By Rana Banerji
(Full Text of the Review exclusively on NewAgeIslam.com)
February 14, 2016
Purifying The Land Of The Pure
By Farahnaz Ispahani, HarperCollins; Rs 499
In her book, Purifying The Land Of The Pure, Farahnaz Ispahani explains the plight of minorities in Pakistan.
Though Pakistan’s founder, Muhammed Ali Jinnah had re-assured Pakistan’s minorities in his famous Aug 11, 1947 speech that they would be `free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship’; `there would be `no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another,’…and ` you may belong to any religion or caste or creed… that has nothing to do with the business of State,’ this vision remained unfulfilled. Pakistan slid down the slope of intolerance and religious extremism during the last sixty years of its existence. Ispahani’s book chronicles this descent with great diligence, even anguish, depicting how insecurities of identity, quest for an ideological State, militarism and islamization pushed Pakistan inexorably downhill.
Granddaughter of Pakistan's first ambassador to the United States, Mirza Abol Hassan Ispahani, the author, Farahanaz Ispahani was born in Karachi, and grew up in Karachi, Dhaka and London. She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, USA, majoring in political science. She is the third wife of the mercurial yet brilliant Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, whose tenure there was short-lived because of ire earned from Pakistan’s all powerful Army establishment over `the Memogate affair’ in May,2011. Farahanaz seems to share deeply the hurt caused by this shoddy treatment of her husband.
After Benazir’s assassination (Dec27, 2007), Farahnaz became Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2008, representing the Pakistan People’s Party. She was member of the Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, and Human Rights as well as Media Advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari. However, in May 2012, even as her husband eluded a warrant of arrest over Memogate, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended her National Assembly membership due to possession of dual (American & Pakistani) nationality.
At the time of Partition in 1947, almost 23% of Pakistan’s population comprised non-Muslims. Now it stands at less than 3%. In Rawalpindi, Muslims comprised 43.79% of the city’s 1, 85,042 inhabitants, alongside 33.72% Hindus and 17.32% Sikhs. Lahore had a population of 6, 71,659 of which Muslims were 64.5%, Hindus 28% and Sikhs 5%. The turmoil of communal clashes and exodus/ influx of refugees across the entire sub-continent during Partition threw all these demographic data topsy turvy. Hindus particularly seemed to face unmitigated repression and had to hide their temples in their own houses. Even in the aftermath of Partition, Ispahani recounts how a series of political decisions and mis-calculations sent `the land of the pure’ hurtling towards an `embrace of bigotry and prejudice’.
In March, 1949 Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan moved the ` Objectives Resolution’ in the Constituent Assembly, which accepted the premise that “sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to God Almighty alone” and that the State would exercise authority “within the limit prescribed by Him” – this laid the foundation of an Islamic State. Though Liaquat may have regarded it as `a political master-stroke’, as democracy in Pakistan `became intermittent, the net effect of the Objectives Resolution, according to Ispahani, was to leave `the authority of inferring the Quran and Sunna for long intervals in the hands of military dictators.’
By 1953, the resentment against Hindus was supplanted by antagonism towards Ahmediyas, also referred pejoratively as `Qadianis’ (as they hailed from Qadian, in Gurdaspur district of Punjab, assigned to India at the last minute under the Radcliffe award). Though intelligence reports were available about anticipated pogroms, these were ignored by Law and Order authorities in Punjab. Anti- Ahmediya riots broke out in Lahore, could not be effectively curbed and spread to other cities, forcing the government of the day to eventually set up a judicial enquiry commission, under Justice Munir. It held several sessions and recorded evidence in detail, submitting a voluminous report. One of its most damning findings was that `no two ulema have agreed before us as to the definition of a Muslim’. `If the constituents of each of the (ulema’s) definitions are given effect to, the grounds on which a person may be indicted for apostasy will be too numerous to count’. ` If we accept any one definition, we remain Muslims according to that Alim but kafirs according everyone else!’
Assessing the demand for removal of Foreign Minister Zafrullah Khan as Foreign Minister merely because he was an Ahmediya, the Commission observed, `this aspect of the (ulema’s) demands has directly raised a question about the position of non-Muslims in Pakistan if we are to have an Islamic Constitution’. They (non-Muslims) would be akin to that of `dhimmis’, with `no voice in the making of law, no right to administer it and no right to hold public offices’.
Ispahani observes in her book (Pg 64) that the Munir Commission findings went far beyond explaining just the riots – it `highlighted the bankruptcy of obscurantist beliefs and troubles that lay ahead for Pakistan if it continued to pursue the objective of becoming an Islamic ideological state’.
Though there was dissent in East Pakistan, the security establishment
aligned with West Pakistani Muslim League politicians. As a result, the 1956 `consensus’
in the second Constituent Assembly named Pakistan as `the Islamic Republic’ and
included the Objectives Resolution in its Preamble. Non-Muslims were barred
from becoming `Head of State’. A separate `Part 12’ was included, of ` Islamic
Provisions’. Article 198 specified no law repugnant to injunctions of Islam
could be enacted. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, who was Prime Minister briefly
under the 1956 Constitution warned against the preoccupation with `segregation
of our voters into religious communities’ – this, he felt, `would keep alive
divisive communal emotions,’ instead of fostering Pakistan’s identity `in terms
of a nation state’.
