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State Dominates Political Imagination Of Ideological Groups In Pakistan

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Umer Farooq writes that political activity of the Right wing in Pakistan is geared towards two aims: either to capture the state or the influence the policies of the state. Any political or social, intellectual activity of life, independent of the state or independent of influencing the policies of the state, is something, groups of the right never contemplate.

In Pakistan, political ideologies, across the spectrum, revolve around the state—capturing the state or getting hold over state machinery is considered the bedrock of political ideologies of groups across the ideological spectrum. Every political ideology is based on the premise that it is simply the capture of state machinery that will essentially ensure the change in society and governance, which the political group representing the ideology is promising to the people.

Whether it is ideology of the left or ideology of the right, the central political objective remains the same: to capture the state to reform the society and to reform the government structures. Therefore, these ideological groups or the political ideologies they represent don’t see any political activity beyond their attempt or endeavors to capture the state or the influence the policies of the state.

Groups on the right consider that they have a historical claim on the state as this was the state, which was founded on the slogan of forming a polity based on Islamic principles—or letting the Muslims of sub-continent lead their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam. So the Islamists or the rightists consider Pakistani state to be their own as the question about its nature and ideology is a settled one—it’s a question that was settled at the birth of the state in August 1947.

They think there is no point in further debating the nature and ideology of this state as Islam, according to them, provides all answers to the complex political problems faced by Pakistani nation in the present age.

From this all, one thing is clear, the Islamists or the Rightists don’t see any life beyond the state. Their political activity is geared towards two aims: either to capture the state or the influence the policies of the state. Any political or social, intellectual activity of life, independent of the state or independent of influencing the policies of the state, is something, groups of the right never contemplate.

Let me give you an example. In the past ten years, the only national level Fatwas issued by groups of religious scholars were related to suicide bombing and they were issued at the instigation of one or other part of the state machinery. State is central to the world of their conceptual existence that such a national level activity by religious groups is never witnessed independent of the state machinery.

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Pakistani Islamist have inherited a religious and political tradition from the past since Mughal ruled sub-continent that made the state the dominant players in the social, intellectual and political life of the society.  The precursors of present day Islamists, the religious scholars associated with Mughal Courts clearly relied on the state power for their continued relevance in the political life of the empire.

After the downfall of Mughals, the Muslim Religious scholars did make attempts to draw the rulers of the neighboring states to intervening in India to capture the state as was evident by the case of Shah Wali-ullah inviting Afghan rulers to sub-continent. There are examples of Muslim holy men making an attempt to carve out a separate intellectual existence for themselves, independent of the British state, as is evident from the example of Islamic scholars establishing the Dura-ul-Uloom Deoband. But it was exception and no the rule as religious scholars in large number went into service of British Empire.

The literature Islamists produced after Pakistan came into being was clearly aimed at galvanizing the believers into political activity directed towards capturing the state or influencing the policies of the state. It would be pertinent to mention here that historically, religious-intellectual activities in Islamic society had remained the forte of those groups, which existed independent of the state. For instance American scholar Wael Hallaq, an eminent historian of Islamic law, quotes from original sources of Islamic history to bring home the point that Muftis in Islamic lands were not part of State structure in the Muslim society. Therefore they had an independent existence and were indulging in an intellectual activity that set them apart from the state machinery of the time.

At present, in Pakistani society, the religious scholars or religious leaders are mostly visible only as part of activity that primarily is aimed at either influencing the policies of the state or are part of the attempt to capture the state machinery at the end of a political struggle or as a result of violent activity.

The groups on the left have a very different history: They have always opposed rulers of Pakistani state at any given time, at least apparently as they were ideologically alien to the ideological context of Pakistani state—the left was pro-Soviet Union where Pakistani state signed a defense pact with Washington. Pakistani state was moving towards free market as the groups of the left demanded state ownership of the means of production. Pakistani state was inclined towards religion as public policy, where left was demanding a secular polity. Unlike the religious right, Pakistan left was never at friendly terms with Pakistani state right from the very start.

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However, Pakistan left or part of Pakistani left made an attempt to capture the state as early as 1951 when a military coup by junior officers in Pakistani military was prevented by large-scale arrests of those officers and left oriented intellectuals. State remained central in the political imagination of Pakistani left oriented intellectuals, despite the fact that, intellectually and ideologically, they treated the state as an alien force.

For instance, many left oriented intellectuals including Faiz Ahmed Faiz joined the government of Zulifikar Ali Bhutto after he came to power in 1971. Pakistani left is not represented any significantly in Pakistan’s political arena to be judged positively or negatively on the count of whether state dominates their political imagination in any significant way. However, the fact that small left oriented groups have made Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad—these three cities being central to Pakistani state’s power—the center of their political activity speaks volumes about their aims and objective and priorities.

The point I want to make is this: in Pakistan no significant group is making any attempt to define its politics away from the shadow of the state or state machinery. It is all about capturing the state or trying to influence the policies of the state that these groups, no matter whether they belong to the left or right, have been gearing at.

None of these groups have ever tried to ascertain that simply capturing this state machinery will change nothing in the society or style of governance. All the ideological groups in Pakistani society talk about bringing about a positive change in the society and style of governance. None of these groups realise that capturing the state is a process in which state machinery controls these groups more than these groups influence or control the policies of the state.

In this process, it is not these groups, which dominate the policy making process, it is the state machinery which calls the shots.

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