DAWN - Opinion; February 09, 2008

Published February 9, 2008

Roots of religious extremism

By Mubarak Ali

THE emergence and expansion of religious extremism is hotly debated and discussed in Pakistan. The origin of this phenomenon has mostly been traced to the madressahs and, therefore, attempts are being made to reform the educational system of the religious seminaries to check extremist trends.

Efforts have been directed towards introducing moderate religious reforms in their system in order to help them produce liberal students or taliban.

However, this assumption is not fully correct and to blame the madressahs for producing narrow-minded religious fanatics is not justified.

There are other reasons for the promotion of religious orthodoxy and fanaticism in society which should not be ignored. Here I shall analyse those causes which are usually not discussed when looking into this phenomenon.

The most potent and important institution which patronises religious orthodoxy is the state of Pakistan. Right from its inception in 1947, the ruling elite hesitated to adopt liberal and secular policies. In the case of constitution-making, it sought the help of ulema and asked two leading religious scholars, Sayyid Suleman Nadvi and Prof Hamidullah, to come to Pakistan and advise the government on making the constitution Islamic in character.

The involvement of the ulema in this process is well known and ultimately resulted in the Objectives Resolution in 1949 which subsequently determined the direction of future constitutions. Defending it, Liaquat Ali Khan the prime minister, explained to the Constituent Assembly that the state should not remain partial in matters of religion.

According to him, it was the responsibility of the state to patronise religious teachings. In spite of protests from minority members of parliament, the resolution was adopted. This laid the foundation of religious extremism in the country.

On the other hand, from the very beginning the state adopted a hostile attitude towards progressive and liberal groups, parties and individuals. During the entire period of the Cold War, the Pakistani state sided with the western bloc and supported religious elements to counter communism. Consequently, communists and socialists became the victims of state oppression. They were harassed by the secret agencies, put in prison and tortured. They were denied government jobs.

Even private institutions closed their doors on them and they could not hope for any employment. The Communist Party of Pakistan was banned and its workers went underground. Barred from working openly, they either associated with some other parties or worked silently in a limited circle.

Progressive writers and intellectuals were criticised and dubbed as agents of foreign countries. Their magazines were banned, their writings were censored and cases were filed against them on charges of obscenity or treason. The result was that religious parties and groups found free space to play a dominant role in society. Liberal and progressive elements were so terrorised and harassed that they lost their voice to challenge religious extremism and propagate their point of view.

Since then, the Pakistani state has been playing an active role in the propagation of religious extremism. The three constitutions that were enacted contained provisions which upheld religious tenets in every walk of life.

The educational institutions Islamised their curricula to teach every subject from a religious perspective. Islamisation of the legal system and the setting up of the Sharia court undermined the judicial system. The official media propagated jihad and glorified martyrdom.

Thus it was the state that emerged as the main vehicle of spreading religious fanaticism in society by crushing all liberal and progressive points of view.

Because of the importance of the institution of the state, the ulema have vehemently opposed its secularisation. They fully realise that in a secular state they would lose their power and influence.

The mission of all religious parties is to capture the state either through democratic means by appealing to the people to support them in the name of religion in elections or through an armed struggle. At the same time, their strategy is to pressure the ruling classes to keep away from any process of secularisation of the state. They have insisted on the implementation of the Sharia for making Pakistan an Islamic state.

Thus, we find that religious extremists are fighting on two fronts: political and social. The irony is that nearly all non-religious political parties are proclaiming their adherence to the Islamic system. They also promise to preserve what has been Islamised by past governments including those of Z.A. Bhutto and Ziaul Haq.

In this respect, there is no difference between religious and non-religious parties. All of them, just to win the support and sympathy of the people, promise to establish the Islamic welfare state in Pakistan. They pledge to revive the past glory of Islamic history which was actually nothing but that of conquests and the expansion of Arab and Turkish imperialism.

Religious extremists are also concerned with the social change that Pakistani society is undergoing. As a result of globalisation and scientific and technological inventions, the social and cultural values of society are changing.

