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Not in the name of religion

At a meeting on Monday, the Senate’s Special Committee on Election Issues took exception to the ECP’s inclusion in its new Code of Conduct the guideline that candidates cannot seek votes in the name of religion or sect. Briefing journalists, JUI member of the committee, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri, repeated what his party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had stated earlier. The decision is not only unconstitutional, he said, but against the very essence of the creation of Pakistan. The JUI leaders are on slippery ground on both these issues.

The reference to the Constitution, of course, is meant to remind us that Islam is the state religion. Indeed, Muslims comprise over 96 percent of this country’s population, which is why Islam is not, should not be, an issue of contention. As for the reminder about the creation of Pakistan, the less these gentlemen invoke that reference the better it would be for them. After all, like all other religious parties active in the undivided subcontinent at the time, the JUI (then called Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind) had opposed the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims. If they regret having taken that position, they never said so. Which means they stand by what they did then, and therefore have no right to act as self-appointed custodians of the state they had fervently argued against. Like other citizens, Muslims and minorities – duly represented in the white strip of our national flag – inhabiting this part of the subcontinent, they are entitled to live and pursue activities in the political arena. But they must stop distorting history of the struggle for Pakistan to suit their purposes.

The Father of the Nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah is on record to have said on more occasions than one that Pakistan will not be a theocratic state. At the risk of sounding trite, one must also recall the words he spoke while formally laying down the new state’s founding ideals in his August 1947 speech in the Constituent Assembly: “You may belong to any religion or cast or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Were he to return in the present-day Pakistan, he would be horrified to see what his erstwhile critics have made of this country.

All the ECP is trying to do is to prevent the participants from exploiting religious/sectarian sentiments for the achievement of political ends. There was no need for Maulana Fazlur Rehman to make the provocative remarks that the upcoming election is going to be a “direct clash between secular and religious forces.” The only political party that calls itself secular is the ANP. Its origins go back to pre-independence days. There are no new secular forces that would be clashing with the Maulana’s men in the general elections. The statement clearly is an attempt to appease the Taliban.

Still, it is worthwhile to examine which might be the secular forces the religious forces are gearing up to clash with. Are they the opinion leaders who oppose any dialogue with the Taliban for challenging the writ of the state and the political agenda those violent extremists want to impose on this country? No, the Taliban have named three parties, the ANP, PPP and MQM – JUI-F’s former coalition partners in the federal government – whose election rallies, they threatened, would be attacked for their policies. In other words, the Taliban would kill fellow Muslims because they hate their politics. They are holding good on that threat. First, an MQM candidate in Hyderabad was killed. Then came a string of attacks on ANP leaders. In the latest strike on Wednesday evening, they sent a suicide bomber to an ANP corner meeting in Peshawar. The main target, a son of Bashir Bilour whom the Taliban had assassinated earlier, luckily survived. But the bombing left at least 16 people dead, including a child, four policemen and several bystanders, while another 50 are fighting for their lives in hospitals. Some of those who survive may never be able to lead a normal life. The PPP has already lost its leader Benazir Bhutto and nearly two hundred workers and supporters in two terrorist attacks on her processions. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valour it has restricted its electioneering activities.

The Taliban have been wreaking havoc with Muslim lives in the name of Islam whose prophet issued a code of conduct during a war, forbidding the faithful from killing enemy non-combatants, even cutting of trees. In their wanton resort to violence, the Taliban may be using religion but they are driven by political motives. In fact, they make no secret of having political designs for the entire country.

Then there are sectarian outfits, including those that were banned for massacring countless innocent citizens for being born in the wrong sect. They have been allowed to reinvent their identities to continue to pursue their sectarian agendas. The names of those fielding their candidates in the elections say it all: Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Sunni Ittehad Council, Jamaat Ahle Hadith, Sunni Tehrik, and Majlis-e-Wahdatul Mulsimeen. If they are in the business of promoting sectarianism that is what they are going to sell to voters. The only way the ECP could stop the spread of hatred on this score was to deregister sectarian parties. But we all know it could do no such thing. No one can dare step on their wrong side. Merciless violence certain sectarian outfits wreak in the name of religion – that lays so much emphasis on compassion, tolerance and forgiveness – strikes fear in the strongest of hearts. Sadly, the major mainstream parties seem to have discovered worth in the proverb ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. In their quest for votes, they have entered into seat adjustment arrangements with some of the sectarian outfits.

Leaders of mainstream parties are expected to promote harmony instead of divisiveness. Now that the stage is set for the elections, they must try and observe the ECP’s directions on this and other matters. All must focus on issues rather than non-issues. In a country where an overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim, Islam cannot be in danger. A Pakistan at peace with itself is what the hapless people of this country need.

saida_fazal@yahoo.com

Saida Fazal, "Not in the name of religion," Business recorder. 2013-04-18.
Keywords: Political issues , Political process , Political leaders , Political parties , Constituent assembly , Maulana Ghafoor Haidri , Maulana Fazlur Rehman , Mohammad Ali Jinnah , Pakistan , JUI