Kaleem Kawaja


General Zia ul Haq was one of the presidents of Pakistan in the mid 1970s to mid 1980s.  That was also the Ronald Regan era in US and the era of the soviet occupation and war in Afghanistan.  Zia collaborated fully with Regan and the US military machine to use the Pakistani soil to bring in huge supplies of arms to help Afghans fight the soviets.  Together Regan and Zia encouraged religious militancy in NWFP and in Afghanistan, using and exploiting Islam to fight the soviet war machine.  Many a Muslims in Pakistan were radicalized using Islam for this purpose.  After the soviets left Afghanistan, US also pulled out of the war ravaged Afghanistan and left it to internal civil wars among Afghan factions that lasted over a decade, literally destroying Afghanistan.


Inside Pakistan also Zia introduced several militant Islamic theocratic measures. In order to stay in power Zia made coalition with the hard line mullas and at their urging passed several very harmful pieces of legislation, namely the Hudood Ordinance and the Blasphemy Law.  He also introduced a militant version of Sharia law.  These new laws have changed the pictue of the dominant Muslim society in Pakistan.  Militant orthodox Islam has spread to all parts of Pakistan.  That in turn encouraged terrorism and sucide bombing in the name of serving Islam.  Internecine internal violent fights between Sunnis and Shias and the other sects of Islam have mushroomed in Pakistan.  Shias are often made to feel insecure in Pakistan.  Christians are often harassed by the radical Muslims. The murders of political leaders and upcoming bright leaders who talk of reforming the society and making Pakistan a modern nation have become common.  Remember how Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a public rally just two years ago.  


The Hudood Ordinance has been widely exploited to harass women who are raped by men and then jailed and harassed on charges of fornication.  The Hudood Law allows very little facility to Muslim women to have equal rights, either as participants in the nation or to defend themselves from molestation.  The government has done nothing to repeal this draconian law thart harasses women.  The Blasphemy Law that makes anyone saying derogatory things about prophet Mophammad punishable by death has been widely exploited to harass Christians and even same Muslims settle their personal scores by exploiting this law.  Many moderate/liberal Muslims have been and are being harassed in Pakistan in this manner.


The most recent case is that of Asia Begum, a Christian woman in a village in Punjab who is in jail for 18 months on the false charge of blasphemy and who has been sentenced to death by a lower Sharia court.  Many nations in the world at large and many prominent Muslim leaders of Pakistan have appealed that she should be freed and allowed to live in dignity.  Many such Pakistani leaders have faced threat of death from the militant Muslim groups.  Just this week we saw that one of the Muslim security guards of Aslam Taseer, the governor of Punjab and a bright and moderate political leader of Pakistan, gunned him down, the reason being that Taseer supported Asia Begum’s appeal for release from jail against the draconian Blasphemy law’s false charges on him.


Today a quarter century after Zia’s demise, we are watching the monsters that Zia created to stay in power and that grossly exploit Islam, as literally devouring the civil society in Pakisatan.  Most Muslims in Pakistan are moderate Muslims who abhor militant, violent Islam suppressing basic human rights and freedoms to live in dignity and peace.  But they are feeling increasingly helpless.  There are several Muslim countries that utilize a flexible and moderate version of Sharia law in family matters, but none of the draconian laws that are in force in Pakistan.  Examples are the Muslim countries of Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia etaL  


It is sad that a large, promising, modern and moderate Muslim country like Pakistan is being so severely damaged by the exploitation of precepts of Islam that did not exist even in the first Muslim society formed by prophet Mohammad and his first few successors.  These events in Pakistan are a lesson for Muslims in other countries to ensure that they do not allow the spread of militancy in the name of Islam in their countries.  Indeed Islam is generically a moderate and peaceful order that abhors compulsion or use of force to convey any of its messages or elements and that respects other religious faiths and their leaders.

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