NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 43

Religion in Pakistan politics

Pakistan’s checkered political history shows that the ruling elite, including politicians, businesspeople, feudal lords, religious parties and pirs, has used religion very expertly to protect its partisan interests, corruption and rule in the country.

There is no doubt about it that the ruling elite has used religion to keep the poor and helpless people submissive, contented, divided and ignorant of scientific education, revolutionary views, new developments in the realms of economics, politics, sociology, human development, artificial intelligence and space science, etc. The ruling elite has, with the help of America, inculcated jihadism among the people for waging and winning the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; it ignited sectarianism and extremism among the people for preserving political interests of some sectarian parties.

After the Army Public School attack, the army crushed the Taliban and many other militant organisations, which were challenging the existence of the state. It is a shocking reality that more than 70,000 innocent people, including security personnel, women and children, lost their lives in the war against terror, while Pakistan’s economy has faced more than $120 billion loss. Unfortunately, all these atrocities were perpetrated and justified in the name of religion.

It is also a proven fact that religion was not a single factor in mobilising the Muslims of the sub-continent for achieving a separate homeland. There were many other economic, social, cultural and political factors, along with religion, which gave birth to Pakistan under the great leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The great Quaid fully knew that the Muslims of the sub-continent would never get an equitable and fair share of government and economic resources from the Hindu majority in a democratic system. That is why he refused the offer of becoming the first prime minister of undivided India.

Many religious parties, like Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam, Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind and Jamaat-e-Islami opposed the idea of creation of Pakistan under a Western-educated political leader who wanted to create a moderate state. These religious leaders believed their political and economic interests would be preserved easily in a Hindu majority country because, in a moderate and secular Muslim country, political, economic and social policies would be formed by educated and secular-minded leaders. In the words of Yasser Latif Hamdani, this was the reason that “the religious parties, especially Maulana Madni, called for a Misaq-e-Medina-like pact with the Hindu majority whereby the Hindu majority would rule and the Ulema would rule the Muslim community like a fiefdom”.

To save their interests, Darul-Uloom Deoband, with the help of their Hindu friends, established its own university, Jamia Millia. The religious leaders tried to divide the ranks of the Muslim League by raising sectarian questions. The religious leaders also started calling the Quaid-e-Azam “Kafir-e-Azam.” In spite of their opposition and hatred against the Quaid, Pakistan came into being in 1947. But, unfortunately, Pakistan gradually quit secularism and modernism which Jinnah had so eloquently preached on August 11, 1947. It is also a fact that, from 1947 to 1977, Pakistan was committed to the idea of Muslim modernism. But, when General Zia-ul-Haq took over the reign, everything changed. The JI and JUI-F, which were against the creation of Pakistan, got a new role of making Pakistan a fundamentalist state to protect the interests of the Zia regime. The JUI’s Mufti Mahmood, father of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who once openly said, “Thank God we were not involved in the sin of the creation of Pakistan”, was accepted as a patriot and religious leader. Jinnah’s ideas of moderation, secularism and enlightenment were buried by extremists and fundamentalists, who got an opportunity to acquire power and pelf under General Zia. In fact, General Zia’s 11 years of Islamisation turned Pakistan into a theocracy where religion is still used to provoke people, get support of the masses, acquire power, protect ill-conceived policies, corruption and anti-state activities.

There are still many political and religious parties, like the JUI-F, JI and TLP, which have exploited religion for acquiring and safeguarding their own political and economic interests in the country. But now the powers that be have changed their plan because they did not support the religious parties like the JUI-F and JI in the 2018 elections. Resultantly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), could not win his seat.

Over the past twenty years, Maulana has always been part of the parliament in the country’s political system. In the words of Imran Khan, “This is the first time in a while that our Assembly is running without diesel.” No doubt, after two decades, Maulana was out of the system, which made him restless and infuriated. In this angry mood, Maulana openly spoke against state institutions and the government.

Declan Walsh, quoting Wikileakes, wrote in the Guardian, “in November 2007 Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the country’s most fiercely pro-Taliban religious party, hosted a jovial dinner for (Ambassador) Patterson at which he sought her backing to become prime minister and expressed a desire to visit America.” Candidly, Maulana’s closest aide, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri was quoted as saying, “all important parties in Pakistan have to get the approval” of the US for forming a government. After the meeting, Patterson reported to her superiors that Maulana “has made it clear that his still significant number of votes are up for sale.”

On the other hand, Imran Khan is also using religion for political gains. He is using Riyasat-i-Madina rhetoric to deceive the poor people of Pakistan. He failed to fulfil his promises of creating 10m jobs, building 5m houses, introducing police reforms, bringing back looted $200 billion stashed in foreign countries, etc. Imran Khan included the MQM, the PML-Q and other corrupt electables to form his government. He selected incompetent and corrupt ministers in his government. It is unfortunate that all corrupt politicians and religious leaders are misusing religion to plunder the country and its people.