Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is Pakistan Emulating Saudi Arabia?

Since late 1970s when General Zia-ul-Haq seized power and began imposing his version of the strict Shariah law, first as a Martial Law Administrator and later as self-appointed president, there has been a distinct shift in how many Pakistanis view themselves. The general, and the identity shift he inspired, received massive backing by the US government and the CIA in the form of money, weapons and total political support in the joint US-Pakistani efforts to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan's identity shift has continued. Is Pakistan becoming more like Wahabi Saudi Arabia and moving away from its South Asian cultural roots that developed under the Sufi saints, Mughal emperors and British colonial influences? In the following piece, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, argues that "a stern, unyielding version of Islam is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis in Pakistan".

The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA, and that madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except strictly their own kind. The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.

For 20 years or more, a few of us have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. In fact, I am surprised at how rapidly these dire predictions have come true.

A full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, resulting in thousands of deaths. It is only a matter of time before this fighting shifts to Peshawar and Islamabad (which has already been a witness to the Lal Masjid episode) and engulfs Lahore and Karachi as well. The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy.

Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals and ordinary people praying in mosques have all been reduced to globs of flesh and fragments of bones. But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of the army operation against the cruel perpetrators of these acts because they believe that they are Islamic warriors fighting for Islam and against American occupation. Political leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have no words of solace for those who have suffered at the hands of Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved exclusively for the victims of Predator drones, even if they are those who committed grave crimes against their own people. Terrorism, by definition, is an act only the Americans can commit.

What explains Pakistan’s collective masochism? To understand this, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have rendered this country so completely different from what it was in earlier times.

For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Mughul architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam (Wahhabism) is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.

This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state used Islam as an instrument of state policy. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for academic posts in universities required that the candidate demonstrate a knowledge of Islamic teachings and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. Today, government intervention is no longer needed because of a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – still in an amorphous and diffused form – is more popular now than ever before as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state.

Villages have changed drastically; this transformation has been driven, in part, by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other sects, who they do not regard as Muslims. The Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than the Pukhtuns, are now beginning to take a line resembling that of the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from the recent decisions of the Lahore High Court.

In Pakistan’s lower-middle and middle classes lurks a grim and humourless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement that frowns on any and every expression of joy and pleasure. Lacking any positive connection to culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing control of the education system.

“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichitraveena are completely dead,” laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. So the university has been forced to hold its music classes elsewhere. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram or un-Islamic. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has few teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence. Nevertheless, the Pakistani elite, disconnected from the rest of the population, live their lives in comfort through their vicarious proximity to the West. Alcoholism is a chronic problem of the super rich of Lahore – a curious irony for this deeply religious country.

Islamisation of the state and the polity was supposed to have been in the interest of the ruling class – a classic strategy for preserving it from the wrath of the working class. But the amazing success of the state is turning out to be its own undoing. Today, it is under attack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically, the same army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jihad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers.

Pakistan’s self-inflicted suffering comes from an education system that, like Saudi Arabia’s system, provides an ideological foundation for violence and future jihadists. It demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of a school-going child a sense of siege and embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.

On the previous page, the reader can view the government-approved curriculum. This is the basic road map for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an act of parliament passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It was prepared by the curriculum wing of the federal ministry of education, government of Pakistan. It sounds like a blueprint for a religious fascist state.

Alongside are scanned pictures from an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet. The masthead states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi, along “Islamic lines.” Although not an officially approved textbook, it is being used currently by some regular schools, as well as madrassas associated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Musharraf. These picture scans have been taken from a child’s book, hence the scribbles.

The world of the Pakistani schoolchild remained largely unchanged, even after September 11, 2001, the event that led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jihad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation,” General Musharraf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned down version of the curriculum that existed under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto who had inherited it from General Zia-ul-Haq. Fearful of taking on the powerful religious forces, every incumbent government has refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be moulded by fanatics. What may happen a generation later has always been a secondary issue for a government challenged on so many fronts.

The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jihad became part of the culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, they invited students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds at Friday prayers and declared a war which knew no borders. Pre-9/11, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jihad. Post-2001, this ceased to be done openly.

