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Reign of radicalism in Pakistan April 30, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , trackback

Abdul Razaque Channa

In recent times, a lot has been articulated in the endeavour to understand the roots of radicalism in Pakistan. Based on the print media’s discourse, the Ziaul Haq rule remains the root of the present face of fundamentalism. A few columnists have even named two-thirds of the total population born after 1977 as ‘Zia’s children’. The question for deliberation is why they are called Zia’s children. Where are Quaid’s children? Why has there not been enough resistance if there were ever Quaid’s children? [Quaid refers to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.]

Right-wing politics and fundamentalist discourse have been engraved into the Pakistani masses and it is not a phenomenon created in 1977 or one that has arisen afterwards. In fact, its development is based in various regimes of power and its function is ubiquitous. The taxonomy of such regimes of power can be divided into four eras: pre-partition, post-partition (up to Zia), Ziaul Haq’s rule and finally post Ziaul Haq to today. During all these regimes, fundamentalist discourse based on binary opposition has succeeded significantly. By fundamentalist binary opposition I mean Muslims and non-Muslims (read, the infidel ‘kaafir’). The binary opposition has always existed in Pakistan. During pre-partition it was based on Hindus versus Muslims and after independence it was mixed up with Americans/Israelis/Indians versus Muslims.

Throughout these years, the dominant discourse has always remained the discourse based on faith. Before partition, the Two Nation Theory (identity is solely based on religion and Muslims and Hindus form separate nations), symbolic association of meaning with faith, and slogans like ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya? La illaha illalah’ (What does Pakistan mean? There is only one God) actually reflect the genealogical traces of the dominant discursive formation.

In post-independent Pakistan (pre-Ziaul Haq), the right-wing parties influenced the state and succeeded, i.e. formally Pakistan became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Influential right-wing tendencies forced a socialist party like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to officially decree Ahmedis as non-Muslims. Discourses that represented the PPP as an atheist party that wanted to dismantle Islam in Pakistan pressured the PPP to reconsider its manifesto/actions, and it worked.

During Ziaul Haq’s rule, significant changes occurred. In fact, he was not a very well-known figure among the Pakistani public before he toppled the PPP, the ruling party of that time. However, he was very well aware that he could not survive if he did not satisfy a large number of people in Pakistan. He was very well acquainted with the situation and complexities of Pakistan, and he made the best out of it as a dictator.

He began talking about Islamisation: “I have a mission, given by God, to bring Islamic order in Pakistan.” He materialised this through the Hudood Ordinance, establishment of sharia courts, law of evidence, Islamisation of the education system, including curriculum and textbooks, expansion of madrassas (seminaries) and strict dress codes for women. He used an Islamisation process as a political tool and it helped him to rule for the longest time in the history of Pakistan. His period is also described as being “enduring and toxic”.

The post-Ziaul Haq rule has remained under the influence of toxicities. It was not just Zia alone but rather the continuity of the same dominant and powerful fundamentalist discourse, which can be traced all the way through to pre-partition. Post-Zia has not produced Zia’s children; rather it has strengthened the same dominant discourse, making Quaid’s children more vulnerable.

The dominant discourse driven by faith has been such a powerful discursive force in Pakistan now that it is quite hard to repeal Ziaul Haq’s laws. Even talking of such matters has serious repercussions. Anyone who talks about this issue is assassinated and the murderer is showered with rose petals. The recent discourse regarding terrorism and terrorists has moved from combatant to non-combatant stakeholders and it has left the citizens of Pakistan bewildered about whether they are the democratic citizens of Pakistan or the denizens of an alien land. To encapsulate this lamentable journey, murderers have become ‘brothers’, ‘angry brothers’. Such is the irony in this country!

There has been a resistance to such discursive force but it is not as powerful as the right-wing’s impact/successes. Hakimullah Mehsud’s (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s previous chief) death at the hands of the US was hardly applauded at the official level and most of the political parties remained numb. Further, it was evident that many felt a sigh of pleasure when the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief called him a martyr (shaheed). In fact, resistance has always echoed from only a few groups of people, including religious minorities, quoting the speeches of the Quaid-e-Azam, especially the one from August 11, 1947 where he emphasises that everyone in Pakistan “no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations”.

One of the reasons behind the popularity of Imran Khan’s PTI rests on the fact that it is a right-wing party continuing the powerful religious discourse, which satisfies a large number of people. These days the binary opposition is expressed by referring to ‘Pakistan’s war’ and the ‘US’s war’ but the underlying meaning remains the same: us and them, Muslims and non-Muslims. In these circumstances, what role Pakistan has as a sovereign and democratic state remains an open question.

Abdul Razaque Channa is studying Anthropology at the Australian National University. An earlier version of this article appeared in the Daily Times, 27 April 2014.


1. Adeel Channa - May 3, 2014

I think you have considered the anguish blames for Zia and Z.A.Bhutto regimes that created turmoil situation in Pakistan and created fundamentalism in Pakistan while on contrary USA was main role in aftermath and involvement in politics even violated the sovereignty of the country since decades although Zia was inclined towards imposed martial law and became dictator for cowardly demolished democratic system in Pakistan.History proved him the bitter and worst dictator and the root caused of all evils.