December 16, 2014 will be remembered as the blackest days in Pakistan’s history, both for the tragedy of East Pakistan, and, for the massacre of our children that the Taliban terrorists committed at the Army Public School in Peshawar. Tragedies, sorrowful days and setbacks are part of every national history; some end up having more of them than others. No nation state, particularly in a challenging security environment of multiple wars and globalization of terrorism can expect to live in an ideal paradise. Ours is one of the most insecure region with internal and external states and non-state actors playing dangerous games. Afghanistan is and has been the epicenter of so many ‘great’ and not so great games. The state and security vacuum of Afghanistan for decades and its internal wars and external interventions have gravely impacted on Pakistan’s national security conditions, both internally as well as in relations to other countries. The Taliban terrorism is born out of these conditions and supported by powers and forces with ill intentions of weakening and destabilizing Pakistan.
We should have realized the challenge of Taliban terrorism much earlier, before what happened in Swat, the moment they began to group and raise militia to destabilize the political and social order of FATA. Sadly, there was ambiguity, ambivalence in thinking of some of the religious and mainstream political parties. The religious parties belonging to the same sectarian denomination as the Taliban defended them tooth and nail, in the media and in the public rallies. All such movements either create political fronts of their own or have some tacit alliances. Few religious parties tacitly or out of their own religious and political convictions gave too much of support to them by deflecting criticism on the Taliban and justifying what they were doing to the Pakistani society. They were however not alone. A good number of media persons made sure that those who defended the Taliban and terrorists from Lal Masjid episode to all other ugly incidents were represented in their shows. Nation as a whole was divided and the governments kept vexing eloquence in making distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.
The media at large and the indecision of the then Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and federal government in a crucial phase when this monster was raising its ugly head kept the nation confused, disunited and indifferent when a branch of Taliban had taken over Swat. It was a video of public flogging of a girl that awakened the nation to the danger of extremism and terrorism. The population of Swat paid a heavy price for liberation of their region, and so did the security forces and the nation.
Once again, we see the Pakistani nation standing together against the Taliban terrorism. The ultimate sacrifice of our children has touched every soul in this country and every human in the larger world who values human life and has love for children. What this unity should mean and where we go from here? The national solidarity against terrorism means that government has full support of the nation to take every measure that it deems necessary to end terrorism in the country. Without doing this, stability, prosperity and improving Pakistan’s global image will remain a distant dream. There is no room for wavering in resolve or losing the target, which is ending terrorism from every group disregarding its motivation or geographic location. As to where we go from here, three things are of crucial importance for Pakistan in this defining moment in our history. First, we must rethink of the national narrative—what kind of Pakistan we want. We have deviated far too long from the vision of our founders, which was a democratic, moderate, liberal, pluralistic Pakistan, integrated with the world community on the basis of mutual interest. In a globalized world, isolation is a curse that our external enemies, terrorists and their ideological warriors wish to impose on us. A country which is secure for every citizen no matter what his ethnicity, faith, or particular religious pursuits are and in which every citizen of Pakistan has an opportunity to grow, prosper and realize his or her dreams. Pakistan must be conceived as a nation state which is pluralistic in its composition and its basis is citizenship – all are equal. Redefining Pakistan is a monumental task which cannot be done in short time but what is important is a resolute determination and its pursuit no matter who governs the country. A modernist vision and a true interpretation about the creation of Pakistan, which undoubtedly was for advancing and protecting the political and economic interests of the Muslims must get the space in our curriculum design for the educational institutions, social and political discourses in the media and must be the mark of every public policy. Without changing narrative about the vision of Pakistan we may not be able to recover the real Pakistan – the Pakistan our founders had imagined and struggled for.
The second important task before the governments, both provincial and federal, is to start reform programme of every institution where public money is spent. State institutions have been on decline for decades. They are not delivering the services and goods that they are intended for. Among them public utilities, development agencies and public entities like Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) must be restructured, reformed, and better off-loaded from the back of the government. Where in the world a public or a serious government that is committed to public interests would allow hundreds of billions of wastage every year for which the public has paid for. More important are reforms of the legal and judicial system that fails to punish the criminals from those robbing public exchequer to murdering our citizens. Laws against hate speech are of immense importance to control sectarianism. Largely, it is collapse of the institutional power of the state in some of these critical areas that has created social conditions for militant minds.
