Why Pakistan Will Not Become a Theocracy

Posted on April 27, 2009
Filed Under >Manan Ahmed (Sepoy), Foreign Relations, History, Politics, Religion, Society
66 Comments
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Manan Ahmed (Sepoy @ Chapati Mystery)

The Pakistani Parliament has now passed the bill authorizing Sharia laws in Swat – and perhaps in other territories. Punjab, according to the NYT report, United Militants Threaten Pakistan’s Populous Heart is also in grave danger of going Islamic in a meta-way. Baluchistan has broken out into violence and protests since the president of the Baluch National Movement, Mir Ghulam Mohammad, was kidnapped (along with two other senior associates), shot to death and then their bodies ditched from a helicopter. The primary suspicion falls upon the military or military intelligence. That leaves us Sindh. Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan, is having a battle of the bands. More seriously, it is also been the scene for ethnic riots against the Baluchi recently.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has, to this point, authorized over 60 drone attacks for an al-Qaeda kill rate of 2%. Wonderful.

So, given all this, is there a likelihood of an Islamic Revolution in Pakistan? Is it Game Over?

Before we get there, I want to review a couple more things about Pakistan and its relationship with its constitutive parts. Swat merged with Pakistan, constitutionally speaking, in 1969. However, it has retained the status as a “Special Area” granted under the Yahya Khan One Unit proclamation of 1955. This special status was is recorded into the 73 Constitution, Article 247. According to this status, they are free to make their own laws and govern themselves. The President can, from ‘time to time’, give some directions to the Governor but the Parliament, Supreme Court or any High Court has no jurisdiction. So, the Swat ‘Sharia’ deal is a capitulation insofar as Pakistan has never amended its Constitution to make the FATA territories squarely under its law. Additionally, the Swat deal seems to be the only way to curb Maulana Fazlullah. If Obama is going to talk about ‘good’ Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan certainly has the right to make political negotiations to get a cease-fire. The human impact of the last 3 years on Swat valley has been intense – over 300,000 have fled.

Baluchistan, another princely state which was militarily merged with Pakistan after Partition, had no role in the federal state. After the 1955 One Unit Proclamation, the Khan of Kalat tried again to declare sovereignty. General Tikka Khan (‘the butcher of Bengal’) was sent to Baluchistan in 1958 under Ayub’s military rule to enforce federal writ. Things simmered until Bhutto has to send more army troops against another militant uprising in the region from ’72-74. So, there is no love lost between the center and Baluchistan.

Sindh, Karachi, and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) are another beeswax. Only recently, rumors were afloat that Musharraf was cutting a deal with MQM and give them autonomy under a federated Pakistan.

Now, to return to this ‘question’.

I would argue that such a formulation of impending doom is one of the main reason Pakistan is in this mess. There is a rich vein of ‘Pakistan on the Brink’ theorization that has dominated US foreign policy since the 50s. Back then, it was the Communist revolution, and now it is the Islamic one. This particular mind-set has propelled one disastrous policy over another for the last 40 years. We have supported dictator after dictator and stood by, silently, when civilian regimes floundered under internal economic and political crises. Once again, this question dominates the Obama policy and will restrict any real re-thinking of the Pakistan issue or re-evaluation of the regional scene. So, let’s just categorically understand that:

  1. There is a world of difference between ‘Taliban’ and any given Pakistani citizen, even the most devout believer. The Taliban, strictly understood to be warlords operating with or in support of Mullah Omar, are a very particular political group. They are political. They have political goals. They are not, in effect, a religious ideology that has the danger of sweeping Pakistan. They don’t have doctrinarians or theologians. Al-Qaeda does. Taliban don’t. It may seem like splitting hairs but I think it is very important to differentiate between the historically situated Taliban and the groups that have emerged in Pakistan bearing the name ‘Taliban’. In the later case, the term is actually masking other political goals and differences that we need to be carefully attuned to. Similarly speaking, there is a world of difference between a specific political group, however broadly defined, which can be numbered in the thousands and a state of 160-plus million peoples. The people of Pakistan have demonstrated, through a number of elections over the last 60 years, that they do not want their religious leaders in political power. There is no dismissing that reality.
  2. The most powerful entity in Pakistan in its national army. The second most powerful entity is its civil bureaucracy. The third most powerful are the landed and industrial elite. None of these entities are about to give it up (whatever ‘it’ is – from nukes to bank accounts) to some ragtag bunch of jihadis. Certainly Zardari, wants to keep everything, don’t you know it.
  3. There is a robust, active, critical media. A media which has played a prominent role in some amazing events in civil and political theaters in the last 3 years.

So, I reject the premise in which the Swat Deal becomes a stepping stone to the ‘Talibanization’ of Pakistan.

Second, Pakistan has always been the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan has always self-imagined itself to be a ‘homeland for Muslims’. The question really is: what kind of a homeland?

Saudi Arabia is a homeland for Muslims. It has Shari’a and a King. Malaysia is another homeland for Muslims – with a different sort of emphasis. Turkey, with its emphatic secularism, falls on the far end of such a homeland for Muslim spectrum. Where does Pakistan fit in? And where does it intend to go? I think that is the more important question. What is Pakistan to Pakistanis now? Who is a Pakistani, in effect? As I pointed out in an earlier discussion on the idea of Pakistan, there has to be a fundamental re-articulation of Pakistan as an entity, as a nation-state, within its constitutive parts. The urgency of this task is evident – there are other claimants with answers. Claimants who carry guns and who can brutalize a population in the blink of an eye. There is also the United States agenda, which continues to treat Pakistan as nothing more than a client-state. Somewhere in this pincer, somewhere between the taliban and the drone, the Pakistanis have to begin forming a sense of their whole. I am not big on nationalism and I don’t think that re-imagining Pakistan as a nation is an easy task, either. But, I am not simply talking about some ideological mumbo-jumbo that Islamabad can cook-up.

