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EDITORIAL: Speaking at a photo exhibition on the life of Pakistan’s founding father Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry took the opportunity to warn of the “dangers for Pakistan posed by retrogressive thinking” in “two extremist regimes” on the right and left of this country. Elucidating his postulation, he referred to a recent proclamation by the Taliban government that bars Afghan women from travelling long distances without a male chaperon and also prevents them from going to schools and colleges or work, as well as the rise of what he said was a similar Hindu extremist mindset in India. Pakistani state’s “biggest and most important” fight, he said, was against these “two extremist thoughts”. Striking a positive note, he added: “we have had failures and success, but till now Pakistan is the brightest hope in this region which while remaining amid these extremes can emerge from them.” Beneath these words, however, lies a genuine concern that no lessons have been learnt from ‘failures’ as violent religious extremist outfits are pushing the country, with helpful nudges from certain quarters, away from its founding ideals.

Qaudi-i-Azam had made it clear that he did not want Pakistan to be a theocratic state. In fact, in his seminal August 11, 1947, speech to the Constituent Assembly he had laid out his vision for Pakistan as a modern, pluralistic state declaring “you may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” And as the minister recalled, the Quaid had gotten religious content removed from the minister’s oath of office so that minority members — the first law minister of Pakistan was a Hindu — could take oath. That and a lot more has been completely reversed over the years. History has since been distorted to fit the narrative devised by successive rulers in aid of their transient interests. The idea behind the creation of Pakistan was never establishment of an Islamic state but a homeland where Muslims would be liberated from political and economic domination of Hindu majority. It is worth noting also that during the struggle for Pakistan with the exception of the Khaksar movement, major religious parties, the JUI-F’s predecessor, Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, and the Jamaat-e-Islami had vehemently opposed creation of a separate homeland for Muslims on religious grounds, arguing that Islam being a universal religion could not be confined to the boundaries of a nation-state. Yet as the new state gradually defined itself in religious terms those parties started claiming to be the guardians of the so-called ‘Ideology of Pakistan’, a phrase coined by the information minister of military ruler Gen Yahiya Khan, an infamous drinker and philanders. In the ensuing years, the power elites also encouraged and nurtured religious extremists for the promotion of their internal and external agendas. Things have come to a point where extremists impose their retrogressive worldview on all. They feel free even to challenge the authority of democratically elected governments.

That must not become the new normal if this state has to achieve progress and prosperity. According to Fawad Chaudhry, Prime Minister Imran Khan is making efforts to “reclaim the Quaid’s Pakistan”. Some may wince at that assertion thinking of some of the retrograde changes his government has introduced in school curriculums as well as certain other moves. But if this government is serious about reclaiming Quaid’s Pakistan it first needs to retrieve it from those who see a value in using extremist elements for their power games. That is easier said than done, yet may happen if all the political parties forget their individual grievances and join hands for once to return Pakistan to its founder’s vision for it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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