Thirdly, we must educate our children, provide professional skills to our youth and give them hope that Pakistan is the place where they can grow, develop and find opportunity. An atmosphere of hopelessness and lack of educational opportunities pushes young people into the fold of terrorist organizations.
Fourthly, we must be tough with the countries that are providing sanctuaries to the terrorists or those providing funds to the organizations for development or religious education. We have been too soft, too porous and too relaxed about what other countries do inside our society and in our proximate neighbourhood. Peshawar and the Army Public School will not be the same. The lesson of this tragedy is that Pakistan should not be the same. Must it revert back to the founding vision.
Finally, the task of defeating the extremist mindset and terror networks with global links, cannot and shouldn’t be left to one institution. It is a shared national responsibility of the society at large, the state, all state institutions, political parties and the media. The practical meanings of national solidarity against terrorism is that every one of us and every institutions of the state from the Parliament to executive, judicial branch and the social forces play a role in recovering Pakistan from the hold of extremist ideas and defeating every militant force in the country that has taken up arms against the state.
For the last few years, more or less regularly, there had been terrorist attacks in Russia. The terrorist attacks in Volvograd were only the last example of a security-related problem that has been around for a while. The international media talks about it, and later forgets about it, until the next attack, making the situation difficult to understand, at best. At worst, Russia is described as “islamophobic” by some Western analysts, as a force eager to destroy its Muslims. Of course, there are tensions between the Russian Center, which is traditionally Orthodox Christian, and a periphery, North Caucasus, which is overwhelmingly Muslim. But somebody reading Western analysts on Pakistan can know all too well how they can over-simplify issues, to say the least. And for the author of this paper, it is clear that Russia is suffering from the same biased Western approach. And analysis on Russian Islam is just a collateral damage of such fact.
What is the situation of the Muslim minority in Russia? First, one should know that the main Muslim minorities in Russia are not Chechen or Dagestani (from North Caucasus) but rather Tatar (the 2nd ethnic group in Russia, and a third of the Russian Muslims) and Bashkir (the 4th ethnic group in Russia, 11% of the Muslims). Indeed, they have been conquered by a Russian state dominated by Christian Slavs. But one should keep in mind that before Russians could dominate them, they were dominated by those Tatars, Bashkirs, and other Muslim populations included in what was called the “Golden Horde”.
Traditional History focuses too often about conquests, victories and defeats, without taking into account the cultural and people’s histories. And when one takes this more modern approach, it is possible to follow the point of view of one of the most important Tatar intellectuals (and an advisor to the first Tatar President, Mintimer Shamaiev), Rafael Khakimov: he analyzes the Russian state not as a Slav project, but rather as a Tatar-Russian one, born already from the time of the Kipchak Khanate (another name of the Golden Horde).
At first the Eurasian area was dominated by a political structure that had chosen Islam as its state religion by 1313, under the reign of the Khan Uzbeg. Then the Tsars, their former vassals, imposed their suzerainty. But such historical issues are far away from modern Russian Muslim minds. Nowadays, when one talks to a Muslim Tatar or Bashkir, or to a Christian Slav, what matters is not the rejection of the “Tatar Yoke” by Ivan III, but rather the memories of the “Great Patriotic War” (Second World War), when all of them had a grandfather fighting and often dying in the Russian/Soviet war to the death with the Third Reich. As the Russian saying goes, “Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tatar”… Muslims, at least outside of the North Caucasus, are indeed seen as 100% Russians by the vast majority of the population.
It may be linked to the fact that actually, differences in terms of religiosity and ways of life are not that important. The issue is not any given religion in Russia, but rather the lack of it. Russian Christians and Muslims are both strongly secularized. Indeed, if official numbers talk about 80 million Orthodox Christians, the real numbers, according to specialists, are closer to 40 million Russians being still linked, one way or another, by this religious tradition. As for the Russian Muslims, in 2010, they were 16.4, after being 14.64 million in 2005. This is indeed a substantial minority, but again here, one could talk about Islam as a tradition for most of them, rather than as a strong religious way of life. After all, according to a 2007 study from Gallup, 50% of the Russian Muslims drink alchohol, 27% eat pork, 46% do not know how to pronounce the Shuhada, and 49% never pray (66% for the younger generations). Hence, for better and for worst, Russian Muslims and Orthodox Christians are culturally and religiously very similar.