The old cultural and social practices, customs and traditions of the jagirdari and tribal system which have been validated by religion, are now under threat. Dress, music, dance, eating habits and lifestyle are all challenging the old value system.

Women want to marry according to their choice. They like to get an education and want to work outside their homes. When religious and old social value systems fail to check these changes, the guardians of conservative mores resort to violence and try to stop new trends. Here, violence is justified by religious scholars to uphold the outdated system of a feudal and tribal society.

The key question remains: is there any hope for changing the structure of the state? Perhaps no, because all political parties like to use religion and exploit the sentiments of the people to win elections. Religion and politics will remain an integral part of Pakistan. To defeat old and conservative traditions will take a long time because at present liberal and secular forces are too weak to resist and combat the established set-up.

Choices before the people

By Kaiser Bengali

THE Feb 18 elections are uniquely significant in the sense that they are a referendum on the direction Pakistan, its economy in particular, will take. A review of the history of the country’s economic development process places this ‘crossroads’ situation in perspective.

Pakistan’s modern economic development process commenced with independence in 1947 and there have been two distinct phases, 1947-1977 and 1977-to date. During the first phase, 1947-1977, Pakistan was a ‘development state’; namely, socioeconomic development was a primary objective of state policy. Since 1977, Pakistan has become a ‘security state’; namely, national security is the primary objective of the state.

The state of development in Pakistan in 1947 can be gauged from the fact that the country started out with less than a dozen medium-sized factories. From the outset, therefore, policymakers were seized with the objective of promoting development. Considerable political capital was invested in development planning — the Colombo Plan, the First Five-Year Plan, etc.

By the end of the 1950s, government offices and residential housing had been put up in the capital cities, agricultural and industrial output had risen and many basic consumer products were being manufactured in the country.

The 1960s saw the development effort move into higher gear, with the formation of the Planning Commission under the chairmanship of the president and the launch of the ambitious Second Five-Year Plan. The decade of the 1960s saw a significant expansion of economic infrastructure. The construction of large dams commenced, new canals were dug, and millions of acres of land brought under cultivation. The industrial structure graduated from producing basic consumer goods to the manufacture of intermediate inputs for the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

The 1970s represented a ‘big push’ towards the development of large-scale infrastructure and capital goods industries as the basis for accelerated future growth. With the state taking over from the private sector in leading the development process, millions of acres of additional land were brought under cultivation, new ports and highways were constructed, and several large industrial complexes were built. The steel mills, Port Qasim, the Indus Highway, Heavy Mechanical Complex, Heavy Electrical Complex, chemical plants, etc., constituted huge additions to the country’s economic infrastructure and output capacity.

Over the three-decade period encompassing the ‘development state’ phase — the period up to 1977 — per capita income rose 10-fold, food production was up three-fold, fibre production was up four-fold, manufacturing output increased 40-fold, electricity output increased 35-fold, telephone connections per 10,000 persons rose 10-fold, the primary enrolment rate rose five-fold, population per doctor declined 200-fold, and population per nurse declined 24-fold. Of course, the high growth rates are a function of the low base; however, the state effort in contributing to the absolute increases in output capacity and output and in taking the economy forward was critical.

The commitment of the state to socioeconomic development up to the end of the 1970s can be discerned from the fact that the rate of growth of budgetary allocations to development expenditure increased at an annual average of 21 per cent during 1972-77. This growth rate was nearly five times the GDP growth rate; indicating that the surpluses generated by the economy were reinvested in rebuilding and expansion of the economic base.

The year 1977 saw Pakistan shift from a development to a security state paradigm. The growth momentum continued into the 1980s, largely on account of the output generated by the large-scale, long-gestation capital projects initiated in the 1970s and which began to contribute to commercial production in the 1980s.

This shift can be discerned from the fact that the rate of growth of budgetary allocations to development expenditure declined from an annual average of 21 per cent during 1972-77 to 2.7 per cent during 1977-88. This growth rate was about half the GDP growth rate during the period. At the same time, the rate of growth of budgetary allocations to defence expenditure increased from less than two per cent during 1972-77 to nine per cent during 1977-88.

