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Imran in the line of fire

A little unfairly though

Imran in the line of fire

Imran Khan is getting a lot of flak, mostly from the liberal sections of the society, for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s generous grant of Rs300 million to the seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania, Akora Khatak, established on September 23, 1947 in Nowshera district.

The seminary in question, founded by Maulana Abdul Haq, has earned worldwide notoriety for its unilateral support to the Taliban and also the reactionary views of its head honcho, Maulana Sami ul Haq. His ‘mis-informed’ opinion about the status of the women in particular is repulsive to any rational mind for its ahistorical and antiquated nature. His religious views are steeped in ultra conservative Deobandi denomination which need no further elaboration as his ideational trajectory is very well-known.

For that act of benevolence towards the seminary, Khan has incurred extraordinary condemnation on the social as well as print media, which have caricatured him as no less than a demon.

The condemnatory arguments are so monotonous that they have become a meta-narrative of sorts, and therefore in need of puncturing so that the flip side of the situation can also be brought forth. I feel irked not only by the sameness of their arguments but also the sheer absence of the nuanced reading of the socio-political text. Such reading is possible and can be made sense of only in the historical context.

In the socio-political text that I am referring to, the politician’s vulnerability becomes all the more evident because it is impelled to operate within the inhospitable triumvirate of military, mullah and state bureaucracy. Even the founder of the nation had to lure the likes of Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and Zafar Ahmed Ansari for legitimising his struggle for a separate state. Many including Vali Nasr believe in all earnestness that Objectives Resolution was passed at the behest of a handful of ulema. Even a liberal and erudite politician like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had to strike a deal with Ghulam Ghaus Bakhsh Hazarvi and Ehteram ul Haq Thanvi merely for political mileage. Bhutto succumbed to the pressure of the clerics and, out of the fear of direct action, he went on to declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

The important fact which must not be forgotten is that the times we are talking about had a semblance of plurality and mullah existed at the relative peripheries. Also the process of state’s ‘Sunnification’ had not commenced as yet.

After Islamisation and jihad became the central postulates of our social narrative in 1979, compromises of various kinds came to define the life of a politician. On top of it all, politicians are also prevented through several oaths and vows to reveal the actual extent of the compromised life they are forced to lead. Liberal/left politics became a saga of the past. The state relentlessly pushed a singular ideology with only the rightist brand of politics allowed to run its course. One should not, therefore, expect from Imran Khan what we do not expect from others (known and projected to be born leaders). For his political survival, he is forced to make tough choices like dealing with such characters and that is what is the art of the possible is all about.

When the question of how to deal with radicals like Samiul Haq is broached, there are two kinds of possibilities: Either to annihilate them through force or to look for a political solution so that they can be brought into the mainstream as law abiding citizens. The latter obviously involves the madrassa reforms. We can resort to the first option, which the Pakistan army is pursuing with full verve and vigour. But even if we won that battle against the militants, the scenario does not seem that promising. During the last forty years, only a particular brand of Islam has been professed and promoted at the expense of other ideologies, which essentially means that liberalism or socialism were demonised and discarded.

Consequently, the Pakistani youth was fed on certain ahistorical (incontrovertible) postulates, permeated in religious ideology. Thus our youth lacks the ability to do comparative analysis. In view of such an exercise of ideologising, any alternative weltanschauung is hardly available to them. They became the victim of ideological unilateralism like the Germans and Italians of 1930s and ’40s. After the fight against terrorists, people will be left with no option but to embrace the same set of the principles of life, prescribed by religion. Internecine fight as to which version of Islam is true will ensue and our lives are likely to keep moving in cyclical fashion.

If Imran opts for a head on collision with Darul Uloom Haqqania, then history may repeat itself in the same manner as it did in the wake of Lal Masjid episode. That is what everyone with some sanity dreads.

The political solution is not only the other but the only option, which requires some sort of an engagement between the interested parties. That is the only way reform process can be set in motion. However, the terms of engagement have to be clearly defined and earnestly executed. In order to do that, we will have to openly own the madrassas no matter how unpalatable the proposition may seem. But it is not a step in the wrong direction. Imran Khan, however, will have to make a well-calculated move thereafter. The skill for persuading his counterpart is what matters here the most.

His intention of bringing madrassas into the mainstream, at least at this moment, should not be doubted. Given the madrassa network across Pakistan, we must not expect a provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to plan and promulgate madrassa reforms. It can only be done at the federal government level. All said and done, Khan’s predicament has to be evaluated with the cognisance of the situation obtaining in the province, particularly when Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a thorn in his flesh. Whose side Rehman is on, nobody is making mention of it. 

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The author is a historian and teacher based in Lahore.

One comment

  • Good piece. Makes one think, and that is the maximum one can expect in the communal State of Pakistan.

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