Op/Ed 9/29/2013 @ 9:00AM |
For Over Six Decades Pakistan Has Been At War With Itself
By Kapil Komireddi
Pakistan was created, in the words of its founder MA Jinnah, to preserve “what is most precious in Islam.” But how do you determine what is best in any faith? For more than six decades, Pakistan has been at war with itself to answer this question. The principal casualties throughout this time have been Pakistan’s intended beneficiaries: Muslims. It is to guard their “purity” in a land inhabited by a predominantly non-Muslim population that Pakistan was hacked apart from India. Pakistan’s squalid condition today is a cause for grief; but, as a direct consequence of the conscious choices made by the people who still exude pride in calling themselves “Pakistani,” it is at least understandable, in the pedestrian way that self-made tragedies often are.
But what of Pakistan’s other victims, particularly its religious minorities, who have been made to endure the inexhaustible rage of the country’s permanently self-pitying Sunni majority? More than 80 Christians were slaughtered in a bomb attack just last week in Peshawar, a city that’s only a two-hour drive from Pakistan’s capital. The news of this atrocity in one part of the country was accompanied by a very Pakistani spectacle of law-enforcement in another. When Islamic clerics in Punjab murmured that a handful of Ahmadi shrines had approximated the design of Muslim mosques – minarets, verses from the Quran – high-ranking police officials rapidly descended on the crime scenes and personally supervised the destruction of the offending structures. Islam is an untiringly welcoming religion. But for some in Pakistan, the self-appointed modern guardian of the faith, even to seek to enter its fold is to invite the penal charge of heresy. In a way, the police officers were doing the congregants a tremendous favour by demolishing their mosques. Leaving them untouched would have brought in the mobs. As a Pakistani newspaper reported:
[A] rally led by former Azad Jammu and Kashmir minister of religious affairs Sahibzada Hamid Raza stopped at Kabutranwali Ibadatgah and demanded that the minarets, covered by cement, be razed. They warned that they would do so themselves if they had to. The police complied.”
Bigotry against Ahmadis is enshrined in law: they are legally barred from calling themselves Muslim. To obtain a Pakistani passport, applicants must not only affirm their faith in Islam: they must denounce Ahmadis as heretics from the faith. This is one of the ways in which Pakistan has decided to protect “what is most precious in Islam”. Another is to exclude non-Muslims from full membership of the Pakistani state. On a visit to Pakistan some years ago, I met a brilliant young Christian student. She had recently returned from a debating trip where she’d performed exceedingly well. She had big ideas. And yet, for all her talents, it was impossible to escape the feeling that she had been crippled by her origins: as a non-Muslim, her ambitions were limited by the law. People everywhere are defeated in the pursuit of their dreams, but people like her in a place like Pakistan must learn to dream small because they are, by virtue of their faith, constitutionally prohibited from occupying the state’s high offices.
Such discrimination, codified in law and administered by the state, makes it difficult to take much comfort in the posturing of Pakistan’s liberals. They are performers who come out and do their act whenever minorities are massacred. But they have nothing more to offer than shrill sentimentality, a meaningless clamour to restore the “vision” of the founding father that’s actually the cause of these carnages. They see no irony in denouncing the murders of minorities while exalting a national idea that has little room for minorities. Even Pakistan’s flag – the highest emblem of its nationalism – confines religious minorities to tiny white strips: this is their place, on the margins. This explains why, since its creation in 1947, the numbers of Pakistan’s religious minorities have declined. But to Pakistan’s patriotic liberals, the oppression of religious minorities is always a deviation from the founding ideal. They are like those mournful communists for whom, as Patrick McGuinness puts it in The Last Hundred Days, “the failures of the ideal were due to the misapplication of the ideal, all the barbarity of the system was extraneous to the system and accidental to it.”
Perhaps it is possible that Pakistan may reform itself, that it may unlearn its foundational myth as the defender of the Muslim destiny and embrace pluralism. But that looks unlikely.
So it is that in today’s Pakistan men who have masterminded the murder of countless Christians may never be caught, but a Christian woman awaits execution for blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed even though no compelling evidence of her offense exists.
Pakistan is now beyond moral rehabilitation. But India, if it can find the will to be true to its founding ideals, could still save these endangered minorities as Pakistani nationalism comes into full bloom.
When the subcontinent was amputated in 1947, Pakistan saw itself as the authentic home of India’s Muslims. This vision, rejected by many Indian Muslims, persists in Pakistan and is the basis of its savage claim on Indian territory in Muslim-majority Kashmir. India, on the other hand, refused to respond to the provocation of Pakistan by becoming a Hindu state. Istead, it granted equal citizenship to all its inhabitants under a secular constitution. The Indian project is today bruised by the rise of leaders who wish to transform it into a “Hindu Pakistan”. But one way to redeem it would be to abandon the interminable sport of settling territorial “disputes” in favour of population transfers. Pakistan was created for lovers of homogeneity and believers in purity – for all those who feel they can flourish only in the midst of Others Like Us. They have done well in Pakistan. Now India should open its borders to Pakistan’s rejects – those millions of impure minorities and Muslim secularists for whom another, final migration might be the only route to a secure and confident future. Bleached of diversity, Pakistan will attain its national goal: an exclusive homeland for intolerant Muslims. Bolstered by fresh minorities, India will be saved from becoming its Hindu variant.
Kapil Komireddi has written from South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. firstname.lastname@example.org