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Pakistan caught in false debate between secularism and sectarianism

Zafar Bangash

Fifty years after its creation, Pakistan is still unsure of its identity. Notwithstanding the Zionist settler entity in Palestine, Pakistan is the only country in the world to have come into existence on the basis of religion - Islam - but it has yet to find its moorings.

Ruled by a triumvirate of feudal lords, the military and a westernised bureaucracy which believes it is still living in the days of the raj, the west-doting secular mafia has successfully concealed its true colours under a thin veneer of ‘Islamicity.’ Islam would have been banished, a la Turkey and Indonesia, but for the fact that the Pakistani masses would not allow it. There is, however, no Islam in Pakistan, only slogans.

The preamble to the country’s constitution says no law shall be promulgated contrary to Islamic tenets. Officially it is called the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan.’ Yet the entire judicial process is based on British Common Law rather than the Shari’ah. Some minor aspects of Islam are allowed but they do not go beyond rituals. Invariably, official functions start with recitation of verses from the noble Qur’an but after that, anything goes.

The struggle in Pakistan today is not between secularism and Islam; it is between secularism and sectarianism. This is how the secular mafia would like to formulate the ground rules. Challenging Islamic principles is a herculean task; but condemning it under the label of sectarianism is easy.

The horrible image and the even more horrible behaviour of sectarian gangsters is enough to put anyone off their prescribed path. This is projected by the secularists as Islam and people are warned to avoid such dangers.

How the sectarian outfits gained so much prominence in Pakistan needs a closer look. Today, there are three principal groups leading the fight: Sepah-e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e Jhangvi and Sepah-e Muhammad. The first two are offshoots of the Jami’at-e Ulama-e Islam (JUI) while the third is a creation of the Tehrik-e Jafaria Pakistan (TJP).

None of these organisations had played any role in the struggle for Pakistan. In fact, the Jami’at-e Ulama-e Hind and their Deoband Madrassa, the principal religious institution in pre-partition India, had opposed the creation of Pakistan. There were notable exceptions, such as Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, who had backed the Pakistan demand. It is not as if the Deobandi ulama were opposed to mixing religion and politics as their deadly debut in Pakistani politics showed.

After Pakistan came into existence, the Deobandi ulama established the Jami’at-e Ulama-e Islam (JUI) party. It had three basic planks - all negative: anti-Qadiani, anti-Shia and anti-Jama’at-e Islami. It is not surprising that a group born with such negative tendencies would spawn more extremist elements.

Also worth noting is the fact that all religious parties - JUI, the Jami’at-e Ulama-e Pakistan (JUP), and the Jama’at-e Islami - had their roots in areas that remained part of India after partition. The Jama’at, too had opposed the creation of Pakistan but for different reasons. However, once Pakistan became a reality, the Jama’at’s strategy changed and it embarked on a more positive approach.

The provinces that constituted Pakistan did not have such parties. Only the JUI had some representation in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan because students from these areas had studied at Deoband. The JUI continues to enjoy limited support in the two provinces.

Then came the Tehrik-e Nifaz-e Fiqh Jafaria, later transforming itself into Tehrik-e Fiqh Jafaria, perhaps realizing that in a predominantly Sunni country, it is unrealistic to impose the Jafari Fiqh. Yet the emergence of the group in the early eighties simply reinforced the negative trend in sectarian politics.

Standing apart from these is the Jama’at-e Islami. There was and is no sectarianism in its fundamental philosophy. This is its strength. But it is also a fact that despite the vast Islamic literature produced by its founder, the late maulana Abul A’la Maudoodi, the Jama’at has not made much impression on Pakistani politics. Its political party approach has left it marginalised in an overcrowded field where secularism reigns supreme.

While Islam is a universal deen, all ‘Islamic’ parties in Pakistan have been confined to narrow pockets. The Jama’at and the JUP drew their support largely from the Urdu-speaking people of Karachi while the JUI was based in the NWFP and Baluchistan. This has now changed with secular parties elbowing them out. In Karachi, for instance, the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) has banished both the Jama’at and the JUP. It has stolen their constituency and made it secular by appealing to their baser instincts of ethnicity.

