April issue 2011

By | Opinion | Viewpoint | Published 9 years ago

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Apparently, as Pakistan was being carved for all the Muslims of the subcontinent, separated by a massive India between her wings, it struggled to define itself. And that struggle for identity never resolved itself. After the founder’s death, the Pakistan envisaged by Mohammad Ali Jinnah evolved into an entity quite removed from the one he had imagined. Jinnah was confident that Islam could be the binding factor in the new nation. A firm adherent of the notion of secular thinking based on the tolerance preached by Islam, he firmly believed that Pakistan’s diversity would contribute to a multi-religious identity. Said he to the Constituent Assembly that August day in 1947, “The first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.”

Today, such utopian concepts are difficult to even conceive in a country where politicians and members of the public alike are assassinated by extremists based purely on their religious perspectives or affiliations. In fact, Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder was just another notch in Pakistan’s ongoing, ignominious and senseless struggle for semantics and ideology.

Sixty-four years after its birth, the state finds itself impotent and the religious beliefs of its subjects a liability. Clearly, somewhere along the line, we made a mistake. And that mistake has cost us dearly.

What does it mean to be Pakistani, and more importantly, when did we start killing our own people because they were different, even if equally Pakistani? The simple answer: in 1971, when we unleashed our army to massacre and suppress the East Pakistani Bengalis. Actually, it began even earlier. The fact is that the campaign for independence was itself a violent struggle between different ideologies. Trains going east or west, packed with butchered, mutilated bodies are a testament to our violent birth. So today, the murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are just a drop in a blood-filled ocean. Their deaths are part of the tumultuous cycle of hate and intolerance that has characterised our past, and today our existence. This is the result of our apathy and our inability to stand up and give voice to our conscience. Even as we abhor the state of affairs and lament our fate publicly, we hide in the shadows, secretly terrified, hoping they don’t come for us next. The truth is, that’s the way it’s always been — the attitude that ‘as long as it’s not me, I don’t care.’ This has brought us to the precipice of failure as a society. It’s no wonder Salman Rushdie described Pakistan as “a failure of the dreaming mind.”

Sad, sad Pakistan. Your birth was romantic, even if marred by violence, your childhood idealistic, but somewhere along the journey you lost your way.

Your eastern wing demanded a larger voice. Your western wing would not tolerate it. So there could be no democracy to let the country grow and stand on her own feet, those at the helm saw to that.

Instead, objectives were created that would cripple Pakistan permanently. The Objectives Resolution in 1949 was meant to embody Islamic values in a European fashion and was aimed at framing a constitution. The first four articles of this document read:

  • Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.
  • The State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people.
  • The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed.
  • Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Liaquat Ali Khan described this as, “the most important occasion in the life of this country, next in importance only to the achievement of independence.” That was true in as much as that these principles spurred an identity crisis. Was Pakistan a Muslim state governed by Islamic values, or was she a modern, secular entity as envisioned by Jinnah? The failure to embrace either perspective followed by the creation of some hybrid amalgam laid the seeds of confusion that took root and today are in full bloom. In the process common sense, judicial precedent and just government have gone to the dogs. There is no longer even the pretense of a protection of minorities. Dogma and extremism have replaced tolerance and coexistence. Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder was merely the poisonous icing on a cake baked decades ago and left moulding over the years. Jinnah may have stated, “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State,” but sadly, that never quite held true.

The laws dealing with blasphemy emanate from the very principles outlined at the outset of the country’s existence, which is why reforming them is not only impossible from a realist perspective, but also from an ideological one. The concept of equal citizenship for all as envisioned by Jinnah died when the Objectives Resolution was passed. Pakistan’s future as a non-secular state was sealed. Based on that, the whole concept of pluralism and coexistence among religions is moot if there is one dominant, overarching religious authority that dictates law, ideology and geopolitical affiliations. There was no way Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and varying sects of Islam could peacefully coexist in a system where any gain by one particular group seemed to come at the expense of the monolithic centre.

With the benefit of hindsight, it almost sounds too incredible to believe — a country carved on the premise of religion and not ethnicity, a state made not with the singular identity of one nation but rather, a state founded on one creed, a sole ideology.

While eulogising the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pointed out that the white stripe on Pakistan’s flag represents the minorities in Pakistan. Someone should inform the prime minister that a funeral shroud is also white. And as the government’s and society’s apathy grows while diversity and tolerance are quelled by reactionary extremists and opposing views are silenced, we will need more and more funeral shrouds.