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Reality begins to dawn

AFTER 10 years of facing an existentialist threat from terrorism inflicted by extremist groups, Pakistan has finally woken up to the seriousness of the situation.

An indication of this came the other day when the cabinet defence committee decided that there was a “need to clearly identify the threat posed by terrorism including the underlying factors such as ideological, motivational, funding, weapon supply, training and organisational support for terrorist groups and those abetting the terrorists”.

At this juncture, this seems a difficult task; nevertheless, one admires the statement as a meaningful one since the gathering included all heads of the military establishment. Maybe, the light of reality is now beginning to dawn.

Clearly, the challenge is huge. The status of minorities and the existence of pluralism in an Islamic state remain insurmountable barriers thwarting any move towards modernity unless the Saudi king helps out by favouring the use of ijtihad and ijma.

In his recent analysis, one of Pakistan’s most astute foreign secretaries in recent years, Riaz Mohammad Khan, in his book Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity identifies the causal relationship between the mediaeval version of Islam followed in Pakistan and its attendant consequences. He thinks that had Pakistan travelled on the path it had adopted in 1960, it could have become an exemplary Muslim nation like the Turkey of today. However, this is still possible if a concerted effort is made.

Pakistan’s tragedy is that the narrative of modernity is viewed with hostility by the religious fraternity; in fact we have allowed the creation of separate minds that have different presumptions and attitudes. Most spurn modernity as if it was a devious philosophy of the West aimed at subjugating the Islamic world. The second suspicion of those harbouring this mentality is that modernity is America’s hegemonic tool. Both these critiques are challenged by the elite. As a result, the state is fragmenting rapidly.

Whatever the criticism of the West on the grounds of global politics or great-power strategy, modernisation is not the West’s property; it is a way of thinking. Islam has as much claim to modernity as the West’s claim in the Middle Ages to the medical knowledge provided by Muslim scholars like Abd Allah ibn Sina or Avicenna.

Forty of his medical treatises were taught in universities in Europe and he was adopted as the father of medical knowledge by a Christian Europe that was in the grip of religious rancour against Islam in the aftermath of the Crusades. Yet, Europe accepted his teachings since as modernists they separated knowledge from religion.

We, on the contrary, have developed a faulty logic that denies the value of knowledge emanating from Hindu, Jewish or Christian sources as being threatening to Islam; this is ridiculous and the very anti-thesis of a modernist mind generated more by paranoia than empirical reasoning.

Clearly, if we want to move Pakistan away from ignorance and bigotry, then a counter-extremism policy must focus on creating a new narrative and vision for Pakistan. It will not be an easy task. The vision must incorporate our history and culture. It must also include global values and respect for others. In order to grow and develop, we need to reform our educational system, and create a trained pool of skilled youth ready to undertake employment. If these attributes are missing then the shift to modernism will be futile.

A transformative vision could be Pakistan becoming “a progressive and a cosmopolitan state that believes in and practises principles of peace, love and brotherhood in its internal and external policies. It will be a society where diversity is respected and where differences of opinion are expressed within a democratic framework functioning under the rule of law and where equity is provided in state policies.”

However, to contemplate such a reconstruction of Pakistan requires major adjustments in the way that our key institutions, particularly the army and the religious political parties, think. Those who have benefited from the previous dispensation will need to be transformed; that will not be easy.

Pakistan may be facing immense difficulties, but its existence is not threatened by India, the Jews or the Christians; its greatest detractors are its own guardians — both civil and military.

Riaz Khan narrates how we took lightly the initial onslaughts by the religious parties when they rioted in Lahore in 1953 demanding that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims. Later, we kept quiet when Gen Zia introduced the Nizam-i-Mustafa as a political device to win the support of religious parties against the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.

Gen Zia changed the Pakistani mindset by moving it away from rationality and modernity through these reforms, without understanding what the result of this ill-advised social experimentation would mean for Pakistanis. The two main planks of his intervention were the Hudood Ordinances and the Toheen-i-Risalat (insulting prophethood), blasphemy laws. These measures targeted the Ahmadis and other minorities; simultaneously he increased state patronage for clerics for the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Gen Zia’s changes introduced Islamic radicalism as a state narrative. He was assisted in his design by the religious parties, as they were the main beneficiaries of his largesse and that of Saudi Arabia and UAE in the 1980s that was linked to Salafism. It fuelled extremism and embedded it in Pakistan’s security paradigm that began to see itself as a protector of global Islam.