The most crucial step is that the civilian federal state of Pakistan has to listen – really, actually, listen – to the people of FATA, the people of N.W.F.P, the people of Baluchistan, the people of Sindh and the people of Punjab. It has to provide its citizens with basic security, shelter and welfare. It needs to protect its citizens from terrorism. It needs to strengthen its civic engagement with non-governmental organizations. It needs to ensure that basic human rights and access to a basic educational system is guaranteed to all citizens. These are actions that can be taken and should be taken and they will have a far greater impact than any 1.5 billion dollar aid. The Pakistan military, and the US, must allow for this. It must enable the state, it must pressure the state to fulfill its pledges to the people. Part of that means a military operation against the Taliban (narrowly defined) and al-Qaeda (defined as ‘foreign fighters’ in the press) in Swat and in Baluchistan. This must be under-taken by the Pakistan military.

From such a process, a major process of stabilization, the state can start to re-build.

It’s a tall order, I know. There are too many de-stabilizing forces. Not to mention, an open question mark over whether there is actual political will to do all this. Yet, I remain hopeful. Pakistanis – however we categorize them – have a lot of heart, a lot of soul and great fortitude. For the last 8 years, they have been paying the price of a proxy-war waged on their soil. A decade before, they suffered through another proxy-war which gave them millions of refugees and a radicalizing ideology. They have persevered. I am still in awe of the hundreds of thousands who galvanized against Musharraf and the millions who cast a vote in the election last year. We must support those many millions in taking the next step.

Manan Ahmed blogs as Sepoy at Chapati Mystery where this post was first published and discussed. This was originally written some two weeks ago. Much hass been happening in these two weeks but the essenace of the argument remains unchanged. Hence it is being carried as originally written.

66 responses to “Why Pakistan Will Not Become a Theocracy”

  1. jock says:

    You know, the most amusing thing about the comments here is that they always seem to regress to a conflict between Islam and Secularism, which at least IMO they’re not.

    PPl who think this is about Islam need to think abt whether extortion, intimidation, destruction of schools (it hardly matters whether its boys or girls’) etc is really the kind of Islam they want.

    And ppl who think this is abt Secularism need to ask themselves whether the secular agents in this country e.g MQM, PPP and their numerous corruption scandals, elitist attitudes and gang warfare is really what could be expected of ppl with ‘secular’ attitudes.

    Best wishes/ Salam (whichever you prefer…:))

  2. bilal says:

    I might add that people don’t give a damn about Islam too.

    Religion is used to convey anger about other issues.

    Poverty is the key issue. The have-nots are so much poor and those in power so much rich that this anger is always on the table for a Taliban Leader.

    Pashtoons also don’t like to be pushed around especially by foreigners. To counter that, the term Jihad is very conveniently used.

    There is a big hope and that’s from Obama. This guy has brains.

    He seems to understand that these people cannot be gunned down. They must be uplifted from their terrible economic conditions. And that will be not only be good for the people of FATA, but also for Pakistan and America.

    On the other hand, if the Bush-era Kill-them-policy continues, every child that is orphaned or displaced will be a potential terrorist.

    Army also needs to have a reovery plan for those who are affected by their wars that they unleash for $$$ or to pacify their foreign masters.

    What will happen to those who are affected by these wars?

  3. @Zia m: 95%+ Pakistanis don’t even give a damn to secularism neither they are willing for it. One likes or not but Pakistanis don’t wish for secularism at all. Bitter but true.

    it’s the dream of liberals who have been enjoying life in western countries and preach every thing of west regardless of its a crap or useful thing. You give smile when you say there is freedom of religion in US as if everyone else does not know how a community is mistreated over there?

    Reality is, secularism does not exist in real world. It’s in books only and those who preach secularism are themselves confused enough that they don’t know about it. They make lame mistake to compare Christianity with Islam while there is no comparison between two other than both religion belongs were originated from the sons of Prophet ABraham(AS). Nothing else

  4. zia m says:

    Secularism is misunderstood by most Pakistanis.It stands for separation of religion and state.It is not against religion its roots can be traced back to early Islamic philospher Ibn Rushd.
    There is more religious freedom in U.S than most other countries definitely more than in any Islamic state.

    Another fallacy is that Taliban or Wahabis are not real muslims.
    Is The Pope Catholic?
    The version of Islam practised in most Arab countries is much closer to Wahabis or Deobandis rather than Sufis or Brelavis.
    Greatest Islamic scholars, Syed Qutb and Maudoodi preached similar ideology.

    Secular Wahabi

  5. zia m says:

    Secularism is misunderstood by most Pakistanis.It stands for separation of religion and state.It is not against religion its roots can be traced back to early Islamic philospher Ibn Rushd.
    There is more religious freedom in U.S than most other countries definitely more than in any Islamic state.

    Another fallacy is that Taliban or Wahabis are not real muslims.
    Is The Pope Catholic?
    The version of Islam practised in most Arab countries is much closer to Wahabis or Deobandis rather than Sufis or Brelavis.
    Greatest Islamic scholars, Syed Qutb and Maudoodi preached similar ideology.

    Secular Wahabi

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