Hence, if there are tensions, it is less because of a specific “Islamophobia” than related to an all-too-real “Caucasophobia”. Mainly because North Caucasus has a pretty different history from the other Russian Islamic territories. It was conquered in a colonialist fashion at the end of the 19th century. But it was a difficult conquest of proud people with a natural rejection of control of by a far-away centre. Between 1940 and 1944, the Chechens and their North Caucasian cousins, the Ingush (together they known as the “Vainakh” people) rebelled against the Kremlin, hoping the Second World War would destroy the Russian/Soviet state. But it did not work, and North Caucasian people were punished, like others, for “collaboration” with the Third Reich. The Chechens were condemned to an exodus to Central Asia that killed 100,000 of them. It is no surprise that after the fall of the Soviet Union, they were very eager to gain their independence. They won a de facto recognition of their independence after a first war against Russian troops (1994-1996). But for obvious reasons such situation was unbearable for the Russian Federation. The USSR had already fragmented, and for the Russians as well as numerous other post-Soviet people, it has been a trauma, as it has meant the loss of an important international status and well as of a state that was providing schools, hospitals, and other advantages to the average citizen. All of this was replaced by a weaker state, more corrupted in the 1990s than it was before, with oligarches and criminal groups taking over the economy of the country.
With the end of the First Chechen War, the formerly mighty Russian Army felt humiliated, and the Russian political elites began to fear another partition of the country. The former Interior Minister A. Kulikov summarized the feelings of numerous Russians when he said in 1999 “a state inside the Russian Federation's Borders (which) does not recognize Russian federal law… does threaten the integrity and security of Russia”.
Vladimir Putin has built his political ascent as an answer to those national fears. When some jihadist groups decided to influence warlords in Chechnya and to use their country as a safe haven to strike elsewhere in North Caucasus, he did not hesitate to start a second Chechen War. Militarily it had been a success: the Chechen independent state had been conquered. But at what cost politically? During Yeltsin's presidency already, the Kremlin had done everything possible to isolate the independent Chechnya diplomatically, making sure it does not get the economic means to work as a normal state. Doing so, it made life difficult for the moderate nationalists who were in power… giving the more extremist ones, influenced by radical foreigners like the jihadist Ibn al-Khattab the means to get more influence politically. The Second Chechen War, from 1999, was the final stroke against the moderates in the Chechen separatist side. Now the ones controlling the rebellion in the North Caucasus are the most extreme kind of nationalist, associated with jihadists having the dream of a Clash of Civilizations.
It is a well-known fact that some have been fighting in Syria on the side of the rebels. Their ideological vision of their political fight makes compromise impossible now. Indeed, they represent only a minority of people in Chechnya and North Caucasus. But it is exactly why they do not limit themselves to Chechnya anymore: they have been using local nationalisms of the different people of the region, as well as the regional exasperation with local corruption and with the violence of the local security forces, to find new recruits. Because of a political approach being only based on repression, the Russian state has been losing the war for the hearts and minds of the people in North Caucasus. It makes the Kremlin even more dependent of the local satraps who are the main source of the discontent of the people. This political vicious circle explains how rebellion against the Russian state can still exist 15 years after the Second Chechen War already began…
But besides the need to better understand a situation one can hear about on the news, why is it of interest for Pakistan to follow news related to Russian Muslim populations?
