Wrong end of the stick?

Published: January 1, 2011
The writer is head of BBC Urdu Service 

The writer is head of BBC Urdu Service aamer.khan@tribune.com.pk

Since moving to England, well over two years ago, I continue to find it difficult to explain Pakistan to westerners. They know Pakistan as a volatile nuclear state reeling from the combined impact of al Qaeda, terrorism, a dodgy army and a corrupt political leadership. The part of the country that is never mentioned whenever Pakistan is discussed is its people. There seems to be an underlying assumption that they are getting what they deserve.

Take the furore over the government’s attempts to amend the blasphemy law. Most people seem to be aware that this law was promulgated by a dictatorial general in pursuance of an agenda that gave us al Qaeda and the Taliban, years after his death. Many may also be aware of the fact that the democratic governments succeeding General Zia were, too, short lived to do much. But still, westerners generally find it impossible to understand why a law as comprehensively deficient in legal propriety as the existing blasphemy law in Pakistan should not be changed.

Videos and photos coming off the wires of anti-government demonstrations to protest the planned changes do not impress many. A few thousand people gathered in a few cities, mostly in front of press clubs, clearly do not a mass uprising make. Those interested enough in Pakistani politics also know that the country’s religious groups spearheading these protests hardly account for 10 per cent of the polled vote whenever a relatively free election takes place in the country.

As such, they are at an even greater loss to understand why a government that claims to be a liberal, democratic dispensation, and is backed by allies who claim the same, should find it so difficult to rationalise such legal absurdities. Why, for example, should a party like MQM, that claims anti-fundamentalism to be its raison d’être and is consistently at loggerheads with all the religious groups that have a presence in Karachi, would not support a move to rationalise the blasphemy law? And why would the PML-N, led by born-again democrats, actively support demonstrations in support of such an institutionalised miscarriage of justice?

At times like these, it becomes almost impossible to explain to westerners how Pakistan works. No one seems to have the time, the inclination or the patience to go through three decades of Pakistan’s political history to try and understand why it has come to be where it is. Could there, then, be another way of explaining our collective failure in correcting some of the wrongs spawned by a vile dictator’s evil mind?

Perhaps the whole thing has nothing to do with religion at all. Maybe it is purely a credibility issue. Imagine, for example, a government that was generally seen as competent, efficient and genuinely committed to making something of its five-year rule. A government that did not shirk its responsibility by conceding more and more political and administrative ground to the army. A government that had a genuine plan for an economy currently characterised by inflation, unemployment and corruption. A government that relied more on its management acumen than emotional dynastic appeal.

Would it really be difficult for such a government to throw a black law out of the window? I really doubt it, no matter what the religio-emotional appeal behind the law may be. The PPP government has demonstrated its ability to address major constitutional issues but at the same time is perceived as a disaster when it comes to effective administrative control. If it can get a grip on that, it may not be long before it can put an end to black laws that militate against established human rights norms, but can serve its rivals as emotional levers, powerful enough to overturn the status quo.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • faraz
    Jan 2, 2011 - 1:31AM

    Ignoring his own past deeds, Imran Khan also supported these mullahs. Recommend

  • Ajay
    Jan 2, 2011 - 1:38AM

    You are right about what westerners think. Perhaps you are wrong about the true extent of mass support for mullahs against even modification of the Blasphemy law, what to talk of repeal. Nazaz, Zardari and Military know too well that Mullahs and the vast madrassa educated population even if they are not all out on the streets can cause them to loose power.Recommend

  • MilesToGo
    Jan 2, 2011 - 7:21AM

    Why do you want to explian anything to anybody? – go back and try to fix it.

    When your house is on fire you don’t go explaining neighbours what caused the fire, you first put the fire out. Recommend

  • u48998
    Jan 2, 2011 - 8:31AM

    Is there a part 2 to this? The government certainly appear to have caved in and your article doesn’t really explain anything to the Westerners other than to explain that you cannot explain. So what’s the point?Recommend

  • sirius
    Jan 2, 2011 - 1:05PM

    No wonder the NRP’s have “complete apathy” for the motherlandRecommend

  • ashok
    Jan 2, 2011 - 7:25PM

    you made a genuine point there-“politicians are the 100X refraction of the people.” If the people are like that you can not expect your leaders would be like mahatma gandhi or nelson mandela.Recommend

  • abdullah
    Jan 2, 2011 - 10:27PM

    few ppl moving with the mullahs does not mean tht all pakistanis r supporting them..and mahtma was nothing great i hve heard a lot of negative comments on mahatma from my indian friends regarding his rape cases and this was the reason for him being murdered. .i dnt reside in pakistan at present…so v dnt need our leaders 2 be lyk mahatma but 4 sure v would lyk our leaders to b lyk nelson mandelaRecommend

  • karim
    Jan 3, 2011 - 12:34AM

    Zardari government should now start an in time march towards curbing such kind of fanatic non Islamic in the guise of Islamic issue,,,,,,,Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Jan 3, 2011 - 7:35AM

    haha one more confused analysis, This takes the cake “The part of the country that is never mentioned whenever Pakistan is discussed is its people. ” what do you mean part of the country, A country is made by it’s people not by land mass. Citizens are not just a part of the country, they are what make a country it is. isn’t Pakistan a “ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN”, isn’t religion followed by people.Please do not insult yourself and your people by blaming your mistake on the ARMY, AMERICA or MULLAH. these factors are able to affect you only because people of Pakistan wouldn’t want it any other way. If you want to serve Pakistan tell and accept truth and do the right things to build your nation, instead of explaining your lies.Recommend

