Since more than a decade, Pakistan has been in the grip of religious extremism, which has now assumed the proportions of more than just a crisis. Pakistani society as a whole is occupied by chaotic conditions while the Pakistani state is facing the severest challenge to its authority, so much so that for the first time in 66 years, the guardians of Pakistan (read the military) have changed their security doctrine, replacing the external threat with an internal one as the number one challenge.
This scourge of religious extremism, threatening both the state and society, is nowadays the most dominant issue in the Pakistani media, discussed and explored from different angles and aspects. One such aspect, which is increasingly acquiring more importance and space, is the position in/of different provinces regarding religious extremism and terrorism.
It is the near-consensus view that Punjab is almost immune to this curse while the other three provinces have been made into a living hell by the daily occurrence of religion-related terrorism. This is despite the fact that Punjab is a known nursery of religious extremism. This fact has become more significant since the Punjab-based party, the PML-N, is ruling at the Centre, along with in Punjab. This situation was summed up in one sentence very nicely by senior journalist/columnist Zahid Hussain, who is considered an expert on strategic and terrorism-related matters. He wrote in a leading English daily: “It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Sharif government may go to any extent to make a deal with the Taliban provided Punjab is not targeted.”
It is said that a crisis makes things clearer. The fact that Punjab’s position in the framework of the Pakistani state is different from others was always present. The current crisis has only made it more distinct and undeniably obvious.
From day one, all decisions have been made in the interest of and with the consent of Punjab. Against all norms and contrary to all criteria, Urdu was made the national language of Pakistan to the surprise and dismay of the ‘constituent units’. Bengalis, Sindhis, Pakhtuns and Baloch objected to, and protested against this unique decision but, since Punjab was in support, this act acquired sanctity. As a consequence, what happened to Bengali, Sindhi and other languages and what it resulted in is part of our history.
Another unique and paradoxical act of this state was the scheme of one unit. The constituent units (1940 resolution articulation) that created the state were ‘erased’ from the map by the same state to create an artificial entity called West Pakistan. It was a case of ‘the creation killing the creator’. All this because it suited the interests of Punjab; in fact, it was the dream of the ‘thinkers’ of Punjab since at least 1930.
The most bizarre thing was the constitution of 1956 being based on parity. Pouring scorn on the world of mathematics, 54 percent (the population of East Pakistan) was made equal to 46 percent (the number of people in West Pakistan). That also was applicable only to the ratio of representation, not to the other institutions of the state. It was claimed to be in the ‘best interests of the country’, but when Bengalis opted for independence and Punjab became a majority, the state structure was immediately switched over to the golden principle of majority, again claiming that it was in the best interests of the country, being the cornerstone of democracy. The principle of parity was not only thrown into the dustbin, politicians from Sindh, Balochistan and Pakhtunkhwa, asking for restructuring of the state on the basis of parity (Sindhi, Baloch and Pakhtun Front) were proclaimed traitors, cases were registered against them and they were put behind bars.
Here one comes to a very important characteristic of politics in Pakistan. During the last 66 years, Bengalis Sindhis, Pakhtuns and Baloch have been declared traitors turn by turn but Punjabis — never. Any country’s affluence is proportional to its natural resources. The natural resources of Sindh and Balochistan, such as oil, gas, coal, copper, gold, etc, are declared the property of the whole of Pakistan while the resources of Punjab, like its sweet underground water, are claimed to be the exclusive possession of Punjab.
The people of Bengal, Sindh, Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, particularly their nationalist leaders, were conscious from the very start of this bitter fact about the composition and character of the Pakistani state where Punjab had dominance over all the decision making institutions. They kept crying about its impending consequences but whoever made and whenever there was a mention of this undeniable fact, it was dubbed as a renegade act and persecuted accordingly. However, the current crisis that has now reached catastrophic proportions has opened the eyes of many a writer and intellectual who were otherwise averse to the discriminatory and one-sided character of the state. They have started talking about it and warning about its consequences.
Mr. Farooq Sumar, referring to the religious killings in Rawalpindi, wrote in this paper in his column, ‘Is there only one province?’ (Daily Times, November 26, 2013) that, “For an incident in which nine persons lost their lives, we have nationally declared this to be ‘the tragedy of Rawalpindi’ as if, God forbid, a major catastrophe had struck. Over 50,000 lives have been lost in the war on terror alone and thousands have been victims of sectarian and crime-related deaths, and we call this incident alone a tragedy. Is Rawalpindi’s condemnable incident a ‘tragedy’ because it happened in Punjab?”
The same writer on a previous occasion described the bitter truth in these words, “The manner in which the fortress of Punjab is being created, with special security to provide confidence to investors, numerous industrial projects are being negotiated, education schemes being developed, there can be no doubt that the federal government serves the interests of Punjab.”
It would not be out of context here to quote Indian writer Tridivesh Singh Maini who, in his book South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs has written: “Pakistan-India ties depend largely on the relations between the two Punjabs.”
So, if we are truly interested in peace, progress, cooperation and prosperity in the region, the first necessary step in the right direction would be to accept the hard fact and bitter truth about the composition and character of the Pakistani state where Punjab is dominant and others are dominated. The sooner it is done, the better.
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