First, it is important for Pakistani policy-makers to get their own understanding of Russia as a whole. If they rely only on analysis from abroad, mainly in English, coming from the United States and the UK, they will only get a dark image of the Kremlin, and the idea that Russia could only be seen as an enemy of Islam. As we have shown here, relations between Russia and Islam are much more complex, and the same way this country considers itself as a bridge between Europe and Asia, it is in more ways than only a cultural and religious bridge, from a historical point of view, between Christianity and Islam. To see Russia this way, and not only as a European country, can help make relationships easier and more natural between Pakistan and Russia; it could be interesting to build a people-to-people relationship, with Pakistani religious scholars invited to Russia to see the Islamic specificities of the local Muslims, understand their history, and their life in a non-Muslim country, while Russians from religious institutions (with a priority for Muslims of course, but also Orthodox Christians) could be invited in Pakistan to discover a world much more diverse religiously and culturally than what they would think. Because the same way some Pakistanis can think that Russians are “islamophobic”, the Russians can have a dark image of Pakistan because of information they are getting… mostly from American and English newspapers. It is time for Pakistan and Russia to discover each other by themselves, and a good way for Pakistan to do that is through an interest in Russian Muslims, and through relationships with Russian Muslim institutions. Over time Islamic institutions and personalities from Russia could be a natural bridge between Moscow and Islamabad.
Second, the issues that Russia has to deal with in North Caucasus and the ones Pakistan has to deal with in FATA, if they are not totally similar, are not without commonalities. In the two cases, it is a security problem based on tensions between a political centre and its peripheries. It is linked to local rebellion, radical “jihadism” as it is called in the West, with possible manipulations coming from overseas. Hence the military personnel from the two countries could learn from each other, from their experiences, and indeed, also from their mistakes. Maybe the mistake the Russians made in North Caucasus was always to use repression first as the main reaction to terrorist attacks. Seeing the work the Pakistani Army is doing in the FATA area, or in Balochistan, not only to oppose rebels, but also as a nation builder, could be an inspiration for them. Over time, military-to-military relations could help bring the two countries closer, diplomatically and in terms of trade related to weaponry and military affairs.
Last, but not the least, Russia and Pakistan can be seen as two states having, now more than ever before, common interests in the fight against transnational “jihadists” who should rather called “miscreants”, the terrorists inspired by Al Qaeda. This is the same ideology that is targeting the state in Russia and in Pakistan, the same targeting the Muslims who do not accept their theological/ ideological points of view. This is the same destructive and non-Islamic approach which could find some safe haven in Afghanistan after 2014 and target the FATA through the TTP, post-Soviet Central Asia, hence Russia's “Near Abroad”, through IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), the main Central Asian terrorist group, close to the TTP and other Central Asian jihadists, and may be even Russian territory itself. The last two years, there have been more articles in Pakistani press talking of a diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries. But such vision has been too often based on wishful thinking and does not take into account the old links between India and Russia.
To build better links with Moscow, even making it an ally after some time (to some extent: difficult to imagine a relationship that would be as strong as the one with China), there is a need to find common ground, areas of common interest. Economically speaking, it would be difficult for Pakistan to compete with India. But from a political and security-related angle, it is possible: Islamabad and Moscow have a common interest in the fight against Al Qaeda and with stabilization in Afghanistan. Clearly Pakistanis have a better knowledge of Afghanistan, its regional environment, and of the extremists being a threat for peace there.
After 2014, Pakistan can initiate a diplomatic friendship based on common interests and the need of stability in this part of the world, offering to the Russians an understanding that for now limits itself to the good relations they have had with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Indeed on security-related issues, Russia could not find a better ally than Pakistan in the region. More broadly speaking, such a rapprochement could mean seeing Pakistan, over time, being part of the Russian strategy to get more influence in its foreign policy towards the Muslim world. After all, if the Kremlin wants to be heard there (which clearly seems to have been Putin's strategy since he arrived in power), what could be better than to befriend one of the most important Muslim nations on Earth? This is something that Pakistani diplomats could explain to their Russian counterparts if a solid security dialogue exists between those two countries.
The writer is a Visiting Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). He is in charge of the Programme on Iran and South Asia at IPSE (Institute for Prospective and Security in Europe).
There is a famous Urdu saying “Har Firon ke liye aik Moosa hota hai” meaning by ‘for every problem, there is a solution’. This is also mentioned by Allah in the Qur’aan. It is for us, “the people of thought” or the “Ahl-e-Aql”, as God repeatedly calls us, to use our intellect (aql) to work out those solutions (and I use the word “work” intentionally because it comes with, and not without, effort and labour).
