MOHAMMAD Ali Jinnah visualised the state of Pakistan as “a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent”. by Irfan Husain
Sadly, he did not specify precisely which sect of Muslims he had in mind. Although a Shia himself, he did not have a sectarian bone in his body.
Indeed, he was secular to the core, and this was the philosophy he bequeathed to the state he had created virtually single-handedly. This was a bequest we tore up even before he was laid to rest.
So as we witness the ongoing massacre of Hazara Shias in Balochistan, we need to take a hard look at the monsters Pakistan has spawned over the years. Management gurus teach us that before we can solve a problem, we must first analyse it to gain a full understanding of the underlying causes.
But given the deep state of denial we prefer to stay in, we shy away from making the logical connection between cause and effect. When elaborating on his ‘two-nation theory’, Mr Jinnah was of the view that Muslims could not live side by side with Hindus in a united India as we were a different nation in terms of values and cultural norms.
This notion led to the partition of India in 1947, and even though millions of Muslims did not — or could not — make their way to the new state, Pakistan was born in a cataclysm of blood and fire. Almost immediately, the hard-line vision of Islam, espoused by Maulana Maududi and his Jamaat-i-Islami, became the ideology of large numbers of right-wing intellectuals and clerics.
However, it wasn’t until Zia seized power in 1977 that this literal strand of Islam became the official ideology of the state.
Some of the hard-line Sunni groups like the Sipah-i-Sahaba came into being in Zia’s period, declaring Shias to be ‘wajib-ul qatal’, or deserving of death. Needless to say, these killers were permitted to thrive by Zia.
Step by step, the notion of separateness at the heart of Partition has fostered a feeling of ‘us against them’. Taken to its illogical extreme by hard-line ideologues and their brainwashed followers, this translates into the belief that those not following their particular school of Islamic thought become ‘wajib-ul qatal’.
Massacres and individual murders resulting from rabid intolerance bearing the spurious stamp of religious orthodoxy are too numerous to cite here. But the recent episodes of the cold-blooded slaughter of Hazara Shias in Balochistan should open the eyes of those wishing to negotiate with the terrorists responsible for these acts.
Another hard-line, anti-Shia group, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, was quick to claim responsibility for these murders, and yet the state has done nothing to bring this organisation to book.
According to a Human Rights Watch press release, “In Balochistan, some Sunni extremist groups are widely viewed as allies of the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies and the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which are responsible for security there.
Instead of perpetrating abuses in Balochistan against its political opponents, the military should be safeguarding the lives of members of vulnerable communities under attack from extremist groups”.
But it’s not just in Pakistan that Hazara Shias have been targeted: in Afghanistan, thousands have been killed by the Taliban.
Being a visible ethnic group, they are especially vulnerable to an increasingly vicious and violent Sunni majority. In a blog on this newspaper’s website, Murtaza Haider has cited a revealing doctoral thesis by Syed Ejaz Hussain. According to his research, 90 per cent of all those arrested for committing terrorist attacks in Pakistan between 1990 and 2009 were Sunni Deobandis.
And it’s not just Shias who are being targeted, or Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis: as we have seen time and again, suicide attacks against mosques and Sufi shrines have killed thousands of Sunnis as well. While there are a growing number of extremist groups, they are all united in their intolerance, and their contempt for democratic values and common decency.
Despite the evil these killers represent, there are growing voices in Pakistan demanding that the government negotiate with them. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban was quoted recently as saying his group would talk to the government provided it broke off its relationship with the United States and imposed Sharia law in the country.
For a criminal gang to make such demands is preposterous; but for sane, educated Pakistanis to advocate talks with such people is even worse. Instead of insisting that we lock up these terrorists and try them, we are being asked to treat them as a political entity with valid demands.
If we are to ever defeat the hydra-headed monster we have created, our defence establishment will have to acknowledge its huge error in thinking that it could use these killers to further its agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This has provided them with legitimacy, support and impunity. Unless the Pakistani state repudiates all links with extremism in all its forms, outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi will continue to murder at will within Pakistan, while the Lashkar-e-Taiba creates mayhem in our neighbourhood.
Quite apart from the collapse of the writ of the state caused by the depredations of these groups, and the innocent lives sacrificed at the altar of misplaced expediency, Pakistan has become a pariah in the international community. Increasingly, the use of terrorism as an instrument of policy is making us a scary country with a powerful death wish.
But while we struggle to cope with the rising tide of extremism, we need to step back and examine how and why we arrived at this abyss.
Clearly, it did not happen overnight. Looking back, we can see that the demand for separate electorates for Muslims in British India over 100 years ago was a major historical fork in the road. By conceding to this demand from a group of Muslim aristocrats as part of their divide-and-rule policy, the British tried to ensure that the two major religious communities would not unite against them.
However, we do not have the luxury of blaming our predicament on past imperial policies. The British are long gone, and the barbarians are poised to capture the state. We still have a choice, but if we don’t act quickly, we risk joining the ranks of failed states like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan.