OVER A COFFEE: Need for de-radicalisation of Pakistan — I —Dr Haider Shah
Religious extremism can only be tackled successfully if it is considered a regional level problem as it does not have an on-off switch
Of all the political leaders, Altaf Hussain has been most categorical about treating the threat of the Taliban as a matter of great urgency. He has now called for a referendum in which people are asked whether they want Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan or the Taliban’s Pakistan. Even though the earnestness behind this clarion call of Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) leader is highly laudable, I do not find any justification for a referendum on this issue. A referendum is needed when a new question of national importance is referred to the people. What kind of Pakistan we want has already been settled by our constitution and if anyone wants to change the nature of Pakistan, the only method available is to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament and then change the constitution.
Quaid-e-Azam, in his oversimplified view of the world, had assumed that with the creation of Pakistan the politics of religious communalism would become redundant. The founder of Pakistan perhaps underestimated the power of communalism with the help of which the Muslim League had made phenomenal gains in various provinces of British India. A genie that comes out of a bottle seldom likes to go back into it. Ever since its release, the demon of communalism has grown in size exponentially with its tentacles of extremism gripping all spheres of life with devastating consequences. Sounding very confident and assertive, Quaid-e-Azam referred to the example of Britain in his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947. “As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now, there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class…We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step.” After enunciating the principle of equality of all citizens, the Quaid shared his vision of Pakistan. “Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the 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.”
Quaid-e-Azam, unfortunately, did not take into consideration the fact that like a jungle fire, the spectre of religious extremism is also not controllable. He dreamed of a secular Pakistan but did not desist from employing jihadi sentiments of tribal people as a tool of state policy to further Pakistan’s regional claims against her neighbour. Religious extremism can only be tackled successfully if it is considered a regional level problem as it does not have an on-off switch. Earlier, King Amanullah Khan had committed the same folly. While at home he wanted to modernise Afghanistan, in India he was creating trouble for the British government through various franchises of local mullahs. Enraged bees sting all without discrimination.
There is often a debate over the secular nature of our Constitution. It is contended on the basis of Islamic provisions and the Objectives Resolution that the Constitution provides for a theocratic state. To be fair, this viewpoint is not without merit as not only the preamble but Article 227 specifically provides for all laws to be within the confines of Islamic junctions. The Constitution also provides for an Islamic Council to provide help to the legislature in the Islamisation of all laws. For idealists of secularism this must be a very distressing reality, but laws do not exist in isolation and like organic entities reflect the society in which they are promulgated. Our constitution is a good mirror of our confused state of mind as it is a mixed bag of concerns for religious identity and appearing modern as well. It is not difficult to see that the constitution refrains from defining what exactly Islamic provisions are. We do not have an institution of the clergy entrusted with the exclusive right of determining Islamic provisions as in different periods they have been interpreted differently by different people. The final arbiter is the legislature, which alone can decide if a law is Islamic or not, even when the Islamic Council has given its recommendations. In this way, under the constitution, despite the lip service to the Islamic nature of laws, the people of Pakistan remain the ultimate sovereign as they alone decide what is Islamic and what is not according to conventional wisdom.
While writing these lines I fondly remember an elderly lecturer at my engineering university in 1989. Without mincing words, he would tell us how times were so much better in his youth and would pity the quality of our life due to the radicalisation of society by General Ziaul Haq. Today, when I visit my hometown Peshawar, I not only witness a siege-like situation but also find signs of greater radicalisation among ordinary people. Altaf Hussain, therefore, deserves full credit for ringing the alarm bells over a very important national issue. He may be somewhat carried away with his enthusiasm for a secular Pakistan by demanding a referendum, but one cannot deny the importance of the question raised by the MQM leader. Instead of any referendum on settled issues, however, what we need most is a thorough de-radicalisation plan for Pakistan.
(To be continued)
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org