Or more of the same?
Sharif, sharply in contrast to the perceived right wing ethos of the PML-N, recently attended a Holi festival in Karachi. On the occasion while extolling virtues of tolerance, plurality and a live-and-let-live ethos, he quoted from the founder of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s historic address to the Constituent Assembly
While the prime minister is trying to portray a softer image of Pakistan, ground realities remain more or less the same. The other day goons belonging to the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), the student wing of the fundamentalist Jamaat e Islami, disrupted a Pakhtoon cultural event at the Punjab University, Lahore.
Surprisingly, unlike the past, IJT thugs received stiff resistance from Pakhtoon and Baloch students. As a result several students were injured and the police had to resort to tear gas shelling to disperse the violent crowd.
Sharif, sharply in contrast to the perceived right wing ethos of the PML-N, recently attended a Holi festival in Karachi. On the occasion while extolling virtues of tolerance, plurality and a live-and-let-live ethos, he quoted from the founder of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s historic address to the Constituent Assembly.
Just three days before the creation of Pakistan Jinnah had declared, “You are free, free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion cast or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
It is another matter that Jinnah’s speech was de-emphasised by most of the past rulers — both civilian and khaki. It was not only entirely missing from the official narrative, the government media virtually censored it out.
The powerful right wing lobby in power, having a stranglehold on the media, ostracised those who espoused Jinnah’s secular values or a modicum of liberalism. In fact a counter-narrative was created to paint Jinnah as a mullah quoting some of his speeches out of context in support of their misogynistic and illiberal agenda.
In fact the biggest blow to Pakistan’s original ethos was struck by the late dictator General Zia ul Haq who ruled the country for eleven years with an iron hand in the name of Islam. According to him and his many apologists in the media there was no concept of a parliamentary democracy or political parties in Islam.
The Jamaat-e-Isalmi and its brand of journalists were the biggest supporters of this self-serving interpretation of Pakistan’s raison de etre. One of those was the late ZA Suleri, who had once worked with the Quaid as his secretary.
Later in his life Suleri, a prolific journalist, became a fellow traveller of the Jamaat. But when Zia ordered that the Quaid’s portrait in the National Assembly be repainted in an achkan (tunic) instead of a suit he opposed the idea in an article in the Pakistan Times that he also edited.
He wrote under the headline: “Paint the Quaid as he is.” The idea of repainting Jinnah’s portrait was later shelved. Nonetheless the founder of the nation was never shown in his true light. Adding insult to injury, apologists of the Zia regime invoking Jinnah’s name espoused separate electorates.
Even Allama Muhammad Iqbal was invoked by the Ziaists to further their cause. Quoting selectively from the works of the national poet and thinker they tried to prove that Pakistan was meant to be a virtual theocracy rather than a pluralistic democratic state.
Ironically, the biggest beneficiary of Zia’s obscurantist policies was not the Jamaat-e-Isalmi but Mian Nawaz Sharif. The governor of Punjab Lt General Ghulam Gilani in the early eighties chose a scion of an industrial family, the young Sharif, to be groomed as the future leader.
Zia developed an immediate liking for him. After that, there was no stopping for the son of Mian Mohammad Sharif. First he was made finance minister of the province and later chief minister in a party-less democracy.
When the late wily dictator sensed that his own experiment in introducing a controlled democracy was spinning out of control he dismissed his handpicked prime minister, Mohammad Khan Junejo, in May 1988. Sharif, knowing full well which side of the bread was buttered, instead of siding with the erstwhile prime minister and party boss chose the late general.
The PML-N has competition from the PTI in wooing the religious right vote. The PTI chief Imran Khan has no qualms about expressing his solidarity with the madrassa culture. He was unapologetic about donating Rs40 million to Jamia-e-Haqqania
A few days before Zia’s death in a plane crash in August the same year, with the active help of the establishment in a party convention of the revived Muslim League, he ousted Junejo and effectively took over the reins of the party. Hence the PML-N was born with the Zia regime acting as its midwife. It was no surprise the party known as ‘bakiayaat e Zia’ (remnants of Zia), had an ideological bent quite akin to the reactionary policies that the late dictator had pursued so ruthlessly.
Therefore it sounds quite surreal that the same Sharif has evolved into a secularist. Whether this perceived change in thinking is real or opportunistic is the moot question.
Sharif, since his return from exile in 2007, has somewhat evolved. In my several meetings with him while he was not the prime minister, but leader of the opposition, I found him to be a changed person in many ways.
For example, it seemed now that left to his own devices he would transform Pakistan from a national security state to a state where foreign policy is determined by economics and trade.
His vision includes better ties with India. But he naively underestimated the stranglehold of the permanent state on India policy when he embarked upon a disastrous goodwill mission to Delhi under the garb of attending Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural ceremony in May 2014.
Sharif’s efforts were nipped in the bud by the ubiquitous establishment. The khaki Sharif gave him a tough time on this count as well.
According to the idiom, “The leopard cannot change its spots”. And why would this feline creature even try when his erstwhile retrogressive formulae have worked thrice to make him prime minister.
That is why although Sharif is making the right noises, he will never abandon cohabitation with the religious right forces within his party and coalition.
With an army chief with a relatively liberal bent ruling the roost, perhaps Sharif can convince him to follow a more enlightened policy towards the jhadists: to go after then without making any distinction between the so called good and the bad.
The PML-N has competition from the PTI in wooing the religious right vote. The PTI chief Imran Khan has no qualms about expressing his solidarity with the madrassa culture. He was unapologetic about donating Rs40 million to Jamia-e-Haqqania. The party’s lawmaker Ali Muhammad Khan, in an oblique reference to Sharif, has gone to the extent of saying that those who believe in secular Pakistan should leave the country.
In this context it is unlikely that the prime minister would effectively move beyond paying lip service to a liberal and secular agenda. Nevertheless, it is a sea change even to pay lip service to the real ethos of Pakistan.
I wonder how born in Muslim family having Muslim names advocate Secular Pakistan
Quaid-e-Azam when asked what system will be implement in the new nation of Pakistan said more or less it had been defined 1,400 years ago. i.e. it be based on the principals of Islam. Henceforth, there is no room for secularism in Pakistan.
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