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Kartarpur Corridor Cannot Wash Away Pakistan’s Systematic Mistreatment Of Minorities

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Showcasing Kartarpur Corridor as an example of Pakistani state’s newfound love for tolerance and liberalism may appear as a public relations coup to those sitting in the corridors of our foreign ministry, but this will hardly make Pakistan a tolerant and liberal society in true sense of the word, argues Umer Farooq.

On the day of Kartarpur corridor opening, some of the patriotic Pakistani public intellectuals went euphoric with their many tweets on social media, predicting Kartarpur as the future of liberal and tolerant Pakistan, while Babri Mosque decision of Indian Supreme Court as indicative of India’s bleak future mired by fundamentalism and extremism.

Many Pakistani senior officials went to the extent of suggesting that secularism as an ideology and state policy is dead in India, while Pakistan, as exemplified by the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, is on the path of accommodating religious diversity in its society.

Commentators boasted that Pakistan is in the process of shunning its past of parochialism and obscurantism and is embarking on the path of tolerance and diversity. And that Indian Supreme Court judgment clearly indicates that India’s state machinery is fast embracing the Hindutva ideology.

In his speech on the day of Corridor opening, modernist-Islamist Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan was eulogizing the qualities of tolerance in the society and was talking about freedom and liberty.

On the other hand, Indian Supreme Court judgment of allowing Hindu extremist organizations to build a RAM temple in place of historic Babri mosque appeared to be a public relations disaster for Indian state.

Hence, the debate in Pakistan related to these two events—Babri Mosque decision of Indian Supreme Court and Kartarpur corridor opening—saw Pakistan as a winner of this game of public imaginary. This in other words would mean that Pakistani intellectuals and media (especially) saw India as a loser as its state machinery and society at large were turning away from its original ideology of secularism, while Pakistan appeared in this imaginary to be the winner as its society, state and government was matching steps with the international trends of tolerance and diversity.

This primarily is not an intellectual debate about ideas and practices associated with the concept of secularism, liberalism, tolerance and diversity, rather this is a debate about, “who is looking good and who is not”.  This in fact is the continuation of useless debate in Pakistani and Indian media in which both sides accuse each other of carrying out worst atrocities against monitories in their respective countries.

Special reports appears regularly in Pakistan’s Urdu detailing the incidents in which Hindu extremist organizations carried out atrocities against Christians, Muslims or other religious minorities in India. The same newspapers, however, completely ignores the atrocities which Muslim extremists commit against religious minorities in Pakistan. And it is true about Indian media. This is in fact not a debate but a point-scoring match between Pakistani and Indian media in which the footprints of respective state machineries are quite visible.

Secularism or religious tolerance for that matter are very serious matter of political nature debate about which cannot be left in the hands of media managers or politically biased journalists in whose perceptions state is the highest reality, so much so that no political issue should escape from the myopic lens of the state machinery. State defines their whole political being and everything–whether it is religion, politics, art or literature—has to be defined in the light of the rules and principles laid down by those wielding power at that particular moment of time.

And Pakistani state, now-a-days, lives by the public imaginary created by the propaganda, its different organs and institutions carry out on day-to-day basis. This existing public imaginary is product of propaganda aimed at showing Pakistani state as modern and progressive entity that treats its citizen—no matter what their religion is—with benevolence.

The mainstream media in Pakistan, just like mainstream media in every other country, started playing second fiddle to what the state machinery wanted to be said about itself on the day of Kartarpur Corridor opening. It’s true that the mainstream media usually acts in the same manner throughout the world. But in functioning democracies, they have unconventional media, which presents a critical view of the claims made by state authorities, especially when they are uttering such blatant lies about themselves.

The truth of the matter is that the past practices, laws and norms under which Pakistani state functions clearly indicate that the state is not a secular one, it is not modern and it is not at all liberal and tolerant.

To claim that Kartarpur corridor represents the openness and tolerance of Pakistani state is to claim that tolerance and openness is only reserved for those coming from outside Pakistan as minorities within Pakistan are living in the same dark era of discriminatory laws and repressive measures of the state and social and religious discrimination.

