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Godless or plain sensible?

Published Apr 27, 2013 08:14am


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— File Photo
— File Photo

REGARDLESS of its success, for several years the army saw the defence of the country’s territorial integrity as its primary job and didn’t see itself as the guardian of its ‘ideology’.

Even then a succession of military leaders demonstrated so much commitment to safeguarding the country’s at best loosely defined ‘ideological frontiers’ that they may have done so at the expense of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.

Military ruler Gen Yahya Khan’s information minister, the reputedly pro-Jamaat-i-Islami Gen (retd) Sher Ali Khan, invented the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’ ahead of the 1970 elections, thinking perhaps it would be the glue to hold the country together. We all know how miserably he failed.

However, even at this stage the culture within the army was unchanged where loyalty to unit and country remained the foremost concerns and not ‘ideology’ and where the officers’ mess retained some of the best-stocked, mahogany-topped bars in the country, where officers and their families played tombola on weekends.

The atmosphere may have been elitist but was far less prone to divisive ideologies.

After seizing power, Gen Zia made no bones about his adherence to his own narrow version of religion to more or less the exclusion of all other brands. The rest of the general staff followed the leader as if on cue. Shalwar-kameez waistcoats replaced ‘monkey jackets,’ ‘blue patrols’ and lounge suits.

The Soviet army’s march into neighbouring Afghanistan was a godsent for Zia. It enabled him, in partnership with the CIA, to father what would become an unstoppable monster. Yes, for what else would one call such an ideology? A hate-filled philosophy that makes Pakistani Muslims turn on one another with the sort of relish even the vilest of predators wouldn’t reserve for the choicest of prey.

This ideology is tearing Pakistan apart. Official figures say the murderous campaign of the zealots has so far claimed the lives of more than 3,500 army and paramilitary soldiers and injured or maimed nearly 12,000 others. This is not counting the civilian casualties.

It was against this backdrop that last Sunday’s newspapers carried army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani’s statement in which he delivered a ‘reminder’ at the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, not far from where US Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

“Let me remind you that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan. However, Islam should always remain a unifying force. I assure you that regardless of the odds, the Pakistan Army will keep on doing its best towards our common dream for a truly Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as envisioned by the Quaid-i-Azam and Allama Iqbal.”

Whilst the general hadn’t, perhaps the military’s media wing should have shared the background to his statement. It wasn’t clear who, if anyone, was trying to “take Islam out of Pakistan”. Ask anyone around you if they see Islam in danger of being taken out of Pakistan. You’ll only hear one response: no.

Also, it would have been hugely beneficial to the young cadets and officers at the PMA had Gen Kayani defined a truly Islamic republic as “envisioned” by the Quaid and Iqbal and referred to the constitutional provision which made it incumbent on the army to strive towards realising the dream.

Frankly, an army chief who says his hand has been stayed by a lack of “national consensus” in imposing the writ of the Islamic Republic on large swathes of the country’s land where its territorial integrity is in tatters, should have ideally refrained from making this statement.

He may not have realised it but his words could easily have been interpreted as further encouragement by militants who have said they’ll attack and disrupt the election campaign of the political parties seen as ‘secular’.

Dishonestly, some have described secular parties as ‘godless’ merely because these parties feel that given the dozens of schools of thought, with often widely differing interpretations of religious tenets, the use of religion in the affairs of the state can be, and is, divisive.

A tolerant state where all citizens enjoy equal rights, where bigotry has no room and where the role of the men in khaki is in line with the Quaid’s wishes expressed in Quetta all those years ago would be closest to Jinnah’s vision, Gen Kayani would agree. The definitive piece of writing on Iqbal’s vision appeared in Thursday’s Dawn penned by I.A. Rehman.

If the general has to be proactive, then wise counsel would have it that he move to ensure that there is a level playing field for all those participating in the May 11 elections regardless of whether they are closer ideologically to one state institution or another.

The inability of the multi-billion rupee intelligence juggernaut at his disposal as also the men under arms at his command to afford protection to several major political parties in the country is nothing that a professional soldier would be proud of.

The army’s foreign detractors, particularly those in the West and in unfriendly or hostile countries such as India and Afghanistan, have long accused it of having an institutional bias in favour of militant Islam and against forces representing liberal thought in the country.

Instead of moving to dispel such impressions and clearly demonstrating his commitment to a tolerant, pluralistic, Pakistan, the general chooses to make a vague statement on “Islam being taken out of Pakistan”.

Large chunks of the populace in Gen Kayani’s, Nawaz Sharif’s and Imran Khan’s ideal Saudi Arabia and even in Iran agree on what Islam is and, therefore, while the two may be in a clash regionally, there is domestic peace as there is consensus within each on what constitutes Islam.

