OVER A COFFEE : The extent of Munawar Hasan’s mischief — Dr Haider Shah
Martyrdom in its religious sense is a contested notion ever since the outbreak of civil wars that characterised the periods since the third Caliph
I am not a fan of Mr Munawar Hasan’s views but somehow I like him as a person. His propensity to share his views without any embellishments of verbosity or coverings of sugarcoated hypocrisy is worth appreciating. Through him we get an opportunity to showcase the logical conclusion of the way of thinking that our religious groups utilise to interpret the world around us. Sometime ago, he stated in an interview that it is better for rape victims to hush up instead of publicising their ordeal. Outrageously shocking it might be but in all honesty this is the logical outcome of the so-called Islamic sharia relating to rape crime. Rape, despite its severity as a crime, does not get mentioned in the scripture even once, though crimes like theft and consensual sex are repeatedly discussed. The requirement of four witnesses to prove rape would automatically lead us to the conclusion that we are all too afraid to admit but not Hasan who is bold enough to state it bluntly.
The Jamaat chief again proved true to his reputation when he answered Mr Salim Safi’s question about martyrdom of Pakistani military personnel at the hands of militant extremists. The massive confusion that our national discourse suffers from was brought to the fore by the crispy clear answer of Hasan. I can appreciate the intensity of dismay and pain caused by his remarks, but the military establishment is also a contributor to the confusion that has today led to the sleazy debate on martyrdom. Without withholding fullest credit to all those who sacrifice their lives in the line of duty, I also find the hands of the military as an institution not fully clean.
The Pakistan military was painstakingly carved out of the British Indian Army by Iskander Mirza in his role as the first defence secretary. The pre-1947 Indian army, the mother organisation of the Pakistan army, was a secular institution that drew inspiration and motivation from institutional ethos and discipline. Despite varying religious beliefs, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian soldiers laid down their lives in the line of duty. The insurgencies of the tribesmen of the present day FATA were crushed by deploying units that mostly comprised Sikh and Gurkha sepoys. The Pakistan army also inherited that secular outlook in the beginning, but while our obsession with Kashmir has stunted our growth as an economic power, it has also radicalised our military establishment. The Afghan jihad under Ziaul Haq destroyed the soul of the army and turned it into a jihadi groups generating outfit. Whenever I have had a chance to speak to officers of the army I found most of them confused souls who remained suspended between a western lifestyle and fundamentalist beliefs. There is little evidence that the situation has since then changed much.
No doubt, some recent speeches of the army chief General Pervez Kiyani were encouraging in terms of their clarity on the nature of the war that the Pakistani nation is confronted with. Unlike our mainstream politicians, he was very clear in declaring the war as our own war of survival against some determined enemies. I have been stating in my earlier pieces that nations do make new choices when they are faced with a changed world. Japan and Germany befriended the US in 1946 even though the armies of both countries were destroyed to a great extent by the US. We are also faced with choices in the changed world of today. Hamid Gul represents a stream of thought that characterised the army establishment’s worldview in the 1980s. But the world has changed since the heyday of the Afghan jihad of Gul’s golden era. Today, both Pakistan and its army leadership need a new doctrine after shelving the jihadist identity. The Pakistan army has to return to the ethos that characterised its parent institution.
The demon of extremist jihadi identity has to be fully exorcised from its body. ‘Pakistan first’ was the correct slogan of Pervez Musharraf, however much I may loathe his person. I will join the army in condemning Hasan as a traitor after the army severs its links completely with the jihadi outfits. Handling the fires of extremism, our army not only burnt its own fingers but also exposed the country to the risks of extremism. Merely a few declarations are not enough. It must join hands with the prime minister in repairing relations with the neighbours so that we can focus on radical groups.
No de-radicalisation can happen in Pakistan unless the military as an institution fully de-radicalises itself after purging all overly fundamentalist tendencies in its rank and file. Martyrdom in its religious sense is a contested notion ever since the outbreak of civil wars that characterised the periods since the third Caliph. In its secular sense a martyr is a hero who sacrifices his life for defending his country. In that sense there is no debate that the law enforcement personnel who laid down their lives for our country are our heroes and martyrs. But if the religious sense of martyrdom is claimed, I am afraid we then run the risk of handing over control from our hands to the religious establishment and are then at the mercy of obscurantist minds. With clearer identification of religious discourse, and living like their imagined heroes from the Arab world, the Pakistani Taliban are better poised to win any match of martyrdom. Put this way, Munawar Hasan’s dictum rings like a painful and bitter truth.
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