Mr. Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab province and a senior politician of Pakistan People's Party, was assassinated by a guard of the elite Punjab Police Unit responsible for his protection. It is most unfortunate and sad that Taseer had to pay the ultimate price for announcing that he was going to request the President of Pakistan to use his prerogative and save Asia Bibi, an impoverished Christian woman, sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam. After having sieved Taseer with 26 bullets, the cold-blooded killer Malik Mumtaz Husain Qadri said that he has killed Taseer because the latter wanted to bring about reformation in the Blasphemy Law, which he deemed a dark law.

Pakistan is principally no longer the country founded by Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah. In his Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan at Karachi on 11 August 1947, Mr. Jinnah said to the people of Pakistan:
"everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs,...what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.... We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State...."

The vision of the Founding Father was not allowed enough time to materialise.

Ever since a hardline Sunni Muslim cleric by the name of Maulana Maududi had founded the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) in 1941, the JI had been pushing for an Islamic constitution in the newly carved out Pakistan. JI’s first major victory toward Islamising Pakistan happened in March 1949. The country’s first Prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan presented the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly. The main principles of the resolution incorporated Sharia principles, which would form the base of the constitution of Pakistan. It promised the Muslims freedom, democracy, equality, and justice “in accord with the teachings and requirements of Islam”. This was transparent testimony of Pakistan’s departure from Jinnah’s vision and philosophy.

After the Objectives Resolution there was no turning back from Pakistan’s status as an Islamic ideological state. Soon, prominent individuals within the government mooted proposals for adopting Arabic as the national language and for changing the script of the Bengali language from its Sanskrit base to an Arabic-Persian one (1). 

In the 1970s Pakistan was aiming at becoming a more powerful regional player as part of its overall strategy with regards to India. For this, it reckoned that it needed to support extremist Islamist movements in and outside Pakistan. Developments in Afghanistan coincided with ISI’s (Inter-Services Intelligence) campaign to Islamise Pakistan. Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who was more secular than his political rivals, was perhaps the only Pakistani leader with some credentials to take on the religious fanatics and contain them. Ironically, it was the Bhutto-emboldened-ISI that plotted with right-wing mullahs and a military elite led by Zia ul-Haq. Bhutto was ousted from power. After a dubious trial they hanged him on April 4, 1979. When Soviet forces entered Afghanistan, religious factions had already found a foothold in Pakistani politics by helping dismiss the democratically elected People’s Party government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in an undemocratic manner and installing a military dictator in its stead: General Zia ul-Haq.

In striking opposition to the vision of Pakistan’s founding father M. A. Jinnah, the goal of the Zia regime was to establish Pakistan as the regional vanguard of far right Sunni Islam without any regard or care for the embers of sectarianism this would set fire to. Military Dictator Zia embraced the mantra of Nizam-e-Mustafa. Pakistan was yoked with Sharia.

The move to Islamise Pakistan found extremely keen allies among religious parties and groups, whose leaders were already friends with the ISI-tutored army. Soon these Islamists came to occupy key governmental positions. In Zia, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) for the very first time had a head of state who was a follower of their master, Maududi. Under Zia, JI penetrated all crucial institutions of the state, especially the army and the bureaucracy. JI workers in thousands were provided jobs in the civil service, educational institutions, and the judiciary. These determining moves within the government infrastructure sustained the growth of fanatic Sunni activism throughout the Pakistani society and preached an ill-begotten and ill-aiming account of Islam.

During the dictatorship of Gen. Zia, certain sections were inserted within the Pakistan Penal Code. 1980 saw the addition of section 298-A in the Blasphemy Law, which penalises the use of uncomplimentary remarks regarding honourable personalities of Islam, with upto 3 years imprisonment. In 1986, section 295-C was added under which, any comment interpreted as derogatory about the Prophet of Islam, was declared a criminal offence punishable by death or life imprisonment. Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamic penal code retained by General Musharraf, is derived entirely from classical Sunni-Hanafi orthodox sources. The same is true of the “Islamic” textbooks in public schools and colleges. Terror tutorials and the consequent Kalashnikovization of Pakistan in the name of Islam and "strategic depth" have damaged its civil society and state institutions irreparably.

A great number of Muslims continue to loudly contend that self-styled jihadis are a marginal minority in Islam whose interpretation of jihad is rejected by Orthodox Islam and hence is not an eligible currency in the Muslim world. They conveniently ignore the fact that there is no sound demarcation between these “minority mujahidun” and the dominant Sunni orthodoxy. Most of the doctrinal preaching and fatwas issued by mainstream Islamic circles in Cairo and Mecca – that inspire, endorse, and sponsor intolerance and terrorism – are not distinguishable from those espoused by al-Qaeda and upholders of similar primitive, intolerant, and violent adaptations of Islam.

If an influential Sunni Muslim man, from a strong political and financial background can be gunned down in public by his security personnel in the name of religion, it does not take a scholar to comprehend the fate of the Non-Muslim minority groups in Pakistan.

By Anita Rai: Author of Jihad and Terrorism

1.  Husain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, (USA: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), chapter: Introduction

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