What ails Pakistan?

The problem with Pakistan is that the citizen is alienated from the State and considers it his enemy, but the State wants to convince the people that it is India which is the real threat to their security of life 

Who is alienated in the State of Pakistan? If reconciliation is needed, between whom is it needed? The apparent great rift is between the Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan Peoples Party. They form the two political poles in Pakistan and since 1988 they have formed factions that revenge themselves regularly on each other. Will it be enough to reconcile the two? Will that remove the national alienation? The other alienated party is the MQM which needs to be reconciled to the State. Will this reconciliation bind the wounds of the State?

Most of the political actors in Pakistan are of the same category. Their alienation in fact does not affect the State. Pakistani people are indifferent to their fate. The real alienation exists elsewhere. In the federation the alienation is between the majority province Punjab and the smaller provinces. It has been formalised by democracy through the parliament where Punjab forms a ready–made two–thirds majority. Whatever Punjab thinks becomes the doctrine of the State. All institutions of the State are dominated by Punjabis, including the armed forces, including even the navy, where the coastal population should have dominated.

Beyond the inter–provincial alienation, a deeper alienation has been caused by the ideology of the State itself. This goes back to the crucial ideological decisions taken at the beginning. An Islamic state has been moving steadily towards its theocratic destination, making the politicians progressively irrelevant. A very large section of the population follows the clerical leadership which wants a revolution as a means of establishing theocracy in Pakistan. The corruption of the political parties has deepened the estrangement of the common man in Pakistan. Erosion of State institutions has forced him to seek protection from the clerical organisations.

Reconciliation is needed between the political parties and their voters. They want good governance from them which the parties simply cannot provide. Can there be a reconciliation between the masses and the leaders who get voted into power repeatedly? The very nature of leadership in Pakistan is an obstacle to this reconciliation. The politician relies on the very rhetoric the clergy uses against them.  If the clergy wants Shariat, the politician, too, wants it. Only, after the politician has enforced Shariat, the morality of the State sinks even further. This convinces the common man that Shariat can be properly implemented only by the clergy.

That Shariat is the monopoly of the clergy is a historical fact. The Quran can be interpreted only by the ulema, not by the parliament. The ijma (consensus) demanded by Islamic jurisprudence is not the ijma of the parliament but the ijma of the ulema. Why should the ulema surrender this historical right to the politician when the politician doesn’t even claim this right? After the Iranian Revolution, the Iranian ulema agreed to an Islamic constitution under the government of politicians. The Bazargan government accepted the constitution in 1979 on the assumption that the people of Iran would be represented through an elected sovereign government. But in 1978, the dominant clergy realised that Iran could only have a theocracy, not an elected government.

In Pakistan the clergy is deeply divided. It cannot form itself into a single party or an alliance of parties supported by the people. Unlike the people of Iran, the people of Pakistan prefer to award political mandate only to political parties. Divided along confessional fissures, they seek a unified electorate through support to political parties. But they remain alienated because the textbook prescribes the Shariat and the political parties are not ‘qualified’ to enforce it. When they enforce it, problems of reconciliation of the Quranic law to modern times fore–ordain its failure. Alienation is built into this situation.

The State leans in favour of Islamic governance, a utopian construct on which it can’t deliver. The State is sensitive to the growing power of the religious organisations. Civil society and the armed forces are under their influence. Armed religious organisations are a factor to reckon with. Political parties, no longer able to rally people, now lean on them to gather people for a show of strength. Many opportunists now pin their hope on the ultimate handing over of the State to an imaginary ‘confederacy’ of armed religious organisations. A ‘national’ reconciliation between them and the elected government is not possible. One is the ‘alternative’ of the other, not a democratic choice.

All Islamic states find themselves unable to reconcile to the minorities. The idea of the zimmi is so deeply embedded in the Islamic mind that it barely tolerates the presence of a population not of the religion represented by the State. You only have to look at the evolution of the idea of the rights of the minorities protected in the Objectives Resolution in 1949 and the version of it inserted into the Constitution by General Zia to realise how impossible it is for an evolving Islamic state to reconcile with its religious minorities.

