Wednesday, August 22, 2012


There is something surreal and vaudevillian about this whole high drama that we go through every year. As surreal as the water car episode that we went through recently. Those otherwise pathologically concerned with Pakistan’s “image” abroad as a modern state should really be on an overdrive here.

What we have, every year, in the 21st century, is a national debate over the sighting of the moon. It would take several attempts at explaining this annual national discourse to an outsider for the latter to take it seriously. And this is not to be attributed to the condescending superiority complex of those using the Gregorian calendar towards those using lunar. No, religious injunctions in other faiths, even other Abrahamic faiths, can be far more eccentric than the mere use of the lunar calendar. What will be questioned would be the reluctance to actually use the lunar calendar to get out of the messy, inexact business of sighting the moon.

Adding a layer of complexity to the whole issue is the forging of new ties across sectarian divides and the burning of old ones. One prism of understanding the issue used to be in the pro-Saudi Arabian versus pro-local terms. How, then, would that explain the functionally anti-Saudi Arabian influence government of KP, celebrating Eid a day earlier and the Saudi Arabia-fixated Punjab government celebrating it a day later?

Also evident is the irony of the central Ruet-e-Hillal committee calling the other camp obscurantists while maintaining an intransigently literalist stance on sighting the moon. But Peshawar’s Mufti Popalzai also based his declaration, not on any calculation or throwing his lot with Eid in other countries, but, yes, on reports of sightings. With this, the debate mutates from the theological into a my-word-against-yours, spawning off arguments about light pollution in cities, the visibility of the moon and whether the faith is sullied by using telescopes to begin with.

Several years ago, Mufti Muneeb (who is now in his 14th year at the committee), in his protest against Mufti Popalzai, equated the matter with the then recent Swat crisis. He explained the necessity of an “operation” the way one was started in Swat to restore the “writ of state.” Heavy words, these. The loss of the state’s monopoly on violence to militant extremists is to be put in the same slot as the trivial issue of gazetted holidays?

To segue that into an appeal: it would do us all a lot of good to drop the hyperbole. The heavens won’t fall if we have two Eids. And national unity wouldn’t have been cemented even if we did. There are other, bigger monsters to slay for that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


On this Independence Day, as Pakistan turned 65, we find as many views on democracy, secularism and Islam as there are people living in the country. Confusion is one word the youth that comprises 65 percent of this country uses often to describe their understanding of the situation in Pakistan. There is complete disorientation as to the purpose of creating Pakistan in the first place, and then the direction it should have, and still needs to take. If the idea was to create a nation with multiple cultural dimensions, with human values at its core, then the way we have dealt with our citizens by depriving them of a decent living goes against that grain. There is a need to reinterpret, redefine and shed the dust covering the original concept of Pakistan envisioned by Jinnah and Iqbal. They certainly did not talk of a Pakistan enslaved by the current dominant and self-defeating narrow interpretation of Islam.

So-called Islamisation, starting from Zia’s era, has reduced the state and society to being entrapped by religious intolerance and lack of direction. The phenomenon of extremism, with a handful of people hiding in the mountains of northern Pakistan demanding Shariah to be the leitmotif of state and society is an indicator of things getting out of hand. The country is fast moving toward a debacle woven into a pattern of hatred, religious intolerance and crude understanding of Islam. Did Muhammad Ali Jinnah dream of this kind of Pakistan? The oft-repeated speech of Jinnah that he delivered at the first session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, clearly suggests the role of religion in the state that he envisaged. He delineated the position of minorities in Pakistan by granting them complete freedom of religion so that they could practice their faith in whatever manner they thought fit. This was the spirit that became the cause for the creation of Pakistan.

Today it is a different country we are living in, where minorities are harassed and are forced to either convert to Islam or leave the country for safer havens in India or elsewhere. The domination of right wing groups and opinion in the political, social and economic spheres has affected our relations with the world. We are not at peace with our neighbours. An air of hostility swirls across Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The India-Pakistan animosity paradigm that saw trillions of dollars lining the pockets of political elites and arms dealers from the western countries in the name of defence and security, brought nothing but economic deprivation for our general public. The case of US enmity sown in the hearts of Islamists played out as an expedient way to exploit public sentiment rather than establishing Pakistan as a country free of political, military and economic dependence. Pakistan is surviving on the periphery of the world’s mainstream, where the purpose, cause and reason for Pakistan’s creation is lost in a welter of noisy and contradictory voices, adding more heat and fury rather than reason and wisdom to the country’s striving for direction, stability and prosperity. We are unfortunately directionless even today after 65 years and the freedom that we so lovingly guard in the name of sovereignty has itself become a redundant formula of false claims of national success and pride. We are in need of deep introspection. And what could be a better time for this than Independence Day?