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 Religious Fundamentalism in Pakistan

There is a very common misbelief that Pakistan was founded, like Israel, to fulfill a religious ideal, to create an Islamic state and Islamic society for the Muslims of India, where they can practice Islam freely. The regime of general Zial-ul-Haq had declared likewise that Pakistan was created on the basis of Islam; he stated (Tariq Ali 2002:156) ‘Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state. Take out Judaism from Israel and it will collapse like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular, it would collapse’. (Alavi 1986:21) ‘Lacking a popular mandate, the military regime had sought its claim to legitimacy, if not its purpose, in divine ordinance’.

(Alavi, 1986:21) ‘The irony of the argument that Pakistan was founded on religious ideology lies in the fact that practically every Muslim group and organization in the Indian subcontinent that was, specifically, religious-Islamic was hostile to Jinnah and the Muslim League, and strongly opposed the Pakistan Movement. The fact remains that Islam was not at the centre of Muslim nationalism in India, but was brought into the political debate in Pakistan after the nation was created. The Pakistan Movement was not a movement of Islam, but of Muslims’.

The Arrival of Militant Islam:
(Ahmad Rashid 1996:160) ‘The rise in Militancy and sectarian conflicts in Pakistan has its roots in the intensification of regional conflicts, the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the start of the Afghan War in 1980s, Zia’s Islamization project and Pakistan’s failure to contain the impact of these development on its domestic politics. The Iranian Revolution changed the character of sectarian politics in Pakistan. Its impact on Shias was, however, more direct and that in turn influenced the politics of Sunni activism as well’. (Mushahid Hussain 1993) ‘The ideological force of the Revolution combined with the fact that the first Islamic revolution had been carried out by Shias, emboldened the Shia community and politicized its identity. Soon after the success of the revolution in Tehran, zealous emissaries of the revolutionary regime actively organized Pakistan’s shias.

Afghan War:
(Ahmad Rashid 1996:161) ‘The Afghan war that spanned the decade between 1979 and 1989 not only flooded Pakistan with weapons and drugs, but also embedded militancy in the country’s Islamism. The Afghan war spawned several militant Islamist groups with international connections; according to one estimate over 25,000 volunteers from thirty countries were trained in Pakistan and fought in Afghanistan’. In addition, the afghan scene itself was wrought with sectarian tension as Shias and Persian speaking pro-Iranian factions vied for power and position with the Saudi and American backed Mujahideen groups based in Pakistan’(Oliver Roy 1990). (S.V.R.Nasr 2002: 94) ‘The rivalry between these two groups and the competition for control of Afghanistan ineluctably spilled over into Pakistan. Pakistan’s sectarian conflict, therefore, quickly became a regional affair. As a result, Pakistan’s response to sectarianism became entangled with its own afghan policy, the Afghan War was also important in that it flooded Pakistan with weapons of all kinds, and imprint militancy on its political culture, specially among Islamist groups. The ‘Kalashnikov Culture’ turned sectarian conflicts bloodier, and transformed militant organizations into paramilitary ones. The Kashmir conflict has played the same role, bolstering sectarianism in Pakistan’.

Present Situation:
It is a great irony that the scourge of Islamic fundamentalism has done more damage to the social and religious fabric of Islamic Pakistan, than anything else. Today Pakistan is paying a heavy social and political price and has become a victim of its own creation. The present government of General Musharraf is finding it extremely difficult to clean up the mess of Islamic fundamentalism.

From the beginning of his rule, General Musharraf has never made any secret of his modernist views. While Zia had used his military might to try to Islamize Pakistan, Musharraf was indicating that he wanted to modernize the Pakistani State. (Bennett Jones 2002:20) ‘The first act he did, in April 2000, he backed a proposal to reform Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law. The Islamic parties, however, strongly opposed the change and on May 2000, Musharraf backed down. Despite his failure to change the blasphemy law, Musharraf continued to express opposition to religious extremism. In June 2001, well before the attacks on the twin towers in New York, he gave a keynote speech to leading Pakistani Islamic scholars and clerics whom the government had transported to Islamabad for the purpose. His comments, which struck many of his audience dumb, comprised one of the clearest statements of Islamic modernism ever made by a Pakistani leader. ‘How does the world look at us?’ he asked, ‘the world sees us backward and constantly going under. Is there any doubt that we have been left behind although we claim Islam will carry us forward in every age, every circumstances and every land….? How does the world judge our claim?

Islam has always been exploited and politicizes by different leaders in Pakistan. The most prominent amongst them was General Zia-ul-Haq, who not only politicized religion but militarized it as well. It is very much true that Islam is rooted in the Pakistani society but not the militant Islam. Pakistan was certainly not made for religious extremism. (Mariam Abou Zahab 2002:115) ‘The Sunni-Shia conflicts were mostly unknown before partition in the areas which now form Pakistan because of the influence of Pirs and Sufis, relations between Shias and Sunni remained normal except for occasional riots or minor clashes during Muharram ceremonies. The state was neutral and had no sectarian agenda’. It was later on that these militant-sectarian organizations were created and nursed by different regimes for their own political purposes. (Tariq Ali: 195) ‘The strength of religious extremism has till now been derived from state patronage rather than popular support. These militant groups that have paralyzed the country for two decades were the creation of General Zial-ul-Haq, who received political, Military and financial support from the United States and Britain throughout his eleven years as dictator of Pakistan’. The west needed Zia to fight its Afghan war against the former Soviet Union, and Zia needed the Mullahs’ political support for his illegal regime and also to utilize ‘Mullah Power’ to combat Pakistan’s People’s Party(PPP) and groups further to the left.(Tariq Ali 1983:139). Zia Islamization, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War and the Afghan War and Kashmir were enabling factors which gave scale and sustenance to the sectarianism and militancy in Pakistan. The present government of General Musharraf has, for the first time, demonstrated to reverse Zia’s legacy. Ironically both men were presented with the opportunity to pursue their diametrically-opposed agendas because Washington needed to secure Pakistan’s support to determine the course of events in Afghanistan. Only one of his predecessors, Ayub Khan, attempted to confront the radicals. He failed. It is not yet clear whether Musharraf will succeed? (Bennett Jones 2002:30-33)