Fault lines

Daily: The News
Date: 26.01.11

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has once again brought to light one of the many
social and political fault lines in Pakistani society: for one group of individuals the question
is to what extent religious radicalisation of society is acceptable; for another the question is
to what degree liberalism can be tolerated.

This fault-line is not new. It has been there since the inception of Pakistan. Before the
formation of Pakistan, religio-political parties had had little direct role to play in politics, but
in the post-independence period, availability of the space for political manoeuvring through
‘religious’ means opened a new vista for them.

Several religio-political leaders emerged to proclaim that Islam was urgently ‘required’ and
many of them even prescribed what kind of Islam the state needed. When the army entered
the political sphere through martial laws, it enabled the religio-political parties to reinforce
their role. To make sure they stayed relevant these parties collaborated with the army.
Sectarianism too sprouted from the struggle that ensued.

The Objectives Resolution was passed in March 1949 not to make the country a theocratic
state but to lay the foundation of a Muslim state which would be a federation (recognising
ethno-linguistic identities and protecting the minorities). Later, the incorporation of ‘Islamic’
provisions in the 1973 Constitution swelled the ‘religious’ aspect of the Constitution and
outsized the democratic, federal and pluralistic aspects. The 18th Amendment has now
balanced the tilt with its 102 amendments – but there is still a need to do more in this
regard.

The irony is that the religious right could not have had Pakistan to operate in without the
liberals leading them. Without the liberals in the lead in the movement for the separate
homeland for Muslims, Pakistan could not even have come into being.

And the greatest of these liberals was Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, our founding
father, who had said: “In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled
by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians and
Parsis – but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any
other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”

The most burning of all the questions raised in the aftermath of the assassination of
Salmaan Taseer has been whether Islam should be exploited for leverage against political
opponents.

It is now becoming obvious that Pakistan has gone beyond the stage where precedents
could have been set for the separation of the religious from the political. Looking at the
history of general elections in Pakistan, one reaches the strange conclusion that the voters,
and not the state, have been trying to separate the two.

But that can happen only if the elections are not rigged directly or indirectly – or the political
process is not interfered with – for the benefit of political combines like the Muttahida Majlis-
e-Amal, as happened during Pervez Musharraf’s military rule.

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Fault lines

Daily: The News
Date: 26.01.11

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has once again brought to light one of the many
social and political fault lines in Pakistani society: for one group of individuals the question
is to what extent religious radicalisation of society is acceptable; for another the question is
to what degree liberalism can be tolerated.

This fault-line is not new. It has been there since the inception of Pakistan. Before the
formation of Pakistan, religio-political parties had had little direct role to play in politics, but
in the post-independence period, availability of the space for political manoeuvring through
‘religious’ means opened a new vista for them.

Several religio-political leaders emerged to proclaim that Islam was urgently ‘required’ and
many of them even prescribed what kind of Islam the state needed. When the army entered
the political sphere through martial laws, it enabled the religio-political parties to reinforce
their role. To make sure they stayed relevant these parties collaborated with the army.
Sectarianism too sprouted from the struggle that ensued.

The Objectives Resolution was passed in March 1949 not to make the country a theocratic
state but to lay the foundation of a Muslim state which would be a federation (recognising
ethno-linguistic identities and protecting the minorities). Later, the incorporation of ‘Islamic’
provisions in the 1973 Constitution swelled the ‘religious’ aspect of the Constitution and
outsized the democratic, federal and pluralistic aspects. The 18th Amendment has now
balanced the tilt with its 102 amendments – but there is still a need to do more in this
regard.

The irony is that the religious right could not have had Pakistan to operate in without the
liberals leading them. Without the liberals in the lead in the movement for the separate
homeland for Muslims, Pakistan could not even have come into being.

And the greatest of these liberals was Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, our founding
father, who had said: “In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled
by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians and
Parsis – but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any
other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”

The most burning of all the questions raised in the aftermath of the assassination of
Salmaan Taseer has been whether Islam should be exploited for leverage against political
opponents.

It is now becoming obvious that Pakistan has gone beyond the stage where precedents
could have been set for the separation of the religious from the political. Looking at the
history of general elections in Pakistan, one reaches the strange conclusion that the voters,
and not the state, have been trying to separate the two.

But that can happen only if the elections are not rigged directly or indirectly – or the political
process is not interfered with – for the benefit of political combines like the Muttahida Majlis-
e-Amal, as happened during Pervez Musharraf’s military rule.

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