Pakistan, Islam, General Kayani and One-Unit-Faith – by Nadeem F. Paracha

Smokers’ Corner: One-unit-faith
By Nadeem F. Paracha

Recently, while giving a speech to the Peshawar police, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that no one could separate Islam from Pakistan. One wonders what prompted the army chief to digress, and start assuring his audience about Pakistan’s Islamic credentials.

I guess he chose the occasion to comment on the military’s take on a (albeit unsubstantiated) news report stating that the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) wanted to change the country’s name from Islamic Republic of Pakistan to People’s Republic of Pakistan. Even though both the ANP and MQM were quick to refute the news, General Kayani’s reassurance in this respect yet again underlines the dilemma the military and the state of Pakistan have been facing for years.

The dilemma constitutes political and ideological factors in which the military has had the biggest stakes; but unfortunately it is also a dilemma which the military has been rather reluctant to resolve. According to respected historians, like the late K. K. Aziz and Dr Mubarak Ali, the whole idea that ‘Pakistan was made in the name of Islam’ and/or as an ‘Islamic state’, was nowhere to be found in the ideological discourse of the state before 1962, when it was first raised by the Jamat-i-Islami — a party that was opposed to the creation of Pakistan.

Though the civil-bureaucracy conglomerate that presided over the affairs of the state and the government in the 1950s decided to officially start calling the country an ‘Islamic Republic’ (in 1956), there was really no mention of such a republic in the early years of the new country. Scholars like Aysha Jalal and Pervez Hoodbhoy suggest that right from the beginning the concept of Islam being a part of Pakistan’s nationhood and the state carried contradictory messages.

The country’s founder was a secular Muslim, married to a non-Muslim and a strong defender of the notion that the state should confine its authority to the secular sphere. Throughout the Pakistan Movement, Mr Jinnah’s party, the Muslim League, overwhelmingly had secular-minded leaders who treated the Muslims of the subcontinent as a separate cultural (as opposed to a strictly politico-religious) entity. Their demand was for a separate Muslim state and not an Islamic state.

There is no way that Pakistan was conceived as an Islamic state by its founding fathers. This becomes apparent by the way orthodox Islamic parties like the Jamat-i-Islami reacted to the creation of Pakistan. Had Jinnah pictured the new country as an Islamic state, there was no reason why parties like the Jamat would oppose its creation. It’s as simple as that.

However, unable to convincingly define its ideology, the state started to capitulate in the face of the mounting pressure exerted by the religious parties. Thus, from 1962 onwards, the largely synthetic ideological construct of Pakistan being an Islamic Republic requiring an Islamic state began taking shape.

The lack of democracy and its many institutions — initially discarded by the secular military dictatorship of Ayub Khan — is also a prominent reason why the military and the establishment were left stumped by the religious parties’ mantra in this respect. What was being repressed in the discourse by the military and the civil establishment was the glaring fact that Pakistan, even as a Muslim country, was a land of great ethnic and sectarian diversity.

Its people constituted Urdu-speakers (Mohajirs), Sindhis, Pathans, Siriakis, Baloch, Bengalis, and many others; and also people belonging to various Islamic sects and sub-sects. By imposing the ruse that Pakistan was ‘one unit’ (a collective body of homogenous Muslims) was a naïve evaluation that only ended up alienating the many ethnically distinct strains of Muslims and the minorities that made Pakistan their home.

In other words, Pakistan’s identity and ideology should have been squarely based on a democratic acceptance of its ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity, instead of the establishment’s rather convoluted ‘one ideology for all’ brand of Islam. We are not an ethnically and culturally homogenous nation following a singular version of Islam, or of the state for that matter as far as religious minorities are concerned.

We are a nation of various groups of diversified people who can remain united as a country with the help of democracy alone. Only democracy can achieve such a state of unity. But such a state usually has not gone down well with Islamists and the military — even after years of ethnic, political and religious turmoil and cleavages that the one-unit-Islam has caused across the long dictatorships Pakistan has had to suffer.

It is time our military and religious parties let go of the fear of a democratically accepted, diverse Pakistan; especially the military, which is now fighting a vital battle in the northwest — ironically with the monstrous pitfalls of the synthetic state-sanctioned Islam imposed through years of undemocratic rule and a crass undermining of what Pakistani nation and society are really about: i.e. ethnic and religious diversity requiring an uninterrupted stretch of democracy.

So what if some Pakistanis want to change the name of the country? It is only the synthetic nature and fragility of the one-unit-Islam that causes hearts to flutter, because state-sponsored Islam is not an organic construct. Thus, it is an insecure ideology that continues to blame outside forces, secularism and democracy for its own, very obvious, failures.