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Posted: Thu, May 21 2009. 9:17 PM IST
Why the Taliban’s going to win in Pakistan
The Taliban cannot defeat Pakistan militarily. The Taliban will win because what they want is already being implemented by Pakistan
Reply to All | Aakar Patel
The Taliban will win in Pakistan. They are on the right side of the law. They are also on the right side of history. Last month, a video of Talibs whipping a 17-year-old girl for adultery upset Pakistanis, who thought it barbaric. It might be, but it is the law. The punishment for married adulterers in Pakistan is to “be stoned to death at a public place” (Ordinance 7 of 1979). Unmarried adulterers are to be “punished, at a public place; with whipping numbering one hundred stripes”.
Later in April, the world worried over Pakistan’s decision to enforce Shariah law in the district of Swat, being held by the Taliban. But Shariah is already in force in the whole of Pakistan; it is only being implemented selectively. What the Taliban are demanding is enforcement. Pakistanis might fear the Taliban but nobody opposes Islamic law. Speaking against the “ideology of Pakistan” means 10 years in jail (Penal Code 123a).
In Pakistan, defiling the Quran means life in prison. Speaking against the Prophet is an automatic death sentence (Penal Code 295c).
Under laws that president Zia-ul-Haq introduced, the maximum punishment for theft is amputation of hands. Muslims caught drinking face 80 lashes.
Under prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, founder of the liberal Pakistan People’s Party, parliament apostatized the entire Ahmedi sect, a group of Punjabi Muslims.
An Ahmedi “is not a Muslim for the purposes of the constitution or law” (Second Amendment, 1974). If Ahmedis refer to themselves as “Muslim”, or their prayer house as “masjid”, or recite the azaan (call for prayer), they shall be imprisoned for three years (Pakistan Penal Code 298B, 298C).
What happens to Pakistan’s liberal politicians when these laws are passed?
They have to disappear.
Bhutto’s finance minister was the socialist, Mubashir Hasan. Every year, he leads the candle vigil at Wagah. His book, The Mirage of Power, is a detailed account of his four years as minister but makes no mention of the apostatization of the Ahmedis. He skips over the episode. Why? He is afraid to communicate his opposition because he might be lynched.
It is difficult to be secular in Pakistan. The man whose party surrendered at Swat was Asfandyar Wali, grandson of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi.
The Taliban cannot defeat Pakistan militarily. The Pakistan army will rout it because the Talibs have neither armour, nor artillery nor aircraft.
The Taliban will win because what they want is already being implemented by Pakistan.
On 23 December 1999, Pakistan’s supreme court banned the charging of interest on loans, deciding it was not Islamic. Effectively, this would shut down the banking system and switch off the economy. Pervez Musharraf, then president, got the court to appoint a committee to decide how to implement this ban. This has delayed the destruction of Pakistan’s economy, but not avoided it. In 1998, prime minister Nawaz Sharif moved the 15th Amendment to enforce Shariah. This would designate him Amir-ul-Momineen, commander of the faithful, like Mullah Omar. The Bill was passed by the lower house before being blocked in the senate by the small party of Bihari-UP migrants from India, the Muhajirs.
Urdu-speaking Muhajirs form the only secular party in Pakistan. Their base is Karachi, where they are up against four million Pashtun immigrants. Who are the Talibs? Ethnically, they are Pashtun, 15% of Pakistan’s population.
Many were students of a curriculum designed at Deoband, a school in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district. It was set up after the war of 1857, seen as the end of Muslim rule in India. Its purpose was to revive Islam by ridding it of the corruption of Hindu influence. It recognizes the jurist Abu Hanifa (who died in 765). The Jaish-e-Mohammad follows the Deobandi ideology.
Pakistan was founded by a man who didn’t really understand Islam. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a South Mumbai Gujarati who spoke no Urdu or Arabic. He was a constitutionalist who did not understand the nature of the state he had founded. He was a Shia of the Sevener Ismaili Khoja sect. They are talented businessmen and good citizens, but Sunnis regard them as heretics. To widen his appeal, Jinnah converted to “regular” Twelver Shiism.
But that wasn’t good enough.
When he died in 1948, a year after Partition, his deputy, Liaquat Ali Khan, had him buried as a Sunni with a Deobandi maulvi leading his funeral prayer. Six months after Jinnah’s death, on 12 March 1949, Khan introduced the Objectives Resolution in the Pakistan assembly, which was legislating the new constitution. Pakistanis, Khan declared, would enjoy democracy, freedom and equality “as enunciated by Islam”. These words alarmed the assembly’s Hindu members, all Bengalis from East Pakistan. They said this was not what Jinnah had promised them. But Jinnah had been vague. And the Muslims in the assembly were able to point to instances where Jinnah had spoken clearly of Shariah law. The committee voted 21:10. All Muslims voting for; all Hindus against.
Khan assured the Hindus that they would not be discriminated against. He was assassinated in 1951. The discrimination would be written in later, incrementally and over time.
By law, only a Muslim may now be Pakistan’s president (Article 41-2) or prime minister (Article 91-4). Not that there are many non-Muslims left.
Pakistan is today 96% Muslim and unable to think on secular lines. Why are Pakistanis doing this to themselves?
B.R. Ambedkar speculated about this in 1946. “The Muslims have no interest in politics as such. Their predominant interest is religion” (Pakistan: The Partition of India, pages 232-233). All that the Muslim voter cared about, he wrote, was that the candidate “replace the lamps… (and) provide a new carpet for the masjid”. He added: “None of the secular categories of life have any place in the politics of (the) Muslim community and if they do find a place—and they must because they are irrepressible—they are subordinated to one and only one governing principle of the Muslim political universe, namely, religion.” Months later, Ambedkar began work on India’s secular constitution, which took force on 26 January 1950.
Till last year, Nepal was the only Hindu state on earth. The Chhetri (Kshatriya) dynasty ended with the republic of 2008.
Why was it a Hindu state? Because executive power flowed from a warrior king, as prescribed in the Hindu code, Manusmriti. But Nepal was Hindu only to that extent. Nothing else from Hindu texts could be applied because most of it is against the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, just like Shariah is.
The religious state is utopian, and demands perfection. If we obey God fully, He will look after us. This is not the view of just the bearded Talib of Swat: the justices of the supreme court of Pakistan expect that blessings will be showered on their country after they skewer its economy.
Pakistan is in religious ecstasy. Like Iran, it will have to go through the process of full Islamization.
After this it will learn that there is no other way to run a modern state than as a secular democracy.
Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.
Write to Aakar at firstname.lastname@example.org