With each passing year, the intensity and scale of religious extremism increased with the growing influence of extremists in the society and politics.
The basic teaching of Islam includes tolerance, love, harmony, freedom of belief, peace and mutual understanding. These principles play a key role in the development and the prosperity of a country. Pakistan was created with the intent to adhere to these principles pragmatically. As Quaid-e-Azam said while addressing Islamia College Peshawar in 1946, “We do not demand Pakistan simply to have a piece of land but we want a laboratory where we could experiment on Islamic principles.”
Pakistan, the laboratory, was established in 1947. Its first experiment, namely the Objectives Resolution, was started in March 1949 by then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan with the aim of giving Pakistan a proper Islamic shape for the implementation of Islamic principles. The shaping of the future structure, in accordance to Islamic principles, made religion part and parcel of the Pakistani society and politics. The drafters of the Objectives Resolution perhaps had the right intentions, but soon after, righteous intentions turned bad due to constricted interpretations of religion and its use for personal and political mileage. This narrow interpretation and use of religion for personal and political gains ended up promoting religious extremism in the Pakistani society.
The developments from inception to present have made religion an inseparable factor of Pakistani politics and society, and its separation will further lead towards religious extremism.
The first reported incident of religious extremism occurred on February 23, 1953, in the form of riots targeting Ahmadis, which later led to the toppling of the government on April 17, 1953. To unravel the cause, a judicial commission was constituted which in its report unveiled the truth that, “Objectives Resolution does not have the credibility to form an Islamic State.” Despite this fact, it was made part of the 1956 Constitution which stated Islam as the official religion of Pakistan. The declaration of the state’s official religion empowered the religious fanatics in Pakistan. The strength of these religious fanatics can be gauged through Ayub Khan’s backtracking on the decision to change the country’s name from ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ to ‘Republic of Pakistan’.
With each passing year, the intensity and scale of religious extremism increased with the growing influence of extremists in the society and politics. The religious extremists used different tactics to pressurise different governments into fulfilling their demands, such as countrywide blockades and targeting of religious minorities, as was seen in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s regime during the 1974 Ahmadi riots. Following the riots, Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim and several restrictions were imposed on them. Zia ul Haq, with the purpose of consolidating his personal power, used the religion and initiated the process of Islamization in Pakistan. Under this process, a constricted interpretation of faith was included in the school curriculum, the Hudood Ordinance were promulgated, and strict amendments to the blasphemy laws were introduced. These moves further promoted extremism in the country.
From here, the wave of religious discrimination, sectarianism, intolerance and bigotry was stirred into the Pakistani society, which annihilated the main teaching of Islam: tolerance, harmony and peace. People are wrongly targeted and falsely accused under blasphemy laws, sometimes leading to extra-judicial killing of the accused. Whenever such an incident occurs, a particular faction of society holds religion accountable and demands a secular country as a way to curb religious extremism. But the developments from inception to present have made religion an inseparable factor of Pakistani politics and society, and its separation will further lead to religious extremism.
Politicians who manipulate and exploit religion for personal and political mileage are responsible for this crisis. Substantial efforts must be made to ensure implementation of the National Counter Violent Extremism (NCVE) Policy 2021 to curb surging religious extremism, to retrieve the distorted image of Islam and to materialise the dreams of hapless citizens of Pakistan to live harmoniously and peacefully in Pakistan.