Viewpoint Interview with Wajahat Masood: Mullah-military nexus has subverted public opinion

Wajahat Masood

Al-Qaeda, Taliban, jihadis, sectarian groups, and so-called parliamentary Islamic groups have a global agenda and as such are natural allies.

Pakistan’s religious/missionary parties and the Taliban constitute “an archipelago of evil”, says Wajahat Massod. Presently working as Editor Coordination with Lahore-based Urdu-language daily Aaj Kal, Wajahat Massod is a known human rights activist. Previously, he has worked in editorial positions with different publications and has authored a number of books as well as working papers on politics both in Urdu and English. In an interview with Viewpoint, he discusses various aspects of Talibanisation and Islamisation in Pakistan. Read on:

Islamisation in Pakistan is often blamed on General Zia. But can we exonerate Zia’s predecessors? Even Bhutto’s ‘socialist’ PPP claimed: ‘Islam is our religion.’ Your comments?

True that Islamisation in Pakistan is often blamed on General Zia, his coterie and his abettors like Jamaat Islami and motley Islamic outfits. However, the history of conflating Islam with politics goes much deeper than Zia’s military interregnum. The founder of Pakistan, Jinnah, though much appreciated for his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan wherein he clearly advocated secularism, was not above playing to the gallery when it suited his purpose. More than once, he made public announcements that could clearly be misinterpreted by religious lobby. Whatever hairsplitting we may contrive, the demand for the partition of India was based upon the postulate that “faith can constitute a political community”. When his plans for Kashmir were frustrated in October 1947, he made a public speech in Lahore which dripped religious diction and cheap slogans. His successor Liaqat Ali was the architect of Objectives Resolution, passed on March 12, 1949 in collusion with a rabid mullah named Shabbir Ahmed Usmani. That resolution, now a substantive part of the constitution of Pakistan, is the lynchpin of religious politics in Pakistan. In 1953, Mumtaz Daultana was held responsible for the February Anti Ahmadiyya riots. However, there is evidence that the then Prime Minister Khawaja Nazim ud Din was equally spineless when it came to defy the mullahs. Once Pakistan joined SEATO and CENTO, no government in Pakistan could refrain from playing to the religious pied piper. Ayub Khan was personally a-religious but his dictatorial dispensation and strategic approach necessitated that the mullah lobby be appeased. He restored the religious nomenclature of the state when protested by a handful of mullahs. He dismissed Dr. Fazal ur Rehman as head of the Islamic advisory board because Mullahs disapproved of his enlightened approach. In 1965, Ayub invoked religious overtones during his misadventure against India.

Yahya Khan, though much maligned for his lecherous personal practices, enjoyed the approval of Jamaat Islami. His information Minister General Sher Ali Khan was the inventor of the fiction named “Ideology of Pakistan”. Religious groups supported Pakistan army in the persecution of democratic forces in East Pakistan. Mian Tufail, then head of Jamaat Islami, sanctioned Yahya Khan’s ill-fated hand-made Constitution in advance and labeled it as Islamic.

Mr. Bhutto, a populist extraordinaire, played religion to the hilt to frustrate democratic forces. “Islam is our Deen” was one of the four points of his political narrative. He convened “Islamic Conference” in Pakistan. He introduced Islamic clauses in the constitution of the country that still rankle the body politic in Pakistan. He declared Ahmadyyia Muslims as non-Muslims through parliament. He enacted prohibition laws. He distorted curricula and media with liberal doses of Islamic lexicon. In fact, he watered Islamization to the point that General Zia only had to reap the fruit. So it is both a simplification and a travesty of history of Pakistan to blame General Zia solely for the religious mess in Pakistani politics that we witness today.

Every Islamist party that matters in Pakistan opposed the creation of Pakistan. Today all such parties present themselves as custodians of the county’s ideological basics. Media, politicians, intellectuals, hardly anybody pinpoints this fact. What explains this national amnesia?

All India Muslim League, the founder party of Pakistan, played the religious card before and after the partition. Further, Muslim League allowed the developments that entirely transformed the demographic and religious profile of the proposed Pakistan. The second and third tier leadership of Muslim League was not only involved in the communal riots around the partition but was also inept and anti-democracy. It allowed an ambiance to flourish in Pakistan wherein distortion of history was the order of the day. Further, it became nigh impossible to oppose or rebut the claims of the clergy.

Political workers, academicians, intellectuals and historians have been pointing out the opposition of Pakistan by the Mullah clan but they have been rendered into a miniscule and insignificant minority. The mullah-military nexus played an important part in the distortion of history in Pakistan. Since, 1977, the mullah and their protégés have been the sole custodians of media and educational institutions. The public opinion has been thoroughly subverted. Lone voices continue to rise here and there but they get lost in the din of an indoctrinated public opinion and an aggressive anti-people and anti-history clique. Sibte Hassan, Hamza Alvi, Dr. Mubarik Ali, Dr. Mehdi Hassan, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, Khaled Ahmad, Aziz Siddiqui, Zameer Niazi, Mazhar Ali Khan, Dr. Feroz Ahmad and several dozen other names can be cited as examples of whistle blowers and watch dogs in Pakistan.

