August Issue 2005

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 19 years ago

August 14, 1947…58 years on, we are standing at the crossroads, still debating the contours of our identity. Which direction will we take? Will we go the Hasba way and return to the Dark Ages, or will we enter the 21st century as progressive liberals? Will we allow religious obscurantists to take over our lives or will we let the moderate forces chart out our destiny?

General Musharraf must rue the day he allowed religious parties free rein, while shunting mainstream political parties out of the running. For they propagate all those values that their erstwhile benefactor, Musharraf, professes to abhor, determined to stand as obstacles in his path of “enlightened moderation.” In power in two of the country’s four provinces, the MMA are determined to mould Pakistan in their own image which, going by the Hasba Bill they have passed in the Frontier and threaten to introduce in Balochistan as well, is tantamount to Talibanising the country.

The bill proposes to introduce vigilante groups, in the garb of mohtasibs, with unbridled powers to ensure that they follow the Islamic code of life — as ordained by the mullahs. The assumption here being that the MMA are holier-than-thou and, therefore, have the ‘sacred’ right to monitor the lives of fellow Muslims. What the MMA are trying to do is create a parallel seat of power and a parallel system of justice that imposes unreasonable and unwarranted restraints on the lives of citizens. And let there be no mistaking that they aim to protect the rights of either women or minorities.

One has already observed their staunch opposition to doing away with the Hudood Ordinances under which hundreds of innocent women are still languishing in jail, and to the Blasphemy Laws courtesy which several innocent members of the minority communities (and Muslims alike) have been thrown into jail or awarded the death sentence. All this in the name of religion! And where religion could not be used as a pretext, the clout of tribal code and honour has been pressed into service, as in the case of the forthcoming local bodies polls in Dir and Battagram. Religious forces banded together with the tribals, and what’s more, even the PML lent their support to keep the women out of the polls. It was only when NGOs got into the act and pressured mainstream parties like the ANP and the PPP to withdraw from the accord, and get women to file their nomination papers, that the religious lobby, fearing the loss of the district nazim’s election, jumped into the arena. Given the fact that the holy men merrily got their female counterparts seats in the national and provincial assemblies, one fails to understand the ruckus over women participating in the local bodies polls.

Incidentally, it was heartening to see the PM’s state adviser on women’s affairs take the lead in getting women to contest the polls.

But this is just one of the many battles that lie ahead on the road to liberalism. The extremist lobby is beginning to get more assertive and more aggressive. And unless those who want to see a more liberal Pakistan make their voices heard outside of the confines of their drawing-rooms, and unless they stand up and be counted, man for man, woman for woman, to counter the fundos’ street power, Pakistan may eventually end up in the hands of the local Taliban.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.