By Raza Habib Raja
Any state once it is in existence strives to maintain its integrity. All the state institutions are inherently geared to ensure that the state’s writ remains effective and moreover the cohesiveness is not jeopardized.
The problems of cohesiveness and effective writ become more complicated if the country is not ethnically homogeneous. Presence of various ethnicities, keeping other things constant, would require extra care and vigilance to ensure cohesiveness as there will always be tendency to secede.
That is why states which are characterized by presence of sub state ethnicities try to promote what is known as Civic Nationalism. Civic Nationalism does not have ethnicity as its prime determinant but rather tries to subdue the ethnic identities and cultivate allegiance to the “Country” instead. Failure to do it effectively may result in the breakup of the state.
Any country which at the time of its existence is multiethnic would try to cultivate Civic Nationalism and would exert efforts to manipulate identity is such a way that people would prefer to identify themselves first as nationals and then as members of a particular ethnic group. Theoretically and for that matter even ethically, there is nothing wrong with this concept. Civic Nationalism, if CORRECTLY, cultivated would smoothen out grievances and prevent discrimination on the basis of any ethnicity from emerging.
How does that integration take place? Diverse ethnicities may associate themselves with a federation due to some common factor in the beginning but in the longer run they will associate with the federation, if they are convinced that they are getting a right mix of economic advantages and political autonomy. It has to be remembered that identity based on language and race may become dormant at times but it does not simply disappear. Whereas it is desirable that people should identify themselves with the “country” at the same time it is not possible that their ethnic identities will simply vanish.
Complications start emerging when you try to cultivate Civic Nationalism in the wrong manner. In my opinion Pakistan’s present ethnic strife lies in the way we have tried to cultivate civic nationalism. Instead of integrating diverse ethnicities in a proper manner, we have tried to whip up the only common factor, Islam and supplemented it with coercive tactics whenever any ethnicity has raised its voice.
A lot has been written about political Islam and how so called establishment has fused it with the matters of state. In my opinion the use of Islam and its fusion with the law and its subsequent dominant presence in the educational curriculum has not been done to radicalize the population, but to somehow or the other make the obvious commonality dominant in such a way that ethnic identities are relegated.
Now this kind of tactic may work when exclusion or discrimination is being conducted or perceived to be conducted on the basis of that common factor. Pakistan movement was successful mainly because in the pre partition times, it was perceived that Muslims are being relegated due to their faith and thus the identity based on faith superseded ethnic and linguistic identities and Muslims across the sub continent were able to unite in 1940s.
Once the country came into existence, this factor lost its rallying prowess. In a Muslim majority country which has sub sects also and is also characterized by various ethnicities and languages, religion cannot be a truly gluing force. Commonality of religion ( that too is dubious because in Pakistan we have sectarian rifts also) in the post partition times could not prove effective for the cultivation of civic nationalism.
However, instead of understanding this crucial difference between Pakistan movement and post partition times, our political leadership and establishment have always looked towards political as well as strategic usage of Islam to act as one of the unifying force. The consequences have been devastating.
Although it is often said that objective resolution is what started it, but in reality the religion’s material incorporation in laws started after 1971. Yes, objective resolution provides the basis or what you would call a “blue print” but the actual and effective fusion of religion with constitution and matters of state came after the East Pakistan debacle. Let’s not forget that Ayub Khan’s regime was largely secular. For keeping the state intact Ayub largely relied on over centralization characterized by one unit scheme and letting centre keep the major chunk of the revenue. Obviously this had severe repercussions as the Bengalis felt discriminated against and Ayub Khan Regime retorted by coercive measures such as initiating cases against Bengali leadership. After the 1970 election, when despite clear majority, Bengalis were denied the right to assume the government; military action took place followed by Indian invasion.