The alienation between the sunni majority population and the minority shia population has been caused by the armed religious organisations tacitly supported by the ulema. The objective of the ulema is to convert the shia Muslim population into a non–Muslim minority, after which the State can start treating them as it treats the other non–Muslim minorities or zimmis.

Can there be a reconciliation between the shia and sunni communities? Once again the doctrine of the State that only the ulema can interpret the Islamic law hamstrings it. If the ulema are responsible for the alienation, how can they remove it?

The shia–sunni alienation is embedded in Islamic history. History is interpreted by the two communities separately. Historical events are known and understood by the two in a manner that the two versions cannot be reconciled. Pakistan is an Islamic state, but if you look closely at its law–making processes, it is in fact a sunni state. Laws emanate as much from the Quran as from hadith, but hadith is differently compiled and understood by the two communities. No shia–sunni reconciliation within the Islamic state is possible unless the historical documents are re–examined.

No one in Pakistan will agree to examine these documents. But in a State that the Quaid had envisaged this reconciliation was possible; indeed this alienation would not have taken place at all. The Arab–Iranian stand–off epitomises this difficulty. Because of the dominance of a fundamentalist mind–set on both sides of the divide, no reconciliation has so far been possible. Had there been a secular state in Iran, the pragmatist kingdoms of the Gulf would have made a deal with it, ignoring the militant Islamic storm arising in a partially democratic Egypt. 

Historically, the rise of the Islamic state has immediately been engulfed by the sectarian problem.
No reconciliation is more difficult than the one meant to bind the ethnic alienation. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the ethnic problem is alive and kicking in Sindh and Balochistan. In both the provinces, large injections of external populations have been made. This is not to say that provinces have to be ethnically pure. Balochistan has been traditionally an admixture of the Baloch and the Pakhtun. Indeed the two ethnic–linguistic communities have a record of political co–operation in the face of Punjabi dominance in the federation.

Sindhi cities have been traditionally more cosmopolitan than those in Punjab. Its Sindhi population has been predominantly rural, living under a very tough feudal system which has prevented it from graduating to an urban identity. The large repeated injections of alien populations from within Pakistan and from Bangladesh after the 1971 war have been far beyond the economic capacity of the province to absorb them. The same kind of thing has happened with Balochistan during and after the Afghan war. Good governance, a rather stringent observance of the rule of law, and steady economic development can resolve the ethnic divisions over the long term.

But these very elements are missing in Pakistan.
The State wants to convince the people that the real alienation is external, that it is India which is the real threat to their security of life. As internal threats increase and intensify, the State turns more determinedly to the raising of the external threat. It also tells the people that it wants to reconcile with India as the enemy country next door, but India will not allow it, or will allow it in a way that is dishonourable. If the threat is external and cannot be removed through reconciliation, what are the people to do? The expectation of the State is that external threat will unite them and make them forget the internal threat.

The real threat comes from internal alienation. This has to be recognised. It comes from the erosion of the institutions of the State no longer able to ensure the rights of the citizen. The citizen is alienated from the State and considers it his enemy. This is true of all populations but more true of people living in the smaller provinces because they see the majority province Punjab presiding over the State institutions. The most crucially defective aspect of the State is the provision of law and order and justice.

Can the State reconcile the citizen to itself when its real expectation is that external threat alone should reconcile them? Instead of producing an effective structure of law and order, it produces nuclear devices and test–fires missiles over the head of the people. Its budgets no longer serve the people. It makes budgets to pay off debts, spend on defence, and buy more weapons. The ideology of the State and its doctrines of defence are too inflexible to provide the conditions needed for national reconciliation. That which is inflexible withstands pressure for some time, but it breaks when the pressure passes a certain point. After that, solutions become possible.

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 1999, Year 6  No. 54, Cover Story 3



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