pakistanis should keep striving for these monumental changes until these see the light of the day.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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