Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
For everyone trying to understand the implications of Salman Taseer’s assassination, this essay from 2007 is good place to start (h/t Abu Muqawama). “The Politics of God” is about why Europe decided, after years of warfare over the correct interpretation of Christianity, to separate church and state. But it is also relevant to Pakistan, where the killing of the Punjab governor over his opposition to the country’s blasphemy laws has shown that what was left of Pakistani secularism, is, if not dead, at least in intensive care.
Read the opening paragraph to understand why it resonates:
“For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong.”
The point of highlighting this essay is not to argue that Pakistan should emulate the west, nor indeed that secularism is necessarily the answer, but rather to suggest that there is still a debate to be had in a country where even using the word secular is becoming taboo. (And before anyone accuses me of orientalism, the advantage of looking at it through the lens of European history is that it also strips out some of the other factors which contribute to the nature of Pakistani society today — the war in Afghanistan, America’s response to 9/11, the role of the army, its past use of militant proxies, the weakness of its civilian governments, the fragility of the economy etc, etc).
As the blogger kala kawa put it, ”too much space has been ceded. Too much PUBLIC space has been ceded. This debate cannot go underground. It must not be behind closed doors. We don’t have guns, and we don’t have bombs, and we don’t even want to kill anyone. We just want to talk it out. Unfortunately, that’s enough for them to want to kill us.”
In one of the more anguished posts about the murder of provincial governor Salman Taseer, Pakistani blogger Huma Imtiaz wrote that his assassination ”is not the beginning of the end. This is the end. There is no going back from here, there is no miracle cure, there is no magic wand that will one day make everything better. Saying ‘enough is enough’ does not cut it anymore …”
It was a sense that permeated much of the English-language commentary about Taseer’s killing in Islamabad by one of his own security guards. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a leading politician in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was killed because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. A sense that the forces of religious intolerance are becoming all but unstoppable; and that those who oppose them by promoting a more liberal vision of Pakistan occupy an ever diminishing space.
A crucial part of gunman Mohammad Ajmal Kasab's confession at the Mumbai attack trial has been censored by the judge on the grounds that it could inflame religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India. After stunning the court on Monday by admitting guilt in the the three-day rampage that killed 166 people, Kasab gave further testimony on Tuesday that included details about his training by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group on U.S. and Indian terrorist lists.
The front-page report in today's The Hindu, which noted the judge's gag order in its sub-header, put it this way:
“There can be few countries where the art of the coup is so finely honed as in Turkey…” So starts this Reuters blog by Ralph Boulton about the Turkish Army.
It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in comparing Pakistan and Turkey, two Muslim countries which have both struggled to reconcile secularism, democracy, Islam and domination by the military — and all the more so given President Pervez Musharraf’s own admiration for Turkey.