Readjusting towards minorities
A few years ago Nawaz Sharif had fancied himself to be a wannabe Amir-ul-Momineen. That idea did not take off. Perhaps because there were too many contenders for the prestigious post. The designation itself was mocked because it came in the backdrop of almost a tattered Muslim world. Many speculated, quite rightly, that the PM was imagining himself to be larger than what he was. His desire remained where it came from, and few are now interested in revisiting his fond wish and its origin, and the quiet burial it was accorded. Now he is recasting himself as the champion of the minorities.
Every other week there is an announcement or a news item, which goes against his conventional image. Or that of his Party which is customarily seen as Centre-Right. A few weeks ago his government recommended a name change of a Physics Department. The recommendation asked the university authorities to center-stage the name of Prof. Abdus Salam, a major figure in 20th century theoretical physics, who has almost been made a pariah in a country which is otherwise rarely heard in international circles for intellectual or artistic reasons.
That was a bold move in an atmosphere in which anything seen remotely connected to blasphemy is nothing if not a call to direct personal assault. Even the appointment of the new army chief came in the backdrop of rumours that he was related to the Ahmediya Community. The decision to appoint him, against these social media rumours, was again nothing short of being courageous. This past week Nawaz Sharif went a step further in giving strength to the idea of an inclusive society in which minorities have a sense of confidence and security. The step will not go without being appreciated both within and outside the country.
Reminding one of the famous speech given by Jinnah soon after Pakistan became free, Nawaz Sharif spoke of his being Prime Minister of all Pakistanis. Not just that of Muslims. Unlike Jinnah he was not speaking at Karachi but at a 5000 years old Shiv temple. He was speaking at the Katas Raj Temple, which has been previously visited by Al Biruni. He addressed the gathering of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Hindus, and began his speech with salutations of all faiths. He threw light on the Islamic history to reiterate that a sense of security and confidence among the minorities was an important tenet of the faith. And to ensure that these twin notions are in real terms implemented steps needed to be taken. He could as well have stated how Jews and many marginalised sections of society received refuge and respect in Muslim empires of the past, when those people were being hunted in their native countries. After over sixty-sixty years of Jinnah's death it requires reminder that the country can be a good host of people of all faiths. It is not just important for Pakistan but for all Muslims because the country has a vital link with the name and image of Islam, at least through its name and constitution.
There is a reason why what is done to people in the country, of any faith, can be, and is, interpreted as a faith's relationship with people. It was indeed refreshing to see the head of the state order construction of a water filtration plant at the temple, in addition to general refurbishing and renovation of the temple complex. The ceremony of planting a tree in the complex was not just beautiful but also commendable, in that when the tree grows and Hindus receive its shade, they cannot but recall the person who opened the space for the tree. It is also likely that a hothead might sneak in the compound, from the neighbourhood, to play the axe-man of Nawaz's dream.
Why I feel that there are chances of the plant and the general initiative being undermined is because a few isolated steps cannot change the entire mindset. That is why it is important to understand what Javed Ghamdi said about the recent developments. He said that there is a need of Zarb-i-Fikr. Obviously alluding to the Zarb-i-Azb launched by the Pak army against the militants. The Zarb-i-Azb operation was launched to weed out the physical infrastructure of the anti-Pakistan elements, and those who were out to enforce a narrow brand of Islam. However, taking out the physical infrastructure is not enough to produce a lasting peace and progress. Because a good chunk of the population is in stand by mode for reenergising the process of extremism.
They are waiting for the army to return to the cantonments to re-emerge and use the easily available human resource in seminaries to return to their earlier practices. A follow up to the military operation is necessary to actually feel the fruits of the operation. For that the best that is thought and known in Pakistan, and outside, has to be identified and turned its tap on the existing society, so that freshness seeps down into the veins and arteries of the society. Prime Minister has set in motion a good trend by openly proclaiming the equalness of all citizens before the constitution. Many more measures have to be taken before one can claim that a signpost has been crossed.
There is a serious and urgent, but cautious, need of a psychical mass surgery in order to get rid of some of the toxic aspects of the Zia legacy which do not stop haunting the nation. If Nawaz succeeds in doing half of that, he will not only put up a good example for the country but also for the wider Muslim world which is eagerly looking for models of good Muslim governance. The crisis that is staring in the face is the absence of a good example of democratic muslim governance. Until a few years ago Erdogan was seen as sign of hope until he descended into dictatorial mode. Perhaps it is the turn of Nawaz Sharif to hold out his regime and country as an example of a progressive space for a better and creative future of the wider world.