Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mosques should be Nationalized in Pakistan

May 24, 2015
By Saeed Qureshi

One of the decidedly effective strategies to curb religious fanaticism is to nationalize the mosques and residence religious seminaries belonging to a whole range of diverse and large number of sects and doctrinal institutions. The mosques generally and the residential religious schools specifically have become the breeding venues for hatred and bigotry taught and tutored at such places by ignorant, fanatic and bigoted ideologues. 
Taliban meaning the religious students are the product of the madrasas or religious schools that played a conspicuous role in ousting former Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Later they defeated the local war lords and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that was in place from September 1996 until December 2001 with Kandahar as the capital. Mullah Mohammed Omar has been serving as the spiritual leader of the Taliban since its foundation in 1994. 
During all these years they assumed such monstrous proportions as to challenge not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan where they have spawned an Islamic crusade to create an orthodox Islamic state to be run with fear and hair raising punishments. One such sordid model of Islamic state, though for a brief period, was practiced in scenic Swat valley of Pakistan. It was as if the hell had broken down on the people with daily flogging and beheading of those marked as infidels or sinners.
But apart from barbaric Taliban, primarily a religious militant outfit, the homegrown Sunni extremist groups had also joined the fray by unleashing a dreadful sectarian mayhem that continues to this day. The suicide bombers and target killers playing the sectarian orgy of blood come from the religious institutions and residential seminaries doctored and motivated by their fire spitting zealots to seek quick paradise by killing the members of rival faiths. The custodians of this citadel like residential schools and colleges motivate the recruit youths and turn them into suicide bombers.
A harrowing number of faithful from minority Muslim sects and non-Muslims have been targeted and are still being killed and maimed. If this is the model of Islam that the proponents want to establish in Pakistan by force and violence than what image does it paint about the Islam which the Muslims believe and preach as a religion of peace?
It is almost some 35 years that Pakistan is suffering from a malignant religious militancy that is neither patriotic nor Islamic. From the pulpit the venom of sectarian hatred is injected into the tender minds that willingly die for a cause neither sublime nor Islamic. These institutions and their caretakers reject pluralism, secular democracy and the concept of a modern state. They believe in a convoluted undertaking of reviving the past and taking the Islamic polities back to the dark ages. They abhor living in an enlightened and a culturally diverse society.
They are incorrigibly biased and brainwashed proponents of Islamic radicalism and moribund orthodoxy and believe in enforcing these obsolete and intolerant dogmas by force and fear. They believe in Islamic revivalism but in a manner that negates dignity and progress.  The clergy in Islam, more often than not, has been foot soldiers of feudal, kings and monarchs. They have been parasites for tribal chiefs, feudal landowners, business tycoons and cutthroat capitalists.
If Islam is designed to be the state religion then better the state or the government should take care of it and manage it. The prevalence and observance of religion ought not to be left in the hand of these agents of darkness. They are the enemies of innovation, intellectual advancement, equality, liberty, religious tolerance and human rights which are hallmarks of a progressive modern, egalitarian and democratic society.
The renowned Islamic dynasties in the past, inter-alia Omayyad and Abbasid had imposed a strict system of controlling the mosques and the Imams (prayer leaders) by hard regimentation and application of rigid laws. Since the mosques and religious institutions both day and residential are being used for brutal militancy as well as for the religious and sectarian animus and disorder, it is high time and most pressing need to place these under the state control.
If there is a bunch or cluster of mosques in a small locality or neighborhood these should be converted into one mosque and the rest closed. The use of loudspeakers should be allowed only before the prayer timings. The mosques should be closed for the day except for the duration of prayers. The selections of the Imams should be done on merit, competence, knowledge and liberal outlook of an individual. Instead of employing rough, uncultured and ignorant prayer leaders the basic educational qualification both religious and modern should be made a pre-requisite.
In the speeches and religious sermons given in the mosques, the bigotry, intolerance and labeling other sects as infidels should be banned. For mainstream sects namely Sunnis and Shias there should be one mosque in one neighborhood or conglomeration of houses or certain number of the residents. In the United States, the Muslims of all denominations pray in the same mosques though exceptions are there. No one taunts or snubs other for praying in a different style.
The imparting of religious education in seminaries and schools by private parties and individuals should be discontinued. The religious education should be integrated into the national educational system of the federal state as well as the provincial units. Any one inciting or preaching hatred and revenge against the rival sects should be accountable before the law. Like other subjects the religious subjects, courses and syllabus can be made compulsory up to the high school level. Beyond that it should be left to the choice of anyone to pursue his or her studies in Islamiat or religious studies. There can be PhDs and scholars in Islamic teachings, jurisprudence, criminal and civil laws and in other domains of knowledge.
Let us give Islam a universal and cosmopolitan image. It is right time to expunge the religious and sectarian fratricide that has bedeviled and wrecked the Islamic societies during the past 15 centuries and has resurfaced with a new ferocity in the present age. A society cannot be stuck up in the groves of the past and needs to be updated, reformed with the passage of time and made responsive to the emergence of new realities and conditions.
The State and society must not be allowed to become hostage to a group of people with their narrow goals, and prejudiced concepts. Islam should not be depicted as a religion of of ignorance, mere rituals and controversial traditions that look ridiculous and out of sync with the imperatives of a modern society.  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Imran Khan is wrong

