The reasons for the current political turmoil in Pakistan are not difficult to see. We have a government, led by Pervez Musharraf, that has been utterly discredited by its subservience to the United States of America, which is regarded as a sworn enemy by the majority of Pakistan’s people, and by its willingness to wage war on its own people at the US’s behest. And we have opposition politicians angling to replace Musharraf who have no more credibility because of their own records in power in the past, and the fact that they too are perfectly willing – even eager – to kowtow to the US in order to secure their own position. The result is that, 60 years after Pakistan was created as a state for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, and on the promise of being an Islamic state reflecting the aspirations of the vast majority of its people, its people are painfully aware that there is little prospect of any improvement in their situation in the foreseeable future.
The key reason for this is not difficult to see: the total failure of the Islamic movement in Pakistan to produce a leadership and organization capable of leading the country’s people out of this mess. Although Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, the leadership of the Pakistan movement came from men who were either using Islam for political ends, or had no idea of the real socio-political nature of their faith. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s “Qaid-e Azzam”, was an admirer of Mustafa Kemal, the arch-secularist and destroyer of the khilafah in Turkey. From the outset, therefore, Islamic leaders and movements were forced to take a position of opposition to secular leaders who claimed a degree of Islamic credibility because of Pakistan’s origins, and demanded national loyalty on the basis of this credibility. The question of whether the Islamic movement should denounce the national political framework, or recognise it and operate through it, was one to which Maulana Maududi, founder and leader of the Jama‘at-e Islami (JI), Pakistan’s main Islamic movement, never found a clear answer. Since his death in 1979, shortly after the Islamic Revolution inIran blazed a path that he had never discovered, the JI has continued to flounder between the two stools of political party and Islamic movement. Today it is trying to ride the wave of opposition to Musharraf as a leading part of the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA) alliance of Islamic political parties, along with various populist Taliban-style and other groups that have thrived since Musharraf’s takeover. But it is so discredited and ineffective that even Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto are regarded as more credible candidates for power.
What is perhaps remarkable is that, despite the efforts of various secular and pro-Western voices, Pakistan’s people have never made the mistake of regarding the failures of these Islamic movements as failures of Islam. The result is that most Pakistanis still look to Islam for solutions to their problems, even if they realise that these will not be found quickly or easily. Virtually all Pakistanis who think about the country’s political and social problems, and want to do something about them, think in terms of their Islamic faith and commitment, and regard successful Islamic movements such as those in Iran and Lebanon as the models to follow. The problem is that there appears to be little prospect of an Islamic leadership of similar quality and sophistication emerging in the foreseeable future. The result is that the leadership of the Islamic movement is left in the hands of politicians who cannot pull clear of the political quagmire, despite their best intentions, and populist leaders of admirable vigour but limited sophistication. Until this changes, there is little hope for positive change in Pakistan.