NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 05

Religion in Pakistan’s politics

Pakistan’s checkered political history shows that the ruling elite, including politicians, businessmen, 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 has ignited sectarianism and extremism among the people for preserving political interests of some sectarian parties.

After the Army Public School attack, the army has 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, have 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 Milli. The religious leaders tried to divide the ranks of the Muslim League by raising sectarian questions against Ahmadis and Shias, many of whom were in good positions in the Muslim League. The religious leaders also started calling the Qauaid-e-Azam as 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 Zia. In fact, Gen Zia’s 11 years of Islamisation turned Pakistan into a theocracy where religion is still used to provoke the 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 have not supported 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 is out of the system which has made him restless and infuriated.

In this angry mood, Maulana is openly speaking against state institutions and the government. He has given a call for his Azadi March and threatened to lock down the entire country if his march was not allowed to reach Islamabad. Addressing party workers at a convention in Peshawar, he slammed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for its “soft stance” on the Kashmir issue, claiming that the incumbent rulers had “sold the blood of Kashmiri brethren” and were now “rejoicing over it”. “The JUI-F’s Azadi March is a war that will only end with the fall of this government,” Fazl remarked and warned ‘those supporting the PTI government’ to back off or otherwise, they will have to put up with the worst form of resistance.

There are reports that the JUI-F is also playing its religious card as it has collected funds from the people and workers in the name of Tahafuz-e-Namoose Resalat. Maulana openly calls Imran Khan an agent of Jews. While, other leaders of the JUI-F, like Kafayat Ullah etc, are inciting  the students of madrassaha “to be ready for embracing Shahdat during the march against the government.” It is pure Machiavellianism because the JUI- F and Maulana are using religion just to protect their political and economic interests.

PM Imran Khan has said that Fazlur Rehman would not be able to exploit the “religious card” against the government at the behest of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PML-N. “The government believes that students of seminaries are our own children, but they are being misguided by people like Fazlur Rehman. He is upset because he won’t be able to use madrassa students for his political motives after seminary reforms,” the premier said while presiding over a meeting of government and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) spokespersons.

It is a fact that Maulana’s march is not for Kashmir as he has done nothing for it in his ten years as Chairman of National Assembly’s Committee on Kashmir, except enjoying all perks and privileges. The march is also not against the police brutality, corruption, child abuse, spread of HIV in Sindh, famine in Thar, pollution in Karachi, weak economy, class-riddled education and judicial systems. Because, Maulana has been a part of the PPP and PML-N governments which created all these problems with their wrong policies.

In fact, with this march, Maulana wants to protect his and his party leaders’ corruption. It is said that Maulana and former Khyber Pakhtunkhawa Chief Minister Akram Durrani have illegally occupied over 1200 kanals of land allocated for families of police martyrs. Maulana also wants to stop the government from introducing madrassa reforms. He has developed personal hatred for Imran Khan who has wiped out his party from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He has a strong desire to be back in the system which is functioning without him. It is now an open secret that Maulana wished to become the prime minister in 2007.

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, Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri is quoted saying, “all important parties in Pakistan had 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.”

It clearly shows that with this march Maulana just wants to reclaim his personal relevance in Pakistan’s politics. But, very cunningly, he is using the religious card along with national interests and patriotism for gaining his Machiavellian interests.

On the other hand, Imran Khan is also using religion to conceal his government’s failure and corruption. He is using Riyasat-i-Madina rhetoric to deceive the poor people of Pakistan. He has not fulfilled his promises of creating 10m jobs, building 5m houses, introducing police reforms, bringing back looted $200 billion stashed in foreign countries, etc. Imran Khan has included the MQM, the PML- Q and other corrupt electables to form his government. He has selected incompetent and corrupt ministers in his PTI government, who are indulging in corruption. There are health and economic problems in the country but Imran Khan’s government has no solution to solve them, except to use religion for diverting the attention of the people from real and pressing issues. It is very unfortunate that all corrupt politicians and religious leaders are misusing religion to plunder the country and its people.