By Dr Farzana Bari
September 17, 2018
We live in a world of diverse cultures, races and ethnicities. Respect and acceptance of diversity is the most fundamental principle of harmony and peace in a human society. While the world is moving from universalism to recognising difference and embracing equality with diversity, Pakistan is destroying it by alienating its citizens by not granted them equal status based on gender, religion and ethnicity.
The removal of Dr. Atif Mian from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) was the latest episode that showed the tyranny of majoritarian religion in this country. A world renowned economist was removed from the EAC only because of his Ahmadiyya faith. This has heightened tensions between the secular and theocratic forces in the country. This cowardly decision by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has rekindled the historically unsettled debate on whether Pakistan should be a secular or a theocratic state.
The vision of Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan was clearly spelt in his inaugural speech in the first Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly. He said:
“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the state. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of the state we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because this is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense, as citizens of the state.”
Fundamentalist Islamism had no role to play in the creation of Pakistan, rather religious parties opposed the Pakistan movement. However, they had been active in subverting the secular vision of Pakistan ever since the independence of the country. Unfortunately, they are facilitated and supported by our short-sighted civil and military establishment. Now with massive wealth gained from dollar jihad, violent means and madrassamight, religious forces are in a position to dictate, blackmail and push every elected government to take steps towards theocracy. Their ideology is a major threat to the notion of gender equality, religious freedom and Quaid’s vision of Pakistan as a democratic, secular modern state.
Promotion of Barelvi Islam against Wahabbi fundamentalism is a dangerous path to tread on
Countering this religious extremism demands fundamental change in the nature of the state. Promotion of Barelvi Islam against Wahhabi fundamentalism is a dangerous path to tread on. Separation of the state and religion, with a renewed social contract where people are not discriminated against based on their gender; ethnicity or religion is the only way forward for a stable and socially cohesive Pakistan.
People are within their rights to demand the recognition of their diverse identities, leading to equal representation in governance structures and in the redistribution of resources. It was expected that PTI’s government would correct this equation. However, to their disappointment, they witnessed a stark exclusion of women and religious minorities in national and provincial governments and taskforces. Furthermore, the capitulating of PTI government to the undue pressure from religious extremists to remove the only Ahmadi member of eighteen members of the EAC have dashed all hopes for change. The decision has embarrassed all Muslims living in non-Muslim majoritarian contexts where they expected to be treated fairly, irrespective of their faith. It was even more embarrassing to see that only two other economists, Asim Ijaz Khawaja and Imran Rasul, who came from abroad, took a principled stand and resigned in solidarity with Atif Mian whereas the fifteen members of EAC who live in Pakistan opted for silence.
It is sad that despite its lofty promises for change, the PTI failed to see the power of the enlightened narrative of its own information Minister Fawad Chaudhary. His defence to the inclusion of Atif Mian in the council was extremely persuasive and just. Instead of sticking to their decisions based on merit that could have given them high moral ground, PTI decided to trade off the rights of religious minorities for political power. Not only was exclusion of Atif Mian a discriminatory action by the state against an individual based on religion, it has also had a larger impact on the security of religious minorities in Pakistan. This is actually the beginning of the end of the PTI government.
Dr Farzana Bari is a human rights activist and university professor