Apparently, the task before the defence committee though difficult, is clear. They need to correct the state narrative, make peace with India, repeal regressive laws and instil economic growth. But they also need Saudi assistance for legitimising modernity through ijtihad.

13 thoughts on “Reality begins to dawn”

  1. Thanks for the article, which is as usual articulate.
    Although correct, I find no value addition in criticising Zia. Yes he was misguided and bigoted. But what were/have been the liberal elements in our society doing all the time? Zia was only one in the string of Bonapartism hodling sway over this country. And we know Bonapartism thrives on opportunism, and Zia did exactly that – I do not agree with his being an ideologue, that’s like glorifying him beyond what he was capable of.
    Still never late than never. Zia is not there, and enlightened ‘democracy’ is there, so why dont the liberals come out? As for the ‘democrats’ they are tied to the apron strings of the same source that Zia, and later Musharraf were tied to. Some work is being done by media, and through media (like yourself) but the civil society is very much absent from the scene. What I am saying is that we should be forward looking. Time for mobilisation. I again say, the next big opportunity is the next election to use it as a game changer. The time is clearly very short and the count down has begun.
    Recently, in Fahd Hussain’s show on the TV, they focused on NA something, Abid Sher Ali’s halqa in Faislabad. One of the ideas pre-election is to do some data collection on various halqas to find out some variables like (a) whether there is a dynastical voting pattern: the electorate voting for a father,then his son, and maybe grandson now, (b) find the returned candidate’s winning pattern, e.g. strong ‘biraderi’/kinship/ethnic/ethnolinguistic vote, or maybe the candidate’s general power and influence (wealth and power as a determining factor), (c) party of the candidate, (d) whether the candidate was able to deluiver on election promises like development schemes, (e) candidate’s profile on national issues including loadshedding, law and order, dearness, etc.
    What i am trying to say that this data can be used as a mirror image of a constituency’s

    voting pattern, to be showed to them whether thy are voting rightly or erratically. This can be printed in newspapers, aired in tv shows, and maybe projected by a local civil society group. I am sure this can be used as a good guidance for the otherwise illiterate, herd driven electorate with the hope that they exercise at least a modicum of discretion while voting.

    Some institution like, e.g. RIPORT can take up this assignment.
    Respectful regards

  2. Much of what you have written is true. Pakistanis blame Zia for the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Zia was in fact the face of Islam that the Muslims in Pakistan wanted. Had Pakistan possessed a robust sense of identity things would not have come to this pass.
    My opinion is that the present turmoil in Pakistan is an outcome of a deeper malaise which operates through successive military dictatorships, corrupt politicians; Zia’s Islamization etc.

    I wonder if there is any serious study on the issue among Pakistani intelligentsia.

  3. Since all the the heads of the military establishment were on the cabinet defence committee, hopefully with their hearts too yearning for change, this is the best news from Pakistan to India.
    Your article can be adopted as a vision document for ‘Pakistan 2020’ As you would agree, prejudices are by no means peculiar only to Islam and all religions suffer on that count. But the difference is that while dissection of scriptures in today’s world is possible in other religious groups, it is dogma that rules the roost in Islamic societies for reasons that are well-analyzed. You may like to know that I have identified and argued against 110 interpolations in Bhagavad-gita and published the classic without these without inviting the Hindu wrath. I am going to share the same through that is serializing it and I am sure you would enjoy the verve of the verse and the beauty of the discourse without the interpolations.

  4. “In his recent analysis, one of Pakistan�s most astute foreign secretaries in recent years, Riaz Mohammad Khan, in his book Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity identifies the causal relationship between the mediaeval version of Islam followed in Pakistan and its attendant consequences. He thinks that had Pakistan travelled on the path it had adopted in 1960, it could have become an exemplary Muslim nation like the Turkey of today. However, this is still possible if a concerted effort is made.” (Comment)Turkey since 2002 is going backwards with a controversial PM, thanks to billions of $ of saudi gifts and investments; the path Zia took. Ankara has humiliated its modernising and secular military, angered its Kurds and many nations like Israel, Iran, Syria, who can all give trouble to Ankara

  5. “Kitnay saada hai’n Mir, hooye bimar jiskay sabab
    ussi attar kay loonday say dawa laytay hai’n.”

