Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TIME TO INTROSPECT

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?

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