The attack on the students of Army Public School in Peshawar was particularly heartbreaking for me (as it has been for all Pakistanis) because I grew up not very far from this very school. I recall my happy childhood in Peshawar when my parents would take me for long walks in a stroller in the beautiful cantonment with its flower-filled gardens. It saddens me to know that same Peshawar now has become a battleground for the future of Pakistan. Who could be so cruel as to kill the children and take the lives of others, and then their own. I wept once again for my nation. I asked myself, what could we do to prevent such extreme violence and hatred in the future?
When nations are seen to be weak and divided, everyone suffers especially the vulnerable children. The Prophet (PBUH), who loved children, forbade men to do any harm to children and women in war. Yet children are killed through violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Gambia, and in so many other parts of today’s turbulent world. This practice is a heavy burden on the conscience of humanity and the guilt will always haunt the perpetrators.
A unanimous voice would decree; let children live – both literally and metaphorically by allowing them to grow in their minds, ideas, and creativity. To explore the heights of knowledge without hunger, pain or loss of family and life! The challenges for Pakistan are no exception. They can be tackled through effective planning, insight, and must be solved with foresight in the light of current world events. Thus in this article, I would suggest few ideas as a solution to the problem. Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniat Courses: Fighting this War with the Tools of Knowledge
The Center for Dialogue and Action (CD&A), which I have the privilege of heading at The Forman Christian College University (FCCU) in Lahore, aims to benefit institutions in the armed forces and civil services by creating opportunities for learning and growth. There is a general lack of understanding and ambiguity in Pakistan in relation to the subject of Pakistan’s diversity, its religions, culture, ethnic history, and gender. If we can open the minds of the young generation to ideas of acceptance and compassion, we can successfully challenge the hatred that engendered this violence in Peshawar.
The foundation of any debate on defining our national identity and ways forward must look to a class on the vision of its founding fathers: Quaid-i-Azam who strove for human rights and justice, Sir Syed who encouraged open mindedness and knowledge, and Allama Muhammad Iqbal who inspired passion for learning and hard work through knowledge of our own rich history. In this context, we must examine the challenges of today’s Pakistan and the opportunities ahead.
Another class focuses on what Islam is about and the early inclusive and tolerant Islamic attitudes towards the others. In yet another session, a study of Andalusia in Spain and Sicily in Italy are essential to see how people can co-exist. I have been to both places over the last few months with the research project “Journey into Europe — Islam, Immigration and Empire” accompanying my father, Professor Akbar S. Ahmed, and his team. The knowledge we gained and the people we met have been an eye-opener and a healer. We need to be aware about a past where we were creative, productive, and tolerant. From these cultures, everyone all over the world benefitted and continues to benefit, until today. The first man who flew was the Andalusian Ibn al Firnas, the astrolabe who gave direction that led to compass invention, and which is a gift to the world from Sicily and so on and so forth. Diversity is one of Pakistan’s key strength. The study of diversity can inspire our youth to become better citizens who respect cultural and religious differences. The study of diversity explores differences and commonalities, and provides tools to equip us to play a positive role in transforming negative attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours. Despite being unique individuals i.e. belonging to different communities, at the end of the day we are all connected through our shared values.
Learning Lessons from the Glory of Andalusia and the Gore of Srebrenica I spent this summer doing fieldwork with ‘Journey into Europe’ (JIE) team in the South of Spain at Andalusia – the jewel in the crown of civilization. It made me realize how important it is to strive for peace, creativity, and open mindedness to overcome a closed and static mindset. At its height, Andalusia was a period when Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic rule, lived together producing the knowledge from which the world benefits today (clocks, watches, carpets, shampoo, coffee, algebra, medicine, flight, cleanliness, and so forth). However, when Muslims and Jews were forced to leave Spain in 1492, by the decree of Isabella and Ferdinand, the dark age of the inquisition began when terror and violence reigned for Muslims and other minorities – people’s property and lives were no longer sacred. Muslims were given two harsh choices – convert or leave Spain – those who left had to make a choice harder than death. They had to leave behind all their property and their children!
In European Bosnia, Srebrenica, which I visited with JIE team in summer 2014, Muslim men, women and children were brutally killed 20 years ago. The Bosnian war saw over 200,000 people massacred and more than 70,000 women raped. The stories of the survivors were truly heartbreaking. Khadijah whom I interviewed in the mass graveyard of Srebrenica, lost 50 male family members.
