NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 44

Religion and personality cult in Pakistan

The checkered political history of Pakistan endorses the fact that its governing system revolves around religion, personality cult and power politics.

The state and ruling elite use the three dominating factors to sustain their rule and control the people. Sometimes, they pander to the religious feelings of the people through pirs, ulmas, and other religious leaders and parties to achieve their partisan interests. The state used this religious factor against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government, the Afghan war and the war against terror. Due to this use of religion, extremism has increased in the country. More than 80,000 people have been killed in the terror war. Scientific and rational education has been discouraged. The class-based education system – English, Urdu and Madrassa – has been promoted to divide the people and society. Before the creation of Pakistan, the British raj also used Muslim religious leaders, pirs and feudal lords to rule Sindh, Punjab and other parts of the subcontinent. In the Pakistan movement, religion was also used to achieve the country. According to Nadeem F Paracha, most of the people living in rural areas of Punjab perceived the Quaid as a religious leader with a beard. However, the Quaid discouraged the use of religion in politics. He refused to call himself Maulana by other members of the Muslim community. He categorically declared in his 11th August address, “You 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.”

After the demise of the Quaid, the ruling elite used religion to deceive the people for maintaining their corrupt and incompetent rule. Even after the demarcation of Pakistan, religion has been used to divert the attention of the people from criminal negligence, corruption, anti-people and unpatriotic policies of the ruling elite.

So far, around 33 million Pakistanis have been affected by the 2022 floods. More than 1200 people, including children and women, have lost their lives. While thousands have lost their homes. Crops and many school buildings have been destroyed. The federal and provincial governments have failed to help flood-affected people. The economy of Pakistan is about to collapse. However, to conceal its negligence in dealing with the natural calamity and other economic and administrative issues, the government and ruling elite are again using religion.

Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani has categorically declared the floods have come as a punishment for “sin” committed by the poor people. Even he advised the poor people if they want to cease the floods, they need to stop being so sinful. Some religious scholars are also propagating this view to save the ruling elite and pacify the anger of the poor people. One may wonder why wealthy and better-run places are exempt from this punishment. In fact, it should be realised that nature is not against marginalised and poor people. The state should be blamed for putting the marginalised communities’ lives in jeopardy. It has not created and enhanced local capacity to mitigate natural threats like floods in urban and rural areas. These floods are not God’s wrath to punish sinners. Rather, they expose the ruling elite’s sin of inaction and apathy.

Former Sindh home minister Manzoor Wassan compared the flooded areas of Khairpur to the Italian city of Venice which exposes the callousness of the ruling elite. It also shows that the ruling elite takes pleasure even in the sufferings of the poor.

The ruling elite has also cultivated a personality cult among the people to rule over them. In fact, a personality cult is used to create an inferiority complex and sheepish nature among the people in Pakistan.

About a personality cult, Dr Farrukh Saleem writes: “There are two types of cults – religious and political. Cults – both religious and political – can last for a long time. Cults – both religious and political – can be extremely dangerous. Religious cults can be dangerous for their followers and political cults can be extremely dangerous for their country. According to Dr Janja Lalich, professor emeritus of sociology at the California State University, there are 11 common traits of cult leaders: charisma; narcissism; lack of guilt; spiritual bondage; lack of remorse; spiritual abuse; pathological liars; twisting facts; authoritarian; lack of boundaries and use of media. Cults are a “risky form of human behavior that diminishes our contact with reality and devalues anyone outside the cult.” Within political cults, the ‘leader is always right’. Within political cults, the leader is ‘projected as a messiah’. Political cult leaders are extremely apt at controlling the behaviour of the youth. The narrative that cult leaders stir up is ‘us versus them’… Democracy is about ‘rights of the people’. Democracy is about the ‘protection of basic freedoms’. Political cults threaten the rights of the people. Political cults threaten basic freedoms. Political cults are a clear and present threat to democracies, especially fragile democracies”.

Almost all political and military leaders like Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ziaul Haq, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain and Pervaiz Musharraf have used this cult method to rule the country. Imran Khan is using this tool very expertly, which would ultimately harm democracy and the country. The sole purpose of the ruling elite is to get and sustain power in Pakistan. Hans J Morgenthau has already stated, “All politics is power politics”. Power is achieved and used to increase one’s position of authority and money in Pakistan.