Notably, the rate of growth of defence expenditure was over two-thirds higher than the rate of growth of GDP during the decade. It appears that the surpluses generated by the economy were invested in the building and expansion of the military apparatus. The ‘security state’ was clearly in place.

During the 1990s, public investments in economic infrastructure continued to be low, as the servicing of the debts incurred in the 1980s did not provide governments with the necessary fiscal space to allocate resources for development expenditure in order to rehabilitate or build infrastructure. A notable exception, though, was the power-generation programme, which served the country well up to 2005.

Post-1999, fiscal space, public investment and GDP growth rates continued to be low until the financial bailout provided in the aftermath of the events of Sept 2001 in the US. From 2003 onwards, growth rates accelerated. However, the growth has been ‘credit-financed and consumer-driven’. The element of investment in economic infrastructure or manufacturing capacity has remained low.

Growth has been led by the services sectors, particularly financial sectors, rather than by commodity-producing sectors. This is indicated by the fact that, despite high growth rates in the last four years, the tax-GDP and export-GDP ratios have remained stagnant. It appears that the strategy has provided Pakistan with growth, but little in terms of development.

A highlight of economic activity in recent years has been the surge in luxury real estate projects initiated by the military’s commercial entities in collaboration with foreign investors. This is perhaps indicative of the need and the desire of the ‘security state’ to generate autonomous financing sources in order, partly, to free itself from the inbuilt accountability constraints of public funding. The economy of the country at large continues to suffer from neglect. A glaring illustration of this neglect is the fact that the government overlooked the need to provide for expansion of the power-generation capacity for over a decade.

The seriously deteriorating state of economic infrastructure can be inferred from the fact that a railway bridge near Hyderabad collapsed, suspending rail traffic between Karachi and the rest of the country for almost a month. More recently, two berths at Karachi port caved in into the sea. And even more recently, a newly built bridge in Karachi collapsed weeks after its inauguration.The former two incidents point towards the number of years the bridge and the berths must have been rusting to actually collapse and are indicative of the extent to which economic infrastructure has degenerated. The latter event denotes the extent to which the institutional infrastructure has decayed.

The state of affairs prevailing today cannot be said to be surprising. It is now three decades since the ‘development state’ ceased to exist. The people of Pakistan have a choice to make: sink into the status of a satellite economy of regional economic powers or stand shoulder to shoulder with the economic powers of the region. If the choice is the former, Pakistan can continue with the present situation. If the choice is the latter, it would be imperative to dismantle the ‘security state’ and to restore the ‘development state’.

There is a need to create a policy combination of the 1960s and the 1970s to rebuild the economic base and to resume the journey on the path of development. There will be politically difficult decisions; without which, however, the country cannot expect to rise from the low-level equilibrium it appears to have been caught in.

The importance of being Amitabh Bachchan

By Rahul Singh

WHO is the most recognisable living person in India — perhaps the most recognisable Indian internationally as well? The answer has to be Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood icon. He is presently in the eye of a storm, which could soon become a hurricane. But he is used to it, having been the centre of controversy many times in his chequered career.

It all began with a stray remark, made a few days ago, by Raj Thackeray, a name Dawn readers may not be familiar with. However, many of them are likely to have heard of his uncle, Bal Thackeray, the founder of the Hindu chauvinist and Muslim-baiting political party, the Shiv Sena.

The Shiv Sena has dug up cricket pitches, thereby halting matches between India and Pakistan, defaced paintings done by India’s most famous artist, M.F. Husain, and, what is much worse, instigated communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in their stronghold, Bombay, the country’s financial capital. Thackeray has often boasted that he can paralyse Bombay. And the frightening thing is that he actually can, such is his muscle-power.

