After February 18 elections, one perception is that the role of religious parties has considerably diminished in Pakistan’s politics. After all, the province that is contiguous to the tribal belt and Afghanistan has ousted a religious alliance and gone with the secular Awami National Party. And the Pakistan People’s Party of assassinated Benazir Bhutto, a symbol of modernity, is leading the coalition at the centre. But what does all this mean in terms of the expansion of liberal values and democratic ideals in our society?
I had some disturbing thoughts about the overall drift in this context when I participated in a dialogue earlier this week in Karachi on the subject of Pakistani diaspora in the west. Sponsored by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency (Pildat), this was the first of three dialogues meant to understand relations between the Muslim world and the west. The question put was whether the Pakistani diaspora was part of the solution or part of the problem.
Against the backdrop of what is described as the war on terror, one dominant point of reference, naturally, was the state of religious militancy in the country and its reflection in the lives and actions of expatriates of Pakistani origin who reside in the west, particularly in Britain. Since the dialogue was designed to include legislators of Pakistani origin in a western country, one of the participants was Baroness Kishwer Faulkner, a member of the British House of Lords, who has her roots in Karachi.
She did refer to the July 7 terrorists and their connections to Pakistan. Incidentally, court proceedings of the trial of the alleged terrorists had started in London on Monday and one report said that two men accused of helping to plan the July 7 attacks had flown to Pakistan to finalize plans just days after carrying out a reconnaissance mission in London.
Because reports about the Karachi dialogue and the next one held in Islamabad have been published, there is no need to review the proceedings that generally echoed the popular judgment that the west has little sympathy for injustices perpetrated on the Muslims, with very enthusiastic references to the Iraq war and the Palestinian problem. These are certainly very relevant concerns. But what I found disturbing was the passion with which the west is censured not just for the foreign policies of some of its governments but also for its civilisational legacy, with frequent citations about its colonial era.
Now, the simple fact is that if so many hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis live in the west, they must have some confidence in its democratic system and in the rights that are legally enforced. Indeed, Khalid Mahmood, a member of the Storting Norwegian Parliament, highlighted this aspect of life in a western democracy. As it is, there is some contradiction in berating the western way of life and still yearning to emigrate.
My point was that if Pakistan figures so frequently in actual or perceived acts of religious militancy and intolerance in the west, the problem should be located in our own society and how it has evolved in recent years. In this respect, the intolerance that pervades our society — the lynching of a Hindu youth in a Karachi factory that I wrote about last week being the latest example — has not been carefully explored and no serious attempts are being made to promote a more civilized behaviour at a collective level.
Instead, we are apparently becoming more ‘illiberal’, in spite of our professed aspirations for a democratic dispensation and rule of law. There are a number of issues on which a dispassionate discussion is becoming more and more difficult. An environment in which a rational debate, rooted in established facts and a certified historical outlook, can be conducted is just not there.
Yes, the reality of Pakistan can still be a matter of genuine disagreement. This does not mean that we should not make an attempt to objectively examine the existing situation and debate measures that would be required to tackle our liabilities. It has been my constant lament that critics of the western machinations against Muslims are loath to accept the deprivations and deficits of Muslim societies. In fact, the statistical evidence is mind-boggling. The tendency, as I pointed out in the dialogue, is to judge ourselves by our motives and others by their actions.
In my occasional encounters with young Pakistanis, I ask them to make their own portrait of Pakistan by, as the Marxists would advice, seeking truth from facts. For instance, we are the sixth largest country in the world in terms of population. Awesome, isn’t it? Then we are among seven proclaimed nuclear powers and our standing army is one of the largest in the world. But where do we belong in UNDP’s Human Development Index? One can collect all the relevant facts, bright or depressing, and make an assessment.
There is hope, certainly, in the present political evolution. The lawyers’ movement, supported by the media and the civil society, has injected in the body politic some notions of morality and commitment to rule of law. Democracy is shimmering on the horizon, though our institutions are still in a state of alarming disrepair. High expectations are vying with massive deprivations.
Meanwhile, some of my disturbing thoughts that I confessed to having at the outset were reinforced by a scholarly article that Mustafa Malik, who has worked for American newspapers and think tanks for more than two decades, has written in the Spring 2008 issue of ‘Middle East Policy’. Its title: ‘Terror war bolsters Islamism, nationhood’.
This is how he begins his piece: “A recent visit to Pakistan reminded me of the movie Gone With the Wind. The country where I lived and worked has been hit by turbulence that has blown away many of the symbols of secularism and western lifestyle that once characterized its urban life”.
The question that he poses and analyses is: “What is Islamism doing to the Pakistani polity?” At one level, we know, it is encouraging violence and intolerance. As I write these words in the early afternoon of Saturday, I feel distracted by two news reports in the day’s papers. Suspected militants have shot dead a female health worker in the Mohmand Agency. Residents blamed the local Taliban gangs for the killing. “They oppose women’s activities in every field”, a resident told AFP by telephone.
And the second report relates to a news briefing by Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui in which he said that the Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant separatist group in Xinjiang province, was an ‘unfriendly’ force trying to disrupt China’s relations with Pakistan. What truth do you get from these facts?
The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@ hotmail.com
Source: The News, 20/4/2008