May 16, 2015
By Saeed Qureshi

Amazingly since last year (starting from Dharnas (sit-in) in the federal capital of Pakistan, the chairman of PTI Imran Khan has at least graduated, with flying colors, in the art of public speaking. He has attained the knack of oration that reminds us the Mark Antony’s funeral oration on the death of his friend Roman dictator Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare in his play “Julius Caesar”.

That was a diversion from my main burden of pointing out that in the heat and exuberance of instilling his assertions in the minds of his audience, this freshly glowing star on the political horizon of Pakistan sets aside the element of objectivity and goes whole-hog in lambasting his political opponents even for their positive achievements.

I refer to his public address delivered in Multan this Friday; the home town of his senior party member Shah Mahmood Qureshi. In that hugely attended gathering Imran Khan has denounced such projects as Metro Bus of Lahore and Rawalpindi , the Green Train ( now operational between Islamabad and Karachi), underpasses and interstate highways arguing that a country cannot move forward by creating such infrastructure.

The “Green Train” service equipped with most modern facilities including the free meals was inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on May 15. It would cover the one way distance between Islamabad and Karachi in 22 hours.

Imran Khan alleged that huge projects were being launched primarily for commissions and monetary kickbacks that the rulers would reap. He was mainly targeting PMLN government. He suggested that the billions of rupees being spent on creating and modernizing the logistics, roads and highways network system should instead be spent on health and education and by giving loans to the farmers.

The PTI chief particularly slated the government for the Lahore Metrobus project worth Rs. 60 billion, suggesting that this amount should have been given to the poor farmers. He outlined a litany of the projects that he thinks should be accorded priority. Let me add that he should demand for abolition of morbid feudalism so that peasants and tillers assume the ownership of lands on which they work as slave farm labor.

Now in all fairness, the fast and adequate communication network is the backbone of any country’s progress and ensuing prosperity. If the tillers and peasants cannot mobilize their produce to the cities and markets well in time, how could they get the returns to pay their loans and continue their agricultural activities?

The interstate highways between the cities and access roads within cities with multiple lanes facilitate the mobility of both goods and travelers and thus enhance the socio-economic activity adding to the income of the people and wealth of the state and provinces by way of more taxation.

Let me emphasize that the secret of the rapid and sustained economic advancement of the Western Europe and in North America is due to a comprehensive network of the interstate highways connecting all the major cities. The Chinese Interstate road network is the largest in the world followed by the United States. The American highway network has been developed at a cost of some 500 billion dollars until 2006 and covers a length of 180000 kilometers.

It is foregone that the strength and resilience of the United States economy and that of Western Europe lies in their fast moving roads and highways. In Pakistan or any third world country it is arduous and time consuming even for the children to reach schools and colleges, for the patients to be in the hospitals without loss of time and so on.

Fast and widespread roads and railway network is the backbone of any country’s economic strength as manifested in the fast developing and developed countries. I have seen in Europe particularly in Germany and Austria, the finest trains and road system where the trains arrive at destinations right on time.

Way back in 80s in the socialist countries where I was posted in the embassy I saw the buses with automatic doors and electronic signs of stops and destinations. Does Pakistan, after several decades have a well coordinated and centrally controlled taxi, buses or railway system? Our roads are narrow heaps of filth with horse-driven carts and ramshackle buses gushing out lethal fumes.

