Pluralism in Pakistan…and not a moment too soon!

At an iftar in honor of the visiting Governor of Sindh, Dr. Ishrat Ul Ebad Khan and the Mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kemal, Ambassador Husain Haqqani spoke movingly about what it means to be a Pakistani.

“This embassy is the embassy of all Pakistanis, regardless of ethnicity, province, religion, sect,” he declared.

In one fell swoop, the Ambassador made it clear that more than six decades after being carved out of British India, the national identity of Pakistan was finally on its way to being recognized.

That Pakistanis should have had such a struggle defining themselves will hardly come as a shock to those familiar with its history. It is a nation that has consistently longed for democracy but has been prone to military dictatorships and martial law. It is a nation that has turned down the idea of the theocratic state, yet has been (and still is) vulnerable to extremist Islamic ideologies.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah sought a nation that would guarantee Islam – the security Muslims so desperately wanted to practice freely. The Quaid’s brilliance lay in his ambivalence – Islam played a massive role in what became communities and then states and who the leaders would be to inherit those states – but the role of the religion in government was never clearly defined.

Earlier generations, too, wrestled with the relationship between Islam and government. The revered Muslim thinker, Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) championed the thought that an Islamic state would protect the concept of “universalism.” The universalist valued the pluralism within Islam. Another noted thinker, Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979) was a staunch believer in “one-and-only-way-of-Islam,” and would go on to found the Jamaat-i-Islami Party in 1941.

The goal to equate “Pakistani” with “Muslim” was a critical error in judgment. Furthermore, it opened the door to loud disagreements and then appalling violence when Pakistanis sought to define “Muslim.” The Ahmadis have been treated with disdain for not following proper Islam, and indeed, denied citizenship because of this. The Shia minority is routinely accused by the Sunni majority for not believing in the right interpretation of Islam. Pakistan has been wracked with sectarian violence, hundreds killed and the nation living in a culture of fear…over what? A national identity.

It is high time we stop being uncertain about our identity. The lack of consensus has harmed us beyond belief. While the Zardari administration has many clearly stated domestic goals, one of the implications of its policies has been to redirect the public’s thinking. Working towards stability in the NWFP and FATA, taking care of the IDPs, uniting other parties behind a peaceful and progressive agenda, the PPP is en route to making Pakistan a country for all Pakistanis…”regardless of ethnicity, province, religion, sect.”


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