THE move speaks volumes about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s politics of religiosity. The man he has chosen to head the newly established National Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen Authority (NRA), as part of his effort to build a ‘Riyasat-i-Madina’, does not appear to believe in democracy, and instead, wants to prop up the “elite of the elite” to run the affairs of the state. His views about regional and global politics too are extremely bizarre.
Last month, the president through an ordinance established the NRA with the prime minister as its patron-in-chief. This body is mandated to work towards making the “dream of a just and welfare state a reality”. Besides sponsoring research on the Prophet’s (PBUH) teachings, the NRA is also to monitor the country’s education system and the media to see whether they are conforming to Islamic values. One of its tasks is to work for “the character-building” of youth.
Such a sweeping mandate for the authority raises several questions about its objectives. The very fact that it is established through an ordinance and not an act of parliament makes the body questionable. A brainchild of the prime minister, it seems to be an extension of Gen Zia’s legacy of using religiosity to achieve political objectives. The appointment of Dr Ejaz Akram with his highly controversial views supporting authoritarianism reinforces worries on this count.
Read more: What should Imran Khan do?
Among the members of the authority are also some highly respected scholars like Seyyed Hossein Nasr. He is an Iranian philosopher and professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University. Given his scholarship, it’s highly doubtful that he would share the retrogressive ideas espoused by the chairman of the authority.
One wonders where are we heading with the kind of worldview espoused by Dr Ejaz Akram.
Dr Akram’s obvious contempt for democratic values and enlightenment is evident in his writings and speeches. In his article published in Global Village Space he said, “…the idea of a republic, nationalism, capitalism, feminism, absolute freedom of speech, are all false consciousness that must be abandoned for things that work for us”.
Calling Pakistan’s political leadership “coward, stupid, and sold out for many decades”, he says that the “only hope this country has now is if the whole principle and structure of governance is completely dismantled”. He wants the creation of a new system of governance led by an elite “that have an upright character and espouse a much deeper understanding of ideologies, religions, civilisations, and principles of statecraft”.
According to him “a few hundred good people should replace the rule of a few hundred bad people”. Surely this view is not very different from those espoused by fascists.
His liking for military rule is evident in his writings. He believes that only the military can clean up the “mess”. “A deeply infested and infiltrated country mired by mafia rule cannot be cleaned up without the help of intelligence agencies, the best of whom are under military control,” he says in his article titled ‘The Global Reset: What Should Pakistan Do?’ “The institutions of the military should help the state to expand its arteries and tentacles deep inside the society by a greater level of civil society-military cooperation”.
He, however, laments that the “military continues to believe in the supremacy of civilian rule (Bajwa Doctrine), therefore one cannot help but think that our military knowingly or unknowingly supports the rule of corrupt people and is guilty of propping up the kakistos while keeping down the aristos”.
Earlier, he had called upon Pakistan to pursue an ‘expansionist policy’ and claim some parts of India including Junagadh and West Bengal that he believes should have been given to Pakistan. He is of the view that Pakistan has been the victim of international conspiracies being hatched by India and the ‘forces of global Zionism’. He has also accused some rights groups and regional nationalist parties of being funded by foreign powers.
He seems to support conspiracy theories defining global politics — for instance, 9/11 was a false flag operation by the US. In his article in Global Village Space, he is of the opinion that “the global politics of coronavirus is fraudulent. Since its kill rate is less than the ordinary flu, closing down the world economy cannot be justified”.
Dr Akram often stresses on correcting the ‘direction of Qibla’. It reminds us of Gen Zia’s rhetoric when he imposed retrogressive laws in the name of faith. The country has never been the same with the rise of faith-based extremism. Now we are hearing the same narrative from a person who would be heading a body that is mandated to work for Imran Khan’s vision of turning Pakistan into a ‘Riyasat-i-Madina’. “To use our local logic, the state should shift their qibla towards Sirat al Mustaqim, a straight path that doesn’t suffer from the convolutions of the current path of disaster that we are comfortably treading,” he said in his article. One wonders where are we heading with this kind of worldview.
It’s not very surprising that Imran Khan has appointed a person like Dr Akram to head the NRA that is supposed to determine the ideological direction of this country. On various occasions, the prime minister has aired the same views. What is most worrisome is the monitoring of education and the media.
Given the chairman’s controversial and retrogressive narrative about state and society, one must raise serious concerns about the possibility of further restrictions on the freedom of expression under the cover of Islam. The PTI government has already done huge damage to education by introducing the Single National Curriculum. The so-called uniform system appears to have reinforced a closed mindset and has nothing to do with the requirements of a modern education system. Additional measures to ‘Islamise’ the system could lead to a further decline in educational standards.
Most worrisome is the move to undermine the democratic process in the country and encourage authoritarianism under cover of resetting the system. It is extremely dangerous for the country. More troubling is that it is all being done in the name of faith. Imran Khan’s vision of ‘Riyasat-i-Madina’ is in fact an effort to further Gen Zia’s obscurantist legacy. It is a great leap backward.
The writer is the author of No-Win War — The Paradox of US-Pakistan Relations in Afghanistan’s Shadow.
Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2021