May Issue 2019

By | Editor's Note | Published 5 years ago

he misogynistic and conservative mindset of our male legislators was on full display when the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2019, which was passed earlier by the Senate, came up for hearing in the National Assembly. Cutting across the political divide, PML-N and PTI members (notable exception: the PPP), shamelessly banded together to defeat the motion. Around 50 legislators, including PTI’s Minister for Religious Affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, and its State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Mohammed Khan, voted against it. The latter even threatened to resign if it was passed and insisted that advice be solicited from the Council of Islamic Ideology. Given the august body’s views on all women-centric and minority-centric issues, one can almost predict the bill’s fate.

The chauvinistic Khan even had objections to the bill being presented by a Hindu, who happens to be a legislator from his own party. One is reminded of another bill – the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 – presented by a Hindu, opposed by both Hindu and Muslim religious groups, passed by the Imperial Legislative Assembly of India – and staunchly defended by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah said: “How can there be such a divine sanction to this cruel, horrible, disgraceful [and] inhuman practice that is prevailing in India… When we know that religion has nothing whatsoever to do with this matter, we must have the courage to say, ‘no we are not going to be frightened by that.’”

It was left to PTI’s Human Rights Minister, Shireen Mazari to defend the PTI bill vociferously in the National Assembly. And PTI’s indefatigable former Information Minister, Fawad Chaudhry, tweeted, “Unless we decide whether the country is to be governed by the mullahs or rationality, we should even forget the idea of progress.”

For now, it appears that the mullahs are calling the shots, yet again. The Punjab government, in a shocking move, reversed its decision to change the syllabus and administrative set-up of the madrassas that were recently taken over by the provincial education department. In March, the provincial government in keeping with one of the key formulations of the National Action Plan, had taken control of dozens of madrassas run by proscribed militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in 26 districts of Punjab. Subsequently, the education department had appointed administrators and introduced secular subjects, along with the regular syllabus in these madrassas. But now an internal memo states that there will be no change in the syllabus or the administrative set up, until further orders. The wily maulana of JUI-F, who had threatened to block any attempt to regulate madrassas, has emerged victorious.

While the DG ISPR contends that only 100 or so of the 30,000 madrassahs in the country are involved in militancy, given the havoc wreaked by the militants emerging from these madrassas, one is not so sure.

Incidentally, the other Maulana –  of the JeM – finally made it to UNSC’s “global terrorist” list when China, which had vetoed the move four times earlier, decided to finally lift its technical hold on the listing.

Does the designation of Maulana Azhar as a “global terrorist,” or his delinking from Kashmir and the Pulwama attack, spell the end of Pakistan’s problems? No. Not really. Another major problem looms ahead. Pakistan continues to remain on FATF’s grey list and is being closely monitored by the organisation, pending a decision later this year.

Mere crackdowns on militant organisations will not make the problem go away as they have a tendency to reappear under different names. Unless there is a concerted attempt to regulate and deradicalise the madrassas, and cap the sources of their funding, there remains a clear and present danger that we will graduate to FATF’s blacklist.

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