Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XI)

The rising strength of the mullahs perturbed the Socialist forces in Pakistan. Renowned leftist Mian Iftikharuddin’s newspaper, Imroze, voiced a dissenting note against this and asked if it was not time that a democratic system should be established in Pakistan. It was argued in the same newspaper that since Islam does not allow exploitation of the peasantry, shouldn’t capitalism’s and feudalism’s undemocratic values be reformed? This raised alarm bells for the Pakistani elite and Islamist forces. The communist movement, led by the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), was now being perceived as a grave threat to the overall imperialistic culture prevalent in Pakistan, especially in Punjab. Since the movement asked for the rights of the peasantry, the feudal lords felt threatened by it and the mullahs denounced the Communists due to their non-religious views. The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case – an unsuccessful attempt at a coup by anti-imperialist forces within the army in 1951 – gave the government an excuse to persecute the Communists. Later on, the CPP was officially banned in 1954. The CPP and the Communist movement then went underground.

In the 1950s, the Ahmadi issue also came to the fore due to politicians’ vested interests. Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Mumtaz Daultana, felt threatened by the rise of his rival, former chief minister of Punjab, Iftikhar Mamdot. Both the politicians had formed religious alliances to outdo each other. Mamdot had the loyalties of Maulana Abdul Sattar Niazi while Daultana favoured the Majlis-e-Ahrar. Majlis-e-Ahrar had declared its allegiance to Pakistan in 1949. The Ahraris vehemently opposed the Ahmadis (also known as Qadiyanis or Mirzais). They started a full-fledged campaign against the Ahmadis in the 1950s. When the rise in food prices and grain shortage reached their peak in Punjab in the summer of 1952, mass agitation movements started. The religious parties took advantage of these movements and launched their own movements, which were in essence anti-Ahmadi. The presence of an Ahmadi Major General in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case further provided a reason to the Ahraris to persecute the Ahmadi community.

The first countrywide anti-Ahmadi riots erupted in 1953. There were demands that the Ahmadis be declared a minority, Foreign Minister Chaudhry Zafrullah Khan be removed from office as he was an Ahmadi, and the same should be done with other Ahmadis who held any key positions in the government. There were incidents of arson and looting of Ahmadi properties, murder of Ahmadis and discrimination against the Ahmadi community. Defence Secretary Iskander Mirza wrote to Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin a letter in February 1953, saying: “…In Cairo, Sir Zafarullah Khan is being received with utmost honour and respect. He is also meeting the heads of all the Arab countries, where he has a very high reputation. Whereas in Karachi he is being abused in public meetings…and his photographs are being spat upon” (Mirza, Humayun, From Plassey to Pakistan: The Family History of Iskander Mirza, the First President of Pakistan, New York: University Press of America, pp. 355-56).

Almost all the religious parties were a part of these agitations. When Khawaja Nazimuddin did not accept these demands, violent riots took place in Punjab in 1953, known as the Punjab Disturbances. This led to the imposition of selective martial law. Since Maududi played a major role during these anti-Ahmadiya riots, the court established to inquire into the riots found him and Maulana Niazi guilty. They were then convicted and sentenced to death. But the death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment and even that was later on commuted. Justice Muhammad Munir and Justice Malik Rustam Kayani were heading the official inquiry into the riots. The Munir Report was then prepared. It openly disclosed the glaring contradictions between the mullahs. It established that the mullahs were not even in agreement on the definition of a Muslim.

Justice Munir and Justice Kayani write in the official report: “The result of this part of the inquiry, however, has been anything but satisfactory and if considerable confusion exists in the minds of our ulema on such a simple matter, one can easily imagine what the differences on more complicated matters will be…Keeping in view the several different definitions given by the ulema, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulema, we remain Muslims according to the view of that aalim, but kafirs according to the definitions of everyone else” (Munir Report, pp. 215, 218).

The Munir Report was a damning indictment of politicians’ role in promoting fanaticism in order to meet their vested, short term interests and contaminating the state of Pakistan with swarms of religious fundamentalists and zealots as a result. The seeds sown and germinated became a full blown tree when the later governments and self-motivated politicians used the religious fringe to further their peculiar agendas, of course, at the cost of plunging the country into the abyss of religious militancy and extremism. Religious extremism fostered the jihadi culture, in which the military establishment played a vital role in service of its so-called strategic designs. The mullah-military nexus, as it is famously known, found its peak during the days of General Ziaul Haq, who fought a US proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and laid down a vast complex of jihadi-producing madrassas, in which the US textbooks glorifying jihad were taught. The intervening period too saw religious fundamentalism taking a front row, including the government of a moderate, Z A Bhutto.


Vidrohi said…
Good historical analysis.

Most of the times in history there has been some sort of a link between the feudalism, or other pre-capitalist forces, and Islamic fundamentalism. Hopefully, as you will move forward in time line, the aforementioned relation will become more glaringly clear in the history of Pakistan as well.

I have not read your complete "series", but your work appears to be quite impressive.

As for the current post, I will only add that that Munir Report is one of the forgotten pieces of jurisprudence in Pakistan. The question that Justice Munir posed to all the religious scholars was regarding the definition of a Muslim. As you pointed out, the religious scholars were not even able to reach a consensus on the definition of a Muslim.

How then came about having an Islam State?
V said…
Have you read the actual first-hand text of the Munir Report?
mehmal said…
Thanks for the encouraging comments Vidrohi. And yes, there definitely exists a nexus between religious fundamentalism, feudalism and capitalism. I will focus on that in the upcoming episodes, especially when I write about General Zia's era when the Afghan war was fought, which was more of a war between Capitalism and Communism and where the Islamic fundamentalists were used to fight a war on the behalf of the imperialist forces.

V, unfortunately I've not read the complete text of the Munir Report, though I've read its important parts. But I do plan to read the whole thing soon :)
Anonymous said…
Dear your article is very well researched and informative.No doubt Munir Report is lost on the stairs of history.

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