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Pakistan: Problems in Purifying the ‘Land of the Pure’


New Delhi : Pakistan was carved out of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 apparently to ‘protect’ the largest religious minority, and its first Governor General Mohammed Ali Jinnah, assured that it would be a secular Muslim majority state.

Farhanaz Ispahani, a former parliamentarian, author and former spokesperson for the Pakistan People’s Party, has written a well researched book Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities, in which she has pointed out that the rulers of Pakistan who followed Jinnah, both civilian and military, have steadily converted the country into a Sunni Islamic nation, moving away from Jinnah’s modern pluralist vision.

Jinnah’s vision was that Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan would be like Roman Catholics and Protestants in Great Britain, but that has not come true. Jinnah, himself a Shia, appointed Zafrullah Khan, a prominent Ahmadi, as Pakistan’s first foreign minister.

In her book, Ispahani analyses the steps taken by Pakistan’s rulers since independence to change the country into an Islamic State. She points out that a major change that occurred was when the ‘Objectives Resolution’ was passed by the Constituent Assembly in March 1949 which said the State of Pakistan would exercise authority “within the limits” set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunna.

It opened the door for further legislation based on the interpretation of Islam by a parliament majority. Initially, the target were the Ahmadis. As many as 2000 Ahmadis were murdered in Punjab in 1953. It was a prelude to the community being declared non-Muslim.

In 1956, Pakistan’s second Constituent Assembly named Pakistan ‘The Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, which barred non-Muslims from holding the office of Head of State.

Ispahani has pointed out that military rulers General Iskander Mirza and General Ayub Khan, did not reverse the process. General Ayub Khan ruled the nation from October 1958 for over a decade. He was was keen to wrest Jammu and Kashmir before India got stronger following rebuilding of its defence forces after Chinese aggression of 1962. The 1965 war was portrayed in the Pakistani Press as a Hindu-Muslim war won by Pakistan. Ayub faced criticism over compromises made through the Tashkent Agreement. He was succeeded by Yahya Khan, who promised to conduct elections.

The 1970 elections saw the emergence of the Awami League in East Pakistan which won a clear majority in the 300 member Constitutent Assembly by winning all but two seats in East Pakistan. A compromise could not be worked out and General Yahya Khan ordered the military to crack down. It cost the nation three million lives. According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission 7,144, 300 refugees fled to India and as a result of the war that followed, Pakistan lost more than half its population and two-fifths of its country.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who headed the country for five years tried to side step the controversy regarding the Ahmadis. But Bhutto himself lost power when there was a controversy over the results of 1976 elections, and on July 5, 1977, General Zia-ul-Haq assumed power.

Major changes occurred when General Zia took over. He legitimised his dictatorship by claiming the mantle of Islamization. Ispahani points out that Zia legalised the Islamization of Pakistan, described himself as a ‘soldier of Islam’, ordered a massive rewriting of history and an indoctrination of children through schoolbooks.

Portraits of Pakistan’s founder M.A Jinnah were changed to show him in the formal traditional sherwani rather than western attire.

Ispahani points out that Zia altered Pakistan’s character completely and irreversibly.

The West overlooked the massive violation of human rights by the Zia dictatorship as he was willing to sponsor the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans took refuge in Pakistan, and with some covert funding, Zia’s intelligence service armed and trained a massive guerilla army, the Mujahideen, to convert Afghanistan into Soviet Union’ s Vietnam.

The result was the creation of a monolithic Islamic image of Pakistan with exclusively Muslim citizens.

In the eleven years that Zia held power, his regime was the recipient of massive institutional military and economic assistance of around four and half billion US dollars which came primarily from America.

His regime also saw the initiation of proxy-war against India in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

Ispahani points out that as an ally and benefactor ,the West turned a blind eye to Zia’s domestic policies and to his pursuit of acquiring nuclear weapons for Pakistan.

According to the author, “subsequent events proved that the order created by Zia did not die, and secular political forces were eventually forced into pragmatic compromise over Islamization.”

On the Musharraf regime, which was in place between October 1999 and August 2008, the author opines that at the start there was a promise to rein in religious extremism, but in the end this remained unfulfilled. She also talks of Musharraf making jihad an instrument of Pakistan’s foreign policy against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The author points out that Musharraf was apparently playing a “double game” after 9/11, supporting the United States and the Taliban at the same time.” Shias fared even worse under Musharraf than they had under earlier regimes. Between 2001 and 2008, at least 713 Shias were killed and 1,343 wounded in 86 incidents against the community.

It was during the final phase of the Musharraf regime that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from self exile, projecting herself as a viable political and civilian alternative to the former, and as a person who could mobilise the people of Pakistan against Islamist extremists. She was, however, assassinated in Rawalpindi in December 2007.

In the polling held in Pakistan in February 2008, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party emerged the winner. Musharraf, facing the possibility of impeachment, had to eventually resign. The army continued to be in control and there was little progress either in offering greater protection to religious minorities or in controlling jihadi groups.

The author says that Zardari’s initiative for normal ties with India was undermined by the coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.

Within Pakistan, the situation did not improve. The notable incident was when a poor illiterate woman Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy, and not given access to a lawyer. The Punjab Governor Salman Taseer went to prison to console her. Taseer’s defiance of the religious establishment resulted in one of his bodyguards killing him in Islamabad on January 4, 2011. Two months later, Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed.

The author has pointed out that Islamists have sought to purify Pakistan — the land of the pure — but in doing so, have embraced bigotry and prejudice instead of invoking nobler examples from Muslim history.

This book by Farhanaz Ispahani, the wife of former Pakistan Ambassador to United States, Husain Haqqani, holds a mirror to persons in authority in Pakistan .

The book deserves to be read widely in India to make people aware of the dangers of religious extremism.

Book Review: Purifying the land of the Pure by Farahnaz Ispahani; Publisher Harper Collins , India. pages 254. price Rs 499/-.

Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached at [email protected](ANI)

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