Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part X)

There were only a handful of politicians who were committed to working for the new country with the aim of setting it on the road to a democratic polity. The rest were all feudal lords who had joined the Muslim League with the aim of preserving their exploitative reign of power when it became clear that a new Muslim state was in the making. They became part of the Pakistan Movement so that when the new state emerges, they could retain their original position of power and prestige, or even get more power. After Jinnah’s death, instead of trying to bring some semblance of stability to the new country by drafting a Constitution, these lemming-like creatures called ‘politicians’ tried to delay it as much as they possibly could. And after 18 months, all the Constituent Assembly had come up with was a half-concocted, “vaguely worded Objectives Resolution, which was contradictory in itself” (Zulfiqar Khalid Maluka, The Myth of Constitutionalism in Pakistan, p.77).

“The ulema (religious scholars), many of whom had opposed the Pakistan Movement tooth and nail (and some who had supported it), were nevertheless united in trying to give the constitution an Islamic character…The divergent views of the ulema and other members of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (CAP) about the definition of an Islamic state created much confusion in this regard. ‘Prolonged and futile discussions on non-issues, such as shoora-based Khilafat, trans-territorial pan-Islamic remedies and democracy versus Islam, all blurred the real issue of framing a constitution for establishing an efficient and accountable government’ (Iftikhar H. Malik, State and Civil Society in Pakistan: Politics of Authority, Ideology and Ethnicity, p.35). But after prolonged wrangling, the ulema managed to get in the opening sentence of the Objectives Resolution, that is, ‘Sovereignty over the whole universe belongs to God Almighty alone, and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust’” (Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror).

The inclusion of this sentence was very alarming for the minorities. Despite being assured by the moderates in the CAP that the Objectives Resolution was not a substitute for the constitution, the minorities saw through it for what it was: a religious noose to persecute them. “They [minorities] saw here a foot of the clergy in the door and feared that as time passed, this simple statement would be progressively enlarged and interpreted anew until it reached its logical conclusion, that is, that Pakistan was an Islamic state to be ruled under the law of the Shariah, which would be interpreted by the mullahs. And the moment this happened, in its wake would follow its natural corollary, that is, that non-Muslims in Pakistan will be declared second-class citizens” (Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror). Their fear was not unfounded because even though it was stipulated in the Resolution that the guiding principles of the state were democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice, what cannot be denied is that it in essence represented Pakistan as a ‘Muslim’ state and Islam was made the unifying force for the citizens of Pakistan. Secularism took a backseat in matters of the state.

It is worth mentioning here that after independence, Jinnah was contemplating changing the name of the All-India Muslim League to Pakistan National League because now that Pakistan had come into being, keeping the ‘India’ in the party’s name would no longer be appropriate, and more importantly, so that the religious minorities in Pakistan would not hesitate to join the party. This was vehemently opposed by Liaquat Ali Khan, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, Punjab’s Islamists and the feudal lords. Liaquat Ali Khan was of the opinion that if the Muslim League was turned into a secular party, it would give undue advantage to his main political rival, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who was a populist leader. Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani was against the very idea of secularism, given his religious viewpoint. Also, Maulana Usmani felt that if Muslim nationalism was subverted in this way, it would be unfavourable to the Mohajirs who were migrating in large numbers from Hyderabad, Deccan, Delhi and UP. The Islamists, especially in Punjab, naively believed that if an Islamic system of governance (Shariat) was established in Pakistan, it would not only lead to the Islamic flag flying on Delhi’s Red Fort once again (read the ‘re-establishment of Muslim rule in the Indian Subcontinent’) but would also pave the way for the Muslims to rule the entire world. In fact, the Ahraris announced revival of their Islamic agenda in a convention in Karachi, which ultimately led to the infamous Ahmadi riots in Punjab and subsequent imposition of martial law in that province.

While these Islamists were living in a fool’s paradise, the more shrewd feudal lords in Punjab wanted to use Muslim nationalism as a way to establish Punjabi Raj all over Pakistan. They thought that they have the military, and if the military uses the ideological weapons of Islam and Muslim nationalism, nothing could stop them from establishing a Punjabi sultanate. They wanted to usurp the political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Sindhis, the Baloch, the Pathans and the Bengalis through the use of religion. The mullahs were used to propagate Muslim nationalism so that no province or ethnic group could ask for its due rights while the Punjabis were seizing power in the name of nationalism. In the end, the name of the All-India Muslim League was changed to the Pakistan Muslim League.

After the success of the religiously inclined, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani formed the Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). This party was essentially formed as a pressure group of the ulema. One, it did not want the secularist section of the Muslim League to politically succeed; two, on the basis of religion and Muslim nationalism, it wanted the Mohajirs to occupy land in Sindh; and three, it wanted to crush the emerging demand for rights in East Bengal, NWFP and Balochistan through the use of religiosity. Usmani’s rival, Maulana Abdul Hamid Badewani, who belonged to the Barelvi sect, also formed a Central Committee of the Mohajireen. The Mullahs in Punjab were also gaining strength as they were being appeased by the feudal lords who wanted to use them for their own vested interests. The feudals unleashed the mullahs on elements who threatened their vested interests, like the Communists who demanded rights for the peasantry.

A campaign against the Communists and the minorities, especially the Ahmadiya community, was also coming to the fore during this time. Especially the riots directed against the Ahmadis resulted in intensifying the radicalism of Pakistan’s polity, the adverse effects of which were further aggravated by, among other factors, Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation in the 1980s. How horrendous those riots were can be judged from the Justice Munir Report.


Anonymous said…
i)Why were there only a handful of politicians who were committed to democracy?
ii)Who were they?

Feudal lords were part of ML(muslim league). Ulemas were part of it. Who are missing? The people themselves were missing. What enabled the feudal lords and ulemas to "brainwash" people from 1939 to 1946? Every congress leader who had a remote following was behind bars. A minority party(in 1939) had no opposition :}. By the time the congress came out of the prison, the damage was done.

List out the names of ML leaders who were ever behind bars for the Independence movement. You will get your answer. Was ML ever in the fray of independence movement of India against british?

After 1905, congress became a pan national party. Its support was from the peasants(the common folk) and business people(who though coopted with the british, would be happy to see the british leave becoz of favouritism). Who would against this formation? obviously the british and the feudal lords, but the feudal lords unfortunately need a rally to cry out. The british chose for the lords-religion and bingo- ML was propped up.
Anonymous said…
Is it any surprise that there were no politicians committed to democracy?

Pakistan was a country formed for the feudal lords and ulemas, not for the general populace.

*This is in continuation of the above comment, seems to have left out the obvious.
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