By Saad Hafiz
March 03, 2013
Sufi Islam has given way to Wahabi bigotry as the country has become increasingly intolerant and de-secularised, allowing obscurantism to prosper
Pakistan may be facing the most decisive moment of its survival. The persecution and killing of Muslims by other Muslims on supposed religious grounds has reached horrifying levels. Terrorist and sectarian violence, targeting both the powerful and the powerless, spearheaded by groups such as the Tehrik–e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), has created havoc. Both groups are part of an even larger network that includes the Islamist sectarian militias in the country, hard-line activists in Pakistan’s mainstream Islamist political parties and organisations, and sympathisers in government institutions and across social classes. Sufi Islam has given way to Wahabi bigotry as the country has become increasingly intolerant and de-secularised, allowing obscurantism to prosper.
The culture of militancy in Pakistan largely stems from the extreme hard-line Islamic ideologies practised in Pakistan for decades, with full acceptance and participation of Pakistani civil society in general. Extremism has been boosted by the ever-present religious hysteria nurtured by the largely Punjabi feudal-military-bureaucratic oligarchy, from the country’s very inception. Punjab ‘the sword arm of Pakistan’ and ‘the bastion of Pakistan ideology’ (Stephen Cohen) has become the epicentre of regional extremism. Pakistan’s present state is a warning and example for any nation that fails in the separation of religion and state. Throw intolerant Islam into the mix, and you have a sociological challenge: illiterate masses, like putty in the hands of mullahs, being used by a military to justify its primacy.
For Islamists or fundamentalists, the failures and shortcomings that afflict the Pakistani state and society is due to imported secular notions and practices. They regularly trumpet that Pakistan has fallen away from the authentic Islam and thus lost its direction. Their aim is to create a uniquely repressive society where regular citizens have few rights, speech and thoughts is restricted by both government and the Sunni Deobandi religious order, and repression against women. The views of the few modernists or reformers in society, who see the inflexibility and ubiquity of the Islamic clergy, as the main cause of the country’s backwardness, are easily drowned out.
What has also not helped is the country’s dismal record in three main areas: military, economic, and political, which has been, to say the least, disappointing. The quest for victory by the military has brought a series of humiliating defeats. The quest for prosperity through development brought in an impoverished and corrupt economy in recurring need of external aid. For the mostly oppressive but ineffectual governments and dictatorships that have ruled Pakistan, finding targets to blame serves a useful, indeed an essential, purpose, to explain the poverty that they have failed to alleviate and to justify the tyranny that they have introduced. They have chosen to deflect the mounting anger of the unhappy populace toward other, outside targets such as the country being a victim of the regional-global power politics since its creation.
If Pakistan continues on its present suicidal path, there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in the country’s disintegration. But even today, despite the murder and mayhem, not all in Pakistan seem convinced that confronting the jihadist movement is an urgent need for Pakistan’s survival as a democratic country. For some hard-line nationalists, and even some progressives defying the US imperialist agenda in the region takes precedence, and the external pressure to defeat the Islamists is to be resisted. Among the more pragmatic, the view is that Pakistan should accommodate the world, but without directly confronting the jihadist groups. It seems as if society is fine being permanently hijacked by forces of obscurantism.
It will be very difficult if not impossible to reverse the national downslide that Pakistan seems to have chosen for itself. To truly confront the extremist threat, the first challenge is for Pakistanis to agree that they want to live in a modern, democratic and plural society. To achieve this goal, the Jihadi movement will have to be faced and overcome, by overwhelming force if necessary. It will also require a carefully planned and methodically executed programme of reform aimed at removing the root causes of the proliferation of violence in society, and improvement in the investigative, preventive, and prosecution capabilities of security and intelligence agencies, and the administration of justice.
In addition, the state will have to re-tool its policies towards representing all the people who live in the country, and, not identify itself with any particular section of the population. Finally, the democratic political process has acted as a bulwark against the spread of militant fundamentalism among the populace, despite their increasing alienation from state system. The populace must be encouraged to articulate their demands through the major mainstream political parties. Put simply, to effectively meet the Islamist challenge, the Pakistani state and society must finally accept and fully exercise its responsibility to maintain peace, provide justice, foster democracy and participation, and make available in an equitable manner the resources necessary for economic and social development. Pakistan’s neighbours and the world will need to help.