Pakistan has several unsung heroes. One such gentleman, a Pakistani doctor from Birmingham, about whose post-earthquake and post-flood efforts I had written at length in a previous column, told me his vacation time to Pakistan is spent travelling the length and breadth of the country, providing healthcare and rebuilding infrastructure in the remotest of villages. He also told me that one of his assistants — a Pakistan-based expert on water resources who is responsible for much of the legwork in installing water purification units — narrated a hadith, according to which the Holy Prophet (pbuh) once asked the angel Gabriel what work he would do if he lived on earth. Gabriel responded by saying, “I would provide people clean water to drink.”
What a pity then that the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis go without clean water, while only a few of us are able to afford Nestle. And yet this acute breach of civic, moral and religious obligation provokes no outcry from our ulema or the religious and political parties that support them. There is no strike called when typhoid, cholera and dysentery spread because of lack of clean water. There are no concerted efforts to rectify this major societal ill. Instead, the entire focus of religion is thrust upon persecuting women and minorities. This is not to say that all religious-minded people are turning religion on its head to achieve political ambitions. There are those like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi who have tried to prioritise the edicts of religion and stress upon our obligations towards humanity, but not only have such learned religious scholars been marginalised, but also terrorised into exile by a majority that is perhaps under-confident of its own Islamic knowledge and thus unable to challenge the arguments presented by Ghamidi.
As a result, we are browbeaten into submission by unruly crowds that are unable to secure a majority at the ballot box and unable to engage in intelligent debate on Islamic jurisprudence. Their only hope of consolidating power is by employing fear and relying on parallel centres of power such that our mainstream institutions are constantly undermined, threatened and distracted. In the eighties, they found an ally in General Ziaul Haq, during whose rule a plethora of so-called “Islamic” legislation was passed and parallel courts set up which did no good to humanity but served as tools for harassment of the weak and oppressed, ironically the very groups Islam had sought to protect.
Once put in place, these draconian laws and parallel structures have proven extremely difficult to undo. Neither Musharraf’s government nor the ruling PPP have been successful in overturning this dark period of our history, in spite of wishes to the contrary. Musharraf tried to undo the blasphemy law but backtracked. He must be credited, however, with the Women Protection Act, as should the PPP for supporting it in full force, as I have it on good authority that several members of the PML-Q, including the Chaudhrys and Legharis, did not show up to vote that day. It is a small wonder then that the PML-N, PML-Q and PTI are united on this bigoted and opportunistic front. As we stand at a point in time where not only is our religion being used for ulterior motives, but women stand to lose the gains made in 2006 and minorities continue to be maltreated, where are the liberal parties that Pakistanis elected to fight this mess?
The welcome efforts of Sherry Rehman (PPP) and Bushra Gohar (ANP) are simply not sufficient. They need to be supported by their parties unequivocally and openly. Although civil society and sections of the media have promoted this cause, the responsibility ultimately rests on the ruling political coalition. Now that the JUI-F is out, let’s keep it that way and forge ahead with undoing Zia’s legacy. Appeasement will not only weaken democracy but also erode the message of Islam and Jinnah’s legacy.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2011.