In the United States there is a trucking system which is marvel of the present times. Countless wide bodied trucks carry goods and merchandise between destinations round the clock. From the border country Mexico every day some 500 trucks enter United States with all kinds of farm produce and manufactured products.  Do we in Pakistan have such trucks and goods transportation system? Our trucks are small sized, clumsily driven by private owners without caring the road rules.

Because of the narrow and overcrowded roads and no mention-able inter cities highways except a few, the accidents are common and frequent in Pakistan. The movement of cotton, Sugarcane, wheat, corn, vegetables, milk and other articles from countryside to the urban factories and shopping centers is an uphill task and causes delays and is prone to bottlenecks and risky driving.

We ought to give credit and appreciation to Mian Nawaz Sharif for building, during his previous tenures, the highway between Rawalpindi and Lahore (M-2) that since 1997 has brought about a sea change in the movements of both passengers and goods. It used to be a narrow strip causing quite a few hours to travel between Rawalpindi and Lahore. M-1 linking Rawalpindi and Peshawar was completed during president Musharraf’s time and is operational since 2007.

The Punjab government should be given generous credit for broadening the link road between Murree and Rawalpindi. The Metro bus system for traveling between Rawalpindi and Islamabad should be felicitated and lauded. 

When completed sometime this year it would transform the narrow strip called Murree road (legacy of the British) into a spacious multi lanes Metrobus saving time and botheration of the passengers traveling to and from Islamabad. The Islamabad-Rawalpindi Metrobus is the second project after Lahore Metrobus that brought enormous facility to the citizens of Lahore.

The question is why our leaders are so self-centered and harbor chronic bias and narrow vision simply for scoring points and misleading the people and shirk away from appreciating the good and monumental services like widening and building of roads and railway tracks.

They should have the broad-mindedness and national outlook to applaud what was being done in the interest of the country and denounce that is not being done. A tendency of merely looking for faults is not only imprudent but rebounds against the critics.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pakistan was Created for Indian Muslims and not for Islam

May 10, 2015
By Saeed Qureshi

The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e- Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s fundamental principal of religious tolerance in the new state of Pakistan was set aside by the opportunists and anarchist politicians who could not make a constitution for a pretty long time. 

The Pakistan's nomenclature emphasizes Islamic Republic which even the Saudi Arabia as the bastion and birth place of Islam does not use. It is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and not the Islamic Republic or the state of Medina which the fundamentalist Muslims and radical religious parties want to create in Pakistan.

Quaid-e-Azam did not want an orthodox religious state and that is why on August 11, 1947 in his inaugural address to the first Constituent Assembly he categorically elucidated that, “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State. You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”.

During the struggle for an independent state for the Muslims in the Indian sub-continent, Jamaat-e-Islami opposed its emergence tooth and nail under the leadership of its founder Maulana  Maudoodi who disdainfully dubbed Pakistan as “Na- Pakistan”. But after the establishment of Pakistan on August 14, 1947, the JI and its arch protagonists hastened to move the party’s headquarters lock stock and barrel, from India to Pakistan. Their plan was to launch a vigorous and unstinted campaign for an Islamic government in a country they never wanted to come into being. 
The Jamaat-Islami raised the slogan “Pakistan Ka Matlib Kia, La Ilaha Allallah” or “The purpose of Pakistan is that there is no other ruler than God”. Later in 1977 during the PNA's anti- Bhutto movement spearheaded mainly by the Islamic parties, another motto “Nizam-e Mustafa” was coined that meant that the “implementation of the “Governance system of Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan”. The religious right groups have all along wanted to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state under Sunni Shariah.

They systemically resorted to strikes, sloganeering, pamphleteering, and public and corner meetings and thus created the unremitting turmoil, chaos and unrest in the society. With an army of committed youth from the educational institutions, JI launched a movement to Islamize Pakistan. The nationalists or the secularists were pushed back.

With the onslaught of JI, the other religious outfits jumped into the fray for the establishment of an orthodox caliphate in line with their peculiar Islamic system. All these conservative religious outfits plunged Pakistan into a turmoil and religious war that continues until now and that culminated in the victory of the fundamentalist Islamic forces.

A secular leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had to backtrack from his agenda of secularism and a mandate to craft Pakistan as a modern state. When in dire straits and in a bid to come out of that , he submitted to the dictates of the religious groups by banning use of liquor, ban of night clubs and horse racing the hallmarks of a free and modern society etc.