Still, the primary vehicle for Saudi-ising Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates back to the 11th century, with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as ‘maulvi sahibs’ teaching children to read the Quran.

The Afghan jihad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the US-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder they needed to fight a holy war. The Americans and Saudis, helped by a more-than-willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth of Pakistan. A detailed picture of the current situation is not available. But according to the national education census, which the ministry of education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by the NWFP with 2,843; Sindh has 1,935; the Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA), 1,193; Balochistan, 769; Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 586; the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), 135; and the Islamabad capital territory, 77. The ministry estimates that 1.5 million students are acquiring religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.

These figures appear to be way off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free boarding and lodging plus provision of books to the students, is a key part of their appeal. Additionally, parents across the country desire that their children be “disciplined” and given a thorough Islamic education. The madrassas serve this purpose, too, exceedingly well.

Madrassas have deeply impacted the urban environment. Until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from the rest of Pakistan. Also, it had largely been the abode of Pakistan’s elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students, sporting little prayer caps, dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm the city, making women minus the hijab increasingly nervous.

Total segregation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists, the consequences of which have been catastrophic. For example, on April 9, 2006, 21 women and eight children were crushed to death and scores injured in a stampede inside a three-storey madrassa in Karachi, where a large number of women were attending a weekly congregation. Male rescuers, who arrived in ambulances, were prevented from moving the injured women to hospitals.

One cannot dismiss this incident as being just one of a kind. In fact, soon after the October 2005 earthquake, as I walked through the destroyed city of Balakot, a student of the Frontier Medical College described to me how he and his male colleagues were stopped by religious elders from digging out injured girl students from under the rubble of their school building. This action was similar to that of Saudi Arabia’s ubiquitous religious ‘mutaween’ (police) who, in March 2002, had stopped school girls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing their abayas – a long robe worn in Saudi Arabia. In a rare departure from the norm, Saudi newspapers had blamed and criticised the mutaween for letting 15 girls burn to death.

The Saudi-isation of a once-vibrant Pakistani culture continues at a relentless pace. The drive to segregate is now also being found among educated women. Vigorous proselytisers carrying this message, such as Mrs Farhat Hashmi, have been catapulted to the heights of fame and fortune. Their success is evident. Two decades back, the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was an unknown word in Urdu. Today, some shops across the country specialise in abayas. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, the female student is seeking the anonymity of the burqa. And in some parts of the country she seems to outnumber her sisters who still “dare” to show their faces.

I have observed the veil profoundly affect habits and attitudes. Many of my veiled female students have largely become silent note-takers, are increasingly timid and seem less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions. They lack the confidence of a young university student.

While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the distance. The socially conservative are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonised by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus, the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine – the list runs on. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims, and if presented with incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression.

The immediate future does not appear hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control of the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas, a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Baitullah Mehsud, Maulana Fazlullah and Mangal Bagh. Poverty, deprivation, lack of justice and extreme differences of wealth provide the perfect environment for these demagogues to recruit people to their cause. Their gruesome acts of terror are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis merely as a war against imperialist America. This could not be further from the truth.

In the long term, we will have to see how the larger political battle works out between those Pakistanis who want an Islamic theocratic state and those who want a modern Islamic republic. It may yet be possible to roll back those Islamist laws and institutions that have corroded Pakistani society for over 30 years and to defeat its hate-driven holy warriors. There is no chance of instant success; perhaps things may have to get worse before they get better. But, in the long term, I am convinced that the forces of irrationality will cancel themselves out because they act at random whereas reason pulls only in one direction. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and the evolution of the humans into a higher and better species will continue. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, they will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religiosity and nationalism. But, for now, this must be just a matter of faith.

Source: Newsline

Related Links:

Pervez Hoodbhoy on Mumbai

Improving Higher Education in Pakistan

Kashmir Holds Key to Peace in South Asia

FATA Face-off Fears


Anwar said...

Agree with his observations and fears. Pakistan was a poor country but now it is heading towards intellectual bankruptcy as well. Saudis are extension of Washington and one solution will be to decouple Pakistan from US and strengthen ties with China and Iran - and India and look for regional economic growth and stability. By becoming a proxy of US Pakistan has gotten no where (Responsibility also falls on the shoulders of the leadership of the country and that is where the country failed)

Anonymous said...

