New Debate in Pakistan: Religion and State?

Daily Times, January 21, 2006
SECOND OPINION: Who is listening to the ‘new debate’?— Khaled Ahmed’s TV Review

This is the Muslim predicament. The new millennium has not seen the Muslims moving closer to the modern state but revolting against it. The politicians and the people are scared of discussing the problem but they are privately absorbing the debate

The private channels have done a few good things and a few bad ones, always following the market. They have downgraded religion to a mantra by following the istikhara market, but they have also begun discussing religion and its relationship with the state seriously. Is Pakistan being affected by this discourse? Not yet. Significantly, the politicians are staying away from the debate.

GEO (January 1, 2006) discussed Islam and the state in Fifty Minutes, Dr Mubarak Ali said that religion did not mix well with the state. He said talk of ijtihad was meaningless because there was no guarantee that any Muslims would accept it. He said every time someone did ijtihad it gave birth to a new sect. He said the two-nation doctrine was no longer valid in Pakistan. The concept of ummah was equally irrelevant.

He said if the Muslims wanted to get together they should create a bloc of states but not based on religion. Religion must remain in the private domain. The nation-state was the reality in our times. It was no longer possible to discriminate against the non-Muslims on the excuse of Islam. He said before 1947 ideology had no reference in what was later called the Pakistan Movement.

Ahmad Javed observed that Dr Mubarak’s idea of religion was different. He said Dr Mubarak may be right but the question was: could religion be separated from the working of the state? He said the two-nation doctrine could be defended only philosophically and that was the way it should be retained. He held that whoever wanted to subject Islam to ijtihad actually wanted to run away from religion. He said Islam was not law but guided lawmaking.

Aitzaz Ahsan said that Islamic state had to be changed to make the minorities feel secure. He said the question of identity today was not related to religion but to the soil. He said the man in Pakistan was the man of Indus regardless of his religion. Dr Javed Iqbal said states were founded on soil but nations were founded on ideology. In Bosnia a nation of Muslims had come into being while living on a soil where non-Muslim nations too live.

He conceded that the two-nation doctrine was valid only between Pakistan and India but not inside Pakistan. He said Jinnah had Hindus in his cabinet but now Pakistan had a different approach.

Dr Mubarak Ali was on the dot. This is the Muslim predicament. The new millennium has not seen the Muslims moving closer to the modern state but revolting against it. The politicians and the people are scared of discussing the problem but they are privately absorbing the debate. Hence, there is great merit in what Fifty Minutes is doing.

Aitzaz Ahsan is alone among the PPP leadership to take an honest look at what Pakistan has made of the state. If he were to hear what ND Khan has been mouthing on TV — proudly claiming the apostatisation of the Qadianis as his party’s Islamic identity — he would swoon in shock. Raza Rabbani and Amin Fahim have fallen to the clerical bait and the party will choke on the hook in the final count.

The private TV channels are producing their anti-Aitzazes more rapidly through their ‘on-line’ religious kitsch. So far the wrong side is winning. Except for Javed Ghamidi who challenges the clergy from within.

GEO (January 6, 2006) Kamran Khan spoke to a Marri leader Mir Muhammad Khan Bijarani who said that Sardar Khair Baksh Marri had following only among the Gazini branch of the Marri tribe while the Bijaranis had a dispute with him and the Lowarani were in the middle. He said the position in Kohlu was that the Gazini chief and his warriors were involved in terrorism while the other two tribes were no part of this campaign. He said Khair Baksh had employed criminals to do his job.

As for Sardar Ataullah Mengal, he held that Balochistan was not a part of Pakistan in 1947 and was still saying it. He conceded that disaffection in Balochistan was genuine because in the past the Baloch people had not been given their rights. But today Marri’s two sons were inciting terrorism.

He said Harbyar Marri was planning the campaign from London while Balach Marri was leading it from the mountains of Balochistan. He said the farari camps were functional for the last six years.

The sardars have struck at a moment of weakness of the state. To put it precisely, the moment is of the post-ISI-backed jihad that collapsed in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The moment is that of comeuppance and just deserts. The sardars have chosen the right moment. It is the moment of division. But the separatists are more divided than the state they want to separate from. This is what is coming out in the words of Mr Bijarani.

ARY (January 9, 2006) Dr Shahid Masood spoke to Sardar Ataullah Mengal of Balochistan. Dr Masood implied that ‘outsiders’ could be involved in violence as in the case of the killing of three Chinese in Gwadar. Some countries were opposed to Gwadar project. Mengal said why shouldn’t the Baloch bullets kill the Chinese? The Baloch opposed the Gwadar port. Everybody had weapons in Pakistan like the MQM in Karachi; why shouldn’t the Baloch have their weapons and why should these weapons not be capable of killing the Chinese engineers?

He said the Baloch were weak and therefore were defeated repeatedly but they had not lost their determination and sense of honour. He said other Baloch sardars like Jam Yusuf and Jamali were kaassa-lais (sycophants) of the government. He asked why did Musharraf go to Kohlu knowing well that Khair Baksh didn’t want him to go there? It was sheer provocation.

He said the Baloch wanted the following. (1) All natural resources found under ground should go to the provinces. (2) Give all the income of Gwadar Port to Balochistan. (3) Non-Baloch persons should not vote in Balochistan but back in their own provinces. (4) Give the provinces the right to decide what part of the revenue s should be given to the centre. He said ANP was not in PONAM because he had developed differences with Wali Khan after his release from prison under General Zia.

Sardar Mengal is asking for much more than what the Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain-led Parliamentary Committee has recommended. (The state has already balked at it.) He goes beyond autonomy. It is possible to give Balochistan more autonomy even than what was envisaged in the 1973 Constitution, but the rejectionism of the sardars is tied to the crisis of the Pakistani state, not to provincial rights. *

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