That was a shameful volte-face of a leader who was looked upon as the architect of a tolerant, egalitarian, democratic, modern state and proponent of a civil society. Still he was not forgiven by the opposition and later had to pay the price with his life at the hands of a fanatic dictator Ziaul-Haq who submerged Pakistan into a sea of draconian Shariah laws which could be enforced only in a society of the Middle Ages.

With this background, I would raise and analyze the moot question. The question is: was Pakistan fought for to protect Islam or to safeguards the political identity of the Muslims of the subcontinent as a nation? If it were the question of protecting and preserving Islam then should we imply that Islam was in danger to be obliterated in the new state of Pakistan? If it was not in danger during the British colonial rule, why it was perceived to be in jeopardy in a Muslim majority state?

Unfortunately, Islam has been painted by the religious preachers to be always in danger and suppressed or wiped off by the religious adversaries? Islam as a religion is not confined to Pakistan nor it ought to be exclusively Pakistan’s responsibility to protect it. It has been there for 15 centuries and is practiced in more than fifty Islamic and non- Islamic countries.

Has Pakistan after the promulgation of Islamic Shariah, been cast in the mold of an ideal and peaceful Islamic state? The answer to this question is emphatically in negative.  How long the Mullas and religious demagogues keep be-fooling the people and crusading for enforcement of Islamic Shariah which is already in place but has proven to be futile and out of sync with the imperatives of the modern civil societies. 

Pragmatically, is it not prudent to separate religion and state? It would be rather rational to keep the religious obligations confined to the individual practices? Pakistan can have mosques, religious seminaries, an agreed religious code but no coercion or sectarian strife.
The Islamization of Pakistan led to the unhindered proliferation of militant groups, religious seminaries, thousands of more mosques and millions of Mullas rampaging and frightening the people in the name of wrath of God. In the aftermath of involvement of Pakistan in Western prompted anti-Soviet Union war, the element of religious militancy is now assailing Pakistan through a crusade aimed at Islamizing this country.

The religious sects in Islam have never converged on religious armistice or consensus on one brand of Islam. As such the mayhem continues by such extremist militants and various bands of Taliban as Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other assortment of myopic religious marauders.

Now we watch in Pakistan religious factions spawning a culture of organized crime through serial killers, suicide bombers, mass murderers, and heartless barbarians. They fearlessly resort to bashing of women, minority sects, bank robberies, extortion of money and similar crimes against humanity and their own countrymen. They have unleashed a reign of terror to force people to toe their narrow religious ideologies factually far from the real Islam.

 The religious and sectarian discords in the Islamic state of Pakistan have been destroying the unity of Muslims and debilitating Pakistan in all manners. In India, primarily a Hindu majority state, the Sunnis and Shias and other sects don’t indulge in sectarian feuds and killings of each other.

The sectarian strife has not only divided the Pakistani society but also has blocked its emergence as a modern egalitarian democratic state. As such the enforcement of Islamic code destroyed the peace and harmony and undermined the steady progress and prosperity of Pakistan.

The faith is fundamentally safeguarded by the individuals and not by states. Countless Islamic dynasties have perished in history but the faith was still carried on by the faithful. It means the system of government hardly matters in promoting a religion unless it is a rigid fanatic religious state. Had Pakistan pursued a secular pattern with freedom of religion as we see in the United States and other contemporary states; it would have flowered into religious pluralism and peaceful sectarian coexistence.

The oppression from the majority sects leads to anarchy and is negation of the cosmopolitan articles of faith practiced by prophet of Islam and enshrined in the Islamic teachings. Islam can be declared as a state religion but it should not imply that others have to convert to Islam or live as lesser equals. The example is that in India, the West Europe and America, the faith or sectarian based clashes have seldom been witnessed. There may be Christians in majority but they would not force others to convert to their religion.

Barring a few countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, otherwise in many Islamic societies, one of which is Pakistan, the religious fanatics kill and brutalize the believers of other religions and denominations. In the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, there has been a constant antagonism between the two major Islamic sects namely Sunnis and Shias for centuries. Have all the Shias perished or else Sunnis turned into minority?

The regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran has torn the Muslims apart into Arab and Ajam. Then which Muslim unity are we Muslims dreaming about? There has never been religious tolerance in Islamic society barring 700 years secular rule in Spain where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in peace and mutual harmony.

