‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored’
Acknowledging all that has been done, I still believe there is a long way to go before we will have successfully eradicated extremism in Pakistan
Since 9/11 more than 35,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives due to extremism. Necessary steps to prevent extremism in Pakistan could have been undertaken a bit sooner. However, prevention remained an unaccomplished task due to the ineffective measures by the government and the military. Most of the time the government and military have not been on the same page and/or they have chosen a narrow approach, fighting symptoms rather than the root causes.
Things have changed quite a lot under the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the new Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif. For the first time it seems that the government and the military have a single aim and a single vision. Two hundred and fifty-one people have been arrested for propagating hate speech, and a ban has been imposed on loudspeakers, which were often used to promote sectarian violence.
In addition, Pakistan has launched a host ofmilitary operations against militants. The most recent operation is Operation Zarb-e-Azb, conducted by the Pakistan armed forces against various militant groups, including theTehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Haqqani Network. The operation was launched in North–Waziristan in 2014, and is ongoing.
Acknowledging all that has been done, I still believe there is a long way to go before we will have successfully eradicated extremism in Pakistan.
The fact is that extremism can never effectively be eradicated when extremist tenets are embedded in the law. Yet, this is precisely what has happened in Pakistan. Yes, we should fight militants on the ground, as our military has, but as a state we should also focus on some of the tenets in our constitution that pave the way for religious intolerance.
Declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims:
The discrimination against Ahmadis began shortly after the inception of Pakistan. In 1953, a series of violent attacks were instigated against the Ahmadiyya community in Lahore. These riots, known as the 1953 Lahore riots, resulted in the death of between200 and 2,000 Ahmadis.
It wasn’t until 1973 when due to the strong pressure of the fundamentalists, Ahmadis were officially declared Non-Muslims. To this day Ahmadis suffer religious discrimination and the state has shown no inclination towards amending the law or eradicating the discrimination.
Ehtaram-e-Ramzan ordinancewas passed in 1981 during the tenure of General Zia-Ul-Haq and is part of the constitution. This law states that no one can publically eat in the month of Ramzan during the fasting hours. It is a blatant violation of freedom of religion.
The sub section 1 of this ordinance says:
“No person who, according to the tenets of Islam, is under an obligation to fast shall eat, drink or smoke in a public place during fasting hours in the month of Ramzan.”
According to the sub-section 2 of this ordinance:
“Whoever contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) shall be punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.”
It also states that all restaurants must be closed during the fasting hours.
In the last Ramzan, an old man from the Hindu community was badly beaten for eating publically. Do these clauses suggest that we are fighting a war against extremism or are they extremist in themselves?
The contentious blasphemy law In Pakistan:
Blasphemy is the act of insulting, showing contempt for or lack of reverencefor God or that which is considered sacred. In 1987, General Zia-ul-Haq‘Islamised’ the blasphemy laws as part of a widespread policy of Islamisation. The blasphemy laws are now enshrined in section 295 A, B and C of the Penal Code, with their focus being on protecting Islam.
Presently, Pakistan uses this controversial law at a level unparalleled to anything anywhere else in the world. The law has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. There have been 702 cases registered against minorities, which equates to 52pc of total cases against 4pc of the population. The laws are routinely used to target religious minorities for personal or political motives, and result in a violation of fundamental rights. This is evident in the cases of Asia Bibi and Rimsha Masih. Blasphemy laws and this treatment of minorities are contrary to rights guaranteed in Pakistan’s constitution, particularly the right to profess religion (Article 20), equality of citizens (Article 25) and protection of minorities (Article 36).
The law continues to perpetuate an environment of intolerance and discrimination. To guarantee equal treatment and fundamental rights to minorities in Pakistan, an attempt to reform the blasphemy laws must be made. Without this, the state will never be able to achieve peace, tolerance and equal human rights.
The facts are before us, though they might be difficult to face up to. However, as Aldous Huxley said: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
We need to rectify our shortcomings and to amend those sections of our constitution that violate freedom of religion and as such legalise extremism and religious fundamentalism. In the end, I would like to stress the point I made earlier: extremism cannot be fought when it becomes legalised.