Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XIV)

Pakistan’s new president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became the hope of what was now left of the country in 1971. The fall of Dhaka had burst the bubble of ‘Muslim brotherhood’, which was essentially the basis for the creation of Pakistan. The fallacy was evident even before 1971. The bloody partition had left behind a major chunk of Muslim population in India, while the birth of Bangladesh pierced through the remaining mirage of Islamic nationalism. Despite this evidence, the Islamists were still reluctant to admit the bitter truth and instead reverted to their age-old claim that the ‘enemies’ of Islam wanted to divide the Muslim Ummah. They justified this claim by arguing that the non-Muslims were afraid that if the Muslims got united, nobody would be able to stop them from ruling the entire world, as at the time of the Islamic Empire.

Since Bhutto’s major opposition came from religious circles, he tried his best to appease them in various ways. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) defined its basic doctrine as ‘Islam, socialism, and democracy’. Including socialism and democracy made sense for a socialist Bhutto, but why Islam, one may ask? The reason was simple: Bhutto did not want to be on the wrong side of the Islamists. He even coined the term ‘Islamic socialism’ to placate the mullahs. It was not because he was a religious man himself but because he thought that since religion had brought together the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent during the independence struggle, ethnically divided Pakistan could once again be united under the slogan of Islamic nationalism. In essence he wanted to create political stability in a country that had just lost its east wing so that he could then bring in socialist economic reforms, “but unfortunately all Bhutto succeeded in doing was to rehabilitate religious extremism” (Hussain, Zahid, Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, p. 14). It was also during Bhutto’s time that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) devised a strategy to Islamise the Kashmir dispute.

In 1973, Bhutto presented a new constitution for the new Pakistan. Since the constitution was parliamentary in form and the president’s powers were reduced considerably, Bhutto became the prime minister. The character of the 1973 Constitution was more Islamic than any of the previous constitutions. Article 2 of the Constitution declared, “Islam shall be the state religion of Pakistan”; Article 31 (2)(a) declared, “To make the teaching of the Holy Quran and Islamiat compulsory, to encourage and facilitate the learning of Arabic language and to secure correct and exact printing and publishing of the Holy Quran.” Article 227(1) declared, “All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah, in this part referred to as the injunctions of Islam, and no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such injunctions.” Articles 228-31 gave the Islamic Advisory Council (also known as the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII)) the job of identifying laws repugnant to Islam and then recommend ways to bring them in conformity with Islamic principles. The 1973 Constitution also made it mandatory that the president must be a Muslim.

Bhutto promoted ‘pan Islamism’ by trying to create an Islamic bloc to counter US imperialism, and becoming the leader of the ‘Ummah’. The real motives behind Bhutto’s religious tilt were his economic and security agendas. “The Arab oil embargo in 1973 had caused higher prices for oil around the world and a boom in the economies of Persian Gulf Arab countries. Bhutto wanted Pakistan to benefit from the flow of petrodollars, which required emphasising Pakistan’s Islamic identity” (Haqqani, Husain, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, USA: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005, p. 107). He thus hosted a successful and well-attended Islamic Summit Conference in Lahore in 1974.

Two months after the Islamic Summit, anti-Ahmadiya riots began in the country after a dispute between the Ahmadis and some young members of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT). The Ahmadis claimed that the IJT members misbehaved with an Ahmadi woman at the Rabwah railway station while the IJT maintained that the Ahmadis were distributing pamphlets propagating Qadiyaniat (Ahmadi teachings) at the railway station, to which the IJT members objected and a brawl started. The IJT members received a sound beating, which led to countrywide agitation against the Ahmadi community. The riots turned violent and countless Ahmadis were persecuted. Bowing to public pressure (and some say pressure from Saudi Arabia) to ‘settle’ the dispute, the National Assembly in 1974 declared the Ahmadis non-Muslims. This was a victory for the mullahs and a defeat for the secular Bhutto since he succumbed to internal and external pressures.

After the emergence of Pakistan in 1947, Afghanistan had refused to acknowledge the Durand Line and also made irredentist claims over Pakistan’s tribal areas and Frontier province. The basis of Afghanistan’s claims was Pashtun nationalism. Since Afghanistan had good diplomatic relations with India and Russia, the security threat it posed to Pakistan was grave, or so at least it was projected by the military. Pakistan’s policy toward Afghanistan was thus shaped. Pakistan wanted to cause political trouble in Afghanistan and install a compliant government instead of a government fanning Pashtun nationalism. In 1973, when Sardar Daud Khan seized power from his cousin Zahir Shah in Afghanistan and established a Republic with himself as its president, the Islamist forces launched a resistance campaign against the ‘Sovietisation’ of Afghanistan. In 1974-75, the main Islamic resistance leaders of Afghanistan – Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmad Shah Masood and Burhanuddin Rabbani – sought refuge in Pakistan to avoid Daud’s backlash. Bhutto not only allowed them to establish their bases in Pakistan but also provided them with covert assistance to carry out their insurgency against the Kabul government. The moderate Bhutto wanted to pursue ‘strategic depth’, thereby sowing the seeds of ‘Talibanisation’ in later years.

Bhutto announced fresh elections to the National Assembly and the provincial Assemblies to be held at the beginning of March 1977. The PPP managed to win the polls with an overwhelming majority. The combined opposition – a nine-party alliance called the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) – claimed that the elections were rigged and demanded Bhutto’s resignation and holding of fresh elections. The PNA had an interesting formation: the secular Asghar Khan, the socialist-nationalist Khan Abdul Wali Khan and hardline Islamist Maulana Maududi. Despite their differences of ideology, they were all united against Bhutto. The PNA started a countrywide agitation. In April 1977, Bhutto met Maududi in the hope that the Islamic leader would be able to convince the PNA to call off its strike and revoke its demands for Bhutto’s resignation. In order to mollycoddle the mullahs, he made concessions such as declaring Friday as a weekly holiday instead of Sunday. To further pacify the Islamist forces, he announced his decision "to introduce ‘complete prohibition’ throughout Pakistan and ban all gambling, nightclubs, bars, and other ‘anti-Islamic’ activities, thus bringing Pakistan’s laws into complete conformity with the Quran and Sunnah ‘within six months’" (Wolpert, Stanley, Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 288).

The US never forgave Bhutto for starting Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Since the Islamists were against Bhutto, a mullah-military-US alliance was forged. With the connivance of the US, General Ziaul Haq managed to stage a coup and overthrew Bhutto. Ziaul Haq, with the connivance of the JI and other components of the PNA, then embarked upon a devastating course to ‘Islamise’ Pakistan. This period stands out for its wholesome abetment of radicalism, which continues to eat into Pakistan’s socio-economic fabric.


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