Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Secular Pakistan as the only viable option

The secularism debate has taken off in recent days. An increasingly diverse group of people drawn from almost all walks of life have begun to agitate for a secular state. The violence against religious minorities as well as sectarian minorities has convinced many people that secularism in Pakistan is the only option left.
These include urban intellectuals who claim that Pakistan's founders, especially Jinnah, did not have an exclusivist Islamic state in mind when they asked for Pakistan. It includes the Socialist and Marxist movements and newly emerging parties like Awami Workers Party and other communist groups such as Kissan Mazdoor Communist Party. It includes regional nationalists from Sindh and Balochistan who claim that Pakistan ought to be a federation of units respecting provincial autonomy and not bound to any particular creed or ideology.

They are pitted against the state narrative that Pakistan has an ideology to which its survival is bound. The state narrative - which has been concocted by the state especially in the 1970s and 1980s - is that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. This state narrative is open to several gaping holes which cannot be gripped. As the historian par excellence Ayesha Jalal said recently at the Lahore Literary Festival "the idea that Pakistan was founded in the name of religion is ahistorical and inaccurate". She emphasizes that Jinnah's demand for Pakistan was essentially for power sharing and not a division based on religion. It did not have a theocratic or religious agenda. Once Pakistan became a reality, it was obvious that Pakistan was going to have not just religious minorities but also differing points of view about Islam.  Therefore having an Islamic state would not serve Pakistan or the interests of its citizens.

Nor is the idea that Jinnah's nuanced idea had not resonance with the people he was leading entirely accurate. Pakistan Movement itself was supported by people with divergent agendas. In Bengal it was the peasant nationalism. The urban left leaning intellectuals supported it because they believed that it would lead to the rise of a bourgeoisie nationalism which would then create a state where the second stage of revolution would be possible.  The Muslim landlords supported the movement for their own vested interests which worked at cross purposes to the interests of the peasantry which was also supporting the movement.  What is clear in all of this are the following:

1. There was never one idea of why Pakistan was being demanded.

2. The religious parties by and large opposed the creation of Pakistan.

3. The leaders of the Pakistan Movement were more or less neutral towards religion and theology and did not want or envisage an expanded role for it in state.

In 1949,  Liaqat Ali Khan and other Muslim Leaguers conceded an important to point to the religious parties through the Objectives Resolution but even after the Objectives Resolution, the Constitution of Pakistan remained secular and there was no real application of it under the Government of India Act, 1935. The Constitution of Pakistan 1956 named the state an Islamic Republic and limited the office of the president to a Muslim, but beyond this was largely a secular constitution without a state religion. 1962 constitution followed the same scheme. It was the 1973 Constitution - ironically given by the secular PPP - which made Islam the state religion of Pakistan. In 1974 the state made another stride towards exclusivism by declaring Ahmadis to be Non-Muslim- a major step backwards. Yet it was General Zia's Islamization project that provided the teeth to exclusion and imposition of one kind of religious interpretation which ultimately changed the fabric of the society from a multireligious one to an authoritarian Islamic state. The historical compulsions for this move were obvious - Zia was a military dictator who needed legitimacy domestically and an ideology to fight the Soviets.

Pakistan's history is a series of wrong turns. However now an increasing number of Pakistani citizens are beginning to question these wrong turns and ask for a secular state openly. History will no doubt give its verdict in favor of those who are at this juncture saying consistently and clearly that religion should have nothing to do with the business of the state. It is only secularism that will deliver Pakistan from the precarious position we find ourselves in at this time.


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