Pakistan; the saga continues …. (Sep 27, 2015)
Written by FS
Eight months after the massacre of school children in Peshawar, an incident which shook Pakistan to the core, Capt. Isfandyar Bukhari moves the nation with his fearless and brilliant combat with the militants. The 28-year-old soldier led his troops from the front, received straight bullets in his chest but managed to prevent another major tragedy involving large scale civilian casualties. The story of the soldier with an exceptional profile, which included the highest award ‘Sword of Honor’ from Pakistan Military Academy, adds another chapter to the story of Pakistan struggling to fight back Islamist militancy.
The rationale behind this ongoing war, however, remains as fuzzy as ever. The Islamic state fights the Islamist militancy on seemingly different perceptions about faith and requirements of faith. The military-led National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism is being implemented with full force. The missing link in the National Action Plan, according to a prominent security analyst Amir Rana, is the strategy to counter extremism. Despite widespread popularity of the military operation against militant groups, the atmosphere of religious intolerance prevails in the country. Reactionary Islamist discourse continues to hold its appeal at grassroot level, owing to the absence of an alternative religious discourse. Realizing the need to construct a ‘counter extremism narrative’, the government is reportedly working with international donors to create a viable alternative. Amir Rana reports that certain NGOs in Pakistan are also trying to import Western Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) models (Dawn ; Sep 20, 2015). According to the report, such efforts, which fail to regard the local context and sensibilities, are bound to fail and turn counter productive. Contructing a religious narrative which appeals to the people and is owned by them, remains the key challenge for the proponents of National Action Plan.
Again we need to reconsider the rationale behind this war before contemplating a viable alternative narrative. We need to be clear exactly where our understanding of faith departs from that of our adversary. It seems that the point of departure here is not the difference of sect, or belief, but the desire to impose one’s ideas on others. This is what we need to counter. And hence, imposing a counter narrative from above would never help mitigate extremism– instead it may only add to it. The narratives of extremism can be countered by opening up space for a meaningful dialogue and debate on religious issues. True, there has been no dearth of debate on religion in Pakistan. In fact, the whole history of the country is shaped by such debates. But a review of this persistent debate on ideology, a glimpse of which is offered in the following passage, often reveals tendencies of unwillingness to consider a different view, use of negative stereotyping rather than reason to lead or rebut an argument. Such tendencies led to the polarization of society, stifling space for intellectual debate on religious issues. This space must be restored in order to allow the construction of an indigenous narrative which Pakistanis can identify with.
A glimpse from the past; 1967 ; An excerpt from an article titled ‘Tajaddud Pasandon Ka Muaqaff’ (The Perspective of the Progressives) by Prof. Rafi-ullah, published in the Institute of Islamic Research journal ‘Fikr-o-Nazar’:
‘We have now reached the part of the discussion where we can easily decide who is hampering the implementation of Islamic Law in the country…these people accuse that … (the Westernized class) kept taking the name of Islam during the struggle for independence, but within a few years after independence it became apparent that the slogan of Islam was only a hypocritical tactic, in reality this class’s animosity towards Islam is no less than that of foreign invadors..
This is the main accusation these gentlemen put forward against the “ Westernized class”. But now see who is actually worthy of it. Before independence these gentlemen never spoke a word in favor of Pakistan…. (Later) their biggest contribution to Pakistan was the demand to implement Islam in Pakistan. Now when the Westernized class has taken a few steps towards this goal, … these men began to oppose it (creating controversies about and taking different positions on Muslim family laws)…’
Going back a little further; 1930 ; From ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ by Allama Muhammad Iqbal, as quoted by his son Javaid Iqbal:
‘…Despite Iqbal’s criticism of democracy because of its defects as a political system, he understood that there is no other acceptable alternative to it. According to him the Caliphate, Imamate or Sultanate were the outmoded Muslim forms of rulership of the past…. The essence of Tauhid , as a working idea was human equality, human solidarity and human freedom…. The state from Islamic standpoint is an endeavor to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an aspiration to realize them in a definite human organization. (Reconstruction, Lectures p 15)’