PAKISTAN’S economy has been under pressure for decades; the country has yet to get down to the business of undertaking the structural reforms necessary to put it on a firmer footing. However, the business of hate has been flourishing in the country, and the state and society do not squander any opportunity to profit from it.
PML-N leader Mian Javed Latif’s vile anti-Ahmadi remarks, intended to malign former prime minister Imran Khan, are yet another reminder that our political leadership can go to any extent for political point-scoring. The use of religion is not new in our politics. Almost all political actors resort to it recklessly, without caring about the consequences for the smaller faith communities in the country and the overall impact on society. PML-N leaders have themselves been the target of hatemongers in the recent past. For instance, one of their ministers was forced to resign, and another survived a murder attempt provoked by a malign, religiously motivated smear campaign. Sadly, the PML-N is now itself trying to play with fire. The use of the religion card by PML-N leaders reflects their frustration over how fast the party is losing political ground.
It scarcely needs repeating that the plight of smaller religious communities in the country, both Muslims and non-Muslims, and reports about their persecution keep surfacing on mainstream and social media quite frequently. Nevertheless, both state and society are very keen that they should not be portrayed as bigots, in the manner that India is being depicted by the international media. A civil society organisation, the Centre for Social Justice, has recently come under fire from the authorities for submitting a report to the UN Human Rights Council for allegedly being ‘contrary to fact’. Coming to its defence, the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights, Lahore, has said that the contents of the report reflect a verifiable situation on the ground, and state institutions should have taken it seriously to improve the state of religious minorities in Pakistan.
Pakistan does not want to be compared to India, because, firstly, it wants to show that both states are different and share very little in common. Second, it is the state’s premise that Pakistan, being an ideological state, is more capable of safeguarding its minorities than India. While India claims to be a secular, democratic state, many in Pakistan assert that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party promotes the intolerant Hindutva ideology. For these and other reasons, power elites in Pakistan do not like any attempt to compare the two countries in terms of image. Pakistan describes incidents of religious persecution at home as ‘isolated’ and perpetrated by hardliners; power elites in India present a similar argument. Thus both sides have at least one commonality in the construction of the narrative.
Power elites use ideology and religion to maximise their goals at the cost of dividing society.
The youth in Pakistan, and perhaps in India as well, are not burdened with the hangover of partition but have little in common when it comes to politics and ideology despite sharing some common cultural threads — just like the European nations. The Pakistani youth conceive of culture largely in terms of social rituals and expressions. The ‘otherness’ has taken root gradually, and it could have some political advantages. For example, a question often raised is how the rise of Hindutva is impacting Pakistan, and the most probable answer is that it is not to any significant extent. Though Pakistani youth consider India an enemy country, they believe at the same time that bilateral issues can be resolved through dialogue. An ordinary Pakistani may feel pain at the suffering of Muslims in India, but he or she considers them part of another state, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar.
However, the detachment from ‘Indian-ness’ has altered the concept of the ‘enemy’, while the ideological design of the state here has helped internalise hate. Now, both power elites and ordinary Pakistanis feel insecure about people who seem different from themselves — in terms of religion, sect, race, ethnicity or social status. Power elites and a major segment of the religious clergy thrive on such divisions. Communal and sectarian hatred ultimately weakens cohesion within society, undermines the Constitution, and erodes a sense of equal citizenry, although the fear of an external enemy has provided a glue to bind people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds against a threat to their collective interest.
The growing middle class, urbanisation, and expansion of religious institutions are often blamed for such transformation both in India and Pakistan, but the attitude of the power elites is most instrumental in making a success of the hate business. They use ideology and religion to maximise their political goals at the cost of dividing their societies and advancing intolerance. Ultimately, they also suffer, but still continue along the same path, which provides them with a kind of perverse, toxic pleasure.
In his remarks, Mian Javed Latif also mentioned a faculty member at a university and linked him with Imran Khan. The individual in question had reportedly taken students to Rabwah to interact with the Ahmadi community for better understanding. However, radical religious groups made it into an issue and forced the university administration to distance itself from the visit and declare it an individual act.
There is no logic behind bringing the issue into the limelight except for political manoeuvring, which can put people’s lives in danger. It is not the actions of India or the civil society in Pakistan, but shortsighted political and religious leaders that are painting an ugly picture of this country. The PML-N might have forgotten that in 2010, after two Ahmadi places of worship in Lahore were attacked, Mian Nawaz Sharif himself, as prime minister, had said that members of the community were his brothers and sisters, a statement that had created ripples in the country.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2022