The political party approach was never a sound basis for waging the struggle to establish the Islamic State. ‘Islamic’ political parties throughout the Muslim world have suffered repeated humiliations even after winning elections. The secular fanatics will simply not relinquish power willingly. In the Middle East, where the Islamic challenge has been much more serious, the secularists have clamped down hard, executing Islamic activists by the thousands.

In Pakistan, the ‘Islamic’ parties have been no more than secular parties at prayer. And since they have been effectively marginalised, the secular establishment has left them to their own device hoping that they will expose and ultimately hang themselves. This is precisely what has happened in Pakistan.

What has replaced the mainstream ‘Islamic’ parties are extremist groups - Sepah-e Sahaba, Lashkar-e Jhangvi and Sepah-e Muhammad - to continue the battle in other forms. These groups are small but deadly, having recruited criminals into their ranks and attracted a lot of money from abroad.

Their emergence in the eighties gives clue to their foreign sponsors. Two events characterised the early part of the decade: the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Iran’s Islamic Revolution was the first effective challenge to western colonial domination of the Muslim world, exposing the ‘independence’ of various Muslim countries as a fraud.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was challenged by the jihadi spirit of Islam. Both events, inspired by the same ideology - Islam - however, evoked different responses in the west. The Islamic Revolution was viewed as a threat to their hegemony; the Afghans’ struggle as an opportunity to settle score with the Soviets. Ironically, it was US ‘help’ to the Afghan mujahideen that was used as a cover to put in place a number of long-term policies whose deadly ramifications are now being felt in Pakistan and beyond.

The west sought to fight Iran’s influence in two ways: by a direct military assault, and a plan at subversion. The military invasion through Ba’thist Iraq to destroy the fledgling Islamic State in Iran failed because of the spirit of sacrifice of the Irani masses, especially its youth, but the propaganda war has been more effective.

Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the west has sought to portray it as a ‘Shi’i’ revolution, striking a responsive chord in the west’s client regimes in the Middle East. They, too, took up the call with vigour and a fullscale propaganda war was launched whose repercussions are now manifesting themselves in different parts of the world.

These regimes, especially in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have been in the forefront of a campaign to undermine Iran’s Islamic credentials. Unfortunately in Iran, too, a number of mistakes were made in the early period exposing it to charges of sectarianism. Some traces of this as well as nationalism still linger on in the body-politics of Iran.

The deadly combination of Saudi/Kuwaiti finance and American intrigue have given birth to such monsters as the Lashkar-e Jhangvi and SSP. To call them religious groups would be an insult to religion. These people are inspired by blind hatred and killing innocent people is considered a routine matter. One wonders whose honour they are trying to protect?

Afghanistan’s contribution to this deadly game has been through US ‘help’ in conjunction with the Saudi regime. Many of the sectarian killers were trained in camps with the Afghan mujahideen. Now they have established their own camps in places like Muridke and other parts of the Punjab province from where they churn out poisoned minds to continue feeding the spiral of sectarian hatred.

Foreign intrigue, however, succeeds only when there are domestic accomplices willing to take up the cause. In Pakistan, there is no dirt of mercenaries, from the most senior politicians to the lowest bureaucrats. Everyone has a price. Lotacracy is not confined to politics; there are plenty of takers all around.

In a society where the literacy rate is abysmally low, social inequalities great and prospects for economic growth virtually non-existent, the lure of easy money - from Saudi rials and Kuwaiti dinars to American dollars - is immense. Some people will do anything for a few dollars and perhaps the promise of a visa to go to America one day. After all, if everyone in Pakistan is dreaming about America, what is wrong with sectarian killers getting a glimpse of the promised land as well!

Muslimedia: March 16-31, 1998

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 2

Dhu al-Qa'dah 17, 14181998-03-16

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