Did the Pakistan dreamt of ever come into being?
Sectarianism, extremism and violence in Pakistan, what can be done to address these problems? The country, after all, started life with such a colorful cabinet. Its founder Jinnah possessed a Hindu grandfather and a Parsi wife. The father in law of Pakistan’s first Minister for Foreign Affairs Liaquat Ali Khan was a Hindu converted to Christianity, whose daughter, Liaquat Ali Khan’s wife Rana became a Muslim only at marriage. For a brief period when Liaquat Ali Khan went on to become Prime Minister after Jinnah’s death, we had her as First Lady. There was also Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister who belonged to the Ahmadiyya community, and of course Jogendra Nath Mandal Pakistan’s first Minister for Law and Labour, a Hindu.
None of these people would have made it to the cabinet in later years. Mandal, being Hindu, may not have survived, as in stayed alive, here for long, whereas that Chaudhry Zafarullah lived to ninety plus right here in Lahore is nothing short of a miracle given that he became a target for extremist groups who called for his resignation from the cabinet and would have been happy with taking his life. If it comes to that, Jinnah himself, although he personally never professed any particular sect was born to a Khoja (Shia) Ismaili family; he might have found himself at the wrong end of something loud and explosive, had he lived today.
Yet things were not all hunky dory even with that first cabinet. Jinnah differed with Liaqat Ali Khan on the subject of minorities and was not too impressed by the rest of his cabinet either. ‘Below average’, is how he described it to a friend. Nor were general attitudes towards other sects as they ought to have been even then. Jogendra Nath Mandal who had initially opted for Pakistan returned to India soon after Partition where he cited discrimination against Hindus as the reason for his move.
It was just six years after Partition in 1953 that the first anti-Ahmaddiya violence took place in Lahore leading to martial law that same year, the first of several in Pakistan.
It is hard to say how these attitudes may be changed. If education alone were the key to change ‘educated’ countries like the US (that at least possesses some basic literacy which is all we can aspire to in the foreseeable future, we are so far behind at present) would not have such a large number of people holding extreme right wing views. That it does have a large number of people holding such views is confirmed by Donald Trump’s success so far in the lead up to the elections.
The alleviation of poverty is another potential tool for change. However if poverty alone were the cause of extreme right wing mentality and terrorism, a far greater number of Pakistanis would be extreme right wingers, and terrorists, which is not the case at all. That is not to say that extreme poverty is not a contributing factor, it is. But according to an article by Beenish Ahmed in Think Progress, a group of researchers who spoke with extremists and their sympathisers on behalf of Mercy Corp reported that ‘the forces that lead them to militancy included experiences of injustice, discrimination, marginalization, corruption, or physical violence, such as being beaten by police or security forces, or being faced with the killing of a family member.’
“I did not join the Taliban because I was poor,” a 23-year-old former militant fighter told Mercy Corps researchers. “I joined because I was angry.”’
Injustice, discrimination, marginalisation, corruption, and police violence brings us closer to a more accurate description of Pakistan. There are millions in this country who are not facing extreme poverty, who may not be facing poverty at all, but who are pushed against the wall daily and led extreme frustration, intolerance and anger by all these factors enumerated above every single day of their lives.
It would normally be the job of a civilian government to address these problems but to date civilian governments in Pakistan have either been too disinterested, apathetic, self centred or unfit, or all of the above, to do so. Aside from allowing extreme right wing groups to proliferate these governments allowed the military to gain powers it was never supposed to possess, starting with that first Martial Law in 1953.
The present position is as Faisal Siddiqi said in his article last year that ‘a militarised democracy has emerged, in which the political and military elites consensually treat each other as co-equal decision-makers, even though the military has a subordinate constitutional role.’
Subordinate to the civilian government that is.
Such being the case, and since the situation is urgent and requires more muscle than civilian governments possess, Zarb-e Azb has been a good move towards removing extremist groups from the fabric of this country like nits from hair. You wish the operation possessed more transparency, and was being conducted under the aegis of the civilian government, not in spite of it.
A major hitch is the undoubted presence of extreme right wing support within the army itself, and the possibility, given precedent, of the army of overstepping its remit. You almost wish someone would frame the motto: ‘The military is subordinate to the civilian government under the constitution’ and place it in every available public place, to recalibrate the mindset of the military. Easier that than the whole nation. Maybe. It’s a tall order.
Success depends upon the presence of some other factors taking place simultaneously and on a mandatory basis: 1) the provision of better (read: rational) and more widespread education in Pakistan. 2) A serious attempt to improve the courts and systems of judicial redress in the country. Nothing can be achieved without this since poor access to justice leads most directly to frustration and anger, creating fertile ground for extremism. 3) A genuine attempt to alleviate extreme poverty wherever it exists in the country. 4) A civilian government that is committed to the nation rather than to itself.
Sadly, Pakistan has never been able to achieve any of these, but particularly the last. Which is why Jinnah’s Pakistan did come into being on paper, but if ‘Pak’ means rational and welcoming rather than rigid and rejectionist, such a country never really existed in terms of the real meaning of its name.