By Imran Kureshi
February 18, 2015
At last, with genuine dents being made in terrorism potential by army action, on our part we must be patient and realise that this is still going to take a long time. Extreme poverty in the southern Seraiki belt and tribal areas continues to provide recruits for organisations of religious violence.
On the other hand, in Punjab and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkwa, the shrinking mainstream (which now basically consists of the Punjabi urban middle to upper class with its influence into the rural areas and fragmented like-minded elements in the Seraiki belt and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) is facing a grave identity crisis. The level of their failures — economic, security and terrorism oriented — and obvious mistakes have become too high to be conscionable even by themselves. In their disillusionment they are trying to bolster Nawaz on one side and are running after ‘rainmakers’ like Imran Khan on the other. The cliché infested media that caters only to the mainstream and has become the primary tool of a right wing, authoritarian discourse, keeps up a façade to cover up the complete mental bankruptcy of the mainstream. Another task of the ‘free’ media is to give visibility only to this mainstream. In this pathetic manner this mainstream still tries to sweep the criminal and utterly stupid way it has treated the provinces under the carpet.
Consequently, in reaction to what is perceived as hostile circumstances leading to unequivocal failure, many younger people and those in early middle age are trying to adopt a steadfast, ‘this is what is right’ panacea of stricter doctrinaire Islamic values and to make a greater outward show of their belief. On one hand, we have more milaads, darses, tableeghi jamaats (religious gatherings) and other religious functions. On the other hand, we now often see upper middle-class families flaunting Saudian appurtenances with religious associations. These and several other signs around us are indicative of the influence of increased international Muslim consciousness and activity over the world and, also, huge sums are being poured in from outside sources to promote religion. Though these funds no doubt are donated with virtuous intentions, from some sources they are directed towards seditious and sometimes violent purposes or utilised as such (also there are funds from hostile sensitive agencies that are completely ill-intentioned). This amorphous international Muslim quasi-movement is a reaction to Israeli aggression and supposedly perceived US/Israeli/western imperialism’s efforts against the religion, and also fears of western cultural hegemony.
Furthermore, over the years now, many Muslim immigrants have amassed vast fortunes and now there are greater resources that can be channelled by individuals and institutions towards religion. Apart from all else, there is Saudi Arabian/Middle Eastern/Iranian financing. In Pakistan, this is developing a sort of parallel strata in the mainstream as its normal discourse (Islamic Republic, the constitution preferably with Islamic amendments, legislative assemblies, democracy, etc.) becomes overall more meaningless in a hybrid situation, especially in view of all the regretted failures. Fortunately, with the artificial environment of the mainstream, sloganeering has an unlimited shelf life and thus this discourse can last for as long as the mainstream can keep mustering itself; the PPP, ANP and MQM supports this facade and, most important, the army does not interfere.
Now, in this essay, I do not intend to hold up a more secular system of government against a religious one; I just want to make two points. First, it is clear that our national, religious discourse has failed and become counterproductive. Therefore, it needs rethinking, quickly. I feel we should look more towards Turkey as a religious state model. First, the current government is giving great emphasis to religion (there is nothing wrong with that as long as intolerance is not encouraged). Secondly, the first clause of Erdogan’s constitution is “Turkey is a secular state.” Thereafter the minorities are guaranteed all rights of security and even spreading their religion. Furthermore, there are no blasphemy and hadood laws or anything like articles 62 A and 63 A of our Constitution. Egalitarianism and haqooqul ibad (rights of man) are ensured. If we can strive towards the miraculous progress Turkey has made over the last 10 years it will be a dream come true for our lebensraum. The second point is that this dream can be achieved! Already it is reported that considerable work has been done.
We have huge gas reserves (also copper and gold deposits) in Balochistan, foreign exploration companies say that Sindh is practically floating on oil and there is oil in northern Punjab also. These are known reserves. However, our relations with our fellow provincial countrymen have deteriorated so much and become so tenuous (if indeed in some cases there is still any sort of relationship at all), we have not been able to avail ourselves of these benefits that God has given us and that are lying under our feet. For instance, Kohlu gas field (estimated to be larger than Sui) has been pending since before 2007. So, it is very, very important that apart from taking whatever executive decisions we have to, we must at all costs evolve a new, less insular, more tolerant and inclusive national discourse, institute some confidence building measures and, most important, change our attitude towards the provinces. The Baloch, Brauhis, Sindhis, Gilgitis, Kashmiris, Hazaras and Mohajirs are all our brothers and fellow countrymen. They have every right to take advantage of whatever natural resources lie in their territory and the government should deal fairly with them. There is no harm in accepting the short end of the stick for a change as long as our beloved country and we become more prosperous. The only way forward is hand in hand.
Imran Kureshi is a freelance columnist