Ghazi Salahuddin 


This insane surge in terror bombings early this week is bound to prey on our minds. Yes, the instinctive response is likely to be that of utter dejection. Still, the situation calls for some soul-searching. This means we need to seriously examine our thoughts and feelings in the context of what is happening.


Ah, but so much is happening on so many different fronts. One place of action, of course, is the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Like suicide bombings, these proceedings enhance our sense of helplessness. There is nothing we seem to be able to do to deal with the high level of corruption and sordid transgressions of moral values. The entire ruling elite is infected with a virus as deadly as, say, the swine flu.


Some of us are able to see light from the cracks that have appeared in structures designed and built by our rulers. Others are afraid that when these structures finally crumble, we may be trapped in their debris. Such is the pace of events and intensity of turmoil within our frontiers and beyond that we may not have the respite to clear the debris and lay the foundation of new structures.


Be that as it may, this is surely a time for deep reflection. One suspects that the existing conditions have prompted our major institutions to make some assessments of what is likely to happen and whether we need to change our national sense of direction.


We have lived with this cliché of Pakistan being at the crossroads.   Every military adventurer or a new civilian leader alludes to this thought when he takes over. In some ways, a change usually comes at a critical moment. More than half of our country’s population is not old enough to recall that late night impromptu speech on Pakistan Television (PTV) on December 20, 1971, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto promised to pick up the pieces. But less than six years later, we once again found ourselves fractured and another military savior

promised to set things right.


On October 17, 1999, Pervez Musharraf, then Chief of the Army Staff (CoAS), addressed the nation after his coup of October 12. This was the first sentence of his speech: “Pakistan today stands at the crossroads of its destiny – a destiny which is in our hands to make or break.” Forget that other cliché that the more things change, the more they remain the same. In our case, things have changed dramatically. What has not changed is our reluctance to take the steps that the reality of being stuck at the crossroads demands.


What this would entail is becoming more and more obvious. Yet the ruling elite remains in denial. And in this context, I want to refer to the recent emphasis on the part of the government to mobilize the support of religious leaders and scholars against the Taliban through that dubious and hackneyed route of fatwa.


Some kind of a campaign was launched earlier this month with the fatwa issued by Maulana Tahir-ul-Qadri, founding leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran International and an effective speaker on religion. In his fatwa against suicide attacks and bomb blasts, he called these acts as ‘kufr’. Then, Interior Minister Rehman Malik took over and held meetings with the ulema and religious leaders in Karachi and Lahore. There was this seminar in Lahore last week on ‘The role of Ulema in putting an end to terrorism’. The headline of the seminar story in this newspaper said: “All terrorist activities are haram: Ulema”.


What do you think this will achieve? Will this change the hearts and minds of the Taliban and their brainwashed recruits? Is this the right approach to confront the religious extremists, who themselves swear by Islam and find justification for what they are doing in their own interpretation of religion. Indeed, their principle aim –remember the Taliban rule in Afghanistan that our establishment had nurtured and had formally recognized? – is to enforce sharia.


As an aside, I am tempted to refer to a report published yesterday about the discovery of what they called ‘Jannat’ in South Waziristan. The security forces have claimed that there is this location the terrorists used to brainwash suicide bombers with “beautiful paintings of running canals of milk and honey surrounded by hoors (maidens of paradise)”. The paintings were shown on TV and I am sure art critics would not find them persuasive in any way.


Also interesting in this respect is the ambivalent attitude of some prominent religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. One can see that the induction of religion in politics is potentially divisive. One compelling argument here is that you have so many different religious parties who hold the same banner of Islam but detest one another. What would you say about a strong faction with pronounced following among violent extremists (terrorists), which claims that the Shias are ‘kafir’. Haven’t we suffered enough sectarian killings?


The point I am trying to make is that our rulers must readily deliberate on their policy of investing religion into the realm of politics. The time has come for us to understand that only secular ideas of democracy and social justice can steer our polity out of our present difficulties. Yes, changing course in this matter will also require a shift in our national security policies. A rational debate on this matter should be possible, when we are dealing with educated people who must, by the nature of their vocation, deal with modern ideas. Or is there some element of brainwashing in this sector, too?


On Friday, we celebrated, with the rest of the world, the International Human Rights Day. On this occasion, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was “extremely perturbed at the huge suffering of people in Pakistan owing to the lethal brutality unleashed by Islamist militants as well as the destruction caused by internal conflicts in many parts of the country.”


To return to what I stated at the outset, there seems no escape from the feeling that we are at a crossroad and this is crunch time. Yes, the war against terror must be fought and a lot may still happen on the battlefield. But we must also begin to think about how we can reinvent Pakistan.


Let me conclude with the first sentence of a report by Sabrina Tavanise titled ‘The demons that haunt the Pakistanis’ published in The New York Times on December 5: “At 62 years old, Pakistan is something of a teenager among nations, even in its frame of mind – self-conscious, emotional, quick to blame others for its troubles.”


(The News, December 13, 009)

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