What is unfolding in today’s Pakistan has marked resemblance to the dark ages of Europe. Renaissance that shaped today’s Europe was actually a triumph of pragmatism over dogmatism. Defiant souls like Martin Luther, Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno liberated European society from clutches of clergy by challenging the hegemony of Church that kept the society fettered for nearly 1,500 years. When Copernicus challenged the geo-centrism of Ptolemy with his heliocentric interpretation of universe, he actually challenged the self-proclaimed divine wisdom of Church. Likewise, when Bruno revealed the continuum of universe, Roman Inquisition charged him with blasphemy and he was burnt at stake. After a long battle rationale prevailed over the faith and modern Europe evolved from the ashes of dark ages.
Obscurantism dominating today’s Pakistan has brought it to the brink of dark ages where enlightenment is starving and logic is trampled by faith-led dictums of the sanctimonious minds. The pervasive rumble of extremism in Pakistan took its roots during the formative years of its ideological stillbirth. Quaid’s vision for the future state oscillated between a secular progressive republic and a homeland for Muslims. However, he amply demystified his thoughts during his first presidential address on 11th August 1947 when he overtly detached religion from the state business.
Long before this, in 1934, Allama Iqbal rescinded the concept of Pakistan attributed to him. In his rejoinder to Prof. Thompson, he unequivocally mentioned that he was not the protagonist of the scheme called Pakistan as he envisioned it only as a Muslim province within Indian Federation. Maulana Maududi too was ferociously against creation of Pakistan. However, he was later escorted by the army to the newly-established country where somersault of his Shariat lobby assumed custodianship of self-righteous ideology of Pakistan. It is widely believed that Liaqat Ali Khan pronounced Objective Resolution in 1949 that eventually deflected the country from Quaid’s envisioned destiny.
Myopic policies of the cold war era also coddled orthodoxy in the country. Spook of “Red Scare” kept spigot of US and UK coffers loose for ultra right elements. Ironically, liberal and secular elements were termed traitors and religious zealots became darling of the right block. The then USIS office was assigned the task to promote Islamic ideology to contain ripples of communism. It was probably not in the wildest imagination of the anti-left forcers that one day they will fall in the trench dug with their own spade.
The same streak of self-centered policies led US and West to cajole every successive dictatorial regime in Pakistan and isolate relatively progressive and liberal leadership in the country. Quintessential victim was ZA Bhutto who was detested for his democratic and liberal policies. Beleaguered Bhutto was left with no choice but to capitulate before the fury of fanatics. In a bid to appease them, he went extra miles to declare Qadianis as non-Muslim, prohibited alcohol and made Friday a public holiday. Constitution of 1973 first time required a public office holder to take oath of striving to preserve the Islamic Ideology that was the basis for the creation of Pakistan. However, all this gamut yielded no fruit to him and he was left high and dry by the champions of today’s free world.
The deadly dye was cast by Zia. He injected venom of extremism in every vein of the society. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan became a heaven-sent opportunity for his despotic expediency. He along with his coterie sealed the fate of this country and descended it into the deep mire of religiosity. These bonanza years of extremism institutionalised the lunacy of religious and sectarian bigotry, which eventually stung its proponents after a decade.
Making Pakistan a surrogate battlefield of Afghan war mutilated the social fabric of the country beyond recognition. Gen Zia even distorted Quaid’s motto of Unity, Faith and Discipline by replacing it with Iman, Taqva and Jihad-fi-sabeelillah. According to Shuja Nawaz, the author of “Crossed Swords”, Zia even allowed fundamentalists to preach at Pakistan Military Academy. Tablighi Jamaat representatives would deliver Friday Sermon at PMA in routine. The practice was forbidden later by Major General Asif Nawaz. Zia smacked orthodox brand of religion in various forms. From retrogressive legislation to public retribution, he exercised every technique to debilitate minds of citizens. Profusion of religious seminaries injected orthodoxy among the young generation as well, which eventually harboured Taliban in the years to follow.
According to a report of the Crisis Group, the country had only 137 madrasas in 1947. The number increased to 1,745 in 1979 and by 1988 it rose to 3,000. The momentum sustained after Zia’s death, and in 2003 official estimates put the number of madrasas at 10,430. Number of unregistered seminaries is any one’s guess.
During Afghan war, these seminaries were converted into nurseries of crusaders. Little wonder that madrasa later earned the status of jihadi training camps. This madrasa boom was obviously not without the financial and technical patronisation of foreign powers — both Islamic and secular. An article by Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway, “The ABC of Jihad in Afghanistan” appeared in The Washington Post, 23 March, 2002, revealed that special text books were published in Dari and Pashtu to promote jihadi values and militant training. These books were designed by the Centre for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Over 13 million books were distributed at Afghan refugee camps and Pakistani madrasas. The jihad bequeathed this legacy to Pakistan.
Afghan war was over but the landmines of extremism remained strewn in Pakistan. Disengagement by US after the Soviet retreat was the shear mistake that America belatedly regretted.
The decades-long indoctrination of orthodoxy has now culminated into a society devoid of tolerance and abhorrence for other’s belief. The fault lines across religions and sects have now fragmented Pakistani society in all directions.
From a cowed war partner to option-less frontline fighter, Pakistani citizens have paid exorbitant price for shenanigans of obnoxious international interests, malevolent local dictators and anachronistic religiosity. The labyrinth of extremism has confounded every one. Political sagacity, social reforms and ameliorated economy can proffer solution to the conundrum. This in turn requires some breathing space for democracy in the country.
If international powers are sincerely committed to extricate this region from the millstone of extremism, democracy in Pakistan holds the key. After trying dictatorships for six decades, evolving democracy deserved a chance for couple of decades. Let people of this country decide their own destiny to make this country and region hospitable to humanity.
The writer is the chief executive of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation. firstname.lastname@example.org)