Pakistan can emerge as a vibrant modern state with a robust civil society if any government can suppress the sectarian animosity and hatred; fetter the sway of hordes of ignorant inciters from the pulpit. Additionally, the cults promoting false sainthood, shamanism, grave worship, deities, spirits, astrologists, psychic readers, fortune tellers, soothsayers, witch doctors, mediums, and talisman and so on. I t might be tall order but it is indispensable for the survival and solidarity of Pakistan and for the emergence of a peaceful, progressive and enlightened civil society.
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.This and other articles by the writer can also be read at his blog

Monday, May 4, 2015

MQM May Disintegrate after Altaf Hussain

May 4, 2015
By Saeed Qureshi

Now when Altaf Hussain the unrivaled boss and lord of MQM is blowing hot and cold in the same breath, the MQM looks like rudderless ship wandering aimlessly on the stormy political ocean of Pakistan. There seems to be a Pandora box of criminal cases in the process of being revealed by those who were the close associates or undercover hit-men of Altaf Hussain.

The MQM operatives rounded up in the ongoing anti- crime blitz by the Rangers in Karachi city are spilling beans of the clandestine plethora of crimes and banditry perpetrated by the goons and target killers of this closely knit outfit. Even if Altaf, in a jocund mood calls the Indian spy agency RAW for helping MQM, it is tantamount to subversion and patently an unpatriotic gesture.

If the name of RAW has surfaced as the abettor and supporter of MQM even casually or maliciously still there could be some substance into this allegation. But if this accusation is viewed with Altaf Hussain’s Keynote Speech at the conference in New Delhi on 6 November 2004 in which declared that the “idea of Pakistan was dead at its inception”, such an aspersion gains credence.  Earlier on 17 September 2000, Hussain stated that “the division of the South Asia was the biggest blunder in the history of mankind”

Altaf Hussain, by virtue of his exceptional qualities of leadership and bold instinct, transformed the Muhajirs community into a formidable bloc and force that managed to hold its absolute sway in Karachi by expelling such dogged parties as JI and PPP and even Muslim League out of political arena.

Altaf Hussain enjoys a very peculiar and unique status among the MQM rank and file. He possesses inimitable oratorical gift. Moreover he is the founder of this party that he welded together on the racial slogan. There can be no other leader in the MQM that can match Altaf Hussain with regard to commanding absolute reverence and fear as he does. He is a deft tactician and a shrewd though reckless and merciless master of the political chessboard. There seems to be a semblance of method in his errant behavior.

By virtue of his untamed and aggressive posture not only has he brought the MQM in the political limelight but also injected a marvelous monolithic brotherhood within the party cadres. His leadership has infused a vibrant spirit among the migrants from India who until the time of president Ayub Khan were always at the receiving end from the successive regimes in Pakistan.

The Muhajir community may adore Altaf Hussain out of fright or devotion is beside the point.
The moot point is that if he has to leave the MQM stage by natural causes or on his own volition, the vacuum thus created by his departure would not be easy to be filled in by anyone. Though gripped by failing health and physical infirmity, he can still mobilize his community on the spur of the moment to assemble and listen to his homilies though now degenerated into mere babbles incoherent ranting and funny meaningless utterances.  

But the intimidation and coercion and violent tactics practiced allegedly all these years and decades by high command under Altaf Hussain is now getting back to the MQM with diabolic connotations. The MQM   leadership was premised upon the democratic principles of elections but in effect it was more of a choice and imposed popular mandate than a free and fair choosing of the central coordination committee members. 

The other committee “Central Executive Committee” is elected also by choice and not by the mandate of the community. These committees have the individuals on their panels endorsed or proposed by Altaf Hussain and that is the end of it.

It is foregone that any successor of Altaf Hussain cannot keep the Urdu speaking community as well as the members of both the committees bound in the monolithic unity as done by Altaf Hussain. In the aftermath of Altaf Hussain the MQM might disintegrate into factions. Besides the  pent-up dissension and discontent might surface as happens invariably with the parties ruled by a strong individual or group.

But perhaps it could as well be a blessing in disguise for this party for the overriding reason that the dictatorial and a kind of devotional grip of Altaf Hussain might give way to a culture of liberty and free exercise of opinion within the committees and on the larger scale for the ordinary Muhajirs who may rather feel liberated in voting, movements and living.

That development might extricate the party from a racial gridlock and expose it to a broader national vista and countrywide horizon. Thus it would come out from a narrow image and join the national milieu. That would be the beginning of a new plausible identity of MQM for being a national rather than a parochial party.