Some time back I posted a comment on one of your blogs about how pakistan and its society is constantly looking to Islam for its governance. Now you seem to be proving my point through this article.

Thanks for accepting the truth. Its a good start. Congratulations!

Indian Muslim

Riaz Haq said...

Indian Muslim,

I don't think you are particularly familiar with my opinions on this subject. I have written frequently about the need to separate religion from state in several of my posts.
I invite you to read my earlier posts about QA Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Pakistan.

Jadev,India said...

US is the only country genuinely helping Pak with lots of aid.It could have easily bombed Pak with Afghanistan since ISI chief wired the money to 9/11 attackers and your relations with Taliban-Al-Qaeda.Iran will not help you, becoz it wants to be a middle-east Shia superpower with nuclear weapons. Besides new port at Gwadar is a direct challenge to its Chabar port etc.
China's latest attitudes show that it considers Pak as a spent bullet.
The US was instrumental in getting IMF loan and not China.For China, Pakistan and North Korea are strategic spoiler states one against India and other against Japan-US. I think the only remaining interest of China is access to Gwadar port for its Navy to secure its link to Central Asia.

Ray Lightning said...

Riaz on your reply to Indian Muslim,

Actually Jinnah was not the originator of the Pakistan idea. It was Iqbal, who is the national poet of Pakistan. There were serious differences between Iqbal and Jinnah on the role of religion in the governance of state. The ideas of these two people are still in a deep clash inside Pakistan.

Jinnah strongly believed in secularism and modern democracy. He was very liberal, especially for his time. He was also working with the Indian national congress for a very long time, and was disillusioned only at the very end.

All of this is in deep contrast to Iqbal. Iqbal has practically revived the pan-Islamist sentiment and opposed modernity and secularism from a deep philosophical point of view. This was very unfortunate coming from a poet as gifted as he was. This was in deep contrast to his contemporary Tagore, who ushered in liberal consciousness in India at the same time.

Only time will tell which direction Pakistanis will take to : that of Jinnah or that of Iqbal. So far, it looks like the latter is winning.

Anonymous said...

Pakistan has had great difficulty even in the into the inception of a constitution. This being a basis tenet of the many democratic institutions. Thats the reason we have seen a constant see-saw of power struggles between the president, Prime Minister and the Army.

The famous statement when Z.A Bhutto was was asked "Power or Pakistan" after Awami League won the ?1970 elections. Obviously Bhutto chose power. The rest is history.

I have posted a section of your own constitution here. Tell me why only a Muslim should be a president in a secular democracy.

Islamic provisions in the Constitution of 1956
The text of Objectives Resolution was repeated in the preamble of the Constitution of 1956 without any major change.

The name "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" was selected for the state of Pakistan.

All citizens of Pakistan were granted freedom to profess, practise and propagate any religion and the right to establish, maintain and manage religious institutions.

According to the directive principles, steps were to be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with principles in Holy Quran and Sunnah.

No law shall be enacted which is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah and that existing laws shall be brought into conformity with such injunctions. Whether a law was repugnant to Islam or not, would be decided by the National Assembly.

Only a Muslim could be qualified for election as President.

The President should set up an organisation for Islamic research and instruction in advanced studies to assist in the reconstruction of Muslims society on a truly Islamic basis.

Teaching of the Holy Quran was to be made compulsory for Muslims.

The purchase and sale of alcohol was banned and prostitution was prohibited.

No person should be compelled to pay any special tax, the proceeds of which were to be spent on the propagation of any religion other than his own.

The state should endeavour to strengthen the bonds of unity among Muslim countries.[6]

Indian Muslims refused any significant financial assistance from Saudi Arabia because it was assumed that with their money came their own brand of Wahabi Islam, which we definitely dont need. We may be poor but we are happy being poor. Dont need the Wahabi's.

Indian Muslim

Riaz Haq said...


Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah, both considered Pakistan's founding fathers, were two very different people. While Iqbal was a great thinker, Jinnah was a great doer.

