By Zulfiquar Rao
November 8, 2018
It was second time within the last one year that Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party (TLP) brought the government and the state of Pakistan to their knees through sheer street power, violence, and sectarian vitriol. Last year its sit-in was about a rumoured change in the election nomination form, which TLP took it as a blasphemous act. The then government had to fire the main drafter of the legislative act and had to sign an embarrassing agreement with TLP before it ended the month-long sit-ins.
This year, although the TLP sit-in didn’t last long, it was worse. The sit-in was to protest the Supreme Court’s verdict to acquit a Christian woman Asia Bibi of the blasphemy charges. The hapless woman had already spent around nine years in prison. The leadership of TLP spared virtually nothing to incite even the orderlies of those judges who had acquitted Asia to murder them. In an unprecedentedly treasonous act, they also appealed for a mutiny in the military.
No sooner than the TLP sit-in, violence and the vitriol against state institution went berserk, the same evening Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the TLP leaders and protesters of stern action against them in his speech to the nation. Unfortunately, as it has virtually become a characteristic of the PTI and Imran Khan, all the bravado of his speech suffered a U-turn as next day his government sheepishly agreed to the demands of the TLP, which included not letting Asia Bibi fly out of Pakistan.
Here an important question arises: why does the state of Pakistan hadto so often cow down to the whims of Islamic clerics and their political parties?Part of a possible answer may lie in the history of Pakistan’s independence movement and part of it in the political history of Pakistan.
That Jinnah pitched the case of Indian Muslims with British in their own idiom of democracy, right of self-determination, and that Indian Muslims had the characteristics of a nation than a mere minority community—doesn’t blur the fact that Muslim masses conceived the idea of a separate homeland not in those modern and sophisticated notions but only in plain and simple religious imagery. To think that Jinnah was not aware of this dichotomy in articulation of the idea and the vision of Pakistan between Muslim League’s leadership and the Muslim masses would be naiveté if not outright ignorance.
Jinnah knew and recognized this dichotomy. Time and again, 1940 onwards he asserted in his speeches and questions from media that Pakistan was not going to be a theocratic state but a modern democratic state of Muslims. However, with a literacy rate of no more than a paltry of around 8 percent among Indian Muslim back then, it was obviously impossible if Muslim masses could understand what their greatest leader meant and talked about.
For them, Pakistan was going to be what their local political and religious leaders told them in their own language and in most sweeping terms laced with religious inspirations, while Jinnah just represented their case for a separate piece of land before the British Crown. In this backdrop, it may be safely estimated that at the heart of Jinnah’s famous inaugural speech in the constituent assembly on August 11, 1947 hid his apprehensions vis-à-vis a theological vision of the new state which had attracted people to vote for Muslim League in 1946 elections.
That’s why he came very bluntly on why the new state of Pakistan will not have anything to do with the faith of its citizens. However, it was too late. Muslim League owed its success and the new country its creation to the Muslim electorates who saw the new country only with a religious lens.
The other part of the answer lies in how post-1947 the leaders of Pakistan failed to undertake a nation building project for Pakistan. Islam was used to build a Pakistani nation when the sectarianism among the Muslims divided them so glaringly as each sect called the other as a heretic. This uniformity-ridden nation building was pursued at the expense of the socio-cultural diversity. Even today, no day passes without seeing some ministers invoking religious metaphor, which indirectly empowers the clergy who currently control the religion.
Given our history and the current fabric of Pakistani society and polity, it’s not possible to extricate the influence of religion on Pakistani state and the state can’t be anything close to secular. However, what might be relatively easier would be that the state of Pakistan must establish its monopoly over the application of religion in the country. Else, Pakistan will keep faltering to achieve political stability and consequent peace and development. For sure, Pakistan was had in the name of Islam. It must not get hurt with ‘Islam in danger’ slogan.
Zulfiquar Rao is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao1