Monday September 27, 2021

Pakistan’s problem is moderation, not extremism

December 27, 2016

Islamabad diary

Extremism, hate speech and sectarianism – the ills we are familiar with – are products of Pakistani moderation. The maulvi, the cleric, the doctor of the faith did not create the mess Pakistan is in. The maulvi was never in command of politics and power. He was always, and still is, a figure on the sidelines…a nuisance at best, the creator of too much noise, the specialist with the loudspeaker, but he never was the driving force behind national policies.

That was the prerogative, the monopoly, not of the maulvi, not of the Tableeghi Jamaat, but of the English-speaking classes, the real rulers of Pakistan. Who runs Pakistan even today? The army, the civil service, the political class, the enterprising seth, the sharp-eyed real-estate tycoon. Where is the Islamic warrior in this distinguished coalition?

The Kakul-trained and Quetta Staff College-perfected army command gave us the fruits of jihadi Islam. They pushed the nation into the Afghan cauldron. Even today you can come across generals and bright diplomats who will swear that Pakistan’s leading role in that evangelism, sustained by Saudi riyals and American dollars, was essential because after Afghanistan would have come Pakistan’s turn, the Soviets with their eyes transfixed on the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.

It was on the back of such nonsense that Pakistan’s then generals, oblivious to Pakistan’s own problems, set about the liberation of Afghanistan. The maulvi and the seminary student were the foot-soldiers in that venture. They did not frame the policy or set out the larger goals. The guns, the cash and the Stinger missiles came from elsewhere. The foot-soldiers of jihad were fortified by the belief that they were marching to heaven.

Eminent divines spoke in favour of the Objectives Resolution but they were not its authors. That was the work of the enlightened Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly, led by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, who tore out their lungs in praise of that resolution, paying little heed to the plaintive cries of the Hindu members that this was not what Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned or promised them in his famous August 11          speech.

Incidentally, the most learned and eloquent speech in favour of the Resolution came from the foreign minister, Sir Zafrulla Khan, an Ahmadi by faith. Shouldn’t this be grounds for calling for an annulment of the Objectives Resolution?

Maulvis or religious leaders did not lead us into Seato and Cento, the American-inspired defence pacts of which Pakistan became such an eager member. India phobia – and it is a phobia, let’s be clear about this – was not made part and parcel of the thinking of the new state by the clerical establishment. That was the work of the most educated, cultured and enlightened sections of the intelligentsia and the ruling classes who had migrated from India.

Theirs was a burning animus against India because they had left their hearths and homes there. True, they believed in the dream called Pakistan. But since we are talking of human beings and not angels it is not too far-fetched to suppose that in their breasts would also have lurked the hope that they would do well for themselves in the new state. The loot and plunder of evacuee property which followed Partition did not belie that hope…many the stories of paupers in India becoming respectable property owners in the nascent state.

The call for a thousand-year war with India came not from a maulvi but someone who should have espoused something less alarming…a sophisticated product of Berkeley and Oxford, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, soon to emerge as the brightest star in the Pakistani political firmament. Indeed, it is one of the ironies of the Pakistani mind that a foreign education often does little to dent or alter the original sum of ignorance or prejudice. Not a few examples can be quoted of Pakistani scholars entering Oxford, Cambridge and American universities and emerging unscathed.

What has the maulvi or the seminary student to do with any of this?

Pakistan’s best and brightest have gone to the IMF and the World Bank and fostered a culture of greed and dependency. The Pakistani psyche crippled and made subservient, the iron begging bowl a permanent feature of Pakistani statecraft, the Pakistani establishment ever eager to jump into foreign adventures at the behest of outside powers, military dictators not prone to brook the slightest dissent at home but ducking and scraping before foreign powers…can any of this be laid at the doors of Pakistani extremism? These are the wages of Pakistani moderation.

What is moderation? It is the disinclination to take tough and unpopular decisions. Moderation is to swim with the prevailing tides. It means going along with things as they are…in other words, defending the status quo, because the status quo benefits certain classes, the very classes who are in the driving seats of power.

Why are education and health neglected sectors in Pakistan? Because the elites – the champions of moderation and liberalism – are not bothered: they have their own schools, colleges and hospitals. Rulers and the privileged are not ashamed to preside over this state of affairs, leaving the masses to their circumstances but the slightest heart murmur they have and you have to see the speed with which they are off to London.

Who is responsible for bankrupting and destroying PIA, the Karachi steel mills and the railways? Not the students of Jamia Binoria, Karachi, or theologians from Maulana Samiul Haq’s Akora Khattak seminary.

Divines and holy fathers can produce comic outcomes. Their pretensions and the distance often to be seen between their precept and practice can bring a smile to the dourest lips. But the biggest holders of hidden offshore accounts, Surrey Palace owners and Mayfair property lease-holders are proud members of Pakistan’s liberal, moderate, enlightened and democratic classes.

What we call extremism or Kalashnikov Islam – several grades higher than the Jamaat-e-Islami’s brand of danda-bardar or stick-wielding Islam – are by-products of the failures cultivated and produced by Pakistan’s ruling classes, the same champions of liberalism and moderation.

Pakistan needs a transformation of state and society. How long can it live with plundering robber barons who have democracy on their lips and exploitation in their hearts? This transformation can only come from a strong and radically-inclined leadership, with the strength and outlook to clean the national stables, knock heads together, lessen some of the hypocrisy which is the republic’s leading currency and change the Pakistani landscape for the better.

The extremism of the Taliban is primitive extremism, the product of narrow minds. Pakistan needs the extremism of the pathfinder, the pioneer, the searcher of the depths, the climber of the highest mountains. Of quaking moderation, belting out empty slogans and mouthing empty promises, it has had enough. Seventy years is a long enough time to test any experiment. It is time to give that a decent burial.

Even Iqbal’s Shaheen – the eagle as a symbol of strength and renewal – is now lost to the nation, having been appropriated as a selling gimmick by the Fizaia (PAF) housing society. This is the story of Pakistan: the triumph of the housing society, another symbol of Pakistani moderation.

Pakistan can do with bold leadership and a touch of radicalism. It will make the blood in its veins course faster.

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