Honesty is one of the fundamental qualities of a committed Muslim. A dishonest person not only cheats others, he also betrays his trust with Allah (swt). Such a person is denounced as a munafiq. This unfortunately seems to be the case with most people in Pakistan, especially the political elite. Corruption, dishonesty, and outright lies have become the norm. In the unlikely event of someone in position of authority being held to account, there is immediate hue and cry.
Take the case of Nawaz Sharif, recently disqualified from holding a seat in the National Assembly in violation of Articles 62 and 63 that require a person to be sadiq (honest) and amin (upright). If he cannot be a member of the assembly, Sharif cannot remain prime minister. Yet he and a large segment of the political class and media have gone berserk over the Supreme Court’s disqualifying an “elected” prime minister who enjoyed a heavy mandate.
The mendacity of such assertions is mindboggling. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) had won a mere 17% of the popular vote in the 2013 general elections to become the “largest” party in parliament. To call a system held hostage to the interests of feudal lords and industrial barons a democracy is a cruel joke. Besides, Sharif seldom appeared in parliament as is expected of an “elected” prime minister. He had made the assembly largely irrelevant.
To understand how dysfunctional the political system is, consider this. After his resignation, Sharif wanted to elevate his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif (currently serving as Chief Minister of Punjab) to the prime ministerial post. A family feud erupted over who should become Punjab chief minister. Nawaz wanted his daughter Maryam (also facing corruption charges as are her two brothers) to head the largest province while Shahbaz wanted his son Hamza to succeed him. Is Pakistan the personal fiefdom of the Sharifs or any other family (Bhutto-Zardari combine)?
The people of Pakistan know that the politicians are thoroughly corrupt, yet they continue to vote for the same corrupt bunch in every election. Political parties, and thus the country, are run as a family affair: power is transferred from father to son or daughter. The Bhutto-Zardari combine versus the Sharif mafia seem to have entrenched themselves in the political system. Feudal and industrial gangsters of lesser weight attach themselves to one or the other mafia to remain in power. Changing faces at the top makes little difference to how the country is governed.
Despite its enormous potential both in natural resources and human talent, the greedy bunch of landlords and industrialists have reduced Pakistan to penury. The country’s education and health systems have virtually collapsed, as has much of the infrastructure, notwithstanding the grandiose urban schemes such as metro buses, plazas, etc. that benefit a small percentage of people.
In major cities, traffic congestion is a nightmare; pollution is so bad that there is an alarming rise in respiratory problems. Power outages are common in the blistering summer heat. Many industries operate at less than 50% capacity, if at all. In rural areas, lack of clean drinking water and medical facilities take a heavy toll on people’s health. With politicians engrossed in plunder, they have no time for the concerns of ordinary people. There is nothing unique about such problems except that in Pakistan, these have become acute. The country, however, suffers from something much more acute: an identity crisis.
Is it a secular or Islamic state and if it is Islamic, what kind of Islam would be in place? Ordinarily such questions, at least about Islam would not be raised but the religious class, instead of uniting people, has created deep divisions in society. Many of them are also thoroughly corrupt. Let us be clear, without Islam, there is no reason for Pakistan’s existence. After all, in a secular state, religion is treated as a personal matter. Muslim secularists in Pakistan behave no differently than their Hindu counterparts in India. Both enjoy Bollywood movies, dress the same way, and have the same tastes in food.
Islam has a different outlook on life. It provides clear guidelines for social, economic, and political activity. A sincere Muslim is committed to Allah (swt) and is considerate toward other human beings regardless of their religion or outlook in life. This is what the noble Messenger (pbuh) exemplified in his blessed life.
Those sincere about Pakistan have some serious thinking to do. Unless a genuine Islamic system is established in which socio-economic and political justice are given priority, the feudal-industrial oligarchy will destroy the country. Simply going through the ritual of elections every few years that are massively rigged — many voters are bought and the vast majority of people treat the process with disdain — will not help bring about any meaningful change.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).