According to the government of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), there were 6,146 Sikhs registered in Pakistan in 2012. It increased to 50,000 Sikhs in year 2016. So surely Kartarpur corridor is not about Pakistani religious minorities, it’s about citizens of a foreign neighboring country, who happen to be a minority in their country of origin. In Pakistan, it is the same story of destroyed mosques (of minorities) and attack on churches.

If we go by the logic of present ruling party that everything depends on leader than the professed bigot, Imran Khan is a very poor choice for a leader of a state, which wants to present its image as a liberal and tolerant entity at the world stage. Many people vividly recall Imran Khan’s press conference in which he vowed to join band of religious fanatics led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi at Faizabad in 2017. Only two days back one of his ministers was seen cursing a religious minority on national television and was claiming that this curse was coming directly from the PM himself. This type of behavior by powerful people on national television screen doesn’t go unnoticed and have implications for society at large. Only a day will pass when we will see an overzealous supporter inflicting a material damage on the community that has been cursed by ruling party leader on national screen. This is a new normal in Pakistan.

Secularism, liberalism or modernity are not simply about treating religious minorities with softness or making a public imaginary about your newfound attitude. It is primarily about changing your basic understanding about basis of political community in the country—you cannot give primacy to any one religion or adherents of any one religion, you cannot treat any sacred text or scriptures as public law and most importantly in case of Pakistan you cannot treat any religious community in a discriminatory manner just because they believe in something or don’t believe in something.

Being secular means that you will treat everyone living within the territory of the state as citizen—which means he or she will be allowed complete liberty to participate fully in the decision making processes and government formation processes of the state. You cannot deny any person or a group full participation in political community just on the basis of their beliefs.

Secularism will not at all mean that you will treat a religious minority of a neighboring country—as Sikhs are a religious minority in India – with politeness and softness and continue to deal with your own religious minorities on the basis of discriminatory laws and harsh social and religious biases. Showcasing Kartarpur Corridor as an example of Pakistani state’s newfound love for tolerance and liberalism may appear as a public relations coup to those sitting in the corridors of our foreign ministry, but this will hardly make Pakistan a tolerant and liberal society in true sense of the word.

Historians of Pakistan’s political history generally believe that Jinnah’s original plan for Pakistan included form of secularism in the sense that a theorist of this “Ism” such as Charles Taylor means it. In modern political discourse around the world “It is generally agreed that modern democracies have to be “secular”. Sidestepping the debate about what exactly the founding fathers of Pakistan conceived to be the destiny of the country, there is little space available to Pakistan, as a nation-state to deviate from generally agreed principles of governing a multi-religious society, in the modern international system, which Charles Taylor defines as following, a) Everyone can freely exercise his religion, b) every religion—whether majority or the minority—is considered on equal footing in the public sphere: c) all spiritual families must be heard”.

At the constitutional level Pakistan glaringly deviated from this system in 1974 when the country’s parliament declared the Ahmadi community non-Muslim and also declared some of the religious practices of this community to be cognizable offense under Pakistan Penal Code. In this way, Parliament as a supreme law making body relegated members of a religious community to the status of second-class citizenship.

“The parliament by separating Ahmadiyat from the main body of Islam, by implication, defined it as a separate religion and at the same time declared it to be of secondary status, as opposed to Islam which has been declared as a state religion under 1973 constitution.”

Although at the time of passage of 2nd amendment the parliament heard the representatives of Ahmadiya community on the question of declaring the community non-Muslim, there exists no mechanism to hear Ahmadi community on permanent basis in Pakistan’s officialdom. Whereas the third condition under Charles Taylor’s concept of secularism envisages a permanent arrangement or mechanism to hear religious communities.

Although secularism is a political value, it is much abhorred term in Pakistan’s national political discourse. There is little doubt that Pakistan’s modernist bureaucracy and its diplomatic representatives abroad sell Pakistan as a country, which adheres to these principles of secularism in its public policy making processes.

The most worrying aspect of the situation is the fact that Pakistan is now ostensibly being led by a person who has acted as a bigot in his public speeches during his tenure as opposition leader. Prime Minister Khan has been engaging in rhetoric, which can be harmful for the security and safety of religious minorities.


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