I find it grossly unfair to bracket Iqbal with the radical mullahs. The fact is that Iqbal was very critical of the Muslim clergy and the Indian clergy disdained him. They never saw eye to eye. The clergy opposed western education. Iqbal was western educated.

Iqbal's message was a positive message, exhorting Muslims to excel in all fields of endeavor, the opposite of the hateful ideology preached and practiced by the Taliban and their ilk in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If Pakistanis truly follow the unifying and forward-looking messages of Iqbal and Jinnah, there will be no fundamental conflict. In fact, it'll be a great boon for Pakistan and its citizens of all faiths and elasticities. It'll also help Pakistanis co-exist more peacefully with all their neighbors.

Ray Lightning said...

I agree that Allama Iqbal was a great poet and philosopher. But in my opinion, he stood for all the wrong sort of things. He argued for religion in the governance of state. He was very much against western influences or modernity. He was an upholder of faith as against critical thinking and questioning behavior.

All these issues, he has supported from a deep philosophical point of view. That Iqbal was western educated wouldn't hold a point of value. His views were indeed very anti-western. He has been engaged in a tussle with the Ulema of his time, because he considered them too mechanical in their chores and intellectually bankrupt, which was probably true.

In my opinion, these views of Iqbal stem from a more ancient philosopher : Mujaddid Sirhindi, who systematically deconstructed Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. His influence was very damaging for the chances of any Indian renaissance to happen at that time (Europe was just experiencing renaissance in Italy at that time).

I would like to contrast the ideas of Iqbal to those of Jinnah. Jinnah was essentially a secularist and had a very modern vision for Pakistan. Jinnah was not just a good doer, he was also a great thinker.

May be, you should also reply to Indian Muslim. He speaks for a large majority of Muslims in India : who follow the Barelvi sects or believe in Sufis. Their ideas don't confirm to the strict Wahhabi interpretation and the Hanafi school of thought.

Riaz Haq said...

Indian Muslim,

While I agree with you that Pakistan has a checkered political history and the talk of religion pervades Pakistan's constitution, I would argue that Pakistan is no Saudi Arabia.

In spite of the fact that the religious parties in Pakistan have a very small support base among the voters, they have played their cards well and managed to get constitutional provisions and laws that are unfair and unnecessary. Part of this success is the abilty of the mullahs to make trouble from the pulpit. But it also speaks to the incompetence of the secular political leadership more than it does of what the people want. A case in point is the extremely unjust Hudood ordnance issued by Zia in the 1980s. This ordnance does not d8fferentiate between rape and adultery. Victims of rape are often thrown in jail.

While it was easy to promulgate Hudood by a military dictator, it has been very difficult to repeal it, even though it has been somewhat diluted under Mushrraf.

There is a power triad in Pakistan consisting of the military, the feudal/tribal leaders and the mullahs. Both the military and feudals use the mullahs to edge each other out. It is very difficult for the educated middle class to try and influence these power centers.

Bottom Line: While Pakistan has serious issues, it is no Saudi Arabia. But it is drifting in that direction slowly. My hope is that the mostly secular political leadership will try and stop this drift by dealing with the real bread and butter issues that the people want addressed.

Riaz Haq said...

Indian Muslim,

Here's a BBC report I saw today:

In November, Human Rights Watch said police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh should be prosecuted for torturing Muslims detained after bomb blasts last year.

The group warned of the risks of stigmatising and alienating "an entire community".

The state government had admitted that 21 men had been tortured and would each receive $600 in compensation.

A series of blasts in May and August 2007 killed nearly 60 people in the state capital, Hyderabad.

To read all of it, please visit:


Anonymous said...


I think the western world has got no moral ground to talk about other with their own set of black deed on their back yard.

India does not require their concurrence for its survival as an economy.

Pakistan and you can do soul searching of your current state vs. india and if you still feel pakistan is highly developed stage, probably you are correct. So be it.

Anonymous said...


Series of blast happened all over the country as gift of pakistan. So include that also with the assistance of disgruntled of indian [ might be muslims might be hindus ]

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Economist report on the battle for control of IslamOnline website:

IslamOnline’s mostly Egyptian staff has been wrestling for control of the website with its Qatari owner, the al-Balagh Cultural Society, which is based in Doha, Qatar’s capital, and wants to cut jobs in Cairo and move some of its editorial offices back home. The Cairo staff claim that this is a ploy to take the website in a more conservative direction. The managers in Doha counter that IslamOnline has become too parochially Egyptian and has been straying from its mission to reach out to all Muslims.

