Cutting the holy fathers down to size: how?

Yesterday’s battles
By Ayaz Amir: Dawn, November 24, 2006

WAS there no Islam before the Hudood Ordinance, 1979? Will there be no Islam after this iniquitous law is amended? What storm of absolute nonsense are the mullahs trying to whip up?

Not that they are succeeding but that’s beside the point. We have other problems that need attending to. But trust our talent for irrelevance to raise a tempest over non-issues.

Some of our more imaginative clerics have warned that the Women Protection Bill (which amends the Hudood law) will lead to sexual anarchy. Funny and not a little titillating. Sexual anarchy in God’s own republic? Ghalib comes to mind: “Keh khushi say mar na jatay gar aitbar hota...” (Wouldn’t we die of joy were we to believe this.)

To see the way we go on about things relating to women, it would seem that women are our biggest problem, bigger than democracy, bigger than anything else. The more we have segregated and separated them, the more they seem to ride our imagination. Nature’s revenge, if you look at the matter judiciously. An attractive woman walks through a bazaar and even though she be veiled and dressed in a burqa, most men will be trying to x-ray her through their eyes, mesmerised by her ankles and hands if nothing else is visible.

We must be the foremost country on earth as far as staring at women is concerned. Foreigners coming to Pakistan notice this immediately. It could be flattering in the beginning but surely a bit trying after some time.

The periodic fuss in India, among Indian Muslims to be precise, over tennis star Sania Mirza’s on-court apparel is scarcely surprising. It is typical of the attitude of the subcontinental Muslim male to the grave threat posed to his equanimity by the attractive female. And Sania Mirza, as we all agree, is very attractive, besides being good at tennis, making her the best thing to have happened to subcontinental sport for a long time.

We are great hypocrites when it comes to these matters — I’m afraid I can’t be more explicit — but the prize, as far as hypocrisy is concerned, goes to our holy fathers. The general perception about them is that between their precepts and their practice the distance is great.

We have always known this and our best poetry — whether Ghalib’s, Iqbal’s, Bulleh Shah’s or Ghulam Farid’s — treats the mullah with scant respect if not, quite often, with outright mockery. Strange therefore that because of General Ziaul Haq and his attempts to mullah-ise the country, the clergy in Pakistan has become the political nuisance that it is.

I come from a typical north Punjab village and I know that in our social set-up mullahs were always tolerated — because they had to officiate at ceremonies of birth, death and marriage — but never considered of any social importance, as they still are not.

In politics they had no voice. In village disputes their opinion was neither sought nor considered and, mercifully, still isn’t. It might be different in the Frontier province which is more conservative but not in rural Punjab. The alliance of the holy fathers, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, has come to power in the Frontier (with no little help from our military godfathers). That the Pakhtoons may be regretting their choice is a different matter. Not in a hundred years can the MMA come to power in Punjab.

Gen Ayub Khan (1958-69) had no time for the holy fathers, one of the few good things in his repertoire of folly and shortsightedness. But when after his departure conflict erupted in East Pakistan — the Awami League sweeping to an historic victory and the army resolved not to accept it — an alliance, born out of mutual necessity, was forged between the army and armed militias (Al-Shams, Al-Badr) allied to the Jamaat-i-Islami.

Both were on the same wavelength, the army convinced it was performing its patriotic duty, and the Jamaat that it was doing God’s work, in quelling the popular upsurge in East Pakistan, the land which gave birth to the Muslim League and was in the forefront of the demand for the creation of Pakistan.

That alliance formed in the killing fields of East Pakistan went underground during the Bhutto years only to emerge from the shadows during the anti-Bhutto agitation of 1977 and come fully into its own when Gen Zia seized power soon after. He was a closet mullah himself, sympathetic to the Islamic ideology of the Jamaat’s founder, Syed Abul Al’a Maudoodi.

As Zia went about consolidating power on a string of broken promises (elections in 90 days, etc), humility and hypocrisy his most effective weapons, the Jamaat virtually acted as his civilian auxiliary, its student wing, the Islami Jamiat-i-Tulaba, ever ready to use violence against Bhutto’s supporters.

The Afghan ‘jihad’ strengthened this alliance by drawing other religious parties into its fold. As Saudi and CIA money poured in to fight the Soviets, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the conduit of this assistance, went from strength to strength, eventually becoming a behemoth with its tentacles in everything, including politics.

Kashmir ‘jihad’ came later when Zia had departed from the scene and Gen Aslam Beg was army chief. When the Soviets exited from Afghanistan, the mujahideen fell to fighting amongst themselves. But some elements were drawn to distant Kashmir where a popular uprising had erupted in 1989.

Pakistan did not invent or manufacture the Kashmir revolt. It couldn’t have done so. Ayub had tried to foment trouble in Kashmir back in 1965 but with what results we all know. It was Indian misrule which pushed Kashmiri youth into picking up the gun. Not that most Indians are inclined to accept this argument, rationality flying out of the window when it comes to Kashmir. Of the many forms of patriotism, denial is one of the most powerful.

India, however, can thank the ISI for messing up the Kashmir uprising by trying to take it under its wing. This was a replay of the Afghan ‘jihad’, a military victory turning into a political disaster. Tactical skill to be of any use must be accompanied by a gift for reading the larger picture.

Gen Musharraf was very much the usual military product, extolling ‘jihad’ and the philosophy underpinning it until his forced conversion to a different mode of thinking post-Sept 11, 2001. Had he been the Ataturk he imagined himself to be, he would have lost no time in reshaping the political landscape and doing away with the nonsense-in-the-name-of-Islam Pakistan had accumulated since the Zia years and which none of his immediate successors — Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif — had had the courage or vision to sweep away.

If nothing else, the whole of the Hadood Ordinance should have been thrown into the dustbin. But he didn’t do so, losing the momentum every incoming leader enjoys. The result is that he is trying his hands at being a social reformer, donning the mantle of Ataturk — albeit, in truth, a tinpot version of Ataturk — six or seven years too late, that too in small, hesitant doses. The battle now being fought with the mullahs, and indeed precipitated by their own folly, should have been initiated long ago.

But better late than never and let’s hope he doesn’t lose his nerve, nor pays too much heed to the siren counsels of the Q League president, Shujaat Hussain, who has his own axe to grind and who is opposed to the quest for exploring new political options because that would undermine his own importance.

The circle around Musharraf is split between the status quo-ists who want him to keep all his eggs in the Q basket and those pressing him to reach out to other elements (for which read Benazir Bhutto’s PPP). It is still an open question which side prevails.

Will the MMA walk out of the National Assembly? Hard to say but it would be a good thing if they do. It should help Musharraf make up his mind and it just might give that small push towards some form of creative disorder which our politics desperately needs. Next to women — as I have said our acutest problem — our other two problems are mullah nuisance and military dominance. Fighting both together is difficult, therefore a good thing if they have split, allowing both to be dealt with one at a time. Indeed, cutting the holy fathers down to size is an essential prelude to the struggle for democracy.


Anonymous said…
Great post on Sania
. keep up the good work.

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