Instead of realizing the true essence of the issue, which was autonomy on ethnic lines, and giving greater economic share, our political leadership as well as establishment assumed that the rest of the West Pakistan could be kept intact through continuing centralization and cultivating an identity based on fusion of Islam and Pakistani nationalism. It was assumed that Islam would somehow or the other “replace” or at least be able relegate the ethnic identities. It was that defeat which actually spurred serious efforts towards strategic use of political Islam.
It is ironic that arguably the most intelligent political leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had in fact led a social cum political movement against excesses of Ayub era and had witnessed the carnage of the crackdown against Bengalis, was one of the prime initiators of this process.
There is absolutely no doubt that 1973 constitution was a giant stride forward towards fusion of religion in the matters of state. More than anything else it also set the future constitutional direction of the country.
Second amendment, which in my opinion is one of the blackest laws ever passed, actually becomes defendable when strictly seen in the light of 1973 constitution. The political leadership in its eventual aim of keeping the country “intact” started to aggressively cultivate Islamic brand of Pakistani nationalism. After Bhutto Zia government further accelerated the drive and introduced two more black ordinances, namely Hadood and Anti Blasphemy. Of course the entire educational curriculum was also changed and made Islamic and Pakistan studies compulsory. Both the subjects were and in fact still taught in a total biased and uncritical manner. The changes in educational curriculum have primarily been effective with urban middleclass, which by and large has become more conservative. This class may not have become radicalized but at the same time has begun more and more to identify itself with the state cultivated image of Islam. But even here despite increasing religiosity the state was not able to successfully subdue sub state ethnicities.
The governments did not try to address the real reasons behind ethnic rifts and consequently it is hardly surprising that although religious extremism in the country has increased but so has the ethnic strife. Fusion of religion with the matters of state and that too in a country where there are no liberal traditions of rational discourse on religion, would only lead to further intensification of religious extremism. In the absence of any such tradition any Shariah law once in place would be almost impossible to repeal. And they have proven impossible to repeal. All efforts to repeal any of the controversial laws (apart from Hudood ordinance which was only partially repealed in 2006) have not gone beyond some newspaper statements which too were subsequently retracted.
Of course even if the state had not instilled these laws, the changes it made in educational sphere to promote extraordinary reverence for religion would have still done substantial damage to the culture of tolerance in Pakistan. But the laws brought in the state’s coercive power into play and consequently bigotry and religious inspired extremism has been institutionalized.
The strategic use of political Islam to tackle ethnicity and also to gain other advantages continued into the 1990s and Taliban were created. Apart from creating so called strategic depth, another rationale for promotion of Taliban was to tackle the issue of Pushtun nationalism. It was assumed that a radical Islamic force with its presence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan would stifle Puktun Nationalism also. Needless to say that today we are paying a heavy price for that blunder.
Instead of unity the political use of Islam has sown extremism and sectarian violence. Moreover, it has further intensified religious bigotry against minorities. In the past one year, we have seen attacks against Sufi shrines, Shites, Ahmedis and Christians. Moreover, draconian laws are still in place and in fact repealing them will perhaps increase violence because of resistance of the religious clergy who have become just too powerful because of active promotion by the state in the past.
The state as well as the educated of this country has to realize that we can not suffer more of these blunders. Ethnic rifts can only be tackled through greater autonomy and fairer economic distribution. An ethnicity will prefer to call itself a Pakistani first only if it does not feel excluded. A state that excludes sows the seed of its nemesis. You will create ten other problems if you think that religion can somehow or the other unify.
What the educated of this country need to do this is to start a discourse on the role of religion in our political and cultural sphere. We need collective courage for that and no Mullah will dare to oppose it. Who are these people to declare any one as apostate? Who has given them the right to decide that? We become timid in front of them and instead of challenging simply adopt an apologetic and appeasing response. Right now they are calling Salman Taseer an apostate for supporting the Christian woman (who was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death) and the educated of this country are too afraid to even raise a voice. Let’s start raising our voices and rescue ourselves.