67 years after independence, Pakistanis still chant on their streets: Pakistan ka matlab kya? (What was the purpose of creating Pakistan)?” The answer, obviously, is: Islam. Pakistan was created for Islam.

Whether Pakistan was created for Islam or not is a dispute that has not been settled yet and there is no indication that it can be settled in the near future.

The religious lobby, however, uses this slogan to strengthen the country’s Islamic identity. On paper, Pakistan is an Islamic republic and the religious lobby, which raises this slogan, wants to ensure that it remains so.

So far, they have been very successful in achieving this target because Pakistan has not only retained its religious label but has also become much more conservative than it was in 1947, when it was carved out of India.

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In the 1980s, the Afghan war provided this lobby the opportunity to acquire weapons, military training and international patronage to fight the Russians. After 1989, when the Soviets left Afghanistan, the religious lobby decided to use their Afghan experience for turning Pakistan into a religious state.

And they did receive a lot of support from the country’s civil and military establishment who wanted to use this lobby to achieve their foreign policy objectives.

Pakistan indeed was turned into a large laboratory where militant groups from all over the Islamic world were brought together, initially with support from the US and its Arab allies, to do all sorts of experiments with the country.

This exercise brought forth Taliban militants, who initially received guidance from the Pakistani establishment, but soon turned against them as well.

The plan was to use the Islamist militants for creating the so-called strategic depth by bringing Afghanistan on Pakistan’s side in a possible conflict with India. This target was never achieved but the militants did become an existential threat to the Pakistani state.

They have already killed tens of thousands of people, including six thousand soldiers, and have proved on dozens of occasions that they can hit any target inside Pakistan, whenever they want.

This forced the Pakistani military to launch a major offensive against the Taliban in the country’s tribal region. The military has forced them to retreat to their hideouts, both in Afghanistan and inside Pakistan. It is still not clear if they have been finally defeated or will re-emerge from their hideouts to shed more blood.

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But the Taliban are not the real cause of Pakistan’s identity crisis. They are just a symptom.

The real cause is the very slogan that is still chanted in Pakistan’s streets: Pakistan ka matlab kya?

Those gleefully chanting this slogan do not realise that their effort to strengthen the country’s religious identity also creates doubts about the very existence of the country.

In their effort to impose their views on the people, they have prevented Pakistan from moving ahead. They argue that first it should be decided why Pakistan was created. The country should focus on other issues only after resolving this basic issue.

It is like buying a car for the family and then refusing to drive it until it is decided what was it bought for:

Taking the earning members to work? Driving children to school? Doing grocery or for visiting friends?

The answer is clear, a car can serve all these groups but to do so, the owners first need to start driving it.

Unfortunately, the religious right in Pakistan refuses to allow any one to start driving this car until it is decided Pakistan ka matlab kya.

Pakistan, like most other countries, has a religious right, liberals, socialists and the seculars who want to separate state from religion.

In democracy, no group or individual is in power forever. You can have a government led by the religious right, as it happened in India this year. It can then go to the liberals, the socialists or social conservatives, whoever the people vote for.

Each group has the right to implement whatever system it wants, while in power, as others have the right to oppose that system. This is the purpose of the opposition in a democratic system.

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In democracy, it is wrong to ask the purpose behind creating a state.

The purpose is clear. A state is created to provide a space for a group, large or small, to live within particular geographical boundaries. Once this target is achieved, the state then goes about providing stability, security and economic opportunities for this population to live peacefully and prosper.

The people of this state have the right to vote for, and bring into power, whoever they think can best serve their interests. If they fail to satisfy them, they can, and should be, shown the door in the next elections, not before as it is often done in Pakistan.

It is the duty of those who want to serve the people to show what the purpose of the system they advocate is, and how they want to achieve that goal.

So the right question would be to ask these groups what is the purpose of the system that they want to implement.

And not Pakistan ka matlab kya.?

(To be continued)

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