Pampering the mullah

Friday, November 06, 2009

Talat Farooq

After the government crackdown on certain madrassas in Islamabad recently, the representatives of the Wafaq-ul-Madaris aired their indignation on TV channels. They criticised the action on the grounds that madrassas have always been weapon/terror-free — including, if you please, the Lal Masjid — and, as such, cannot be held responsible for any anti-state activities The went on to add thatif the government officials wish to visit any of the premises, they must do so with the permission of Wafaq-ul-Madaris. In answer to such defiant outbursts, the interior minister meekly assured the Wafaq that the government never meant to violate the sanctity of these great places of learning and knowledge, and is only looking for some foreign Imams residing in some madressahs illegally. One fails to understand why the government has to be apologetic in carrying out such actions against any institution in Pakistan if it has reports of illegal activity there, especially when we are in a state of war. Madressahs, even if registered, are not sacrosanct or above the law. Unfortunately, it is this obsequiousness of our rulers toward the mullah since the creation of Pakistan that has emboldened the extremists over the last six decades.

The Muslim struggle for Pakistan did not include the Deoband or the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind who opposed the idea of Pakistan tooth and nail. Nonetheless, once Pakistan became a reality the Wahabi-Deobandi groups made gradual inroads as our leaders acquiesced to their demands within a few years of independence. Since then their influence has remained unchecked by the state as it focused on short-term political goals, it is therefore not surprising that they have eventually assumed the mantle of our self-proclaimed saviours and architects of the national identity of Pakistan.

Be it the Objectives Resolution or the timing of the Anti-Ahmadiyya movement in the 50s that facilitated the first martial law; the ban on alcohol and declaration of Friday as a weekly holiday by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Naseerullah Babar’s Taliban idea during Benazir’s government, or Nawaz Sharif’s Shariah Bill of the 90s, staying on the right side of Maulana Fazl ur Rahman by successive governments or the on-going pampering of Wafaq-ul-Madaris by the incumbent administration, the political players of Pakistan have always put their own narrow interests before the interests of the nation.

The military dictatorships on the other hand have used the mullah to further their own specific interests. From Ayub Khan to Musharraf, all military regimes have sought the cooperation of one religious sect or the other. Zia in particular played the mullah card to promote American interests and Arab culture simultaneously, destroying national institutions in the process while Musharraf’s post-9/11 two-faced strategy ensured the continuity of extremism. Jointly, the politicians and the military dictators, with help from America and Saudi Arabia, have managed to create a monster that feeds on violence and bloodshed.

The religious clerics, whether Muslim or non Muslim, derive their political power from exploiting the insecurities of the masses by focusing on differences in religious and socio-cultural beliefs, thus leading to social divisions. In a multi-ethnic Pakistani society with a sizeable non-Muslim population, this has spelled disaster. Over the last three decades, the Deobandi/Wahabi mindset has transmuted ideological divisions into militant sectarianism that has been duly exploited by the Taliban and their domestic sympathisers that include mainstream religious-political parties.

Muslim states like Turkey, in keeping with the Ottoman tradition, have managed to keep their clerics under state control to ensure social order. In Pakistan, they have been given a free hand; what we are witnessing today in the shape of violence is the dark side of religiosity infused by religious extremists into the psyche of both the uneducated masses and the unsuspecting educated elite. This has transpired due to the manipulation of religious sentiments by vested interests and festering socio-economic and governance issues all rolled into one. But above all, this is due to the deliberate omission of critical thinking skills and philosophical knowledge from the national curricula, thus rendering a large majority of Pakistani population incapable of objective assessment. This omission is largely attributable to the direct or indirect influence of the mullah especially during and after the Zia era.

Today the same extremist elements continue to spread their hatred of one another as well as propagate against Pakistan’s national interests by promoting conspiracy theories and blind anti-Americanism from the pulpit. And while doing so, they fail to mention the negative influence of certain policies of the Saudi government toward Pakistan. The anti-American and anti-government slogans after the Islamic University bombing would have sounded more genuine had they been accompanied with anti-Taliban slogans. Pakistan will never become a self-respecting nation unless it disengages itself from not only American shackles but also the ones imported from Saudi Arabia. This requires a mature political leadership that believes in impartial analyses and practical strategies, not to mention courage and wisdom.

The Waziristan operation is in full swing and if the religious parties cannot support it for fear of life, they can at least remain quiet. By stoking the fire of anti-Americanism to garner support for the Taliban through ill-timed rallies and referendums, they are doing no service to Pakistan. The nation is being driven into a frenzy that can only spread more intolerance and spawn fear and anxiety. Furthermore, it serves as a diversion because it deflects people’s attention from the real issue of good governance and allows religious and secular leaders, whether in the government or opposition or outside the parliament, to play their petty games without having to shoulder the required responsibilities to steer the country out of the present quagmire.

Religion is a strong social phenomenon and has been employed by many in human history to serve political ends. Muslim history is no exception. The mullahs of Pakistan have employed the same dispensation since 1947 to gain political power. This has eventually led to the rise of a ferocious militant element never known in Muslim history. Not even the Hashashins of Hassan Sabah killed with such merry abandon. It is high time for the state to check the spread of unbridled hatred. It is time to stop pampering the mullah.

The writer is executive editor of Criterion, Islamabad.
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