Pakistan has been bleeding for over a decade now. Religion is dear to Pakistanis and most of them cannot imagine living as secularists or avowed atheists as these popular western identities are deemed anathema to their faith. This is perfectly understandable in a country, which has no epic historical experience with caesaropapism, reformation, counter-reformation, revolutions and indigenously thought out political systems like in Europe and where religion is embedded in its mainstream culture as an inadequate natural given that discourages dissent and tough questioning in the matters of belief from above. However, a slim mass of self-conscious Pakistanis, with their minds still not blinded by the dazzling imperialism of religious fanaticism, would unanimously agree that an obscurantist version of religious frenzy with violent thoughts and predominance of sectarian intolerance has gripped this country’s innately happy-go-lucky regional cultures.
Mosques and religious seminaries of multifarious sects, traditions and schools of thought in and around the Indian subcontinent are ideally places of worship and traditional religious education and spiritual training. However, the politics of the region, poor economies of the hinterlands and almost diabolical nature of puritanical religious ideology inspired from Salafism and Wahabism in Saudi Arabia gave a temporality and transcendental overlay to the students and their instructors’ mission in these schools-turned-laboratories-of-faith-based-non-state-actors. The adherents of this version of religion have quite finely bisected Pakistan’s society over the last 40 years at least. They remain happy when the sate grooms them as its assets but go mad when shown indifference and the iron hand. The height of shame is that they perpetrate vindictive violence under the mask of their victimised image, which is tirelessly portrayed by ultra-right wing ideologues like Orya Maqbool Jan, Hameed Gul, Ansar Abbasi, Moulana Fazlur Rehman, Moulana Munawwar Hassan, Moulana Samiul Haq, almost two thirds of the nation’s Manichean minded population (who think in black and white only), and none other than eminent opposition leader Imran Khan and his passionate infantry of young adults.
The country’s left and intellectual class are frightened into virtual silence in issues related to the place of religion in public space and politics. That is why every now and then a targeted bullet pierces through some opinionated personality’s bosom on a thoroughfare to impose the fast of silence upon the rest. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League has so far proved to be a platoon of cowardly businessmen who cannot assert supremacy of the state in such asymmetrical religious warfare as this country has seen in the last 12 years.
Many, who argue that Pakistan’s terrorism problem is far bigger than the calibre and valour of any of its current leaders, will know too soon that there is more truth and realism in this thought than insult to these public representatives. A country like Pakistan, which has had a bittersweet experience with Westminster style democracy in its polity, and a serious problem of balance of power between its law makers, judiciary and army, has been browbeaten to concussions at a national level due to the emergence of challenge by religious militancy to its status as a sovereign state. The perpetual focus of militant attacks is on places of worship, minorities and dissident sub-groups within Islam, religious congregations, law enforcement agencies, police and army personnel.
Fear is injected into society, which is sort of desensitised due to the frequency of this killing spree. Unnatural death used to be an event and news a long time ago but now it is routine. In psychology, they call it the ‘boiling frog syndrome’. Imran Khan is too naïve for in politics; he has restrained himself from unequivocally condemning these so-called warriors of faith and instead brandished his knives against the Pakistani state, army and US drone policy for using force against what he calls “our own people”. Normatively, within any viable modern nation state, any non-state entity that tries to subvert and challenge its sovereign hegemony via violence and force is tackled with brutal force. If not, the state slowly concedes its power day by day, becomes a banana state and finally a failed state like Somalia or Sudan.
Legitimacy can only be granted to peaceful political demands within the framework of a democratic system. That is why the world reveres Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela’s non-violence ideology so much. Unless a section of the population has legitimate demands, like the East Pakistanis had in 1971, the state must maintain and restore its authority by all means possible including state terrorism. Israel has kept all its organised and local enemies at bay for 66 years, India suppressed every form of challenge to its state power since 1947 — Kashmir and the Golden Temple are two examples — so did the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil rebels for more than two decades and, in modern times, Bashar al Assad did not let the so-called Arab Spring guerrillas shake his feet from the throne. Imran can learn more from his enemies than from his Maulana friends and other fellow travellers including the Sharifs who share more with him in their unimaginative and cowardly thrust on this stale option of dialogues. Any entity, which asks for its entitlement as a recognised political entity by spreading the blood of innocents, is worthy of the scaffold, not talks.
The Pakistani security establishment is visibly upset. Its reservations are about former ...