Beyond the posturing of ‘Naya Pakistan’, the issue of protecting minorities needs Constitutional cover that does not diminish, decry or indignify credentials of any faith
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was too clever by half in suggesting that his supposedly ‘Naya Pakistan’ could teach India “how to treat its minorities.” The genealogical basis for Pakistan (literally “land of the pure”) was conceptualised in the 1933 pamphlet presented by Choudhary Rahmat Ali, who sowed his “two-nation theory” by institutionalising the spirit of “others” or minorities by observing: “These differences are not confined to broad, basic principles. Far from it, they extend to the minutest details of our lives. We do not inter-dine; we do not inter-marry. Our national customs and calendars, even our diet and dress are different.” Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech on August 11, 1947 to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, however, had sent a contradictory sense with, “You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan.” But our neighbour has knowingly, steadily and violently walked towards its puritanical moorings. No amount of sophistry in ‘Naya Pakistan’ can cover the same. The drift towards religious extremism was a project-in-making that was temporarily contained during the direct military years of the Ayub-Yahya era and revived in full earnest with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s advent in Pakistani leadership. Thereafter, all leaders of Pakistan, be it military or civilian, have pandered dangerously to the clergy and the accompanying religious sentiments, thereby spiralling the narrative of religious importance to metamorphose into the “terror nursery” of the world.
Today, the concept of minority or the “other” in Pakistan is not just its shrinking minorities of Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians and even Jews, but also includes the severely persecuted Ahmadiyas, who are condemned from preaching or professing their belief, besides being declared as “non-Muslims”, following Ordinance XX that was passed by the ultra-religious General Zia-ul-Haq in 1984. For all practical purposes, the simmering sectarian tensions of the Sunni-Shia divide have regressed into unprecedented levels of polarisation and violence with supremacist militia targetting the “minority” Shias and their offshoot adherents with either utter impunity or even indirect state-support. A far cry from the days when General Muhammad Musa Khan, a Hazara Shia, was the Pakistani Army Chief during 1958-1966. Contrast this with the uproar of the ostensible Ahmadiya/Qadiani link that surrounded the appointment of the current Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Bajwa, which expectedly had to be rebutted and squashed.
Recently, the ongoing and bloody saga of societal irreconcilability within Pakistan’s imploding mainstream claimed at least 20 innocent lives in a terror attack that was seen to be targetting the “minority” Hazara Shia community in restive Quetta. These veritable “minority” groups of nearly a million in Pakistan and three million in Afghanistan were also systematically targetted by the Pakistan-supported Taliban regime in the 1990s. Their distinct Central Asian features make them easily recognisable and easy targets of militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who have reduced the Hazaras to a ghettoised existence in Pakistan. Last year, the Hazara community had to go on a public hunger strike and seek assurances of protection from the real seat of power in Pakistan, ie, its Army Chief Gen Bajwa, after the spate of Hazara killings had become chillingly commonplace.
Pakistanis are paying the price for patronising extremist elements and the parallel marginalisation of their moderate, secular and democratic forces. With a virtual immunity afforded to the likes of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, and Jaish-e-Muhammad among others, it is hardly surprising that Pakistan is recognised as a confessional state, despite the feeble attempts of nomenclaturising itself as ‘Naya Pakistan’. It is under Imran Khan’s watch that the Princeton University economist, Atif Mian, was dropped from his Economic Advisory Council (EAC) on account of his belonging to the “minority” Ahmadiya faith. Imran Khan then failed to change the narrative with his feeble handling of the Asia Bibi (of Christian faith) blasphemy case, where he succumbed to the fanatical group Tehreek-i-Labaak. Imran Khan’s own federal Government is also guilty of funding Darul Uloom Haqqania (infamous as the “University of Jihad”) that has the most notorious terrorists, like Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani among others, as its alumni. This instinctive tilt towards extremist thought has led Ministers of ‘Naya Pakistan’ to share public platforms with terrorists like Hafeez Saeed, who have been proscribed by the United Nations. Little wonder that global-watch agencies like the Financial Action Task Force have kept relentless pressure on Islamabad to mend its sovereign behaviour that nurtures terror, both externally and internally, as indeed leading to more insecurity for its vulnerable minorities. Herein routine news like the forcible conversions of minorities no longer make headlines.
Fact is, both in Pakistan and India, there is a societal churn and regression towards majoritarianism and hardening of religious opinions. Ironically, in both countries, religious sentiments are pandered and harnessed for their electoral currency. However, in Pakistan, there is an additional angularity of state sanctification afforded by way of its perceived utility in cross-border leverage that is sought by sheltering certain religion-inspired terrorist groups that routinely hit targets across India, Afghanistan and Iran. These extremist forces can often turn their attention towards Pakistan’s hapless minorities and exert violent intolerance and sectarianism against them. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s own track record on willingly controlling these extremist forces was in full display with its initial and natural reluctance to ban Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa’ah and Falah-e-Insaniat.
Beyond the posturing of ‘Naya Pakistan’, the issue of protecting minorities needs Constitutional cover that does not diminish, decry or indignify the credentials of any faith. Basic amendments to laws concerning blasphemy are realistically a “no-go” for Imran Khan’s Government, given its track record of either supporting or capitulating to the regressive forces. The societal divide and tensions for “minorities” are a reality and not a matter of political one-upmanship or point-scoring between Pakistan and India. Pakistan (‘Naya’ or otherwise) has to redefine and legislate its corrective agenda within its Constitutional tenets, else horrific incidents like the latest Hazara massacre will continue unabated.
(The writer, a military veteran, is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)