But this labour dispute also reflects an Arab cold war that pits Egypt against more radical states. Qatari-owned media such as al-Jazeera and IslamOnline have relentlessly criticised Egypt in recent years, notably for its complicity in Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Some suspect that toning down IslamOnline’s news coverage by reining in its staff, some of whom are close to the Muslim Brothers, who in turn are close to the Islamist Hamas movement that controls Gaza, is a Qatari gesture to Egypt’s government. Others point to longstanding rivalry between Saudis and Qataris, who, it is mooted, may be eager to reduce the influence of a Saudi company that has been helping to run the Cairo website.

IslamOnline began in 1997 as a student project at the University of Qatar with cash from Sheikha Mozah, an enterprising wife of Qatar’s emir, and with an endorsement from the prominent and sometimes controversial Egyptian-born scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. At IslamOnline’s launch, speaking on his extremely popular al-Jazeera religious talk-show, “Sharia and Life”, Mr Qaradawi said its mission to guide Muslims is “the jihad of our era.”

On the whole, this jihad has been a soft one. IslamOnline has to some extent been a lifestyle publication, focusing on how to mix modern life and religion. It offers religious advice without fire and brimstone, tackling sensitive topics such as sexuality conservatively but straightforwardly. Bettina Graf, who writes about the media in the Muslim world, calls it “moralist-conservative and missionary, though not dogmatic.” But it was also, in the words of Khaled Hamza, a reform-minded Muslim Brother, a place were “great intellectual battles” were waged over the future of Islamism, mostly influenced by Mr Qaradawi’s wasatiyyah (centrist) current.

Mr Qaradawi, 84, is sometimes said to be the most influential living Sunni Muslim scholar. He has stirred controversy in the West for endorsing suicide bombings in certain circumstances and for his homophobic views, and has been banned from Britain and the United States. For siding with his Egyptian compatriots against the Qatari management, he has lost his chairmanship of al-Balagh. Some see this as a fall from grace, and wonder if Qatar, which has hosted him for most of his adult life, will now freeze him out. His ideas, notably for tackling Sunni angst over the erosion of traditional religious authority and his attempt to counter millennial strands of Islamism with a conservative reformism, may have lost a resounding voice if he is now kept off IslamOnline.

Basit said...

@Riaz Haq. Actually I have pity on you people. I just wanna say that you are also an EXTREMIST, a secular extremist. I can understand your situation. you can't see your young generation coming towards Islam. Stop quoting Jinnah to support your so-called liberal and secular agenda. people like you know nothing about religion but they claim to be. this islamization is also going on in the West and those Westerners are also coming to Islam. Also take some steps to stop those people coming to Islam and becoming EXTREMIST.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a piece by Beena Sarwar on secularism debate in Pakistan:

First of all, the very fact that this discussion is taking place in a mainstream newspaper -- even though it is in English, which limits its outreach -- is something to appreciate.

Secondly, the discussion is taking place at a time when Pakistan, indeed the world, finds itself polarised as never before. Never before have we seen such extremes jostling for ascendency at the same time. In Pakistan, the extremes are most visible in the attire people, particularly women, wear out on the streets (from jeans to burqas), the gatherings and functions they attend (from religious gatherings to musical evenings, fashion shows and wild underground parties), what they are reading (religious literature to Communist readings that would have landed them in jail in the Zia years), the television and films they are watching (religious shows to uncensored films on DVD, and Indian films at mainstream cinemas), and how they express their views (through writings, art, music, seminars and peaceful candlelight demonstrations to violent protests and suicide bombings).

