The ‘jihadi’ upper cut to Pak polity

The famous Pakistani bridge player, Zia Mahmood, in his engagingly written book Bridge My Way, describes the perils of playing this card game in his native Pakistan in 1975. He wrote that a bridge club was opened in Lahore, but it lasted a week because that was how long it took for the religious groups of the area to have it closed. He adds that “simply visiting the club was nerve-racking with the constant worry that at any time violent neighbours might turn up with their own brand of eviction notice.” And this was before Gen. Zia-ul-Haq turned on the Islamic screws on the people.

Thirty-five years later, we hear of stories about Lahore’s growing Talibanisation when a woman curator of the city’s famous Nairang Gallery was harassed and assaulted by a senior police official for wearing improper clothes and displaying fahashi (vulgarity) during a Bharatnatyam dance recital; the same moral brigade representative had earlier objected to a couple sitting together. Those who tried to rescue the curator were beaten and when the gallery owner’s son enquired about the incident, he was dragged away to the thana to be “hung upside down”. This cultural policing is a sign of what is clearly becoming the new ideology of Pakistan.
The assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January this year by his own bodyguard because he opposed the Blasphemy Law is one part of the problem. All societies have such intolerant elements but what is worrying is the reaction of the mullahs, the lawyers and even the state. There was not just reluctance to blame Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin, but there was, in fact, praise for his action. The state clearly indicated that it was not going to revise the Blasphemy Law. Perhaps it was not going to be able to revise or did not want to revise; one will never know.
Pakistan’s well-known political analyst and commentator Dr Eqbal Ahmed had prophesied as far back as 1998 in the Dawn newspaper (August 23) that the costs of Islamabad’s Afghan policy — already unbearable in proliferation of guns, heroin and armed fanatics — would multiply in myriad ways. He had added that closeness with the Taliban would make these costs potentially catastrophic. Today, in this pursuit of strategic depth and seeking to avenge India for various imagined wrongdoings, Pakistan’s rulers have become impervious to the logic of peace; only the logic of force is understood inside Pakistan and in its neighbourhood. Neither the Islam of the Taliban or the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba favours democracy; nor does the Pakistan Army.
Although Zia has been credited with the drive towards enforcing austere Islam, political leaders in Pakistan have also succumbed to pressure from religious forces or used religion for political ends.
It might even be argued that had Zia or his successors been wiser they could have offered to wind down jihad and its mujahideen, in return for largesse of all kinds from the Americans and the West, used it well and Pakistan today could have been a prosperous, strong, modernised state in the region, ahead of India perhaps. Instead the rulers retained the jihadi option and clichés of “a 1,000-year war” and “we shall eat grass” endured through successive governments that came after Zia.
There was an inevitability of this process that the Pakistani rulers either did not see or refused to see. Years of close association with Islamic militancy in Afghanistan and India had directly exposed Pakistani Army personnel to orthodox Islamic order. The question today is how much and to what extent has the Pakistan Army been Islamicised and how has this affected the society or the elite which has often sided with the Army. In Pakistan the dilemma is that the society will have to see whether in the long term the larger political battle is won by those who seek an Islamic theocratic state or by those who want a modern Islamic republic. True, there are many brave and liberal thinkers and writers in Pakistan who see the dangers. Their writings appear in the English press frequently. But they also know that once a thinker crosses the rubicon, a fate similar to that of Daniel Pearl or Syed Saleem Shahzad awaits.
A society that teaches its young hatred for other religions and cultures only suffocates and blinds them. This is the nature of the Pakistani state today. Those who wish to deal with Pakistan or need to deal with that country would do well to remember this. We cannot change this; only Pakistanis can. Indians just have to learn to deal with the reality.
The world does not stress on the Christianity of Western countries while dealing with them. Similarly, one need not stress on Pakistan’s Islamic/Muslim character that is part of its two-nation theory and not India’s. Just deal with Pakistan as another country which would relieve us of having to constantly tailor our policies with our Muslims in mind. Our Muslims are as Indian as the rest of us with the same problems and aspirations and can no longer be treated as vote banks at election time.

Vikram Sood is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency

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