Jamaat Islami was opposed to Jihad in Kashmir. It did not want its members to join armed forces. It supported Fatima Jinnah against General Ayub in elections. Later it became a champion of Kashmir cause, opposed Benazir’s election as prime minister on the plea that a woman cannot become head of state. It sided with General Yahya and Zia. Now it poses itself as champion of the democratic cause.  Do you think Jamaat has indeed transformed?

Jamaat Islami has undergone a lot of transformation in terms of political tactics. Since its baptism in Afghanistan and Kashmir Jihad, its clout in bureaucracy, military and media has increased manifold. Jamaat’s international links too have flourished over the years. Apart from Arabian monarchies, it has developed links with groups in China and Central Asia, as well. Jamaat Islami may not enjoy a lot of electoral prospects, but its street power and the capacity to rouse a rabble, whenever required by the powers-that-be, remains formidable. Jamaat purports to distance itself from al-Qaeda and Taliban, but the subterranean links remain undeniable.

Jamaat Islami has tried to pose as democratic entity but its love for democracy is only skin deep. The fundamental principle of democracy is the sovereignty of the people and Jamaat Islami does not endorse this principle. Their adherence to a divine dispensation remains undiluted. Further, Jamaat has never renounced violence in politics. In fact, Jamaat is the intellectual power house of the fundamentalist forces of Pakistan, be they involved in active insurgency against the state of Pakistan or lying dormant.

Tableeghi Jamaat, Dawat e Islami, JUI, JUP even Jamaat Islami (despite its quasi-fascist student-wing) do not practice and preach Taliban-style violence. Do you think Taliban and these traditional Islamist parties are a different phenomenon or do they compliment each other?

It is an archipelago of evil. On the surface, these entities may appear to have different identities, but underneath, they not only endorse each other, they actively support each other, as well. Most of the al-Qaeda leaders arrested inside Pakistan have been nabbed at the homes of the workers of these parties. In fact, the only distinction between these organizations and Taliban is that Pakistan based mainstream religious outfits hope to benefit from the rise of Taliban. They hope that once Taliban have emasculated Pakistan state to a reasonable degree, these “benign” religious outfits will be able to extract further pounds of flesh from the body politic of Pakistan in the garb of restoring peace and “striking a middle ground”.

Pakistani establishment is differentiating between Afghan and Kashmiri Jihadi groups. That again is a dangerous construct. Al-Qaeda, Taliban, jihadis, sectarian groups, and so-called parliamentary Islamic groups have a global agenda and as such are natural allies.

Literacy is expected to enlighten the masses. In Pakistan, if we analyse the voting patterns we find urbanized centres voting for conservative parties while rural areas where you find higher number of unlettered people, nationalists or PPP win big. Similarly people like Zaid Hamid find more support among urbanized middle classes. What explains this contradiction? Why is Pakistani middle class more supportive of reactionary ideas?

A few points need to be taken into consideration about this apparent anomaly.

One, the electoral pattern in rural areas hardly represents the public opinion. In rural constituencies, the locally influential feudal lords, chieftains, Sardars and Waderas extract votes by dint of their physical muscle.

Two, the urban vote can be further divided into two groups: the shutter class (shop-keepers) and professionals. The shutter class is predominantly religious, anti-democracy (read anti-Bhutto) and right of the center. The sole electoral plank that appeals to traders is the license for not paying taxes. The professional class is educated in a Pakistani way. Their education has indoctrinated them in all the wrong ways. Both traders and professionals are essentially afraid of the social liberalization. Their predominant concern is to thwart the empowerment of their women folk. This is not to say, they are pious. They are indulgent to a fault but they like their own female family members to be dumb and docile dolls. Education in Pakistan has stymied the people instead of liberating their minds to the contemporary realities.

Madrassas have played the best recruiting centres for Taliban. In particular, suicide bombers have been a product of madrassas. Millions come out from madrassas every decade. How to deal with this phenomenon?  Should they be banned? Or should they be reformed, if reform is possible at all? Should they be nationalized and integrated into a uniform education system?

Madrassas are the domain of the mullah. They will never allow a reformation of the madrassas. Mullah mindset is immune to the term reform. In fact, mullah and reformation are two diametrically opposed constructs.

Madrassas are a very dangerous tinderbox in urban and rural areas, not just in political or terrorist terms. They breed social retrogression. The madrassas are the fountain of sectarian hatred and bloodshed. The question is what is to be done about the mushrooming madrassas. The menace of madrassas can not be addressed without an effective writ of the state. That is the prerequisite. Some steps can be suggested:

  • All madrassas built on illegally occupied land, especially state land, must be demolished.
  • The establishment of new madrassas must be subject to state permission.
  • The financial matters, especially cash flow of madrassas, must be brought under the purview of competent state authority.
  • The curricula at madrassas must be scrutinized for hate speech.
  • The use of loud-speaker must be banned in madrassas.
  • Community monitoring committees should be formed that should visit madrassas from time to time to monitor the academic ambiance. Any madrassa found guilty of spreading sectarian hatred should be closed down.
  • All madrassas should be open to police authorities to ensure that weapons are not stored in madrassas and potential trouble-makers do not find safe haven there.
  • Incentive should be offered to the students who are willing to leave madrassas and join mainstream educational institutions.

Source: Viewpoint



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