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Home > News > Columnists > Sushant Sareen

Why the mullahs will win in Pakistan

April 30, 2007

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A couple of weeks ago, all across Pakistan, the so-called 'civil society' finally came out on the streets to protest against the creeping Talibanisation of the country. The immediate trigger for the protests was, of course, the stand-off at Lal Masjid, where the students and administration of two madrasas in the heart of Islamabad have defied the writ of the State and started to enforce their brand of Islam on the citizens of the city.

Lathi-wielding students from these madrasas are going about threatening shopkeepers selling music and movie CDs, asking barber shops to close down, issuing edicts to women on what to wear and how to behave in public and warning them of consequences if they don't follow their orders.

Emboldened by the weak and compromising attitude of the State and encouraged by the domino effect that their demands are having around the country, the mullahs of Lal Masjid have announced that they will continue along this path until Shariat law based on Quran and Sunnah are imposed on the whole country.

Until the Lal Masjid episode, the Pakistani elite (which also goes as 'civil society') always saw Talibanisation as someone else's problem. As far as they were concerned they could pretty much do what they felt like without anyone ever bothering them. The obnoxious Hudood laws or the plethora of other laws and regulations designed to usher in 'Islamisation' really didn't affect them. But now the mullahs are getting too close for comfort and in a desperate attempt to arrest the march of the mullahs, the 'civil society' (mostly the NGO sector, which after the Fauji Foundation is perhaps the second largest industry in Pakistan) is feeling compelled to try and put up at least a modicum of resistance before the mullahs start dictating their lives.

But in a face-off against the 3M alliance (Mullahs-Military-Muslim League) that dominates Pakistan, it would appear that Pakistani 'civil society' is fighting a losing battle.

The bottom line is that the 'civil society' of Pakistan just doesn't have what it takes to confront and defeat the Islamists. True, Pakistani 'civil society' has some exceptionally brave and committed people with the courage of conviction to stand up against the onslaught of the mullahs. But their numbers are infinitesimal and their influence marginal.

Compared to the 'civil society, the Islamists are better organised, are more committed to their beliefs, and have little to lose. Tilting the balance further in favour of the Islamists is the fact that they have the arms, ammunition and training to force their point of view on the people and their storm-troopers are even willing to take on the State, if required.

On the other hand, civil society depends on the State's coercive apparatus -� army, police and paramilitary forces -� for its protection. But what if the State is either too weak or too compromised and sympathetic to, if not aligned with, the cause of the Islamists?

For all its talk of 'enlightened moderation', the fact is that the Pakistani establishment has been pandering to and surrendering to the demands of the Islamists. A prime example is the manner in which the Muslim League chief Shujaat Hussain has handled the Lal Masjid crisis.

Instead of unequivocally condemning the actions of the extremists holed up in the mosque, Shujaat has accorded enthusiastic approval to their demand for imposing the Shariat by saying that 'since we are all Muslims it is our constitutional duty to ensure that the laws of the country are based on the Shariat.'

He has not only assured them that the State will take no action against their blatant and brazen violation of the law, but also accepted the demand that illegal mosques which were razed by the civic authorities will be rebuilt by the State.

Add to this abject surrender reports that the ISI has assisted jihadis of the Jaish-e- Mohammad in joining the agitating mullahs of Lal Masjid, and the confession of Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz-ul-Haq that he helped in getting of charges of terrorism dropped against the Lal Masjid clerics, and the complicity of the State agencies in promoting radicalism becomes clear. If anything, this is exactly the pattern that the State has followed when it comes to dealing with the Islamists.

The deal with the Taliban in Waziristan, the blind eye to activities of terrorist outfits like Jamaatud Dawa, the impunity with which the jihadi press churns out its poisonous propaganda, the acceptance of the activities of the Taliban in the Pashtun belt, are a testament to the appeasement policy being followed towards the Islamists by the Pakistani establishment.

Pakistani civil society suffers not just from the lack of support from the State; it is also losing the battle of ideas to the Islamists. After all, what does civil society offer to the masses in Pakistan except old and tired slogans. Civil society swears by democracy which has been completely distorted and discredited by not just the 'real democrats' aligned to General Musharraf but also by the 'sham democrats' belonging to the Opposition. Civil society talks of rule of law which everyone in Pakistan knows has never existed. In any case, when weighed against the 'rule of God' offered by the Islamists, the concept of 'rule of law' doesn't stand much of a chance.

Civil society promises an independent judiciary. But the judiciary in Pakistan is totally compromised and dysfunctional and unable to provide even a modicum of justice. On the other hand the Islamists are running private courts which give quick and easy, even if rough and ready, justice to the people. Civil society talks of liberal values. But this is seen as promoting vulgarity by the masses. Civil society is unwilling to take an unambiguous stand in favour of keeping religion out of politics and promises a mish-mash of Islam and democracy. The Islamist, on the other hand, promises a pristine Islamic system.

Interestingly, it is not only civil society that is feeling the pressure from the Islamists; the growing power of the radical Islamists has even caught the mainstream religious parties' alliance -� the MMA -� in a bind. The political Maulanas confront a dilemma quite similar to what the Akalis faced vis-a-vis Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. They realise that if the radicals are not stopped, their politics will be over. But they are finding it difficult to politically, ideologically or theologically counter the Islamists especially since they too demand the imposition of Shariat law in Pakistan.

In a rather feeble attempt to stop the march of the Islamists, all that the political mullahs have been able to do is to announce that while they support the demand for imposition of the Shariat, they oppose the means adopted by the radicals to achieve this demand!

Caught in the tussle for power between civil society on one side and the jihadis on the other is the vast majority of ordinary Pakistanis. But the mass of people in Pakistan have little stake in the current system and any change, even a revolutionary change, holds far greater promise than the promises being made by the same clique of the elite who have ruined the promise of Pakistan in the last six decades.

In any case, it is pointless to expect the people of Pakistan to take any position on the current tussle for power because their history has taught them to lie low and let the storm pass over. Only this time, the storm will wreak havoc not just in Pakistan but around the world, which still has its eyes tightly shut to the silent revolution sweeping through Pakistan.


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