Pakistan is so, so different. Test my hypothesis. Just stop four, five people at random on a busy street and ask them what their belief is. I am not prescribing something I haven’t tried. I learnt religion is best left to the individual. Call me godless if you will but please ponder if there is truth in what I say.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


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Comments (16) Closed

Nony Apr 27, 2013 07:22am
Religion has become a profitable discourse for certain institutions and politicians rather than being a binding force for different nationalities living in Pakistan.
arif a. khan Apr 27, 2013 06:52am
Yes Sir, I fully agree with your view. This is what Allah has told us that we will be answer able to him individually on the day of judgement.
Lalat Apr 27, 2013 07:04am
Mr. Nasir, Wish, your this very reasonable and thought provoking article becomes an eyeopener for all those who matter such as the politicians, the army, the media, activists and the general public. Best of luck, Sir.
Khanm Apr 27, 2013 07:05am
It is a never ending debate and it will never end.. Why don
Hasan Apr 27, 2013 04:32am
I am a GOD fearing practicing Muslim but hate all religious parties. The reason is very simple and logical. The more you emphasize on religion in a public forum, the more chances are of creating sectarian discord specially in a multi sect society like ours. Moreover it is much easier to arouse religious passions for destructive purposes instead of constructive purposes. If there is a call for protesting and hounding an unproved blasphemer and a call for boycott of a dishonest trader / tax evader, 99.9% will heed the 1st call. Again an overwhelming majority of people protesting or taking part in some oblique / ambiguous / high sounding Islamic protest will not care about following fundamental religious edicts in their personnel lives.
TARIK NIAZI Apr 27, 2013 10:33am
Gen Kiayani has not said anything wrong.This blog seems to be out of place.We have tried all forms of govt , there is no harm in leaning towards Islam. A truely Islamic state is the ultimate solution.
Anwaar Sardar (@Anwaar_Sardar) Apr 27, 2013 11:15am
General Kiyani's statement is in line with the true spirit of Islam as Islam is the religion to unite people and not create divisions. The mullah's distortion of true islamic thought is the main cause of sectarionism dividing pakistanis among warring factions.
Nony Apr 27, 2013 11:35am
leaning would be too vague, we are already sunk in the glory of religion and its self declared owners. What is "truely islamic state" by the way ? You mean to say insted of "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" it should be renamed once again as "Truely Islamic Republic of Pakistan" ? hope by truely islamic you are not refering to 100% beard and burqa implenetation ?
Rahim Apr 27, 2013 01:10pm
Yes, but also we really need to be answerable to the deprived and poor who are all around us in this world living and struggling but you and I keep our eyes shut so hypocritically and worry only about the day of judgement only. Wake up and face ground reality.
Joe Apr 27, 2013 04:36pm
Meaning ... to accept 'your' view of what is right? Or somebody else's version instead of yours, or yet somebody else's? You should understand, but evidently don't, that the public should beware of a state that enforces the "ultimate solution." Hope for Pakistan dimmed with Gen Kayani's remark. One can only be saddened to contemplate the new incentive it has given to outlaw militants who take the "ultimate solution" into the streets.
independentthinker Apr 27, 2013 05:11pm
Religion is a personal matter and choice and should not be forced upon - be it by your government or anyone else. I am a Muslim and i don't want anyone telling me how i should practice my religion. Let our common sense dictate to us how we should live our lives. The reason why most Muslim countries are finding it hard to prosper, is because they are following what they believe is the true teachings of our religion, whether or not it makes sense. Our God given common sense, to me is sufficient to help us lead our lives. While we can continue to preserve our values and principles, we should realize our religion is not the only tool that can teach us morals. We are born with intelligence that should automatically lead us into making proper decisions. We are all God's creation, so i don't believe one religion is better than the other. Keep it out of influencing us on how the Government should run, and you are set to prosper.
Samia Apr 27, 2013 06:55pm
Excellent piece, but I am afraid Mr.Nasir this will fall on deaf ears. We are in a shrinking minority. The forces of obscurantism have won
AmirKhan Apr 27, 2013 07:19pm
Totally agree with you brother, Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. It's about time it became a truly Islamic state with 100% sharia law instead just remaining an Islamic republic in name. Also the republic in the name should go, it should be replaced by Khilafah or Amirate.
Nadir Aziz Apr 27, 2013 08:25pm
"A truly Islamic state is the ultimate solution". Except, that no body can define a truly Islamic state which can be acceptable to all the citizens of the state.
citizen Apr 27, 2013 08:43pm
I dont recall Imran khan ever terming Saudi Arabia as his ideal.. I might be wrong so plz someone correct me if I am wrong. He is always praising the social democratic states of scandinavia so far as I have heard him... for Nawaz sharif it does hold true without any doubt.
Z.A.Khan Apr 28, 2013 02:31am
Before preaching Islam, please practice, Did you pray 5 times a day? Did you pay zakat. ? How often do you lie during a days time? Can you understand Quran or just recite. Stop worring about others religious duties .. worry about your own. Day of judegment .you will not answer for others but own deeds. Length of beard and shalwar will not lead you path to paradise.. stop lecture to others start good deads.. Killing innocent by standards and threatening bussiness, schools . Is that glory so proud of . Shame on you .