The entire gamut is there, from the extreme left to the extreme right, from wild permissiveness to ultra-conservatism -- the latter apparently on the rise not just in Pakistan but around the world. In fact, this ascendency of the Right is so strong that the demons of religion-based militancy unleashed during the Zia years can take down even those who adhere to the late General's world views: a Zaid Hamid can lose even as Gen Zia wins, as the UK-based researcher Anas Abbas interestingly posited it. The charismatic right-wing cult leader, who had sucked into his fold youth icons like the fashion designer Maria B and rock singer Ali Azmat, had to go into hiding not because progressive Pakistanis prevailed against his virulent pan-Islamist, anti-India world view, but because he offended his own.

This is a time when the 'blasphemy laws' as they are applied in Pakistan are causing a worldwide uproar because of the injustice they perpetuate; ......

We're talking about secularism at a time when supposedly educated people, including parliamentarians and politicians are 'warning' the government not to tamper with these blasphemy laws, or else face the 'consequences'. It is ironic that such a warning was issued recently by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q)....
We can now have this debate in the pages of this English-language newspaper, 20 years after Gen. Zia's departure, because those who hold these violent beliefs consider us to be irrelevant. So is the situation hopeless for people like us? No, because these discussions are not taking place in a vacuum. There is a lot of questioning going on in Pakistan at various levels about religion and its role in the state. These discussions are taking place in many languages and at many fora. Thousands if not millions of activists, political workers and ordinary citizens in Pakistan share the belief that religion should be a private matter, which should not be imposed violently.

The rise of the Internet -- according to one estimate, as many as 18 million Pakistanis have Internet access -- means that people have other alternatives to share information that the dominant news media sidelines. Blogs or facebook pages like SecularPakistan or SayNoToTheStateReligion may not have millions of followers but their readership is growing. Amidst the cacophony of jihadist views that regularly find space on radio and television networks are also voices that courageously question the role religion has been given in Pakistan. The trickle may not become a flood anytime soon, but neither is it about to dry up and disappear.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's how Saudi Arabia is responding to widening unrest in the Arab world, according to Bloomberg News:

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, will hold municipal elections next month in a bid to deter the political unrest that’s hitting other countries in the region.

The elections in the country with one-fifth of the world’s proven oil reserves will start on April 23, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing Abdul-Rahman al-Dahmash, the director of the kingdom’s electoral commission.

More than two months of protests have shaken the Middle East and North Africa as citizens demand civil rights, higher living standards and the ouster of autocratic regimes. In Bahrain, a Saudi neighbor, security forces quelled mainly Shiite demonstrators calling for democracy after Saudi-led troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council entered the country on March 14.

The municipal election announcement comes after Saudi King Abdullah on March 18 ordered an increase in spending, including $67 billion on housing and funds for the military and religious groups that back the ban on domestic protests. A call for a March 11 demonstration in the kingdom failed to materialize after the government deployed troops and senior clerics denounced protests as un-Islamic.

Although Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections in February 2005, the second election was delayed in May 2009 until yesterday’s announcement. The 150-member Majlis al-Shoura council, the country’s assembly, is appointed by the king and plays only an advisory role.

Saudi Arabia is the least democratic country in the Middle East and ranks 160th out of 167 countries worldwide, according to the Democracy Index for 2010 published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. All political parties and organizations are banned in Saudi Arabia.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Op Ed by Miranda Husain published in Newsweek Pakistan about Saudis and Bahrainis seeking Pak help in quelling Shia protests:

Less than three weeks after Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, led by Saudi Arabia, entered Bahrain to aid the anti-democracy crackdown there, dignitaries from both oil-rich kingdoms did their separate rounds in Pakistan. The royal houses of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are nervous, and they need Pakistan’s mercenaries, and—if necessary—military muscle to shore them up.

This is a remarkable turn of events for Asif Ali Zardari, who had been trying since he was elected president in 2008 to secure Saudi oil on sweetheart terms. He had been unsuccessful in his efforts because the Sunni Saudis view his leadership with some degree of skepticism. It also doesn’t help that Zardari, a Shia, is big on improving relations with Shia Tehran. Riyadh now appears inclined to export oil on terms that better suit cash-strapped Islamabad. Manama, too, wants to play ball. It wants increased defense cooperation and has pledged to prioritize Pakistan’s hopes for a free-trade agreement with the GCC in return. But Zardari and his Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, should fight the urge to get mired in the Middle East.

