About Time Pakistan Separated Religion And Politics
To retain a certain ‘version’ of Islam has been the prime objective of the Pakistan state, more as a weakness rather than a matter of strength. Pakistan was born in midst of chaos and so much unfinished business that it never has been able to recoil itself and settle the tension between being both a religious state and a modern-nation state. The problem is not that the two are some opposite ideologies and cannot co-exist. On the contrary, during the cold war period the two seemingly contradicting perspectives heavily complemented each other in their pursuits against Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Its implications for the people of Pakistan can be estimated from the fact that the country was ruled almost for a decade by an extremist despotic military dictator Zia ul Haq.
However, the unhappy relationship between politics and religion remains an indispensable challenge for a modern Pakistan. This might provoke some of the PTI supporters to compare Imran Khan with Quaid-e-Azam; as some of the photos of the prime minister wearing Quaid-hat suggest. Nonetheless, the PTI government’s programme of creating Riyast-e-Medina seems to be an unconscious attempt to address this unhappy relationship. The narrative of Riyasat-e-Madina in some sense appears to be a quick fix with a secular approach to integrate all different versions of Islam under one banner. And with it, for its own reasons the Shia ‘version’ of Islam being a minority is gaining a little more than expected space both inside the state apparatus and outside in public sphere. Therefore it is important to see the recent outburst of TLP workers across the country as a reaction to the growing visibility and validation of Shiaism-(to its own reference) in Pakistan.
Today as the world is struggling to defeat Coronavirus pandemic and America attempts to hit some peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan having special assistance from Pakistan to perform mediating role between the two, it is clear that Pakistan is under no external pressure to adopt, protect and propagate a certain kind of Islamic ideology. In such a case, I argue that the majority version (Barelvi) of Islam has to come on the top by force even if it manifests itself in the leadership of Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
The state of Pakistan, because of its unresolved Islamic character, feels compelled to accommodate such voices on unwritten implicitly agreed upon exceptions.
What I am trying to say is that state ideology broadly functions on two discrete levels: at one point it has to enact written public law that treats everyone equally and fairly (which constitutes the foundation of modern state) while on a higher level yet not publicly the state permits transgressions to public law. This difference between talk and action serves the true spirit of holding the nation together. There are a lot of examples which can be given to show such transgression in the public sphere. The recent wave of blasphemy accusations particular on Shia individuals by TLP workers is one of them.
The complexity of statecraft in Pakistan to which I have referred in the opening paragraph can be best understood by noting that on modern lines too Pakistan state’s ideology has been truly inspiring. Here the transgression in compliance to the secret unsaid rule had been the attainment of nuclear arms. Since India was already working on its nuclear project, and above all, after the fall of Dhaka in 1971 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto found no other way to reignite the lost prestige of Pakistan as a separate and distinct nation than to stand on equal ground with India on modern lines of statecraft. It can be debated whether holding nuclear weapons makes a country modern or not but it involves modern knowledge and techniques. Thus in 1988 Pakistan became the first and only modern Muslim nation state with an atomic bomb. The possession of nuclear weapons was celebrated across the country as a national victory. The immediate result of it was experienced as a refreshed sense of cohesion among the masses but over the period of time it has lost its overtly unifying function. For the general public, it has now become a liability to safeguard against all economic and political odds.
What I mean to say is that there is a dire need to develop consensus on the relationship between religion and politics and to draw a line across which one cannot be used as a replacement for the other.