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Pakistan : An Idea that has gone horribly wrong

Article by Chandan Singh

Asia Bibi is a poor Christian woman from Ittan Wali, Shiekhpura, Pakistan. In June 2009, she was charged with blasphemy for having made derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In November 2010, the Court of Sheikhpura ruled out false implication and sentenced her to death by hanging. The sentence evoked a strong reaction from the international Christian community and several human rights organizations – to the extent that Pope Benedict XVI prayed for Asia and requested for her release. While Asia Bibi awaits her fate, the issue has already taken a serious toll on the fragile social structure of the Nation. The Pakistan Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has been assassinated, by his own bodyguard, for speaking against the Blasphemy Law and for appealing to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari for grant of pardon to Asia Bibi.

Salman Taseer was an enigmatic personality. Born in a family of affluent intellectuals, he was successful both as a businessman and a politician. Of course, he had more than his fair share of controversies. He was known for his drinking bouts and racy lifestyle, his son Aatish Taseer, begotten from the Indian journalist Tavleen Singh, has written a book “Stranger to History: A son’s journey through Islamic lands”, which does not project his father in a positive light. Taseer was also known to be brash, opinionated and outspoken, his controversial remarks, on twitter, against the Saudi monarch drew a lot of adverse reaction from the Muslim community worldwide. Despite all this, he was a progressive, forward looking leader who wished to see his country tread a path of enlightened development. A few days before his assassination he had stated that Asia Bibi is likely to be pardoned by the President, even at that stage his comments elicited a vitriolic response from the local Imams who openly threatened that people would take the law in their own hands if Bibi was pardoned.

Salman Taseer forfeited his life on the mantle of his ideals and his progressive vision for his country. This is not the first time that a liberal leader has been killed by fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. In fact choking the voice of sanity has become a norm rather than an exception in the country. Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s right hand man was shot twice in the chest on October, 16, 1951 at Rawalpindi by one Saad Akbar Babrak. His murder ushered an era of political instability which ultimately led to a breakdown of democracy and imposition of martial law for long periods of time in the nascent Nation. The next to be killed was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. Despite his limitations, he was a modern and secular leader who wanted his country to evolve as a socialist democracy. His successor, the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq systematically undercut all democratic aspirations and brought in a draconian Islamic culture as also the policy of engineering terrorism in the name of Jihad in Kashmir. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on December 27, 2007 was yet another example of the extremist fundamentalist credentials that are enveloping in the country. The al Queda, which is surviving due to support from Pakistan, took responsibility for the killing which was supposedly carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan was also said to be involved.

Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, Salman Taseer’s assassin who has been taken into custody has confessed that he shot Taseer because of the latter’s stand on the Blasphemy Laws. This cannot be taken on face value because a security guard would probably not hold such strong political views that lead to the shooting of a Governor. There is every possibility that the assassin has been indoctrinated on the path of Jihad in one of the numerous Madrassas operating in Pakistan. At this stage when the government has announced three days of national mourning the Mullahs of Pakistan have passed edicts calling upon all Muslims to celebrate the death of the Governor. This is happening right under the nose of the Pakistani Government

Political assassinations are just one tool that the Islamic fundamentalists are using to establish their writ in Pakistan. Sustained communal violence is yet another significant card that is being played liberally. Those Muslims who chose to leave India to become a part of the Pakistani experience are still termed as “Mohajirs” and are forced to live as minorities. The non-Wahabi population of the country is constantly subjected to violence and atrocity. Votaries of different Muslim sects are subjected to suicide bombings, Ahmadiyya’s praying at their Mosque’s are attacked by terrorists, Hanafi-Barelvi-Sufi’s are massacred for the crime of taking out a procession. Mullahs are running berserk declaring anyone and everyone who meets their fancy a “Kafir” for having deviated from some tenet of Islam or the other. The Blasphemy Law is being blatantly misused for personal and sectarian gains and also to spread a culture of religious intolerance that suits the Mullahs. The government of Pakistan stands as a mute spectator to this virtual breakdown of civilisational norms and the writ of the State.

The founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was known for his secular credentials. All through his struggle for getting a separate Nation for Muslims he insisted that the Nation would welcome in its fold people of all religions, castes and creeds. When Pakistan came into being he reiterated his secular commitment in the newly formed Nations Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 where he said, “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed…that has nothing to do with the business of the state. You are free, 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.” Today Jinnah’s vision has been swept completely under the carpet and the creation of Pakistan has now become an idea that has gone horribly wrong.

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