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Theocrats and the dying vision of Quaid

Pakistani theocrats and their allies are still criticizing Prime Minister (P.M.) Nawaz Sharif for his statement on making Pakistan a ‘liberal’ democratic nation. Siraj-Ul-Haq the Amir (Head) of right wing Jamat-i-Islami(JI) was the first one to criticize Nawaz by stating, ‘This statement runs contrary to constitution of Pakistan and principles laid down by the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam’. He also stressed that P.M. should withdraw his statement.  JI has also been actively advising liberals to get registered as a minority and leave the country.

The very ‘enlightened’ cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, went one step ahead by declaring liberals “scum” as he currently partners with JI. Some theocrats have also urged Supreme Court of Pakistan to take ‘suo motu’ action on the P.M.’s statement. The alliance of political Islamists’ the Milli Yakjehti Council (MYC) have also vowed to launch nationwide protests against what they describe as a ‘conspiracy’ to turn Pakistan into a secular state. Jamiat-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman last week gave more oxygen to controversy by stating that bid to make Pakistan liberal would be resisted.

Such an irrational response by Pakistani theocrats is understandable as ‘liberalism’ has always been misunderstood, ill-conceived and heavily criticized in Pakistan. Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979), founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami through his writings and speeches always argued that democracy was not compatible with the Islamic teachings. He tried to envision his own version of democracy, what he called “theo-democracy.” However founder of Pakistan Mr. M.A. Jinnah clearly stated in his broadcast in 1948 that “Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”. I also still remember a statement of Mr. Jinnah read by me in a textbook in 1995 while giving my secondary school exam. The statement said, ‘I am not creating a theocratic state. In addition to religion- we want to ensure better political and economic life of the people.’

Although a large number of theocrats and their sympathizers view Pakistan as a strong theocratic island in a sea of mainstream liberal democracy but Mr. Jinnah laid the strong foundations of liberal democracy by appointing a Hindu (Jogindernath Mandal) as first law minister and an Ahmadi (Sir Zafar Ullah Khan) as first foreign minister of Pakistan. Mr. Jinnah further assured and ensured liberal space in Pakistan while delivering his first speech to constituent assembly of Pakistan on 11th August, 1947 in which he stated, ‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the State.We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.’

It is clear from the above that Jinnah envisioned a Pakistan in which there would be a separation between state and religion and that Pakistan would be a country in which people of all faiths will be treated fairly with equal rights of citizenship.

Those who wish to make Pakistan a theocratic state must remember that they are actually endorsing the views of opponents of Pakistan, as opponents of the Pakistan movement were virulently denouncing Pakistan as a purely fanatical and communal State. It is unfortunate that the state got involved in religious matters and country drifted from its founder’s ideology.

Pakistani theocrats who probably read and understand very less about liberal democracy may appreciate the fact that there are now many Islamic scholars who contest the incompatibility of Islam, liberalism and democracy from a theological point of view while comparing the Islamic political discourse with the notions of democracy. The Islamic concepts such as shura (consultation), ijtihad(independent reasoning) and ijma (consensus) in Islamic traditions provide the theological basis for Islamic liberal democracy.

Those who oppose a liberal and democratic Pakistan must understand that religious extremism has created an unenviable image of Pakistan in the eyes of the rest of the world and has affected the country adversely. Those who wish to impose an ideology of a theocratic Islamic state must understand that Pakistan is a consociation society where different religious groups are always in conflict with each other on petty issues. There are already many horizontal and vertical cleavages in Pakistan that keep people divided on the basis of religion. The unbridled sectarianism, religious intolerance and ethnicity gave birth to non-political actors to act irrationally and in chauvinistic manners who also had very much influence in the peripheral areas of Pakistan.  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement about making Pakistan an educated, forward looking liberal democracy should be welcomed but a liberal and democratic Pakistan would require much more than just feel-good statements.

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