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Obsessive focus: Gen Kayani’s comments

April 22, 2013

PERHAPS it is a sign of the times that Gen Kayani’s comments at the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul will attract little meaningful attention or comment. “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan ... The Pakistan Army will keep on doing its best towards our common dream for a truly Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” Gen Kayani said. In truth, however, both the timing and the content of Gen Kayani’s speech ought to be parsed carefully. Given the recent travails of election candidates facing new, and unwarranted, scrutiny of their Islamic credentials and a debate being triggered on the true ideology of Pakistan, the army chief ought to have considered whether weighing in on such matters at this time was the appropriate thing to do or not. The political battle lines have already been drawn, with religious elements and anti-democratic forces beating the drum of an exclusionist version of Pakistan’s ideology and trying to make it an election issue. Has Gen Kayani, wittingly or unwittingly, given those religious elements and anti-democratic forces a boost going into next month’s election?

The substance too of the comments requires close examination. Who is trying to take Islam out of Pakistan; where is the threat to the public’s right to practise their Muslim faith? In fact, the threat is in the opposite direction: to those of other faiths who are also Pakistani and some of whom don’t even enjoy the theoretical right to practise their faith without fear or intimidation. If Islam is in fact the core of the Pakistani state, does that mean non-Muslim Pakistanis have no place in this state and society? Even among Muslims, from the early 1950s, the question of which of the many different interpretations of and schools of thought in Islam ought to be given precedence over the rest has been a dangerously divisive issue when the state has seen fit on occasion to tackle it. More relevantly to Gen Kayani’s institution, the exclusive, obsessive even, focus on using Islam to galvanise the armed forces is precisely where the origins of the tragic and disastrous policy of state-sponsored jihad has arisen. Gen Kayani and the army high command should stick to questions of national security and leave it to the politicians to sort out for whom and why Pakistan was created. The ideology of Pakistan should be an issue for politics, not the armed forces.