For some years, a tussle had been going on between the ageing Bal Thackeray’s son, Udhav, and Thackeray’s nephew, Raj, for succession to the eventual leadership of the Shiv Sena. Then, a few months ago, Thackeray decided to put the mantle on his son, though most people felt the nephew was the smarter of the two. Anyway, this was the signal for Raj to angrily break away from the Shiv Sena and form his own party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

Unfortunately for him, in recent local elections the MNS made little impact. So, Raj Thackeray was on the lookout for greater political mileage. He thought he had found it, by attacking Bachchan, somebody who had helped him in the past, when he was embroiled in a messy extortion-cum-murder case. Raj questioned Bachchan’s loyalty to Maharashtra, accusing him of becoming famous in Bombay, the capital of Bollywood, but being a brand ambassador for the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The hit was below the belt, harking back to his uncle’s original 40-year-old chauvinistic political platform of railing against ‘outsiders’ coming into Bombay and taking up jobs that should have gone to Maharashtrians. That cry might have resonated in the 1960s and made Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena popular among the local Maharashtrians, especially the lumpen elements. But today, with fewer ‘outsiders’ in Bombay and local employment up, it leaves even Maharashtrians cold. Bachchan is of course from UP (though his mother was Sikh) but he has lived much of his life outside UP, mostly in Kolkata (working for a multinational, ‘Bird and Company’) and in Bombay, where he went to college and made his career as India’s leading male filmstar.

Raj Thackeray’s attack on Bachchan prompted some MNS loyalists to attack Bachchan’s house and rough up ‘northerners’, while damaging some shops and taxis, since the taxi trade is dominated by non-Maharashtrians. Till the time of writing, the state government has hesitated to arrest Raj, despite pressure from the centre to do so. Putting him in jail, goes the argument, would provoke the goonda elements of the MNS even further — and there are plenty of them — to increase the mayhem in Bombay, while making something of a martyr of their leader.

However, Bachchan’s wife, Jaya, also a highly acclaimed actress in her younger days and presently a member of parliament from the largely UP-based Samajwadi Party, had the perfect response to tormentor Raj Thackeray, who had tauntingly asked her which state she belonged to.

“I am a Bengali, born in Madhya Pradesh, married to a north Indian and have worked in Bombay,” she replied. “My mother-in-law was from Punjab and my daughter-in-law is from Karnataka — so how should I say which state I belong to?”

Jaya’s daughter-in-law is, needless to say, Aishwarya Rai, the former Miss World and a leading Bollywood actress who recently married Abhishek Bachchan. The Bachchans are a truly national family, a matter of pride and a symbol of unity for India. Raj Thackeray’s attack on them is bigotry at its worst.

On a somewhat personal note, I have a soft corner for Amitabh Bachchan. I first spotted him when he was in college, as he frequented the same restaurant in Bombay as me. He was strikingly handsome even then and when he went into films I was not surprised. Apart from his looks, he was bright and articulate. It was a rare combination and, again not surprisingly, the Bachchans and the Gandhis became close family friends. Rajiv Gandhi persuaded him to enter politics. He was duly elected to parliament from UP with a huge majority.

But as Rajiv got embroiled in the Swedish Bofors gun kickbacks scandal, things began to unravel for Amitabh, when his name was dragged into it. Labelling Indian politics a ‘cesspool’, Amitabh drew away from Rajiv. Another blow came when a commercial venture by Amitabh went kaput, bankrupting him. Amar Singh, a dubious politician from the Samajwadi Party, with even more dubious funds, bailed Amitabh out. The two have been inseparable since then, an association that has certainly benefited Amar Singh, though not I fear Amitabh.

Many admirers of the Bachchans find it difficult to stomach the constant presence of Amar Singh at Amitabh’s side. About three years ago, at the launch of a book I had written, my publisher requested Amitabh to be the guest of honour. Normally, he charges several million rupees for his presence on similar occasions. He asked for nothing, except a request that he be allowed to bring his wife and Amar Singh along!

He has encountered many storms and even if the present one that Raj Thackeray has engineered turns into a hurricane, he will surely weather it as well, with his usual dignity and grace. But it has brought to the forefront a question that agonises all Indians: are we Indians first and then Maharashtrians (or Punjabis, Tamils, Bengalis, etc)? Or is it the other way round?


© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008



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