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Millennium Post

In the political grip of Islam

With less than a week left for the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) supreme Nawaz Sharif’s swearing-in as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, following the joining of 18 independent elected members of National Assembly with the 126-strong PML(N) parliamentary group (137 being the magic figure to form the government), the Tehreek Tahaffuz-e-Pakistan (TTP) leader Muhammad Ayyub Khan resorted to a tearing haste to Sharif to nominate Abdul Qadeer Khan for the office of President of Pakistan. A Q Khan added feather to the cap of Islamabad’s military-feudal authority by making a number of atom bombs but he is a staunch supporter of Sharia laws. The TTP suggestion is an unmistakable hint that ‘political Islam’ is waiting in the wings of the ensuing five-year political theatre, assuming that the army will not breach the democratic policy.

The TTP leaders trumped up the campaign at a press conference for the so-called renowned nuclear scientist (which the latter really is not), who is a foreign-trained metallurgist but has no paper on nuclear science, published in any peer-reviewed international journal. Ayyub Khan reminded the incumbent PM, ‘Besides, making the country atomic power was the main theme of PML-N recent electioneering campaign.’ Significantly enough, A Q Khan in his weekly column in a leading daily on 15 May quoted selectively from the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech to lawyers on 25 January 1948 in Karachi, ‘I do not understand the people who intentionally are creating a controversy by propagating that Pakistan’s constitution would not be based on Shariah. These laws are as good today for us as they were 1,300 years ago.’ In a subtle way, Khan wants the slowly-asserting-small-but-clear-sighted libertarians in Pakistan to shelve Quaid-e-Azam’s basic statement about the new polity he had in mind to flourish in the new state on 11 August 1947 at the Pak Constituent Assembly, ‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state...’

Among the first commentators who interpreted the verdict of 11 May as a ‘rightward swing’, was Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies.  ‘Pakistan spoke again, this time predominantly for centrist, right-of-the-center, and religio-political parties,’ he wrote on the very polling day. He, too, like most of the poll-pundits, thought that percentage of polling would touch 60, against 55.02. But he expressed concern about the ‘virulent and parochial debate’ in the media rejoicing over the ‘unexpected success of the PML-N and the PTI. The establishment succeeded in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but failed in Sindh, according to the skeptics.’

There is no denying that the Pakistanis braved threats from the Talibans to cast their votes more assertively than in 2008 when 36.6 million cast their votes but this time 46.2 million exercised their franchise. Yet one has to note that in 1977, the turnout was 55 per cent. The PML(N) received 14.9 million votes or 32.2 per cent of votes, winning 126 seats in the National Assembly. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf polled 7.7 million votes (16.7 per cent) to win 28 NA seats. The ousted Pakistan People’s Party got 14.9 per cent of votes – 6.9 million ballots – although bagged 32 seats in the NA. But taking the total electorate as the base, PML-N got 17.7 per cent of votes, PTI 3.9 per cent and PPP got 3.8 per cent. So, the three major parties together received endorsement from one-fourth of the total electorate. The turnout was distributed very evenly – 60 per cent in Punjab, 54 per cent in Sindh, 45 per cent in Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa (K-P) and 43 per cent in Balochistan. Lower turnout at K-P and Baloochistan was due to violence, although of a sporadic nature. One can’t rule out that the Talibans were soft towards PML-N and PTI for mute protest against the politics of violence and harder towards Awami National Party and Balochistan National Party.

The founders of PPP, PMN-L and PTI – the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan – had never been imprisoned during their political life (Bhutto was imprisoned before he was executed during the military dictatorship of Zia-ul Haq, Sharif was deported by General Musharraf). Bhutto was picked up by General Ayyub Khan and wasn’t in politics there before. Imran Khan, as the cricket captain of Pakistan, was encouraged by General Zia. In other words, the genesis of these parties was not democratic in character. In contrast, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ghaus Bux Bizenjo and Sardar Ataullah Mengal were imprisoned several times when they for democracy under the banner of National Awami Party in the 1960s and thereafter.

The billion-rupee question is whether democracy can flourish and pave the way for equitable distribution of resources under the three major parties in the new NA. Well-known physicist and anti-nuclear activist Pervez Hoodbhoy stated succinctly on 1 May, suggesting the desired perspective for a stable and libertarian republic. ‘We deceive ourselves that Pakistan can thrive as a religious state. At best it can survive and that too for the short term. When the state stands silent to the murder of its citizens just because their particular variant of Islam is not that of the majority, it is the beginning of the end. The military is calmly watching Shia neighborhoods being devastated by suicide attacks, and men identified by Shia names are dragged from buses and executed Gestapo style. The police shrug aside the murder of Ahmadis, or when their graveyards are dug up and desecrated by the local powers-that-be. Although Sindh was traditionally much more tolerant than Punjab, Hindus have fled Sindh en masse. We are witnesses to religious fascism, plain and simple.’
The solution, Prof Hoodbhoy thinks, is to ‘redefine Pakistan. The Two-Nation Theory brought the country into existence, but it cannot hold the country together, not any more.

What we need now is a constitution that gives exactly the same rights and opportunities to all of its citizens independent of their ethnicity or religious affiliation, and a mechanism that can enforce the laws that matter most, those of life and personal security to its citizens.’ Democratic forces have to confront the menace of ‘Political Islam’, the philosophy of Islamic terrorists of all hues. IPA

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