Are Pakistanis extremists?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THERE are two ways of effecting a change in a society: from top to bottom or from bottom to top. Conventionally, it has been believed — and development and political strategies are based on this notion — that changes at the top and the trickle-down effect will create an impact at the bottom, where it is needed.

Unfortunately, this approach has failed in our case for two reasons. First, in the absence of statesmanship in the leadership and its corruption, the vested interests at the top support the status quo. Hence they obstruct changes in the system or their policies for the benefit of the majority. Second, there is no pressure or demand from below to force those at the helm to reform themselves and the system they administer.

Most human rights activists fighting for change adopt the top-down approach. This means that any change in mindset comes about in a small class which the leaders can afford to ignore. Hence my skepticism of this approach, which includes advocacy as has been practised in Pakistan. This was my reaction when I received a lovely book from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Inteha Pasandi sey Nijaat Mumkin hai. The optimistic tone of the title at least forces one to read it in the hope of finding solutions. Experts such as I.A. Rehman, Dr Mubarak Ali, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Mehdi Hasan, etc, give an excellent analysis of the extremism and militancy that plague this country today.

Will those who need to be convinced read this book? Or will this be another attempt to preach to the already converted? If the idea is to get the authorities to accept the enlightened suggestions put forward in the book, it is doubtful if these words of wisdom will actually change anything. Policymakers are the ones who are supposed to act when you demand a new social contract, revision of our textbooks or the introduction of economic justice by reforming our social and political structures. Will they? Not without public pressure from below.

Only when the masses feel the need for change will they create the demand that will force the government to act. In the absence of this demand the powers that be get away with all their anti-people shenanigans.

This demand also has to be mobilised and channelised. Change has been slow in coming to our society because we do not have leaders of public opinion to create a progressive mindset and give a focus to opinion at the grass roots. This is basically the function of political parties. They have, however, failed to play this role because our democracy — even in the phases when it has existed — has been a sham. The political representatives have not felt the need to gather their constituents behind them as they have devised other ways of winning votes.

Only activists with a liberal agenda working on the ground at the grass roots have managed to mobilise the people and effect some changes in their lives. But they have not made an impact nationally because their reach and resources are limited.

As a result, our society displays a dichotomy that is mind-boggling. The visible layer that is organised, educated and affluent — but is in a minority — demonstrates a growing trend towards religiosity and extremism. Some sections even tend to be militant. For the masses that live below the poverty line, religion is limited to going to the mosque, fasting in Ramazan and observing the ‘Islamic’ dress code. Their opinions cannot even be defined as being extremist, intolerant or militant in the way some opinion surveys project them to be.

As for disrupting law and order, that is beyond them. Parveen Rahman, director of the Orangi Pilot Programme Research Training Institute, who has been working at the grass roots in the low-income localities of Karachi and rural Sindh and Punjab, says she is surprised by the patience and lack of aggression shown by people in the face of extreme hardship created by the collapse of the state.

Apart from the terrorism unleashed by Islamist militants who are driven by their political goal of seizing power, the violence that is tearing our society apart is related to issues not of a religious nature.

The media, academia and the middle class have been penetrated by organised groups — be they the Islami Jamiat Talaba, the Jamaat-i-Islami, Al Huda — or parties that continue to play their proselytising role concertedly. They also provide welfare services through organised networks whose presence cannot be ignored. They win the confidence of the students and the mosque-going and TV-watching middle classes.

Parveen Rahman confirms that only by interacting with the people, identifying with them and ensuring that some benefits accrue to them can you win their trust and mobilise them.

In his insightful book, Pakistan: Social and Cultural Transformation in a Muslim Nation, Prof Mohammad Qadeer, a professor emeritus from Queen’s University, Canada, points out that developments in Pakistan have “widened the chasm between private and public spaces” with public interest being trumped by private commitments. This is reflected in pervasive corruption and inefficiency.

This has left people feeling isolated and insecure. The religious parties are scrambling to fill the vacuum so created, while liberal and secular opinion lags behind as it lacks adequate structures to counteract the religious thrust. This is the area that needs to be addressed by liberals if the country is to be saved from the scourge of religious extremism. The poor are no problem.

Source: Dawn

13 thoughts on “Are Pakistanis extremists?”

  1. 1 — Pakistan should have been a “Dream Come True” type of nation when it was created. It had the most fertile river valley in the world flowing down its length North to South. However the intelligentsia of Pakistan became its bane. The ruling class and the generals newly promoted as a result of the creation of Pakistan acted with immaturity and haste to define themselves. With power thrust in their hands they became eager beavers, lusting after power and drew the Nation form the path of making to a path of stumbling with no stable government worth speaking off. At the birth of the Nation they blundered in to Kashmir. A weaning nation doesn’t go to war it digs deep and sets its foundations right. The only direction the people of Pakistan got was ‘Hate India’ from the start. The Nation from the start didn’t have an ideology for its people. Pakistan had a robust working class which was not capitalized on except for building its military. Contd….

