Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XII)

It is interesting to note that in the US Department of State policy statement on Pakistan on July 1, 1951, the US had made it clear that “[a]part from Communism, the other main threat to American interests in Pakistan was from ‘reactionary groups of landholders and uneducated religious leaders’ who were opposed to the ‘present Western-minded government’ and ‘favour[ed] a return to primitive Islamic principles” (Jalal, Ayesha, The State of Martial Rule: The Origins of Pakistan’s Political Economy of Defence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 127).

The reason why Pakistan is still in search of genuine democracy is because of the religion factor. “Building a democracy in a country devoted to religious tradition has been a problem in numerous states. The founding fathers of the US constitutional system acknowledged the problem in 18th-century Europe and it was their judgement that only by a strict separation of church from state was democracy attainable” (Ziring, Lawrence, Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History, Oxford: Oneworld, pp. 276-77). The church (mosque) has not been separated from the state in Pakistan, thus we reap the disastrous consequences in the form of religious fanaticism.

Iskander Mirza, the first President of Pakistan, realised that the separation of state and religion was essential for the new country. On February 7, 1955, Mirza was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We cannot run wild on Islam; it is Pakistan first and last.” But the tragedy of Pakistan is that the state itself has allowed people to run wild on Islam while putting Pakistan’s security at stake. Religious extremism in Pakistan has been festering because of the state’s dual policies. It is an undeniable fact that the state apparatus – the military, bureaucracy and the politicians – has used religious groups for its own vested interests. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy was made Pakistan’s prime minister in 1956. Soon after he became prime minister, France, Britain and Israel launched an assault on Egypt’s Suez Canal over the issue of whether Egypt had the right to nationalise the canal. The attack reawakened the slogan of ‘Muslim brotherhood’ in Pakistan and there were calls to sever diplomatic ties with the West. Pakistan was a member of both the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Baghdad Pact, more commonly known as the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). The attack on the Suez Canal was exploited by the religious forces and the politicians. There were street demonstrations all over Pakistan and the public burned and looted British, French, and American installations in the country while the politicians expressed their solidarity with a brother Muslim nation. Suhrawardy refused to bow down to these demands and declared that, “Far from being scrapped, the alliances are to be supported” (Morning News, November 11, 1956). This made the Islamists declare Suhrawardy a threat to the Islamic world. The Left in the country also joined hands with the Islamists in denouncing Suhrawardy as he was considered a pawn of the neo-imperialists. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani vehemently opposed Suhrawardy’s foreign policy. Suhrawardy’s government was terminated in 1957 by the civil-military nexus.

Later in 1958, General Ayub Khan, the army chief, imposed martial law in the country and also became president after a few days. Ayub Khan did not think highly of the ulema as their version of Islam was not only complicated but also contradictory. He wanted to redefine Islamic ideology while denouncing theocracy. He said that in an Islamic society, national territorialism had no place. Despite his visionary thinking, Ayub did not oppose the mullah version that Hindus were the enemies of Islam because of his being a military man. “It was Brahmin chauvinism and arrogance that had forced us to seek a homeland of our own where we could order our life according to our own thinking and faith” (Khan, Mohammad Ayub, Friends Not Masters: A Political Autobiography, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 127).
It was during this era that ‘Islamiyat’ (study of Islam) as a subject began receiving greater emphasis in the educational arena. The history books started with Mohammad Bin Qasim’s arrival in the Indian Subcontinent in 712 AD. Prior history was skipped and only the Muslim rulers were glorified while the Hindus were portrayed as evil and usurpers of Muslim rights. Not only were these accounts present in the textbooks, but were being spread through television, films, radio, magazines and newspapers. This played an important role in creating a national identity based on the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ – an ideology that to this day remains undefined and keeps changing according to the whims of each new ruler.

In 1959 Ayub Khan announced his plan to tackle the issue of over-population by supporting family planning. The mullahs took offence and started preaching against this policy. Ayub also introduced the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, which required that all marriages and divorces be registered. This law aimed at protecting the women from being exploited, as it placed limitations on the age of the marrying male and female, some restrictions were put on the husband’s right to divorce his spouse, the wife’s (contracted and agreed-upon) dowry was safeguarded, and the rights of the wife and her children to specified property were also protected. The execution of the Family Laws became a complicated affair due to the difference of opinion between the Sunnis and the Shias. When Ayub Khan opposed the burqa, many women in the rural areas donned it to resist Ayub’s allegedly anti-Islamic campaign. While Ayub Khan kept the religious parties out of power in the first few years of his rule, some in his regime cooperated with the Islamists, particularly with the Jamaat-e-Islami, to get the support of the Arab countries over the Kashmir issue.

In the initial version of the 1962 Constitution, Ayub Khan had deleted ‘Islamic’ from Pakistan’s official name and had instead used ‘Republic of Pakistan’, but after pressure from the religious parties, the official name ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ was restored. Ayub Khan also used the religious parties when he held the presidential election in 1965. The opposition parties had nominated Fatima Jinnah, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s sister, as their joint candidate to run against Ayub Khan. A campaign was launched by the Ayub regime and religious elements were used to issue a fatwa (religious edict) that a woman was not allowed to rule in Islam. Some religious scholars like Maududi were not part of this campaign. “Maududi, committed to Fatima Jinnah’s candidacy, said a woman could be head of an Islamic state but it was not desirable” (Haqqani, Husain, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, USA: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, p. 44).


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