It has been almost 66 years since the Founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, proclaimed the following words in his first address to the Assembly of Pakistan: “In due course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims – not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual – but in a political sense as citizens of one state.” It seems though that these words were destined to be written in sand, for as the years since Pakistan’s birth have worn on, stormy seas have a washed the shores threatening the sands bearing Jinnah’s message to the nascent state.
The romanticism of Jinnah’s Pakistan still lingers – but people today look longingly at a flickering flame that all had once believed would become the shining light of freedom in the newly independent country. However, Pakistan’s reality today with its stark ideological divisions that have led to a surge in sectarianism and violence is not only antithetical to what Jinnah had envisioned but also divorced from any plausible notion of a “nation state.” General Zia’s over zealous Islamisation of Pakistan in his decade long rule resulted in the entrenchment of the flawed conceptualisation of a “Muslim state.” It was the beginning of the end as it were, and it provided radicalism and intolerance an open mandate to cultivate and thrive. It is clear that General Zia’s bid for the creation of an “Islamic Republic” had been made behind the facade of a lopsided ideological slogan, which gave little thought or leeway to reconcile its own brand of Sharia with the reality of a multi-religious nation state. This single-branded ‘Sharia-ism’ that had begun with his predecessor, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had already put Pakistan in the history books by rendering a constitutional definition of who is a ‘Muslim’, was crystalised by Zia’s bespoke re-fashioning of the pre-partition blasphemy law, which now, inter alia, chants death to the blasphemer of the Holy Prophet.
Far from reinstating the glory days of Islamic civilisation and modeling the new state on fundamental Islamic principles, which by the way do not condone murder and rancor, the process of Islamisation placed Pakistan in a steady-sinking quagmire, new depths of which continue to make themselves apparent in the shape of ideological insanity that is crippling the country today. One is left to wonder – how did we get here? How did it get this bad? The rolling “Fairy Meadows” of Pakistan’s North now lie besieged by the Taliban and have been transformed into meadows of war, the country’s ancient heritage hasn’t been preserved (with sites such as Taxila dating back thousands of years to the Ghandara period lie largely untended to), aquamarine waters of the Arabian sea have been muddied and in some places are intolerably filthy, roads have broken down instead of being constructed, sugar and pulses have become inaccessible, blackouts have transported Pakistan to the dark ages, railway is dead, PIA (the national carrier) is dying, places of worship and even schools have been bombed, Christian, Shia and Ahmadi blood has flown, along with the blood of young soldiers and law enforcement personnel, petrol is akin to purchasing gold – In short, the nation inherited a beautiful country – and then destroyed it with a passion.
Thus, to say that a formidable task awaits the incoming Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is to say the least. And while on 11 May the Pakistani people in a historic vote delivered the baton to a new charge in the hope of a new chapter, there are some deeply troubling aspects to the election outcome. Not least of these is the overwhelmingly victory of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province, which has become the breeding ground for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their insidious insurgency into other parts of the country. Mr. Khan’s soft stance towards extremist elements is not new, and his willingness to appease the religious hardliners was manifest in his condoning Ahmadis (a minority Muslim sect deemed heretical by mainstream Muslims) being branded as non-Muslims on the campaign trail. His new Chief Minister for K-P Pervaiz Khattak who conceded that the PTI has “no fight with the Taliban” hails a chilling beginning for hopefuls of an intellectual transformation in K-P.
Mr. Sharif on the other hand has been promising “talks” with the Taliban. In a public statement affirming this stance on Monday, Mr. Sharif claimed that not all matters are to be resolved by guns. And to that extent, I am in agreement with the PML-N leader. Echoes of the Malakand Accord breaking down in 2009, stirring the Swat operation and the backlash from the TTP that followed are an unsettling reminder that guns indeed are not always the answer. Yet, his proposal to negotiate with the Taliban is equally unsettling. An adversary to the likes of the TTP can hardly be tempered through discourse and it begs the question what the trade offs will be in order to reach reconciliation? The Taliban would inevitably want their brand of Sharia imposed across the board in exchange for a peace agreement. What that would mean for women’s rights and even men’s (not far that the TTP would enforce the blanket requirement of keeping rather long and unruly beards) is axiomatic. History has shown that an adversary who speaks an inherently different language cannot be brought to the negotiating table. Deals cannot be struck over ideology, even more where ideologies are diametrically opposed and parties fiercely locked in their positions. Mr. Sharif must contend with what scholars in the field of negotiation have referred to as the “I Really Am Right” problem – a problem that visualises the malignant force of a single-minded, distorted and militant ideology that has been the mantra of the religious clergy.
How such a force may be reckoned through dialogue is thus somewhat incomprehensible. Logically, it translates into buying peace and security in exchange for fundamental freedoms. Even if such a result were to be possible, it should be unacceptable. The sands of time in this country have been bloodied, and murder in the name of religion aside, there has been a larger genocide of human dignity. Pakistan’s sands of crime must go up for scrutiny if our sense of human dignity is to be salvaged and restored – a journey that resonates well with the following couplet from a Hindi poem reminiscing the loss of humanity – “Mandir, masjid, Girja-ghar nay baant diya baghwaan ko – Dharti baanti, saghar baanta, mat baanto insaan ko” (i.e. Temples, mosques, cathedrals have all divided God – We divided land, we divided seas, lets not divide man). Let’s hope Jinnah’s prodigious words at the country’s inception are etched in stone before being rendered elusive by the tide.