South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Title: Pakistan under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State; Author: Madiha Afzal; Publisher: Penguin; Price: Rs. 599; Pages: 192

Pakistan is a hard and difficult country, say experts. At the same time, it is a fascinating country and is witnessing various internal struggles. The Pakistani peoples’ struggle against terrorism, though not in a big way, is a reality. The book Pakistan under Siege: Extremism, Society and the State by Madiha Afzal asks, is terrorism in Pakistan a manifestation of a society moving toward radicalism or one victimised by terrorist groups created by geopolitics? Are ordinary Pakistanis extremists?

The author lays out Pakistan’s own views – on terrorist groups, jihad, religious minorities and non-Muslims, US and their place in the world. She explains how the two pillars that define the Pakistani state – Islam and paranoia about India – have led to a regressive form of Islamisation in Pakistan’s narratives, laws and curricula.

The most important thing is how it impacts at the individual and collective level. Voting pattern in the elections, generally, is an indicator of how citizen’s think. The history of elections in Pakistan does indicate that Islamists do poorly. They performed relatively better in 1977 and 2002. The 2002 elections were held in the background of US attack on Afghanistan after Taliban attacked US. Six religious parties formed Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal. They came to power in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), adjoining Afghanistan. The sentiment was high during the election campaign as people residing on both the side of the border (Pakistan & Afghanistan) are primarily Pashtun. Again the border is porous. The author writes, “A former head of the ISI, Hamid Gul, engineered the alliance.”

On the impact of Afghan Jihad, Madiha says, “The worst outcome of the whole affair in some ways was the normalisation of the concept of the jihad as a tool in modern Pakistan. The success of this strategy in Afghanistan led the ISI to use it next to the east, in Kashmir, against its biggest foe India.” Both US and Saudi Arabia funded the jihad. US also provided arms and technical advice. Pakistan trained Afghan fighters and their own jihadists. The Afghan jihad also strengthened religious hardliners in Pakistan. In the process once peaceful NWFP (now name changed to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) became one of the most dangerous places.

Pakistan became Islamic Republic through the 1956 Constitution. But, a secular Ayub Khan abrogated the Constitution and instituted second constitution in 1962. Pakistan became Republic of Pakistan from Islamic Republic. But, it did not last long and through first amendment, Pakistan once again became Islamic Republic. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to power in 1971 and introduced a new constitution in 1973 which declared Islam the state religion. It also says that President and PM have to be Muslims. Though Bhutto himself was a secular but under pressure from religious clerics he declared Ahmadi community as non-Muslims in 1974 via second amendment in the constitution. Later on, the most brutal military dictator Zia ul-Haq made life miserable for Ahmadi community by various anti-Ahmadi laws.

National Commission for Justice and Peace report says between 1987 and 2014, 1,335 Pakistanis have been accused of blasphemy. They include 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians, and 21 Hindus. The reality is the population of Ahmadi community is tiny. The International community became more aware about blasphemy laws after Asia Bibi’s case came into the limelight. Bibi a Christian was charged under blasphemy act. Then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer spoke in her support and his own bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri shot him dead in Islamabad. Trial was not easy. Finally he was hanged. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated for his support to Asia Bibi. Sherry Rehman, a former journalist and Member of Parliament, had introduced a private member bill in parliament in 2010 to amend the law. Her idea was to prevent misuse of the act and reduced the sentence. Finally, bill had to be withdrawn and for few months she had to confine to her house only. Author correctly notes, “A single military ruler, General Muhammad Zia ul Haq, who proved the most harmful for Pakistan.”

The author also talks about way forward. She writes, “Yet there is a way out. Not through simple military operations, but through a deeper, conscious realignment. It may seem difficult now, but go back seventy years, to 1947, and imagine that Pakistan took the alternate path at each juncture where it had a choice – between pluralism and exclusion, between openness and a defensive posture. It would have been a different place. It can change course yet.”


Updated On:  Aug 05, 2018