Benighted sentiments must not be used as an excuse by the Pakistani state to shy away from its human rights responsibilities including the protection of religious minorities . The government must make a clear distinction between raw and unruly emotions of its populace and the countries ties with the rest of the world,as foreign relations are not based on passion and emotions but on international conventions and treaties.
Pakistan’s woes are not new , but even by its own standard, Pakistan has sunk even deeper into the abyss. Pakistan’s economy which was already plagued by an Islamist insurgency, hasn’t been helped by the recent floods which have devastated an already fragile state of affairs, its problems have been compounded by a structurally weak and deeply unpopular government which now faces challenges from all quarters including the highly independent right leaning judiciary and a schizophrenic and an equally conservative electronic and print Urdu media, which never fails to register its prejudice against the liberal elements of the society.
Salman taseer’s assassination earlier this year has only further deteriorated the already grim state of affairs, his death and the aftermath of his death have further divided an already fissured nation. Reaction to his death has frightened outsiders and has polarized public opinion inside Pakistan. Taseer, long regarded as a bastion of liberalism in Pakistan signified everything the Islamist didn’t want to see in Pakistan, his western and amiable life style often made him a target of a pungent character assassination campaign by the right of Pakistani politics, undeterred he remained steadfast in his liberal views and values often going against Pakistan’s single track and reactionary public opinion, and ultimately paying with his life for his political Gustavo. The latest victim of the insane religious barbarism plaguing the country is federal minster for minorities Shabaz Bhatti, like Taseer ,bhatti was also gunned down for supporting a Christians women falsely accused of blasphemy. It seems the space for liberals is shrinking with each passing day under a well orchestrated agenda. The most shocking part of this heinous design is the fact that government ministers and Governors are being killed in the capital city only a stone throw away from the Army head quarters and the parliament just for having an opinion which is different from the religious circles, but the spineless Zardari led government has decided to bow down to the Islamists , only emboldening them to further advance their agenda , and further marginalizing the liberal segments of the society.
Pakistan as a nation state is walking a thin line ,a line which could go either way. It a perfect dilemma, which has its roots in the countries Machiavellian and duplicitous foreign policy which has historically played on both sides of the fence, trying to appease either the conservative segment of it own population or its chief financiers(United states and Western countries).The arrest of American diplomat Raymond Davis who is part of American Embassies consular stuff in January has only highlighted the contradictions Pakistan faces as a nation. The sensational and biased coverage of the issue by Pakistan’s right wing private television networks has only served as fuel for the wild fire of anti Americanism and which is already raging unchecked across the country. Hard line Anchors are having a free run distorting facts and spinning conspiracy theories at will, ignoring Raymond’s diplomatic status and Pakistan’s international obligations. Religious parties who have already marginalized the few saner and liberal voices in Pakistan have been given another reason to demonize the west and further radicalize the semi literate youth of the country. It seems reason has lost its voice in Pakistan , whilst it was clear from day one that Davis fired in self defense but facts have been conveniently ignored to achieve narrow political ends. These political ends are designed to serve the military establishment and their historic allies the religio-political parties. It’s a naive thought on part of the Pakistani establishment to think they can dupe the Us Administration all the time to siphon the American exchequer, and simultaneously play the Anti American Card for the domestic audience .Somebody, somewhere in the White house will most likely call Pakistan bluff in the near future.
The tumorous and almost mad Anti American Sentiment is being fueled and funded by a well scripted narrative , a narrative that is central to Pakistan’s foreign policy ,a delusional world view in which Pakistan is considered as the citadel and defender of Islam and where all non-Muslims especially Indian Hindus are considered a threat to both the sovereignty of Pakistan and to its so called ideological borders. This world view has dominated the Pakistani political ,social, and religious discourse since its inception and gained impetus during General Zia ul haq’s Strict Islamic theocratic dictatorship. The Afghan jihad and the Kashmir conflict have been instrumental in providing oxygen to this sclerotic and diseased ideology. The beneficiaries and the architect of this myopic foreign policy are the usual suspects, the military establishment, hard line religious parties , and the right wing media. The lower and middle class of the country have served as ideological foot soldiers to advance this foreign policy objective, indoctrinated and drilled with the time tested conspiracy theories in which the US, India and Israel are blamed for all the woes of the Islamic world in general and Pakistan in particular. This brain washing is the result of decades indoctrination by the religious seminaries, which serve as the primary means of education in Pakistan, which is a direct consequence of the failure of the government to provide quality secular education to its masses and that vacuum has been filled by hard line religious elements who have sufficient funding , from both local and international donors. Their task has been complemented, and made viral by the advent of private television channels which are notorious for appeasing the Islamists, and playing ball with the radical segments of the society, often preferring Television ratings and jingoism, over journalistic norms.
The clock is ticking for Pakistan to mends it way and play a constructive role in the communion of nations. The country is becoming somewhat of a paradox, it is developing nuclear weapons at the fastest rate in the world and obsessed with obsolete and disastrous foreign policy notions such as the “Strategic depth” but where the common man lives just under 2 dollars a day, and cannot afford proper education and health care. The United States and the western world must send a clear message to the powers that be in Pakistan, in unequivocal terms that it needs to make a paradigm shift in the manner it views itself and the world. Pakistani state it seems, has been hijacked by ignorant public opinion. National leaders rather than playing a constructive role in harnessing and educating public opinion have usually capitulated to negative public opinion on key national issues, such as the proposed amendment to the highly controversial blasphemy law. Public opinion in Pakistan is usually driven by bigotry and overtly patriotic and religious sentiments which is indeed a manifestation of decades of negligence on part of the Pakistani state to educate its masses with the right form of education. Benighted sentiments must not be used as an excuse by the Pakistani state to shy away from its human rights responsibilities including the protection of religious minorities. The government must make a clear distinction between raw and unruly emotions of its populace and the countries ties with the rest of the world, as foreign relations are not based on passion and emotions but on international conventions and treaties. Unbridled religious passion has already cost thousands of innocent lives, it needs to be curtailed through education and if necessary, force when required.
The nuclear armed country cannot afford to create a xenophobic nation filled with hatred against anything that it finds different from its own way of living. Intolerance and bigotry have become the tell tale signs of Pakistan society, religious minorities live in perpetual fear and are too afraid to speak out against the persecution and the discrimination they face on a daily basis. Its surely not the country its founding fathers had envisaged. Pakistan needs radical change, it needs to take on the hard line religious elements which instigate violence head on, instead of appeasing them. Failure to do so will only result in a supremacist Islamist society which will eventually meet similar fate as Hitler’s Germany or even worst.
Dr Syed Sarosh is a Pakistan Dentist ,academician and a free lance foreign policy expert.