  2. 2 —- contd …..Post WW II the West was quick to build alliances and so grew the NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Pakistan was quick to be drawn into the American camp. The Americans have always had a penchant for dictators as they are considered pliable and easily manipulated with the lure of weapons and easy economic funding with the ever strong US dollar. The nation lost itself in the flow of easy money and instead of building its economy and a strong people’s base it began to build a strong Army to counter India. The people at the grass roots continued to be neglected and had nothing to do with Nation building. Faulted belligerence, an Army equipped with the modern American weaponry led to military adventurism in 1965, thinking that India was now a weakened Nation after the 1962 debacle at the hands of the Chinese, who by now were new found friends of Pakistan. Political immaturity and sheer boorishness led to the 1971 breakup of Pakistan. A floundering nation instead of learning its lesson was quick to hang its PM and put in place a General who would try to Islamise the nation leading to its radicalization.

  3. 3- contd……. Russia’s costly foray into Afghanistan gave a fresh impetus to the Generals smarting at the loss of face in 1971 to flex their muscles again with hefty American military and economic assistance. At the grass root level the people continued to suffer and lacked direction. The walls of separation between the people and the leadership grew taller. Easy money corrupted the political elite and the rot seeped into the whole system. It took upon itself, goaded by the Americans the burden of fighting America’s dirty war against the Russians in Afghanistan. It tried to template the same thing in Kashmir but failed in its objectives. It used the dangerous religious fundamentalist plank to group people onto a common platform of ‘jihad’ against the Russians. Contd ……..

  4. 4 — contd….With the withdrawal of the Russians the loose federation of Jihadists living in the euphoria of defeating might Russia began to dream of a larger Islamic entity and became a nuisance for the whole world. It was beyond Pakistan’s control and the maverick ISI operators continued to play the Russian roulette with them in Afghanistan. All this at the cost of the whole Nation, being dubbed as a terrorist Nation. All of a sudden the whole population becomes a pariah at the world stage a tag bequeathed by its very own leadership. End .

    1. @@gary2008: You have done an acumen services by taking up the four major turning points which has resulted into present system and from here difficult to go back.

      But you have not given any suitable solution.

  5. I was an extremist as i took part in the pakistan movement –
    i also took part in the war and negotiations in afghanistan-i have
    finished writing my book on it.

  6. sameen khan well said

    let me a quote from sarhadi gandhi bacha khan or khan abdul ghaffar khan whom ML and quaid e azams minions put into jail for over 30 years. he was a pacifist and a follower of gandhi ji

    he said about pakistan: " a nation whose foundations are built on hatred and bigotry and blood shall meet the same fate eventually!

    60 years on there is lttle to add up to this statement. it was a prophesy come true while quaids dream has become a nightmare!

  7. centuries of subservient behaviour by the people of sub-continent has given them the passivity Parveen Rahman refers to.I guess,the people down below have not yet reached the limit of their patience,but are being driven towards that end.there is hope there.i am reminded of an american presidents view(woodrow wilson,if i am not mistaken),that like a tree,nations are nurtured through the soil i.e from the roots.i just wonder how long will they remain in a state of 'intoxication' before they react.REACTING THEY ARE,BUT STRONGLY AND WIDE-SPREAD ENOUGH TO CHANGE THEIR FATE.

  8. You are right in your approach. I come from a rural family and have spend my life in urban areas. Rest assured the extremism being condemned today does not exist in Pakistan society.

  9. There is a saying that 'a well stated problem is a half solved problem' similarly ' well started is a half finished' Sameen Ali Khan and Arshad Durrani has advocated this in their own words.

    Combined efforts of all will improve the situation and merely depending or looking upon politicians is just like 'hamko hai unse wafa ki umeed jo nahi jante wafa kya hai'

    Your last line "the country is to be saved from the scourge of religious extremism" carries good mass and weight.

  10. A fairly good analysis Zubaida. However, we do need to take into account our history. Pakistanis have been brought up on a diet of extremist thought from day one. The numbers of those who have been feeding people a diet of extremist thought rooted in fear has been growing exponentially, resulting in ever larger numbers ready to accuse, judge, inflict pain & kill. And all this is justified through the most manipulative interpretations of religion. It has reached such an extreme state that even those who do not actively participate in killings condone it by remaining silent, because threat to life is real.

  11. My experience tells me that the pressure has to be built from below
    because that represents the people's force.

    1. Mr Nayar!

      Your experience is true to its concept but does not hold good for all times.

      Last year Anna Hazare and people's force though made all MPs to take on JAN LOKPAL and parliament acknowledged this sense. Now where is JAN LOKPAL. At the time of Gulzari Lal Nanda , Kamraj, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarjee there were politicians who practiced it as 'science' but now-a-days it is commerce and almost all politicians are 'commercial' and are well skilled to counter the people's force.

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