Ghosts of the past

Ghosts of the past
By Dr Rubina Saigol, Dawn, August 28, 2008

CONTEMPORARY Pakistan finds itself at the nexus of a number of intersecting conflicts that have generated unbridled violence across the length and breadth of the country.

The suicide bombing at the Pakistan Ordnance Factory was the continuation of a series of attacks on state institutions including the ISI, the SSG unit, the air force as well as civilian law-enforcement agencies such as the FIA building in Lahore.

News of bloodshed is splashed across the front pages of dailies from attacks on utility installations such as Sui gas pipelines in Balochistan to the regular bombing and torching of girls’ schools in Mingora, Swat, and other areas of Pakhtunkhwa. Added to these horrific news items are the almost daily attacks by Nato forces on the innocent people of Bajaur and other Fata areas from where populations are forced to flee and become displaced.

There is a virtual civil war going on between the security forces and militants, and among militants themselves, in Waziristan. A number of outfits such as Lashkar-i-Islam of Mangal Bagh and Amr Bil Maroof Wal Nahi Al-Munkar of the slain Haji Namdar have sprung up. Among all religio-militant contraptions, the biggest and most deadly by far are the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan led by Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Omar and the revitalised Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi.

Nobody knows which ones have been spawned by the spymasters themselves and which ones sprung up in resistance to US and Pakistani siege of the areas. Similarly, one hears whispers of the Balochistan National Army being active in the province with the backing of some powerful actors.

We need to understand our plight in a historical perspective. What we see all around us today is not a sudden or recent uprising but goes way back into the very process of the formation of our state in a communal split and the subsequent festering of wounds inflicted over years of insensitivity exhibited by a highly centralised state. As Pakistan emerged in the context of the divisive two-nation paradigm, the state came to be defined in religious terms early on in our history.

There were two major consequences of the birth of the country within a primarily religious idiom: 1) The state acquired a communal, religious and sectarian character which generated sectarian and religious violence; and 2) the overemphasis on religious identity excluded and denied the existence of older and more entrenched ethnic, linguistic and regional identities which were suppressed in the name of religious homogenisation.

Let us take the communalisation of the state first. As early as 1949 the Objectives Resolution was adopted which declared that sovereignty belongs to Allah and the religious and social system of Islam would be fully observed. In spite of serious objections raised by the minority members of the constituent assembly, the resolution was passed on the insistence of the Muslim members who took their cue from the two-nation concept.

In 1985, during Gen Zia’s Islamisation drive, Article 2-A was inserted into the constitution and the Objectives Resolution was made a substantive part of the constitution thereby making its provisions justiciable. At that time the minorities were deprived of the right to practise their religions freely as the word ‘freely’ was deleted.

The Afghan jihad, coupled with the Islamisation measures designed to legitimise Zia’s illegal rule, provided enormous impetus for the growth of madressahs supported by Saudi, US and Iranian funds. The greatest increase in religious parties was recorded between 1979 and 1990, and this is accounted for by the staggering rise in the number of sectarian outfits.

While jihad-related organisations doubled, there was a 90 per cent increase in sectarian parties. In the same period, religious seminaries began to proliferate in Pakistan. Prior to 1980, there were 700 religious schools in Pakistan and the annual rate of increase was three per cent.

By the end of 1986, the rate of increase of deeni madaris reached a phenomenal 136 per cent. By 2002, Pakistan had 7,000 institutions awarding higher degrees in religious teaching. The new schools were mostly set up in the Frontier province, southern Punjab and Karachi. Religious leaders were provided with economic incentives to create militants for the Afghan war.

The situation was now rife for sectarian conflict as arguments and interpretations of the ‘true’ meaning of an Islamic state became ubiquitous. In Punjab, 1994 was one of the worst years in terms of sectarian killing when 73 people were killed and many more wounded. In the latter half of 1996, sectarian violence in Parachinar and part of the Kurrram Agency claimed hundreds of lives. In March 2004, unidentified gunmen opened fire on an Ashura procession in Quetta killing over 40 people and injuring scores of others. Sectarian violence escalated in Oct 2004 when on Oct 1 29 people were killed in an imambargah in Sialkot. On Oct 7, a bomb explosion in Multan killed 40 people in a mosque while three days later a blast ripped through a Shia mosque in Lahore killing four people. The latest was in Dera Ismail Khan where a hospital full of Shia mourners was attacked.

Another major consequence of a state emerging within a religious theory was that Pakistan failed to evolve a viable federal structure. Religious nationalism became a centralising force and the unique identities of ethnic minorities came to be denied or erased because of the promotion of an overriding religious identity. As early as 1963 Ayub Khan declared that “I do hope that in a few decades, which is not a long time in the history and progress of nations, our people will forget to think in terms of Punjabi, Pathan, Sindhi, Balochi and Bengali and think of themselves as Pakistanis only … our religion, our ideology, our common background, our aims and ambitions unite us more firmly than any geographical boundaries could have.”

The denial of the rights of smaller provinces in recognition of language, NFC award, royalties or water share led to various conflicts one after another which culminated in East Pakistan’s secession and ensuing resistance movements in Balochistan, Fata and Sindh. In 1970-71 the state was locked in a power struggle against the Bengalis, in the mid-1970s against the Baloch, in the 1980s against the Sindhis during the MRD movement and in the early 1990s against Urdu-speaking migrants from India.

An over-centralised state, dominated by one ethnic group along with a powerful army and bureaucracy drawn primarily from one or two ethnic groups, drew its ideological inspiration from religious nationalism to create a false sense of unity. The foundational paradigm of the state’s emergence ironically created existential crises for it, as the founding theory blew up in its face and its repressive response simply added fuel to the fire of ethnic disaffection. Today its own policies have come back to haunt the state.


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