By Mansoor Ali Khan.
Year 2016 has brought a lot of hot issues for Indo-Pak subcontinent. At a time when BJP led right-wing government has triggered ideological debates in India after renowned Muslim leader Assad-ud-din Owaisi’s refusal to shout ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and Indian liberals fear that Hindutva groups under Modi Sarkar are damaging India’s secular image, Pakistani right wingers are feeling the heat of Execution of Mumtaz Qadri, Women protection bill in Punjab Assembly and State protocol given to Sharmeen Obaid Chinnoy. Nawaz Sharif is being bashed for damaging Islamic values and bringing modernization in Pakistani constitution
Nawaz Sharif, who has always been enjoying a massive support of his right wing vote bank in Punjab and KP, now seems to be a completely different politician. His voters who brought him in Prime Minister House for the third time doesn’t seem to be happy with his ‘ideological shift’. Just a few months back in November 2015, he had received huge criticism when he said that the nation’s future lied in a democratic and liberal Pakistan.
Throughout his political career, Nawaz Sharif has been ignoring to attract liberals elements in Pakistani society, which might be in minority but holds key posts and a considerable foreign exposure. In response, they also thought very low of him considering him as dumb, uncouth or corrupt especially when they compared him to Benazir Bhutto, the sophisticated western. Some even considered him to be a true yet hidden ally of the Taliban and banned religious organizations. But now, for the first time, Nawaz Sharif is inching towards them, distancing himself from right wing religious organizations.
But is it a sudden policy shift and could this solely be Nawaz Sharif’s conversion from a conservative to a liberal politician? This should be kept in mind that no civilian government in Pakistan has ever been able to speak against Islamic clauses in Pakistani constitution and things like women protection bill, executions of Mumtaz Qadri and Malik Ishaq were nothing but only the ‘liberal dreams’. It definitely seems to be a ‘joint venture’ of two Sharifs. Gen Raheel Sharif, who has always been hailed for his professional abilities and aggressive campaigns against militants, seems committed to change the decades of old narrative through ‘National Action Plan’ & ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Many believe that military Sharif is with the civilian Sharif in bringing those reforms.
Is this really a good strategy? Is Nawaz Sharif along with the military establishment really heading towards a secular Pakistan? Will it affect PML-N’s vote bank? Well, apparently it seems so, but are Pakistanis ready for it? I fear it will have negative impacts to a country like Pakistan where majority never compromised on religion and its values. It is like going from one extreme to another. One might disagree, but it will cause more polarization and more disintegration in Pakistani society. History shows that things have always been worst whenever the secular values were imposed in the Muslim countries. For an instance, Mustafa Kamal Ata’turk and Jamal Abdul Nasser, despite of the fact that they were die hard Nationalists and dictators, tried to impose secularism and separated the religion from politics. They were able to transform their countries for a few decades, but couldn’t change public sentiments. It was never easy to create and maintain free institutions in a region of age-old authoritarian traditions like Turkey and Egypt, but when free elections were held in Turkey in 2002 and in Egypt in 2012. Turks and Egyptians voted for Islamists like Rajab Tayyab Erdogan and Muhammad Morsi. Both Turkey and Egypt, despite of being mono ethnic states, were more divided and more polarized.
Pakistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state. Apparently, it came into being in the name of Islam, or Islam was used to create a country of multi-ethnic states which had nothing in common. These rapid conversions from Islam to secularism will definitely damage its unity. However, there is a consensus against militancy in Pakistan, everyone wants to bring reforms to disintegrate private militias which are running in the name of Islam, and which has been used as ‘Strategic Assets’ by the State. Pakistan needs to be a moderate and responsible Islamic state, its unity lies in its constitution and any detraction from its fundamentals will result in disintegration and polarization.
Writer is a current affairs producer with a local news channel.