  • Rana Amjad
    Jan 3, 2011 - 10:07AM

    We are kidnapped & kept as hostages by Mullah’s since 47! Recommend

  • Jan 3, 2011 - 12:04PM

    Only God knows, or those sitting on the perch of establishment; are aware where Pakistan is exactly heading to.Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 3, 2011 - 5:06PM

    @abdullah…. Don’t hide your distorted knowledge of history gained from lie infested pakistani textbooks on anonymous Indian friends. If you want to know about Mahatma go and read some genuine books on him. Read what even Churchill and your own Jinnah had to say about him on his death. I can advice you to read “Freedom at midnight” as an independent source.
    Regarding the article, it is useless analysis. The problem rests with the way Pakistan was created. Any state which was created by inflaming religious chauvinism and hypocrisy can never break free from religious dogma. Pakistan is reaping what was sown during 1945-47 in name of two state theory.Recommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Jan 4, 2011 - 4:18AM

    @amlendu…..by genuine books you mean the books that support your point of view?Recommend

  • abdullah kayani
    Jan 4, 2011 - 12:58PM

    let me tell u v were never creted in the name of islam but v separated from the indians because we were never given equal rights the hindu fundamentalists and terrorists organisations like shiv sena and BJP are still in india which does not let the govt give muslim their rights…and VARUN GHANDI openly said in a speech that he will slit the throats and hand of muslims after he comes to power and throw all the muslims into pakisatn …such things were the only reson 4 our separation coz these thing were hapening at that time.Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 4, 2011 - 3:38PM

    @ Maulana Diesel… By genuine books, I mean books of all types. You read as many of them as possible and then make your own mind but don’t say something based on some anonymous friends. When you are righting something about some one please provide a reference which can be cross checked and reader or listener can determine on his or her own that the source was credible or not. Please don’t give fancy theories a la Zaid Hamid without any reference.Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 4, 2011 - 3:48PM

    Sorry for typo in my last comment, it should have been “when you are writing something….”Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 4, 2011 - 7:13PM

    @abdullah… Hope you understand the difference between constitutional discrimination and right wing rhetoric. What BJP and Varun Gandhi do is called right wing rhetoric and is condemable and for sure. But they are not free to carry their agenda and will be taken to the task by electorate (BJP lost last two general elections mostly due to what happened in Gujrat) or by courts. In India the minorities are not discriminated constitutionally and they can aspire to be anything. They can preach their religion and convert people from majority religion to their own (Which does happen a lot of times). They have become prime ministers (A sikh), presidents, chief Justice, Chief minister of hindu majority states and what not. But in Muslim majority nations the minorities are persecuted by the constitution itself and they do not have any constitutional safe guards. Think of anyone trying to preach Christianity in Saudi Arabia or any other Islamic country. Can any hindu or christian become president of Pakistan? Constitution of Pakistan relegates all non muslim citizens of Pakistan to a second class.Recommend

  • abdullah
    Jan 4, 2011 - 11:02PM

    v did have a judge at a very top position named as justice rahman ramday he is hindu and there r lots of christians and hindus at the topmost posititon and there is religious tolerence in country ..and d big example is of sardars living among pathan in khyberpakhtunkhwa[KP] .and they also exercise their religion staying in KP. i would agree there r ppl who get paid and create differences between muslims and minorities ,..but no politician would ever cme and say that in the public as he did …Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 5, 2011 - 8:32AM

    @abdullah… You are again missing the point. I said constitutional discrimination. By law in Pakistan, no one other than a muslim can become head of state. What does that tells a non muslim citizen of Pakistan. By law in Saudi Arabia, no religion other than islam can be practiced even in private. That is constitutional discrimination. And if you are thinking that I am trying to prove one religion to be better than other then you are mistaken. I am an agnostic and don’t believe in divinity of religion. For me all the religions were started to make the local society of their place of origin better by highly enlightened people. But their conceptualization was based on the socio-economic-political realities of that time and place. Later on because of dogma and refusal of introspection all the religions have become obsolete.
    What I am trying to highlight is that if state is based on a particular religion it can not be just to all its citizens.Recommend

  • u48998
    Jan 5, 2011 - 6:52PM

    @amlendu, you are absolutely right. However, Jinnah’s vision was to have Pakistan as a democracy with the rights of minority safeguarded. People have affed up Pakistan. But note that aside from civil rights abuse and religious persecutions, Saudi Arabia is not doing that badly.Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 5, 2011 - 11:25PM

    @u48998.. Dude you are right that Saudi Arabia seems to be doing alright economicaly but just think if there was no oil there (Which is just a freak of nature) where would it have been. And I personaly would not like to live in country, however prosperous, if there are no equal civil rights and freedom of speach. I just refused a job offer in Saudi Arabia which could have increased my annual income by a factor of more than 50.Recommend

  • u48998
    Jan 6, 2011 - 3:26AM

    @amlendu, yeah, agree, that’s a bummer, what can you do. They are the monster themselves and they’re creating more monsters (so to speak). Pakistan is in love with Saudia but apparently they are in the race to top them out with their religiosity. Recommend

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