Too right to be soft!

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Not mutually exclusive

Push society too much to the right, especially in times of Sharia controversy and misguided Islamist militancy, and the Council of Islamic Ideology’s (CII) latest attempt at relevance is just what you get. So yet again we have discovered un-Islamic laws governing our country – ones like prohibiting child marriages or requiring the wife’s permission to remarry, etc. But why, after all the decades these laws have been in place, have they suddenly become so un-Islamic for the clergy? Perhaps the answer lies in parading the religious right on prime time mainstream media in the garb of peace talks and ceasefire. Much of the population, especially the rural majority, is deeply respectful of religion, and doesn’t quite understand the boundary between Sharia proper and indoctrinated militancy. And it seems not just the government but powerful media houses, too, have failed to realise the compound negative impact of having extremist maulanas and muftis legitimised as stakeholders, no matter how illegitimate their positions.

And this comes when the government is trying to portray a soft image internationally, or so we are told. We want to settle differences with neighbours, explore and enhance trade opportunities, set world records, and build tunnels and bridges. And we also want to end nonsense about local militancy, insurgency, civil war, etc, once and for all. Even if some upstarts keep killing, we will keep talking: be soft. But what of these continuous spanners in the works – un-Islamic constitution, society, politics, and now marriages? Not to forget, of course, the trend of revering the bomb maker and user alike as mujahideen, not even their many tens of thousands of victims’ families allowed to protest. And the ruling party insists we are growing softer, and more self-sufficient, by the day.

The question facing Pakistan today is far too deep for the CII, or its positions, to even matter. We must finally choose which direction we will need to invest all our energies in, be it a Sharia partnership with Taliban, more strategic depths across more frontiers, a more expanded religious lobby guiding the state, or a secular society with strong institutions and justice delivery. The system, nor the people, can afford conflicting strands anymore. That means the ruling party will have to overcome its own internal conflicts and dilemmas first. Nawaz Sharif’s likeness for softness, and his leanings far to the right, are both well known among the public. And however much he, and those closest to him, might think a working arrangement can weave the two together, events on the ground suggest otherwise, to the point that we have become a collapsing state, with a collapsed economy and an active insurgency. It may make for a soft spot, but does not make for a soft outlook as a country. It is time for the prime minister to take bold decisions, or at least not complain too much if public discontent snowballs into something he is only too familiar with.