Editorial: Clashing interpretations of Islam
Sufi Muhammad of the TNSM and the Swat Taliban led by the TTP have rejected the Darul Qaza judges appointed by the NWFP government in the Malakand-Swat region. Sufi Muhammad’s explanation for rejecting the appointment of “judges” where he would have appointed “qazis” could have been endorsed by a majority of the madrassa clergy in Pakistan but for his other “edicts” that offend the national clergy across the board. One can say that the madrassa clergy has developed a schism in which the Sufi and the Taliban stand isolated.
There has emerged a third variant, that of the “mazar” clerics who reject the theology of the madrassa plus the Taliban brand that the Sufi wants to impose. The most significant statement of the third variant has come from our Foreign Minister Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi who is also the spiritual custodian of one of the country’s most important “mazar” shrines, that of Shah Rukn-e-Alam in Multan, where he recently addressed the devotees of the mystic saint on his 695th anniversary.
Breaking with the custom of not emphasising the Deobandi-Barelvi schism, Mr Qureshi said on Sunday: “The Sunni Tehreek has decided to activate itself against Talibanisation in the country. A national consensus against terrorism is emerging across the country”. The Sunni Tehreek, of course, is an aggressive version of the Barelvi faith that has emerged in Karachi in the face of Deobandi-Ahle Hadith dominance in the mega-city and is now actively seeking cooperation from Barelvi organisations in the rest of the country to face up to the armed madrassa followers.
Pakistan began as a Barelvi-dominated country with only the NWFP and parts of Balochistan under Deobandi control. After 1947, however, the state inclined in favour of the Deobandi madrassas when faced with the task of Islamisation under the Objectives Resolution. Later, exigencies of jihad, whose fighters had to be trained in a predominantly Deobandi Afghanistan, compelled the state to avoid empowering the Barelvi school of thought. Today, most cities are under the sway of Deobandi thinking while the country’s rural majority is still devoted to the Barelvi saints.
Sufi Muhammad has created a new situation in which a new “national consensus” is forming about the Deobandi view of the national security state. Foreign Minister Qureshi has come to the conclusion that since the Sufi and his Taliban have offended the predominant Deobandi clergy by rejecting democracy it may defuse the latter’s objections to Barelvi practices. Or at least the state may feel more secure in taking action against the isolated militants of Malakand and thus find it easier to oppose the tough version of Islam called Talibanisation in the rest of the country. The reference to Sunni Tehreek by him however hints at an alternative power in civil society that may balance the street power of the Taliban sympathisers.
Sufi Muhammad has cut himself off from the powerful Deobandi consensus because of his charismatic and heroic self-image, very much like Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid in 2007 when he began to reject his Deobandi backers because of what he claimed was their passivity in the face of the challenge to enforce sharia in Islamabad. One often forgets that an important factor that persuaded the government in 2007 to attack Lal Masjid was the disavowal of Maulana Aziz by the confederation of Deobandi madrassas in Multan. Unfortunately, the country, after a spurt of support to this action, went back to calling it a “blunder”.
The situation has changed since 2007, however. The Taliban are not the distant upholders of true Islam in Kabul being pulverised by the Americans after 2001. They are militants who use terror to subjugate communities, kill innocent Muslims through suicide-bombing, and want to replace democracy with a despotic order. A highly disciplined political entity, the MQM has resolved to stand up to them. It may come to regard the Barelvi school of thought as its ideological base because most of its cadres are old followers of the great Barelvi leader, Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani of the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Pakistan.
The state has supported jihad and empowered the madrassa. Will it now be neutral and take advantage of the “consensus” referred to by Mr Qureshi and play a fair game vis-à-vis the people of Pakistan? This consensus is useful only in so far as it stands behind the army as it confronts the Taliban. The state must win this war. *
Second Editorial: Journalists and terrorism
The Secretary-General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Mr IA Rehman, spoke at a seminar organised by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in connection with the World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, and said that “people talk about the journalists’ problems in the Tribal Areas, but nobody speaks about the reporters working under great pressure in Balochistan”. He added that reporters were working under tremendous difficulties which will increase in the days to come; a fierce battle between darkness and tolerance will be fought and the journalists will be tested almost everyday.
Reporters are exposed to the militants who want to be supported as they spread their anarchy in the state. Journalists who give opinion are less exposed physically but more vulnerable to terrorist pressure because of their opinion. And it is through this armchair journalist — who visits the field only rarely — that the “political” objective of winning the minds of the people is obtained by the terrorists. The reporter’s world however is altogether different. He is the man wedded to the fact on the ground. He can avoid giving opinion and get by on conveying just reality. Then why is he endangered?
Reality is subject to two interpretations, one from the security forces and the other from the terrorists. Both want the reporter to present their version or at least present a version that doesn’t show them in a bad light. A reporter is well advised when surviving in battlefield conditions to stick to the versions given out by the “official spokesmen” of both sides. This is how most of the brave reporters of Malakand are surviving and allowing us a glimpse into what is happening there. The reporter is endangered when one side gets under pressure during conflict and wants him to suppress even the official versions. The reporter is a creature of reality. He is killed by those who wish to misrepresent it. *