Amit Ranjan is a Research Scholar in South Asian Studies division of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His other posts can be seen here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For most outsiders, Pakistan, alongwith Afghanistan, is the most dangerous place on the planet earth.In their view the state is being ruled by men having their fingers on trigger of AK-47 to kill anyone showing dissent to their diktats and where, there is nothing called human rights or liberal sphere, exists. People having this picture of Pakistan cannot be totally blamed for it because the extremists forces have overwhelmingly sold this image of Pakistan to the outside world. The liberals,who are in minority,have tried very hard to fight against them but one can say and cannot conclude that they have been defeated due to Pakistani state’s and outside’s powers patronage and support to the extremist forces. Liberal and progressive civil society groups have fought very hard to secure their limited public sphere.The present developments in Pakistan like Asia Bibi’s case ,debates on blasphemy laws, killing of Salman Taseer,issue of fatwa against Sherry Rehman etc are going to be a real challenge for the liberal society to keep intact their limited sphere in a “globally thwarted” extremist Islamic society.
Historically,Pakistan as a state have been under the direct or indirect control of the islamic extremists since its birth in 1947.Even Mohammad Ali Jinnah,a secular leader fought for an islamic state,was considered enemy of Islam due to his personal , western-influenced,lifestyle.Jamiat-ul-Ulema, which was splitted into-Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind and Jamait-ul-Ulema-Pakistan- had differences with the Muslim League. It had never supported the idea of creation of Pakistan but after partition the splitted group has played important role in social and political process of Pakistan.Rejecting, Pakistan’s call because they saw within it the seeds of the delimitation of Islam, President of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema denounced Jinnah in a fatwa of 1945 as the great heathen,Kafir-i-Azam,in a pun on the League leader’s popular title, Quaid-e-Azam,great leader. Unfortunate demise of Jinnah,soon after Pakistan came into existence and later on assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in early 1950s, gave opportunity to ulemas, trained in seminaries, to establish their hold over the Pakistani society in various forms.Their impact on institutions was so much that even General Ayub Khan, who drew his inspirations from Kemal Ata Turk,was compelled to constitutionally declare Pakistan as, Islamic Republic of Pakistan,instead of Republic of Pakistan. But the real domination and spread of the islamic extremists took place during General Zia’s military rule ,who toeing the US intrests, used them to fight jihad against the erstwhile USSR’s attack on Afghanistan. Rest of the things are universally well known that how the local extremists turned themselves as a global force to reckon and became threat to the post- modern and globalised world with their most potent weapon -medival Islamic ideology.
In Pakistan there is an emerging competition going on among various secterian groups to outdo another in terms of extremist ideologies and actions.Mumtaz Qadri,who recently killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, is a follower of Barelavi sect, which is considered to be influenced from sufism.After the shameful act he was given a heroic welcome in court room by the lawyers and the mullahs hailed him as true follower of Islam.One cannot predict that what will be verdict of the court but few difficult questions have emerged out of that condemnable firing by Qadri.(a)Why the other securitymen did not fire back on Qadri,which they were supposed to do?(b)Would anyone,after the assassination, dare to show support to repealing of draconian blasphemy law?(c) What will be the civilian government’s stand on blasphemy law?These questions are very important and Pakistani state and civil society has to find their appropriate answers.
Related to this another case has emerged up, the extremist groups have issued fatwa to kill former cabinet minister, Sherry Rehman for introducing a private member bill to amend the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Many of her friends,as reported, suggested her to flee the country but courageously she has not.But now under duress she has given up and decided to remove the controversial amendment bill. Enjoying support in their constituency the extremist find the time ripe to impose their diktats on personal matters of others especially on women. They had also issued a fatwa against, Pakistani actress, Veena Mallik,who participated in an Indian television show-Big Boss.
Amidst all those dreaded developments one positive thing has happened that army-Pakistan’s most powerful institution- had maintained its professionalism by being neutral and showing its willingness to follow orders from the civilan-elected head of the state. It has also not stopped its action against Taliban in border areas, adjoining Afghanistan and also inside Pakistan. There was a mixed reactions from the political representatives on all these developments because they do not want to loose votes and support of the islamic groups,which is inevitable if they want to win elections from their constituencies.But in private they must have different opinion and out of record are critical to those elements. Inexperienced political kid,Bilwal Bhuttoo Zardari, must be appreciated for his stand against the killing of Salman Taseer and rising Islamic extremism in Pakistan.
Extremist forces are not limited to Pakistan rather they are also spreading their venomous ideology to other parts of the world. It seems that the genie is out of box and is going to destroy all including its creator, unless it is powerfully challenged and stopped from proliferation.
To conclude internal actors and the external powers, including India (with emphasis) must come forward to help the Pakistani civil society and its democratic forces. They must realize the fact that disturbed Pakistan is not in benefit of anybody. They should acknowledge that fight against the Islamic hardliners and extremists can be won by using political and psychological methods and not through military means. So, only option they have is to support the liberal civil-society groups and the democratic forces of Pakistan in all possible forms and manner.