Pak in history’s trap

The assassination of governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad on January 4 roused the world not only because the assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was his own protector but that he was a Barelvi. Why was the follower of a relatively moderate denomination so exercised over the governor’s critique of the anti-blasphemy laws? Equally shocking was the silence of civil society and the showering of rose petals by lawyers when Qadri was produced in court. Clearly Pakistan’s 10 years of anti-terror dalliance with the United States was beginning to radicalise the middle of Pakistani society.
Many have studied Pakistan’s angst, the impulses that mould its nationalism and the role that it wishes to play in a resurgent Asia. What is often forgotten is that running through the history of post-Islam India have been the twin impulses of accommodation between Islam and the majority community’s faith which was diverse, civilisational and deeply grounded, as well as confrontation. Even at the pinnacle of Mughal power, the population of Muslims in India was well below one-third. The accommodative streak, symbolised by the rule of Akbar, ran in parallel to the rule of the Safavids in Iran, who after seizing power established the first Shia Islamic government. As Iran persecuted its Sufis, the Mughal court at Agra drew them, triggering an intellectual and spiritual renaissance in India.
The seeds of rebellion against such syncretism had been shown in the 13th century by Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya, born in Damascus five years after the Mongols overthrew the Baghdad Caliphate in 1258. On its ruins the Mongols developed a brilliant, inclusive civilisation rooted in Sufism and basically Shia. Ibn Tamiyya, generally considered the spiritual predecessor of the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim brotherhood of Egypt, as a follower of the Hanbali code ,declared this civilisation as an offence to God. He argued that a true Muslim state needed the amir (ruler) to be guided by the imam (religious leader).
Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal ruler, brought the same restrictive vision of Islam to the throne. His elder brother, Dara Shikoh, who should have ascended the throne, was a Sanskrit scholar who translated the Upanishads into Persian and befriended Sufis and saints, including the Sikh gurus. The turning point in the history of Islam in South Asia was the tussle for the throne between these two princes, representing two different readings of Islam. The image of US President Barack Obama and his wife visiting Humayun’s tomb with their escort, K.K. Muhammed, superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, was seen by all. What is not known is that K.K. Muhammed pointed out that in a corner grave lay the headless body of Dara Shikoh, whose translated Upanishads influenced American transcendental thinkers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, via Latin and then German retranslations. President Obama was dissuaded from making a detour on security grounds, bowing his head in obeisance to the prince of peace, ironically while his forces battle the demons born from the actions of Aurangzeb, who had his brother slain.
In a globalised and inter-dependent world, modernity and growth have left large swathes of the Islamic world either poor or marginalised, exploited by autocrats, the latest having just fled Tunis with two tonnes of gold. Could Pakistan have grown to espouse the inclusive vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah or was its Islamisation inevitable? Had Jinnah not died so soon after Pakistan’s birth he may have been able to guide a compromise between his vision and the relentless logic of a state created on the basis of religion ending only as an Islamic republic. The descent of Pakistan into a quagmire has been both a result of choices made by their elite and an external environment they inherited or opportunistically exploited. The wars of 1948 and 1965 were of choice, to seize Kashmir by force. The one of 1971 they brought upon themselves by mishandling Bengali aspirations and subverting an electoral verdict. Post-1979, with the Islamic revolution in Iran, Soviet incursion into Afghanistan and a Saudi ruling family shaken by the seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca by Mahdi’s followers, Pakistan volunteered to be a frontline state in the battle to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. The consequence was a witch’s brew of Wahabi ideology, US weapons and Saudi rials. Pakistan today reaps the crop it then sowed.
The time to make choices is ending. The Pakistani ruling elite must close ranks. The US should have a frank non-transactional chat with them, co-opting two of the other three countries that are a bulwark to Pakistan i.e. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That leaves out China, which also must end arming Pakistan to stymie India. The forces of radical Islam need to be rolled back. The 13th century Persian poet Saadi put it well:
A spring at its source can be turned with a twig,
But when grown into a river, even an elephant can’t traverse.

The author is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry


Excellent observation and all

Excellent observation and all extremely well stated.

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