By Syed Kamran Hashmi
April 10, 2015
Although Saudi Arabia does not pose a direct threat to the integrity of Pakistan, in many ways we stand so close to be declared as a failed state because of the Kingdom’s ruthless agenda to transform our society into an Arab one and turn its accommodative attitude towards religion upside down. The rigid Islamic doctrine, as implemented (not practiced) by the Saudi royals, may suit their culture and may very well represent their basic understanding of religion but in the subcontinent it harms the interests of Muslims, threatening their peaceful coexistence with the people of other faiths.
For centuries, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians have lived together, Muslims being a minority in this region. Had we tried to abide by the rules of Saudis here, our own survival would have been endangered. Thus, it was in our interest to get along with everyone else, accept inter-religious differences and respect each other’s personal choices. So ingrained is this attitude in our daily lives that we still find Sunnis who attend Ashura rallies during Muharram, Hindus who visit the shrines of Sufi saints, Muslims who celebrate Holi with their Hindu counterparts and Christians who stitch new clothes on Eid after Ramzan.
In Pakistan today, where society is overwhelmingly Muslim, Salafi ideology continues to split the nation into smaller fragments creating animosity between Shias and Sunnis, Sunnis and Wahhabis and Sunnis (Deobandis) and Sunnis (Beralvis). True, we cannot solely blame the Saudis for this mess. Pakistan’s insatiable appetite for free dollars and its establishment’s unreal foreign policy objectives have contributed as much, if not more, in throwing ourselves in front of this demon of religious extremism, a devil with multiple heads.
And terrorism, which the whole world, including the Kingdom, is trying to wipe out, represents only one of those heads. However, more dangerous than terrorism is the radical ideology itself, a system of belief that has penetrated the educated middle class, which now thinks that calling Muslims belonging to other sects Kafirs (infidels) or killing minorities under certain circumstances is justified and may even be warranted, a trend if not quickly reversed can be detrimental for our existence.
Knowing all this, I am opposed to consider a threat to Saudi Arabia from Iran or Yemen as “a threat to Pakistan”. Why should we look for trouble when we have so many of our own? So far, we have not even caught our own ‘arch-terrorist,’ Mullah Fazlullah, who hides in our backyard and is free to plan and launch more attacks. Should we compromise on his search jeopardising the lives of our children to protect someone else’s by sending troops to the Arabian peninsula? No way. Furthermore, whether the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is described in sectarian terms or explained as a power struggle between the various tribes, it will always be coated with a religious colour. Would it not stir up sectarianism in Pakistan? Moreover, no matter what we do to bring ‘peace’, we will be considered mercenaries and degraded as the army of an over populated, poor country that sends its troops in harm’s way to protect the wealth of its rich financier. Do we not already enjoy that reputation? It makes me think it is even more important this time to do just the opposite and reclaim our autonomy.
Let me put it another way: what would happen in Pakistan if Egypt waged a war against Libya? Nothing, even though both of them are Muslim countries. What would happen if a conflict erupted between Sudan and Chad? Again, my response would be the same. Sure, we do not want them to clash but in no way should we help or offer support to either one of them. We must stay away, as we would, from areas of trouble as much as we can and for as long as we can.
Of course, neither one of them — Egypt, Libya, Chad or Sudan — provides financial assistance to Pakistan and none of them can be considered as sacred as the Kingdom. Nonetheless, the security of the holy places, Mecca and Medina, is the combined responsibility of all Muslims, not only ours, and it must be shared by everyone. We cannot stand alone as the saviour of Islam among all other countries. Why? The above statement is based on a false premise. Do you think Islam needs a saviour? We do not have the means or the expertise to perform this job even if we want to. Lastly, we cannot afford it — end of discussion.
Regarding financial assistance, I believe we have to first learn the universal lesson of there being no free lunch. So, we must focus on securing financial independence, a hard rock to climb for a country that is always desperate for money. And second, there is no dollar amount that can justify the Pakistan army’s soldiers killing other Muslims or getting killed by them in a regional conflict that is not ours to begin with. What if a Shia officer does not want to hit a Yemeni or get involved in this dispute? Rules aside, what will be the moral or religious ground to fire at him? Are we going to declare our military a Sunni army alone?
I can understand that the current administration, led by Mian Nawaz Sharif, cherishes the House of Saud. We all know why, do we not? I can also understand that army generals also keep close contact with the royals. We know their reasons as well. Ordinary Pakistani people, too, look up to their Arab brothers with reverence. However, securing their borders is their responsibility and theirs alone. For us, it should not matter who is ruling the Arabian Peninsula. Was Mecca less important for us when Hijaz fell from the control of the Ottoman Empire? No. Did it lose its importance when the current rulers shot the previous ones dead?
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.