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Pakistan should act responsibly

January 20, 2018

The fatwa against terrorism signed by the leading Islamic seminaries and scholars should be welcomed by us all. Terrorism has not frightened the alleged enemies of Islam, Muslims and Pakistan. On the contrary, one can see them joining ranks to isolate Pakistan. Even our great friend China has no interest in its investments being hijacked by adventurists looking to conquer the world in the name of Islam.

I fully understand that in Pakistan there is a strong feeling that we have been used and discarded. What we need to understand is that as members of the international community, we are expected to act responsibly in our neighbourhood and in international politics.

Descriptions such as India-specific and Kashmir-specific which one hears for jihadi groups as some sort of options we have for forcing India to give up on Kashmir have produced just the opposite results. It is about time we stopped living in a fool’s paradise and enter the realm of reality and responsibility. I have said repeatedly that the future of Kashmir can only be solved through a win-win approach in which three parties — India, Pakistan and Kashmiris — are winners. This is not impossible. The Kasuri Plan is the realistic and correct response and formula for restoring peace in the sub-continent.

The fact that we are a nuclear power has encouraged a twisted mindset that it is somehow an insurance against war. Therefore, non-state actors can go around with their terrorism in other countries with impunity. Those who deny that the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 were masterminded and directed from within Pakistan are fooling themselves and nobody else. They are endangering the lives of millions of decent Pakistanis who constitute the bulk of the population. If India is involved in promoting terrorism in Balochistan then it only shows that the other side can also terrorise. I would be very surprised if they were not to exploit our problems.

Having procured a fatwa on behalf of peace, the Pakistan government has taken a bold step. It must now ensure that terrorism against minorities in Pakistan ceases altogether. All sectarian militias should be disbanded. What we all want is that the national resolve against terrorism is translated into effective policy.

The educational curriculum must be revised in the light of internationalism, human solidarity and regional peace. Equally, the mosques and religious seminaries must be brought directly under the control of the state. The mosques should be places of worship and the prayer leaders should read out the Friday khutba prepared by the Department or Ministry of Religious Affairs. Ambiguity surrounding the policy of the state on Islam and religion in general must give way to clarity, consistency and coherence.

It is equally important that the influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia in our society is kept to the minimum. I have in the past earned myself the hostility of those who think that while damning Saudi Arabia is good, criticising Iran is not. I have never succumbed to such foolish sectarianism. The recent revolt in Iran against the clergy’s strict control and Iran’s involvement in foreign conflicts and wars is indicative of the fatigue and frustration of the Iranian people. In Saudi Arabia too, Wahhabism’s repression is being questioned more and more. A more open and friendly Saudi Arabia is possible if all goes well.

For a long time to come, Islam will continue to influence the course of politics and the transition to a secular, democratic, inclusive nation-state may be a long way off.
The big question of history is: when will Muslim societies break with the backward-looking approach to the future? I have a gut feeling that the radicalisation of Muslim societies which began in the wake of the Khomeini revolution in Iran 9 compounded by the Afghan Communist revolution and Soviet intervention in 1979 greatly strengthened and accelerated the radicalisation which General Zia had started in Pakistan after 1977.

Consequently, the more enlightened type of Muslim modernism was eclipsed by fundamentalisms of one sort of another. Even secular Turkey began to succumb to creeping Islamism of the Refah Party and then Erdogan’s AKP. Those trends have set the clock back once again, but the clock has also stopped. Fundamentalism may have hit the rock bottom and its hollowness has been exposed.

For a long time to come, Islam will continue to influence the course of politics and the transition to a secular, democratic, inclusive nation-state may be a long way off. Some people believe that Muslim societies will never truly cross the threshold because Islam has a unique way of preventing secularisation because of its strong emphasis on justice and community. The most famous exponent of such a view is the late British-Czech anthropologist Ernest Gellner.

I think such essentialism is questionable, but Gellner was right in underlining the way Islam is interpreted by Muslims — both modernists and fundamentalists — to generate arguments to reject secular democracy by claiming that Islam is democratic in its own way. Allama Iqbal thought along such lines and one can identity both modernist and fundamentalist ideas in his poetry and prose. However, I think we have entered or can enter the modernist phase again and within the parameters of a Muslim state advance policies which advance an agenda of inclusion, tolerance and pluralism. What is generally called sufism is in fact our peculiar heritage of men and movements who came up with alternatives to dogmatism and orthodoxy. That heritage needs to be brought into the educational system. There is no harm in acknowledging that sufism itself was a product of the influence of Persian, Christian, Shamanism and philosophical Hinduism. In turn, sufism brought about changes in the form of the Bakhti and Sikh movements.

In this age of instant communications, we are learning and absorbing ideas from all over the globe. Many such ideas speak of a common, wounded humanity. These can be incorporated into our own thinking without Islam, Muslims or Pakistan being in danger.

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