Revive Jinnah’s vision of secular Pakistan to fight extremist forces….

Hussain Saqib

When Constantinople fell to Turks in 1453, the West decided to separate religion from the business of the state. With this decision, the West which was living in the Dark Ages suddenly embarked on the path of inventions and discoveries heretofore blocked through religious decrees. And brought the world to the wonders of the 21st century. This was only possible after the clergy was denied its divine right to interfere in every matter possible. This is when the concept of secularism got its currency.  Unlike popular perception in Pakistan and other orthodox societies, secularism is not synonymous with atheism;  this concept only demands that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs. In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief.

This exactly was the vision of Father of the Nation which he presented to the framers of Pakistan’s constitution when he addressed the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. Sadly, secularism has become a dangerous, deadly label in Pakistan as religious extremists slowly strengthen their stranglehold on the country and put its stability at risk. As long as the ideals of the founding fathers remained under practice, the country was better off but now as the clergy, mostly consisting of illiterate as far as contemporary disciplines are concerned, started gaining control of the minds of people, being liberal and secular has become synonymous with infidelity. Those professing secular ideas will very soon become liable for capital punishment. Punjab governor Salman Taseer was a liberal, secular Muslim who, last week, was shot dead by his own bodyguard for opposing a blasphemy law that many human rights activists say is often used to discriminate against religious minorities.

According to DAWN, Taseer’s death shocked many in Pakistan and abroad, but perhaps the widespread lionization of his assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was more worrying for the future of the country. The governor’s slaying, analysts say, will mean the further silencing of liberal and moderate voices, giving religious parties and their allied militants even more veto power over politics in Pakistan.

Pakistani society has drifted toward religious militancy over the last 20-25 years,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political analyst. “Anti-American sentiment is very strong, because that’s the mind-set they’ve been brought up with.”

Rizvi predicts that Pakistan will have a rough decade ahead as the generation born in the 1980s — raised on extremist ideology taught in schools and repeated on television and in the mosques — comes to power. Many fear Taseer will be the first of many to be slain for speaking out against extremism: former information minister Sherry Rehman, who introduced the bill to change the blasphemy law, has gone into hiding and the country’s interior minister has suggested she leave the country.

Political stability in Pakistan is seen as key to the United States’ war against Taliban militants in Afghanistan. Islamabad’s willingness to take on militants on its own soil is also a key security interest of the United States, given the Times Square bombing and other plots that have Pakistani connections. Washington has been counting on Pakistan’s “silent majority” for years in its fight against extremism and Taliban militancy allegedly emanating from Pakistan’s tribal areas.

But the celebration of the assassin Qadri has undermined the supposed influence of these moderates, and also shattered the vision liberals had of their country as a tolerant homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, but where others can worship freely. “

That implies that any national discussion, whether on tax reform or prosecuting the war on terrorism, can be framed in religious — and thus sacred — terms.

According to the report, the government’s inability to provide basic services, from education, to reliable electricity, to improving the economy has made it deeply unpopular. Hard-line clerics often exploit anger at the government among the largely poor and illiterate population to further their harsh, unforgiving brand of Islam. The government’s unpopularity often makes it rely on extreme elements to stay in power, and to pander to their politics. After Taseer came out against the Punjabi Taliban and opposed the blasphemy law, the leadership of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party abandoned him publicly. Calls for his death rang from mosques for months. The government did nothing to stop it.

The government has backed off from its campaign to change the blasphemy law and the Pakistan People’s Party tried to blame shadowy political conspiracies for Taseer’s murder rather than ascribe a religious motive. Some Pakistanis say things would be better under a truly democratic system, but others think it is less about the system of government and more about basic competency.