Time to revitalise politics of reconciliation
May 25, 2012
The religious right is against opening supply routes for the NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan though the foreign minister has said plainly that it is not wise to oppose the 45 nations from which the troops have been drawn, and that, too, at a time when the drawdown date (2014) is getting near.
The religious groups have been against the War on Terror, opposing Pakistan’s role as a frontline state but the governments went on their own till last November when Salala check-post was attacked by NATO helicopters and the act was termed by the ISPR and the government as unwarranted and unjustified.
The death of two dozen soldiers was made a cause of concern by the religious right and a protest campaign was launched across the country. The government’s decision to suspend NATO supplies and send the matter to the Parliament, actually emboldened the religious right — it was the first time that their stance on the War on Terror was vindicated.
Later, the government, after getting the recommendations of the Parliament, showed willingness to open the route provided that the US sought apology on the Salala incident and gave a pledge to stop drone attacks, but the latter’s refusal on these accounts provided a strong excuse to resume the path of protest. It has come up with a demand that NATO supply routes must not be opened.
Foreign policy has become a subject of immense interest for the religious right in the course of time. Some brands of Islam duly think that Pakistan has to play an important role in the politics of the Muslim world and that it has an obligation to defend the interest of the ummah. So they don’t hesitate to agitate for a particular direction of foreign policy of the state and the civilian governments have a long history of capitulating to their demands.
Some political parties like PML-N and the PTI seem to be in sympathy with the religious right, apparently to gain political mileage. The government is definitely in difficult situation and is being led to a situation where it has to take sides. There is actually no middle way left for it if America sticks to its stance on Slala check-post and drone attacks.
Pluralism: the way forward
The PPP led coalition government must not say goodbye to the politics of reconciliation for the sake of electioneering. The strategy has done wonders like giving political stability and the crucial support to the army to fight religious militants on western borders and, finally, resolving disputes between the centre and provinces through 18th Amendment to the Constitution. A further amendment to the Constitution is needed to set the country on the path of peace and stability.
Communalism, the legacy of the partition era, and ethno-nationalism are by, all means, divisive forces. While different sects want the state of Pakistan to profess their own version of Islam, the ethno-nationalists have come up with an agenda to have/ create provinces to safeguard their respective languages. Actually, neither religion nor language can be confined to geographical limits. Also, they are too sacred to be used as a means to advance political ends.
In a diverse society like ours, it is unwise, hence dangerous, for the state to take sides in matters concerning religion and language.
Unfortunately, the decision-makers in Pakistan have not been careful in the past to show neutrality in the matter of religion and language: we have declared ourselves a religious sate and we have carved out provinces after ethno-linguistic identities.
Declaring Pakistan as a pluralist entity will unburden the state of the responsibilities which are only reserved for scholars. The state should provide only an environment conducive for dialogue and debate and ensure that none dares to disturb the peace of the land to impose his/ her views on others by force.
For the sake of peace and stability in our affairs and to set ourselves on the path of socio-economic progress, the Constitution needs to be revised progressively to accommodate the Quaid’s advice which he gave while addressing the 1st Constituent Assembly on 11th August 1947:
“The state should not discriminate citizens on the basis of their creeds and colours.”
As for provinces, the basis of their existence/creation should be effectively made from the viewpoint of decentralisation of power, rather than linguistic considerations. While amending the Constitution, it should be kept in mind that the objective is to undo the ethnic/religious hatred the policies of the past have caused.
Given the controversies surrounding the new provinces’ debate and the urgency of the matter, the safest way is to transform the administrative divisions of 1970s, with minor exceptions, into federal units.