Pakistan already has a presence in Bahrain: a battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment was deployed there over a year ago to train local troops, and retired officers from our Navy and Army are part of their security forces. Media estimates put the number of Pakistanis serving in Bahrain’s security establishment at about 10,000. Their removal has been a key demand of protesters in the kingdom. Last month in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly assured Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, that Pakistan would offer more retired manpower to help quell the uprising against Bahrain’s Sunni rulers by its Shia majority. Gilani’s spokesman was unable to confirm the pledge.

Islamabad’s support to the tottering regime in Manama is not ideal. “It’s like our version of Blackwater,” says Talat Masood, a former Pakistan Army general, referring to Bahrain’s recruitment drive in Pakistan. “We’re doing [in Bahrain] exactly what we have been opposing here,” he says. Pakistan, he maintains, has no business in trying to suppress a democratic, people’s movement in another country. Short-term economic gains cannot be the only prism through which Pakistan views its national interests, he says.

Pakistan has a long history of military involvement and training in the Arab world. Its pilots flew warplanes in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and volunteered for the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Involvement in Bahrain’s current strife would not be the first time that Pakistan has used its military might to thwart an Arab uprising against an Arab regime. In 1970, future military dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, then head of the Pakistani military training mission in Jordan, led his soldiers to intervene on the side of Amman to quash a Palestinian challenge to its rule.
“The U.S. has counted on Pakistan to help control the Arab world and safeguard Arab rulers from their own populations,” says Chomsky. “Pakistan was one of the ‘cops on the beat’ that the Nixon administration had in mind when outlining their doctrine for controlling the Arab world,” he says. Pakistan has such “severe internal problems” that it may not be able to play this role even if asked to. But the real reason that Pakistan should avoid this role is so that it can stand on the right side of history, alongside those who are fighting for democracy.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on Wikileaks cables regarding Saudi money funding militants in Southern Punjab:

KARACHI: A US official in a cable sent to the State Department stated that “financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in south Punjab from organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.”

The cable sent in November 2008 by Bryan Hunt, the then Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Lahore, was based on information from discussions with local government and non-governmental sources during his trips to the cities of Multan and Bahawalpur.

Quoting local interlocutors, Hunt attempts to explain how the “sophisticated jihadi recruitment network” operated in a region dominated by the Barelvi sect, which, according to the cable, made south Punjab “traditionally hostile” to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith schools of thought.

Hunt refers to a “network of Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith mosques and madrassahs” being strengthened through an influx of “charity” which originally reached organisations “such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Al-Khidmat foundation”. Portions of these funds would then be given away to clerics “in order to expand these sects’ presence” in a relatively inhospitable yet “potentially fruitful recruiting ground”.

Outlining the process of recruitment for militancy, the cable describes how “families with multiple children” and “severe financial difficulties” were generally being exploited for recruitment purposes. Families first approached by “ostensibly ‘charitable’” organisations would later be introduced to a “local Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith maulana” who would offer to educate the children at his madrassah and “find them employment in the service of Islam”. “Martyrdom” was also “often discussed”, with a final cash payment to the parents. “Local sources claim that the current average rate is approximately Rs 500,000 (approximately USD 6,500) per son,” the cable states.

Children recruited would be given age-specific indoctrination and would eventually be trained according to the madrassah teachers’ assessment of their inclination “to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture” versus their value as promoters of Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith sects or recruiters, the cable states.

Recruits “chosen for jihad” would then be taken to “more sophisticated indoctrination camps”. “Locals identified three centres reportedly used for this purpose”. Two of the centres were stated to be in the Bahawalpur district, whereas one was reported as situated “on the outskirts of Dera Ghazi Khan city”. These centres “were primarily used for indoctrination”, after which “youths were generally sent on to more established training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and then on to jihad either in FATA, NWFP, or as suicide bombers in settled areas”.

