For three-days there was shut down, disruption of law and order, rampage and unleashing of violence and anger in the length and breadth of Pakistan following the radio broadcast of PM Imran Khan. He tried to give his agitated compatriots a sane and sensible advice in the context of the Supreme Court’s verdict on Asia Bibi case of blasphemy. The Supreme Court said that there was no irrefutable evidence to prove blasphemy against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman mother of five children. The case has been hanging fire for nine years by now. The court has set her free.
The rabid and fanatical religious extremists in Pakistan felt deeply humiliated by this pronouncement of the court and threatened to launch a countrywide protest against the verdict. They threatened to disrupt law and order and paralyze the government charging that Islam was being undermined in Pakistan. At the front of these protests and threats was Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba an extremist Sunni Hanafi organization that has taken upon itself the genocidal mission of decimating the Shi’a community of Pakistan.
On realizing the dimensional gravity of the situation, Imran Khan felt the compulsion of addressing the nation through a hurried broadcast. He spoke what any rationalist and sensible politician and leader would speak. He was polite and persuasive appealing for respect for the judiciary and the need to maintain peace. He even said that the country was passing through severe financial crisis and is not capable of bearing further hurting of its economy. He asked whether Pakistan could be run when there is call to the army to revolt; when there is demand to kill the concerned judges of the Supreme Court and when there is the cry that the Army Chief is not a Musulman. However, the sting was in the tail. He said it was the duty of the State to protect life and property of the citizens.
Apart from the threats and intimidation flowing rapidly from the extremist groups, there was urgency for Imran Khan to make a hurried broadcast. He was scheduled to leave for Beijing the same night and he did not like that his maiden official visit to China should get spoiled. Nevertheless, his apprehensions did not fail him.
The mayhem let loose by the fundamentalists has forced the government to deploy high level security at the Pakistan Supreme Court and the judges. The lawyer who was pleading the case of the defendant has left Pakistan owing to threat to his life. All important government installations have been brought under security umbrella. The government has surrendered to the fundamentalist pressure and agreed to revisit the matter.
Pakistan’s malaise is rooted in history. It was created on the assumption that the Muslim community in India was entirely a separate and a superior entity having nothing in common with the indigenous communities of India. Actually, this type of thinking goes into the history of Islam and the Pakistan movement leadership was unable to move beyond the original Islamic cultural parameters and walk into the arena of modernity.
The history of Islam’s opposition to and clash with secularism is an old one. Interestingly, in Arabic language, despite the richness of its lexicon, there is no equivalent word for “secularism”. Secularism, in its political and social sense, has been borrowed from European thinkers and after the Reformation of A.D 1688 secularism became a meaningful term in the political history of Europe. However, it made no impact on Muslim societies in the East because they were still struggling under the rule of autocrats either in the form of monarchs or powerful satraps.
The Muslims believe in the paramountcy of their faith, and its promised global expansion. As such, the idea of a plural society is hazy and meaningless. Of course, during and even after the Caliphate the Muslim rulers and ecclesiastic devised a cut and dried policy towards their religious minorities. Firstly, there was not the notion of a state or citizenship. Muslim concept is of ummah meaning the Islamic community. Secondly, along with that is the idea of brotherhood (ukhawwat) which discards geographical boundaries as barriers to interaction among Muslims. As such “Islamic country” is a misnomer while Islamic ummah is the reality. It is a different thing that historically no Muslim country ever compromised its territorial integrity and even went to war if need arose to secure their geographical boundaries.
Muslim rulers and ecclesiastic laid down clear instructions of how they were to treat religious minorities. At the beginning of the Islamic history the more prominent religious minorities that were identifiable in the Muslim world of the day were the Jews (Jehud), Christians (masihiyan), Zoroastrians (gebr), and Manicheans (Mazdakyan). Apart from them, many political opponents to the Islamic rule were dubbed as la din literally meaning with no religion (faith-less). However, the phrase la din was not approved by the European Muslims because it clashed with the Islamic concept that Jesus was one of the Prophets in Saracen hierarchy of prophets and that the Bible is a revealed book. As such Christians could not be called la-din. Arab historians of later times silently dropped the word.
The point is that so far we used to say that in Pakistan the real power rests with the Army. But the Asia Bibi case has exploded that myth and now we find that real power in that country rests with the religious extremist organizations the dini lashkars that have exhorted the army to rise in revolt against the state.
We have always been telling Pakistan that the Frankenstein of religious fundamentalism will one day take on the State including the army. That day has come. It is the Pakistan army that patronized and supported fundamentalism. It is the State of Pakistan that financed and patronized thousands of madrassahs which have churned out hundreds of thousands of fundamentalists-terrorists who have been working for the destruction of peace in the country and its neighbours – India and Afghanistan in particular. They had tried their tactics in Xinjiang with Uyghur at one time but had to eat the humble pie when Beijing issued a stern warning and banished Islamist propaganda in her Eastern autonomous province.
This fire will not be doused with the surrender by Imran Khan Government to the fundamentalists. Its members are live and can ignite a great fire sooner than later. The army has large number of recruits come from madrassahs where they have been brainwashed and fundamentalized. The exhortations of religious extremist leadership will not go unnoticed by the lower echelons of Pakistan army keeping in mind the milieu from which they have arisen. At the same time the Army will also have to recollect that in the past Imran Khan has been highly critical of the US and the Pakistan army while conducting his election campaign in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. He is riding the tiger but will he dismount without being bruised and mauled? That is the question the world will keenly watch.
(Prof. K.N. Pandita is a former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar.)