by Aziz Ali Dad
In Pakistan we are always bogged down in secondary issues, because we ignore the basic questions of which of these issues are merely by-products of the primary one. That is why we are constantly entangled in futile discourses and hair-splitting arguments which lead to no conclusions. The controversy surrounding the appointment of Maulana Sherani, a rural cleric from Balochistan who is said to possess no academic qualifications, as chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, is a case in point.
After the establishment of Pakistan, the religious right succeeded in pushing progressive forces into a position where they have to confront their opponents on secondary issues. The primary question is: should the Council of Islamic Ideology be there, in the first place? Established in 1962, the council is entrusted with the task of advising government and legislative bodies on laws that are arguably repugnant to Islam. This has given the council an overriding status, the right to issue rulings on decisions of sovereign institution, including parliament.
Its establishment was part of the series of initiative undertaken by religious forces to mould the Pakistani state in accordance with their own ideological framework. But it would be a mistake to blame, say, Ziaul Haq’s process of “Islamisation” primarily on the establishment of the council. For that, the foundation was laid way back in March 1949, when the Objectives Resolution was passed by Pakistan’s First Legislative Assembly.
Although the Quaid-e-Azam envisioned a modern democratic state, as he had set out in his address to the same assembly on Aug 11, 1947, the country’s future trajectory was determined six months after his death, by forces that were diametrically opposed to his secular ideals. The passage of the Objectives Resolution in 1949 not only negated the Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of Pakistan but also provided a platform to the religious forces for the expansion of their sphere of influence within the state structure. Welcoming the passage of the Objectives Resolution, Maulana Maudoodi had famously remarked that the state of Pakistan had now recited the kalima.
The Objectives Resolution provided legal justification for the religious forces to stifle secularism and the religious minorities in Pakistani society and state structure. With the passage of time, the Objectives Resolution has become a settled matter, as well as an officially closed case. It has become ingrained in the psychology of many Pakistanis that a repeal of this resolution would be tantamount to rejection of Islam. For them the Objectives Resolution has become an embodiment of Islam itself. The driving force behind all efforts of Islamisation is the Objectives Resolution, which in many cases even lends legitimacy to violation of basic human rights.
There is no doubt that the progressives must resist moves like Maulana Sherani’s appointment as chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, a move which has drawn a strong reaction from various sections of civil society. But the fundamental need is for them to challenge the source which lends legitimacy to the politics of Islamism. Unfortunately, even secular parties are afraid of moves to purge the Constitution and the state structure of politically motivated “Islamic” amendments for fear of a violent backlash from religious parties. Coupled with the weakness of progressive elements, the complex interplay of state institutions with religious forces, socio-cultural shifts and regional and global politics have enabled retrogressive forces to strengthen their grip on state institution. They are superimposing a monolithic political Islam on the diverse cultural and religious landscape of Pakistan.
Murder of Ahmedis and other rampant violations of human rights in the name of religion, Talibanisation, sectarianism, honour killings–all are symptoms of the system that has failed to accommodate the aspirations of diverse interest groups and achieve the ideal of a modern, secular and democratic Pakistan. The proponents of obscurantism have sent secular forces into retreat. That is why secular parties do not address the primary reason for the “Islamisation” of the Pakistani state and keep their focus on secondary issues.
For the last sixty years religious parties have been responsible for accretions in the state religion. The secular forces passively accept these, without countering them with moves that ensure protection of basic human rights. The accumulated contradictions of the current paradigm of the state ideology are becoming increasingly evident, as a source of the growing discord in Pakistan.
It is time the Pakistani nation took effective measures to address this crisis. With the whole edifice of the ideological state crumbling, efforts to fix this or that part of the structure cannot prevent its ultimate collapse. There is a danger of Pakistan itself collapsing under the weight of these contradictions within the system and in the state ideology. Although it is extremely difficult to do so in the current state of affairs and way of thinking, secular society has to face it ultimately, even if it must bear the brunt of a backlash. Rethinking the Objectives Resolution is essential–not only for the survival of Pakistan but also to protect our religion from morphing into a weapon used by religious zealots.