    Truely analysed but then we are again depending on the same army that has brought Pakistan to this position !!!
    The first thing that this Nation must decide is that Army has no role in its making, progress or existence. It is only an instrument of the Govt as may be used on “need basis” . More than that it is of no value or importance to us.
    Untill that happens, no meeting or order or decision has any value.

  6. In the sixties we were termed as the West Germany of the East. We were technologically well set on a fine course. Manufaturing polymars and special steel. Maraging steel was manufactured and exported. For narrow interests President Ayub Khan was removed. Socialism system came into being. Every thing was nationalised. Fine Factories were turned into rubble and sold as scrap. The entrepreneur left the country. We lost the knowledge we had gathered. The worst hit was education. Since it was engulfed by strikes and nationalisation, teaching practically stopped. A very few student who made it was due to their own effort. Most of the students headed abroad for studies on scholarships mostly availed by the bureaucracy. Majority did not return. Those who returned were sans national ethos Hence we are where we were. Corruption, favourtism, cronyism, nepotism and almost every ill prevail; most dominating is JHOOT at every level. The nation is identified WW as such. There are a few left who took part in the creation of the country and know the cost that was paid by those who were forced out from then East Punjab. After them there will be none to tell those who now control the media the damage they are inflicting on this nation and the country. I cry every day on what has become of us by US. With current dispensation in place and all vowing to sustain it at all cost there is no light in sight.

  7. Wow, very few have so explicitly said that Pakistan’s existence is not threatened by India, the Jews or the Christians but by its own civil and military establishments. Also an explicit call to make peace with India!! That is bold. I appreciate your courage and frankness.

  8. Yes, I agree with you that Pakistan needs more modernity and modern way of thinking and doing things. And underlying all that is reason and rationality. While Classical Greece was one of original birthplaces of this kind of living and thinking – other ancient civilizations – Persian, Indian, Chinese, Sumerian – also contributed to it through their Philosophies, inventions (zero and the number system was India’s contribution which was transmitted to Europe and the world by Arabs and Persians). (Arabs also ,helped preserve much of the works of Greece.) Yes, Arabs and Persians were prolific in their contributions to scientific thought which benefitted everyone. But I wouldn’t call it “Islamic.” Similarly I wouldn’t call contributions to science by others “Hindu,” “Christian” or “Jewish.” Science is science and springs from reason and observation through human senses and is not “revealed” or inspired the way religious faith is. (Perhaps in its primitive origins, religion was inspired by a sort of reason – trying to explain how natural phenomena worked.) Unlike the scientific theories, religion is not falsifiable and testable. In a sense the two – science and religious faith – are on two separate tracks. The question to ask: Why did scientific progress stop in Muslim countries since the medieval days? And why haven’t Muslims contributed their share – as Jews have, who number just 15 million out of 7 billion today? I’ll ask my Indian friends the same question since their contributions (coming from 1.2 biliion) also pales in comparison to the Jewish contribution. Ditto for the Chinese, the Africans, the Latin Americans, the Asians! Coming back to the question of modernity that you raise: On the pages of Dawn, one encounters lots of modern thinking (like yours). So it seems Pakistan suffers not from a /lack of it but perhaps it is not dispersed widely. And the politicized education system must be blamed. And this is correctable. As for looking to the Saudi King for permission: Fuggedaboutit! His country is as authoritarian as they come and whil the Arab youth wants to overthrow their military dictators, the Saudis and the Syrians are holding fast. He and his cronies (the mullahs) are the ones behind the spread of the retrogressive and inhuman version of Islam that has led to the sad state of Islam today. All Pakistan needs are true leaders (not just those who play a part) who are patriotic in the true sense. If Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India are seen as experiments – each starting from the common gene pool but with different treatments (policy choices made the their leadership), then we can see how the three have deviated from each other. Modernity springs from reason, freedom (hence democracy and capitalism) and free flow of ideas. Thus if religion is a strong force within society, it will inhibit march to modernity. My final point to Pakistanis and Indians and all the rest of the world: Get religion out of the business of the state. Its poison! Have a great weekend!