Ayub Khan’s 11-year military dictatorship followed. Islam was shrewdly used
as a crutch to justify authoritarianism, by Ayub first and by every other
dictator afterwards. Ayub’s new Constitution in 1962 or Basic Law had several
islamic provisions. Ispahani points out that `from the perspective of religious
minorities, Ayub’s self-styled benevolent authoritarianism offered little
relief against the tide of intolerance that engulfed the country’. The position
of Christians improved slightly but Hindus had no respite.
The brunt was faced in East Pakistan. Ayub felt that Muslim Bengalis `were
under excessive Hindu cultural and linguistic influence’. This anti-Hindu
prejudice and sentiment contributed to worsening of Indo-Pak relations during
this period and also abetted periodic emigration of East Bengal Hindus to
India. The proportion of Hindus in East Pakistan which stood at 20% in the 1951
Census declined to 12% in the 1961 Census.
Defeat in the 1971 war and separation of Bangladesh forced Bhutto to
initially promise a new beginning, where age-old ties of Muslims with Hindus
and Buddhists would be nurtured. His aim was to modernize Pakistan and attempt perhaps,
`a balancing act between implementing liberal ideas and appeasing Islamic
sentiment’ (Pg 99). However, for
possibly political reasons, his tenure first as President and then as Prime
Minister, under the 1973 Constitution was influenced by obscurantist tendencies
and an unconstructive harping on Islam. The proportion on non-Muslims in
Pakistan had shrunk considerably. The 1972 Census revealed that out of a total
population of 62.4 million, Hindus amounted to 8,99,000, now falling below
Christians, who numbered 9,07,861. Anti- Ahmediya violence escalated during
this phase. Ahmediyas were banned from performing Azaan through a Presidential
Ordinance in 1984.
Once Gen Zia-ul-Haq seized power through a military coup in 1977, draconian
Islamic laws were brought in- ostensibly designed to create `Nizam-e-Mustafa’, the
aim essentially was to provide underpinnings for a long stint of dictatorial
rule. Sectarian strife intensified immediately afterwards as Shias felt
unfairly targetted and persecuted under the Zakat & Ushr ordinances. Sunni
clerics started receiving heavy funding from State and foreign donors. The
Sipaha Sahaba found a strong base in Central and Southern Punjab. Anti- Shia
The Hudood and Zina ordinances were
introduced in 1979 and the Pakistan Penal Code was amended to bring in the
concept of Blasphemy under Articles 298 A, B & C. From 1987 to 2014 over
1300 people were accused of blasphemy, mostly non-Muslim religious minorities.
The vast majority of these accusations were lodged for alleged desecration of the Quran. Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of
blasphemy allegations. Over 60 people accused of blasphemy were killed before
their trials were over. Prominent figures who opposed blasphemy laws (Salman Taseer, the former
governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the
Federal Minister for Minorities) were assassinated in early months of 2011
after the controversial detention of a poor Christian villager, Aasia Bibi.
Islamisation of the educational curriculum in schools also occurred during
this period. Islamiat and Arabic were made compulsory subjects. Pakistani
textbooks subsequently were found to contain substantial distortions of
history, encouraging ` insensitivity to existing religious diversity,
incitement to religious militancy and violence’. (Pg 131). Pejorative
narratives of Hindu worship in temples and anti-India feelings were clubbed
Ispahani emphasises that `religious minorities in Pakistan have continued
to suffer under the discriminatory legal order left behind by Zia’ and `at the
hands of jihadist groups, which were nurtured by the Pakistan military’. (Pg
In subsequent chapters, Ispahani narrates the unfortunate fate of
Pakistan’s minorities under `the era of global jihad’, when militancy, terrorism
and sectarianism continued to prosper under the State’s blind or even
benevolent eye. The Hazara pogroms in Baluchistan after 2008 are attributed by
Ispahani to `Pakistan’s national security policies’, as `Sunni extremists
involved (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) were seen as the military’s allies in its campaign
against Baloch nationalist insurgents’- `individuals in the security services
chose to let militants have their way instead of protecting Shias’, Ispahani
holds,`in return for intelligence on Baloch separatists’ (Pgs 224-225).
For the uninitiated, Ispahani’s riveting account of the rise of religious
intolerance in Pakistan makes for stirring reading, making this an extremely
lucid and perceptive study of the fate which has befallen Pakistan’s hapless
minorities – the miniscule Hindus left in Sindh and pockets elsewhere, the
Christians in the sweeper community of Karachi and marginally more prosperous
artisans in Lahore. In this backdrop, whenever a Sikh enlists in Pakistan
Army’s Officer cadre or a Christian earns promotion to higher ranks; it is
certainly a big news breakthrough. Only, such exceptions are very rare.
All in all, Ispahani’s book is a brave narrative, described aptly by Asma Jahangir, well-known human rights activist, as` an amazing account of the manner in which Pakistan’s laws were instrumental in perpetuating injustice and encouraging brute force by religious militants with impunity’. This makes the work indispensable reading for all serious Pakistan watchers.
Rana Banerji is a Pakistan expert.
A short version of this article appeared first in The Mail Today, New Delhi.