The cable goes on to quote local officials criticising the PML-N-led provincial and the PPP-led federal governments for their “failure to act” against “extremist madrassas, or known prominent leaders such as Jaish-i-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar”. The Bahawalpur district nazim at the time told Hunt that despite repeatedly highlighting the threat posed by extremist groups and indoctrination centres to the provincial and federal governments, he had received “no support” in dealing with the issue unless he was ready to change his political loyalties. The nazim, who at the time was with the PML-Q, “blamed politics, stating that unless he was willing to switch parties…neither the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz provincial nor the Pakistan People’s Party federal governments would take his requests seriously”.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a news story of Saudi culture in action:

A Saudi Arabia Airlines flight from Jeddah to the eastern city of Dammam was delayed over a passenger's demand that a stewardess be removed from the aircraft because she wasn't accompanied by a male guardian, Okaz newspaper reported.

Flight 1108 was delayed when a stewardess began to read out and demonstrate flight safety procedures was interrupted by a passenger who asked her "why are you on the plane without a guardian?" the newspaper reported.

The passenger then proceeded to demand the plane not take off until all women unaccompanied by male guardians be removed from the aircraft.

The captain called security who then forcefully removed the objecting passenger and his son and started an investigation, according to the newspaper. The incident caused the flight to be delayed two hours.

Every woman in Saudi Arabia must have a male guardian accompanying her when travelling, usually a husband or father, sometimes a son. Women in the kingdom need the consent of a male guardian to work, travel abroad, marry or to open a bank account.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who has tried to accelerate the pace of reform in the kingdom, announced in 2011 that women would be able to vote and run in municipal elections starting in 2015.

Last month, the monarch appointed 30 women to the 150-member Shoura Council which was previously an all male body that advises the government on legislation.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Japan Times story on Saudi quest for military help from Pakistan:

The Saudi rulers view Pakistan as one of three regional powers, along with Iran and Turkey, capable of having a decisive impact on the Middle East. An alliance with Shiite Iran — the kingdom’s supreme ideological enemy, and one with regional hegemonic ambitions — is out of the question. Turkey, for its part, is regarded as a competitor for the mantle of Sunni Muslim leadership — a position long held by the Ottoman Empire.

The frequent description of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as harboring “neo-Ottoman” ambitions for his country clearly implicates this rivalry. It was the Ottomans who brought down two historical Saudi/Wahhabi states. The first such state (1745-1818) was destroyed by Egypt’s Mehmet Ali with Ottoman support; the second (1824-1891) was also defeated by the Ottomans.

By contrast, the kingdom has no problematic history with Pakistan. On the contrary, the Saudis have bankrolled the Pakistani state, and proved a generous host to its current prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, during his long exile following the military coup that toppled his government in 1999.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in Pakistan since the early years of its independence. Given that Pakistan was founded in 1947 on a religious basis, it is not surprising that its leaders sought support from the source of Islam, Mecca, then under Saudi rule. The kingdom, in turn, exported its Wahhabi teachings to the “Land of the Pure,” ultimately fueling the Islamic extremism and sectarian violence of the Taliban and others.
Part of the Saudi plan today is to use Pakistanis as the backbone for a new Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) joint military force. Pakistani forces under Saudi command were used in operations to quell Shiite uprisings in Bahrain in 2011, and the Saudis now want a standby force ready to put down Islamist and Shiite provocations whenever and wherever they may appear in the gulf. In the event of an existential threat in the region, in particular a confrontation with Iran, Pakistan would offer the kingdom a form of deadly protection denied it by the West.

So to what extent can Pakistan really enhance Saudi Arabia’s security, particularly in a war against Iran? Pakistan is badly fractured, with domestic terrorism running rampant. Its military lacks the capacity to intervene in Saudi Arabia’s defense while maintaining not only domestic security, but also readiness for war against India (an obsession of Pakistani generals).

Moreover, Pakistan’s substantial Shiite population might join the ranks of the violently disaffected if the military backed the Saudis in a sectarian war. And the Pakistan People’s Party, now in opposition but still a powerful domestic force, shares interests with Iran.

So, although the strategic value of closer military ties with Pakistan seems highly questionable, Saudi Arabia has little choice. The GCC is in fact disintegrating, following Qatar’s ouster for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Oman’s voluntary departure from the group. That, together with the kingdom’s deepening distrust of the U.S., is fueling a growing sense of isolation. Pakistan may not be anyone’s idea of an ally when facing an existential threat; for Saudi Arabia, however, it is an idea whose time has come.