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From Lahore to Wana

June 06, 2011

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People offer prayers at the Badshahi mosque on the occasion of Eidul Azha in Lahore. — AP Photo

Religious extremism did not grow in Wana. Rather its origins can be traced to Punjab. The dagger which drew the first blood in the name of faith was used in Lahore and not in Miranshah. The wind of fanaticism had already swept through the land of five rivers before it shook the mighty Hindukush.

There are two truths. Firstly, in the cultural parlance of the sub-continent, the word 'Punjab' evokes a sense of festivity. For centuries, the Punjabi soil has been nurturing the lavish crops of liberalism .By tradition, the Punjabis are known for their tolerance and open –mindedness. Music, jest, pluralism and women are the staples of the Punjabi culture.

Yet another truth is that in this land of saints, communal hatred devoured a million lives in 1947. Six years later, it was again Punjab where houses of Ahmedis were torched. Also, Punjab staged the initial enactments of the gory drama of sectarian carnage in 1980s.

What a tragic irony! But there is nothing illogical about it. The fall of Punjab from lofty liberalism to lowly fanaticism is perfectly explainable in terms of 3 factors: post-partition sentiments, bureaucratic opportunism and the Zia-ul-Haq factor.

The killings, rape and plunder which ravaged the united Punjab in 1947 left an indelible imprint on the collective Punjabi psyche. First, the scramble for the wealth and women of infidels which ensued in the wake of partition re-defined opportunism. Most heinous of the crimes were justified in the name of religion. Those who indulged in these crimes took pride in this savagery. It was a trend-setter. As the smoke billowing out of the then Hindu mohallah of Shahalmi marred the skyline of Lahore, the ominous clouds of religious violence also gathered on the horizon of Pakistan.

Secondly, Hindus emerged as a perennial foe. Battle-lines were loud and clear. Every bad thing that happened to the new country was swiftly declared as Hindu handiwork. Gradually, Jews, Communists and Christians also took their seats in the Hall of Paranoia. From Liaquat Ali Khan to Osama bin Laden, all misfortunes have conveniently been imputed to the ‘foreign’ hand.

Thirdly, once the Hindus were gone, the next step was cultural cleansing. It was preached that if socio-cultural basis of the society was not to be re-oriented in religious terms than what was the point in creating a new country. The epithet "Hindu tradition" emerged as a fearsome prohibition and with the passage of time besakhi, basant, bindi and saree got equated with Hinduism and were denounced.

While the public had emotionally weakened, the bureaucracy cool headedly exploited the situation for its own good. As the country passed from a vice-regal age into an independent democracy, the bureaucracy suddenly found itself in a vulnerable position. Since its creation in 1792 as Covenanted Civil Service, the bureaucracy had been specifically designed to serve the interests of foreign rulers. With the Deputy Commissioner as linchpin of a repressive law and order apparatus it had always taken pride in being in-accessible to the natives. It was thus natural that it feared and resisted democracy at a local as well as national level.

Democracy meant local government was in the hands of elected representatives but the local government has always been a nightmare for Pakistani bureaucracy. In order to subvert it an alliance emerged at the district level. Bureaucracy needed feudals for support. The latter derived sanctity from the local pulpit .In short, democracy was declared un-Islamic by the trio. The common man was denied justice and the flames of his deprivation ultimately exploded into a conflagration which tends to jeopardise our very existence.

Like all other areas, the education system was also in the hands of the bureaucracy rather than educationists. The CSP Secretaries of Education sidelined the genuine educationists and devised syllabi which deliberately distorted facts .Fiction was valued more than facts and doubt was equated with heresy. The love for land was a sin and invaders were presented as crusaders. If education had been in control of Urdu medium "masters" we could have condoned this lapse, but an unpardonable sin was committed by CSPs who prided on their Oxbridge grooming.

Though impeccably westernised in their personal lives, these bureaucrats patronised reactionaries and formulated foreign and domestic policies which labeled liberal forces as security concern. This was the dawn of national hypocrisy. It should not be forgotten that the worst opponents to the progressive and the  populist Bhutto regime were the bureaucrats .His sin of empowering the people at the expense of Mullah-Choudhary-DC triangle was never forgiven.

Next enters Zia, the military dictator haunted by the ghost of Bhutto. A villain had to be created out of Bhutto. The only way was to condemn him as a bad Muslim. This was the only way to outbalance the Bhutto phenomenon. The doctrine of Divine Right was retrieved from the dustbin of history .An aggressive Islamisation began. The masses were weaned from Bhuttoism by pandering to their ideological weaknesses. Hudood, Zakat and Usher and blasphemy laws were designed to compensate people for the loss of democracy and fundamental rights.

Punjab was worst affected. First, it was the base of the PPP. While the fortress of Punjab could be conquered by floggings in Lahore Fort the hearts of Punjabis could be won only in the name of God. The public was brainwashed into believing that vote for liberal forces was an irreligious act. Zia did not fail. Since 1977 Punjab is the only province which has consistently been ruled by the rightist parties compared to PPP, ANP, BNP, MQM, etc in other provinces.

Secondly, as the military was fundamentally Punjabi so when the military machine was re-engineered on the Ziaist model, Punjab suffered the most .Army men are part of this society. When they rule, society imbibes their influence. As Punjab sent more sons to the Army it was more susceptible to conservatism. One example is that Potohar belt is more conservative than rest of Punjab .Contrary to the popular belief, while South Punjab might have been used as camping ground, yet these people have not traditionally elected rightist parties. In fact, is it a coincidence  that in upper Punjab, the most prolific source of military recruitment, slogans like Lal Masjid and drone attacks decides the election results, as liberal forces are almost non-existent there.

The fate of sanity was sealed in 1979.The thunder of Soviet tanks in Kabul was music to Zia's ears. The regime was provided with a much-needed raison d’ etre for its existence. The slogan of jihad was raised with much fanfare and it caught the fancy of the Punjabi youth. Punjab is a fertile land and seeds of fanaticism which had been lavishlythrown all over the province by Zia soon had a bumper crop of 'tanzeems' and 'lashkars" .While they busied themselves in a  jihad against infidels in Kabul, Srinagar and Amritsar, a parallel jihad got underway at campuses which manifested itself in victimisation of Ahmedi students, enforcement of dress codes for women and rumpus at social events.

Zia made an average Pakistani take patriotism as synonymous with Islamic fundamentalism. This thinking is getting stronger. No one is today bothered about the fact that Osama stayed in our land. We are only concerned as to why we failed to prevent his killing.

We, the Punjabis, always have deluded ourselves with a false complacence. Whenever confronted with the fact of extremism in Punjab, we console ourselves that Punjab will never fall to extremists as it has always cherished ‘moderates’. We should not live in history. It is time to face the reality. The shrines of Sufis who taught us tolerance are locked up in Punjab today. For 24 years, we kept telling ourselves that Bengalis will not leave us because the Muslim League was formed in Dhaka and the Lahore Resolution was moved by a Bengali Leader .We must not feign the same ignorance to reality this time.