Daily: The News
Pakistan is increasingly transforming into a country where dissent is abhorred and
disagreement is penalised whether the sphere is political, religious or social. Intolerance
has been seeping into almost all branches of Pakistan’s systems for some time now.
Three main sources (and signs) of intolerance can be identified in Pakistan’s systems.
First, the democratic culture to infuse tolerance into the political system is yet unripe. One
reasons for this may be that democracy is considered to have been thrust upon the people
rather than an evolved product of the native culture. One wonders if the creation of
Pakistan had not originated from an egalitarian decision of the Muslims of the subcontinent
to get a separate homeland, what would have been the scenario in Pakistan today?
Perhaps, Pakistan would have been an extension of the Mughal Empire run by despots. If
the democratic origin of Pakistan cannot guarantee democracy in the country, what hope
can the future offer? In recent history, the Charter of Democracy (CoD) is considered the
first document to broach accommodation between two main political parties, the PML-N and
the PPP. Refusing to learn from history and violating all principles of political fairness, the
PML-N is inclined – even if this is not openly declared – to gather into its folds politicians
from the PML-Q in Punjab (under the guise of the Unification bloc) thereby reviving the
loathsome practice of ‘lotaism’ which earned notoriety in the 90s.
The PML-N may not countenance the company of the PPP as a coalition partner for
another two years (to complete the term) and apparently has decided to cash in on growing
unrest in the country. It is a pity that the political parties adhere to democratic principles
only as long as it serves their purpose; the same trend bodes ill for democracy in Pakistan.
Second, dialogue is not considered a positive way to settle inter-faith or inter-sectarian
issues in the sphere of religion. Instead, suppression of thought and voice is an adopted
approach. Both Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the
former federal minister for minorities affairs, have fallen prey to raging religious intolerance.
In this regard, one of the main problems created by the military-dominated eras in the past
was the forcible muffling of the representative voice of the people. The consequent
message of suppression was imbibed by society and now the same message is determining
the fate of those who raise a voice of dissent. Moreover, during military rules (especially of
General Ziaul Haq), it was not just that religion was superimposed on politics but also that
religious sentiments were prodded to take precedence over nationalism. Now, Pakistani
society is yielding the fruits of religious fanaticism by counting the dead bodies of its
Third, Pakistani society is still not open at the family level. In the rural or semi-urban areas
of Pakistan inhabited by a majority of populace, democratic values have not yet penetrated
the institution of family. The institution is strictly patriarchal – the say of elders is irrefutable
and compliance is unavoidable.
Unfortunately, at that level, democracy is considered alien to local culture thereby limiting
its reach. Further, the youth is conditioned by the lesson of suppression and later on in life
the youth starts teaching the same to others – perhaps using the language of violence.
Hence begins social bigotry coupled with moral medievalism. Nevertheless, democracy finds
breathing space mostly out of the house (or the fiefdoms) as democracy is considered a
means to run the affairs of the country and not of the family. Consequently, despite its
democratic facade, from inside Pakistani society is still undemocratic and has been
conserving its orthodoxy by all means.
Retrospectively, one of the reasons that might have encouraged the military to take over
the democratic set-up was that the military eras would be seen in terms of economic gain
and not in terms of democratic loss to the country – under the pretext that the prime
concern of Pakistanis is not democracy but economic survival. In Pakistan, it seems that
democracy and economic prosperity are ideas lying too far apart to be reconciled; it is as if
democracy beckons poverty whereas dictatorship beckons prosperity.
The question now is – how long will the country be kept dispossessed of democratic
experience (as an asset) at the cost of economic management? Secondly, for how long will
this preference be exploited by non-democratic forces and their beneficiaries? Third, how
much longer will Pakistan remain enmeshed in the discussion about what should stand first
– religion or the country?
It seems that intolerance is a common malicious thread joining politics, religion and society
in Pakistan. The antithesis to this malevolent bond is an uninterrupted supply of
democracy, unhindered electoral accountability of politicians and unlimited dissemination of
education among the masses.
Back to columns in 2011