  9. I have just read your article titled ‘Reality begins to dawn’ in today’s edition of Dawn Online edition and can I just say, it has been a pleasure to start off my day with such a heaping spoon of optimism and clarity. As a young expatriate I look up to people like you who can explain to me exactly what has led us to the situation that we are in today as a nation. Indeed, through years, teachings of Islam have been mutated and molded to fit the personal, political and psuedo-religious agendas in Pakistan. As a result – and as you rightly said in your article – a convoluted, mediaeval version of Islam is being followed in Pakistan. Pakistanis take great pride in their religious association and Islam plays a key role in the day-to-day lives of a mjority of the population. With such a key importance, I think we need to rectify all the injust demonisation of Islam that we as a nation have allowed over the years. Only when we follow the true teachings of Islam, that we can guarantee that we can be successful as individuals and as a nation. How we do this is a whole another story. I am sure you are a very busy person so I’d probably end here. Again, thanks for boosting my moral up!

  10. As usual, very well expressed and yes, it does seem that even Zardari can finally be woken up along with the establishment, including the military. In fact, Islam is probably the only religion that actually encourages transition to modernity, but that’s theology! Very nice, Sir, and thanks for sharing it.

  11. My name is Sebastian Carvalho. I was born in the City of Karachi, grew up there, had my education there, got married and lived there for many, many years. So in actual fact I am a Karachiite. Unfortunately, due to given circumstances, I migrated to Australia. Since I am so attached to the Country which is now Pakistan, I take a great deal of interest in its welfare. As such, I read all of the articles that appear in the Newspaper ” DAWN “. Many of the journalists, such as Ardershir Cowasjee, Irfan Husain, Cyril Almeida and many others write very well. And I take a keen interest in them all. But I feel an immense amount of pain to see what is presently going on. I read today, your article, ” Reality begins to dawn “. It is an excellent article. You have really hit the nail on the head by saying, ” Pakistan’s tragedy is, that the narrative of Modernity is viewed with hostility by the Religious Fraternity ” It is very much so. It is, in my thinking as well, the crux of the matter. Thanks to Mr Zia-Ul- Haq. But when you say, Reallity begins to dawn, I ask, is it really so ? Will it ever so dawn, I ask. I realize that in the article you have said many good things and amongst them the question of the need for ” Adjustments ” then the question arises who will bring about the much needed ‘ Adjustments ‘ if the very people from whom one expects the adjustments to come through, are themselves part and parcel of the evil that is going on. Because from what I can see, despite all the excellent articles that are written by the various journalists, nothing seems to make a difference, it all falls on deaf years. It is like water off a duck’s feathers. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not at criticizing any thing you’ve said. Just being tentative.

  12. Refernece the comments of Mr. Gagendra Singh dated 27th Aug. The reference in my book about Turkey relates to the observation about Turkey’s “aggressively secular” model and how it has been fortunate in its leadership that has achieved gradual moderation while esuring development and modernization that has led to the country’s emergence as the Islamic world’s strogest manufacturing economy and educational base. Mr. Gajendra Singh has expressed a contrary view that the Turkish Prime Minister is pushing the country towards backwardness and towards “the path Zia took.” The obsevation in my book (accompanied by a footnote)refers to the ascendency of the Rafah Party in the past and now the present ruling AKP, giving credit to the leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan that kept the growing influence of conservative Islamic sentiment in Turkish politics under Rafah in balance and focused on bringing the conservative rural classes into the national economic fold and exapanding the middle class. The note further mentions that Erdogan is a devout Muslim but “does not wear his religion on his sleeve.” This has been my impression gathered during a number of meetings that I happened to attend. Quite unlike many other leaders from the Muslim world steeped in the Inshallah culture, I found his conversations to be business like, without religious invocations, that reflected seriousness and inspired trust. In the book I have not tried to discuss modernity, but identified two essential attributes to describe modernity for the purposes of the book, namely: progression in the development of the human condition and tolerance of pluralism. The degree of tolerance of pluralism imbibed in the legal and political systems a society adopts and practices, according to this description, brings it closer to modernity. Ataturk’s secular paradigm had an inbuilt intolerance which is softening under the pressure of popular ethos, which is religious, it reflects Turkey’s increasingly empwered rural and lower middle classes. What I admire is the way the Turkish leadership first under Turgat Ozal and later under Erdogan have been able to manage the process of change while ensuring economic progress and wider sharing of its fruit.

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