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March 17, 2016

Tweak them instead


March 17, 2016

According to a news item, top leaders of religious parties, seminaries and scholars held a meeting at Mansoora in Lahore on March 15 and agreed to jointly challenge the “anti-Islam policies of the government” and “systematic secularisation of the country”.

Demanding that the Punjab government withdraw or amend the Women’s Protection Law by March 27, they threatened a 1977-like agitation. They were equally vocal about the “injustice” of Mumtaz Qadri’s well-deserved fate. The final decision is to be taken at a national convention on April 2.

Interestingly, the Mansoora meeting comes in the wake of Monday’s Corps Commanders’ Conference where General Raheel Sharif emphasised the need to consolidate the gains of military operations for long-term stability. For this he stressed the escalated pace of intelligence-based operations across the country to destroy the entire terrorist infrastructure in the country. The return of the IDPs along with more efficient border management and continued dominance of cleared areas was emphasised to ensure the writ of state.

Just like some of our liberal politicians, the mullahs too are uncomfortable with NAP. Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been hopping mad over madressah reforms recently. Similarly, a stronger writ of the state in the tribal areas will deprive many mullahs of their political shenanigans in Fata. It is perhaps also not surprising that Hafiz Saeed was among the top leaders who met in Mansoora on Tuesday. Raheel Sharif means business and is likely to step on many pious toes.

According to another news item, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has said that he has convinced the prime minister to ‘tweak’ the Women Protection Law. Please don’t tweak the law, Mr Prime Minister; tweak the Maulana instead.

The Punjab Women Protection Law and Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging appear to provide them with the pretext to sit at the same table. Remember, that the only time religious leadership of different hues and colours comes together is when it can sense its fiefdom in danger.

On the face of it, the religious groups are rallying together to challenge the so-called secularisation of Pakistan. The real reason, however, has to do with the power that these groups have managed to accumulate by using the name of religion since the 1980s.

The madressah system and religious philanthropic mechanisms have ensured the mullah’s financial power and nuisance value. Hence, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s threat that even if the religious right has never been the first choice of the Pakistani electorate, it is still capable of derailing democratic governments.

He was obviously referring to the destabilising power of thousands of students in the JUI-run umpteen madressahs. These students would follow the good maulana’s orders like zombies since they have never been taught the skills to decide independently. What is true for the Maulana is true for the rest of his brethren and their madressahs.

Over the years, religious leaders have been using different tactics to strengthen their support base. Welfare work and education are the two most important catalysts in a country where the state has failed to shoulder its responsibility. The blasphemy law has been misused with impunity, especially against Pakistan’s minority groups to garner support by exploiting the religious sentiment of the masses. Every so often new madressahs, mosques and shrines seem to spring up in and around the cities proving that the mullah has learnt the art of land grabbing in the name of Islam.

A psychiatrist friend maintains that there is a Talib in every Pakistani’s heart. I find his opinion somewhat discomforting and would like to believe otherwise. But given our religious conditioning, which discourages questioning and critical thinking skills, he may not be far off the mark.

One wonders why the liberals of Pakistan do not form a joint platform to challenge the mullah. The liberal group has been successfully dubbed by the religious right as bad-Muslims and stooges of the West. In a country with one of the lowest literacy rates it is not surprising that secularism is believed to be synonymous with atheism.

The mullah has cleverly used societal ignorance to his advantage. He continues to use Islam as a way to buttress his clout and has no qualms in using the name of the Prophet (pbuh) to achieve his political objectives. To me this is blasphemous.

In order to snatch the narrative away from the religious right, the thinking and educated people of Pakistan need to move out of their contrived public and private spaces. Now is the time to show they genuinely care about the millions who cannot go to private schools for education or to private clubs and parties for recreation or who are unable to escape suffocation by occasionally flying to Europe and America. The privileged class must stand up for the country that has given them so much.

The military has been the main actor in the past that has created and fed this monster. It is the military’s moral duty to make amends. The mullah would never have reached where he is today without the support of the men in uniform.

Also, let us also not forget the role of the liberal politicians in ensuring the mullah’s growing influence. For example, Benazir endorsed Fazlur Rehman in national politics to reward him for his public campaigning for her in 1993. He had supported her right to prime ministership in opposition to the media campaign of the JI against a woman heading the government of an Islamic republic. Wonder if this reminder would bother the JUI’s misogynist par excellence, Maulana Sherani, chairman Council of Islamic Ideology.

It goes without saying that if Operation Zarb-e-Azb is to reach a successful conclusion it has to move into the terrorist comfort zones outside Fata. Too many sacrifices have been made by the army since 2001 and it will be foolhardy to expect that the army high command will leave the job half done. No wonder the mullahs are sitting on the same table.

Deradicalisation of entire swathes of the population is indispensable. Terrorists depend on civilian support for their success and this support infrastructure must be dismantled if terrorism is to be significantly mitigated if not entirely eliminated. The civilian government must not cave in and look for political compromises to save its vote bank. They have to rise above parochial interests to ensure national security.

The military and the government, however, cannot succeed without the wholehearted support of the civil society. Once there is corresponding pressure from the educated, moderate class the politicians will think twice before appeasing the obscurantist mullah out to protect his own interests in the name of Islam.

The writer is an academic, currently affiliated with Meliksah University, Turkey.

Email: [email protected]

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