AFTER the despicable Gojra riots in Punjab’s Faisalabad district that targeted Christians living in the area, a few Muslim scholars attempted to grapple with the issue of constitutionalism in Pakistan. The disturbances had badly damaged the country’s image. It was 2009 when Pakistan faced the maximum number of attacks for any year. The scholars were trying to understand how a country with such an inclusive Constitution could suffer some of the worst forms of religious bigotry.
The debates put forth many explanations, from how the state’s strategic priorities had backfired to how a hostile regional environment was fuelling bigotry. Some weighed in on the ideological aspect of extremism, and others on how it goes unchecked amid the civil-military divide. However, the debates failed to fully present the reasons behind the exclusive nature of Pakistani society.
In totality, nevertheless, the discussion exposed the dichotomies and paradoxes in our social milieu. The state and society are largely caught between modernisation and conservatism: an average Pakistani wants to be progressive but within a conservative framework. The state desires to stand tall in the international community, but without reforming its institutions.
Certain religious leaders and groups are pushing society towards chaos.
This paradox produces dichotomous behaviour. One can take complete U-turns without compromising on one’s previous position. This is the syndrome the new government is manifesting: after taking a firm position on a particular economist’s appointment as a member of the Economic Advisory Council, the government reversed the decision after his Ahmadi background became an issue. The reversal has exposed the government’s fear of religious hardliners. While such decisions are often depicted as political pragmatism, they weaken the state and society in the long run.
To satisfy its own conscience, the state sometimes takes initiatives that give an impression as if it has decided to break with the past and move towards an inclusive society. A similar attempt was made early this year in the shape of the Paigham-i-Pakistan (message of Pakistan), a counter-narrative declaration or fatwa against increasing religious intolerance and violence.
A unanimous declaration by 1,800 religious scholars across the country, the Paigham-i- Pakistan was projected as a reflection of the Pakistani state and society’s collective thinking, and prepared in accordance with the injunctions of the Holy Quran, the Sunnah and the Constitution. Following this, the security institutions launched a countrywide awareness campaign in educational institutions about Paigham, which was presented as a blueprint of an inclusive Pakistan.