Recently, when I visited National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad to teach a class to PhD students on peace building, I was also asked to give a talk to a hall full of army men and women in uniform – the majority of whom were from the Pakistan Army and a small number from nine other countries. My message to these brave soldiers was that they have tremendous strength and resources but the value of strength is when we use it to maintain peace. The war worth fighting was the one to keep the peace and harmony so that our children could grow up in a safe and calm country. Andalusia teaches us that when we live in harmony together through the exploration of knowledge, there is space for growth of that civilization itself as well as for the generations to come like ripples in water, and the effects are far and wide. European enlightenment comes out of Andalusia through the spread of knowledge. Today’s Europe and the West, it has been argued by many scholars, has progressed on the basis of Andalusian civilization – you’ll be surprised at how many things you use today or encounter thinking these are Western marvels, actually originated in Andalusia from Muslim-Christian-Jewish coexistence!
Srebrenica teaches us to be strong, never to be weak, undivided, or unaware – to play the game of survival, but always keep out of troubled waters. Negotiation and wit are far better than rushing into problematic areas like quicksand. Revenge never gets us anywhere. Srebrenica teaches us to walk the rope of life in a balanced way with our neighbours – again negotiating, building relations, building trust, and above all building strength of one’s country, which must always be above one’s personal interests.
Let’s Work to Build Our Nation, Not Just Our Own House The experiences from this journey, my interviews with hundreds of Pakistanis abroad, the backdrop of the current media constantly chipping away at the image of Pakistan, had made me realize how valuable Pakistan is to us Pakistanis – both at home and abroad. At home, Pakistan gives us a place to live how we choose, and abroad it gives us a place of belonging, to which we hope to one day return. Pakistan is home; it is the source of our identity. It is worth the effort to save, to keep, and to work for with all our might and intellect to make Pakistan a good home for us all.
We often think that our house is our home – we keep it tidy, buy beautiful things for it, decorate it, and sometimes dump our rubbish on the streets outside it. However, our focus needs to change. Our country is our home and we must endeavour to beautify its landscape, preserve its natural beauties and not misuse them (the waters that flow from the mountains in Islamabad are polluted with sewage and rubbish as they come down from sector to sector – this can be improved by stopping this, starting with the sectors occupied by the forces); we must not misuse our national funds (what belongs to the state is not our personal fund – every penny misused is taking a bite out of the mouth of a starving person – so many parents with their children have committed suicide because of hunger in Pakistan); and we must work hard (every day, every hour of our lives counts).
Most importantly, we must be positive. Saying Pakistan will survive and making it happen is possible – it is a self fulfilling prophecy – if we want something to happen, it will. If we want it to exist and be prosperous, it will: but we must put in the effort, we must be united (Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, and many others in Pakistan are part of the rich landscape – they are our strength not weakness but only wish to be heard and wish to be given due acknowledgement, voice and leadership roles) and we must be loyal to Pakistan (above our loyalty to our tribes, political affiliations and ourselves). Our little personal gains are not worth the cost of chipping at our mother nation. Without the nation, there is no house, no dignity, no ownership, no home, and no identity.
The difficulties and harshness of being a musafir (traveller) on my field trip to Europe, interviewing hundreds of people, and listening to the mosaic of voices that talked to me of pain and loss, made me constantly think of the value of my home, Pakistan. I hear so and so leader has so many houses abroad and so much money in this and that Swiss bank. The reality is that no amount of houses abroad or money in banks can replace your dignity of belonging to a country that is your own. God blessed Pakistanis with a miracle against all odds – He gave us one of the biggest nations on earth (Pakistan is the second largest Muslim nation on planet earth – in size we are bigger than UK, Denmark, etc). So let us cherish this land, value it, love it, and work hard to build it up again. I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” which my father read to me again and again in my childhood and its strong message of the will to survive against all odds, some lines of which I want to share with you:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
“Positive Attitude” is Essential: Counting Our Blessings The first main step to improve our country is challenging the negative propaganda against Pakistan. Our own media must work with us, not against us, to put out ideas that Pakistan is indeed a great country worth fighting for. We must work together to improve it in education, in ideas, and in progress. If we spit out negativity all the time we will do nothing to improve because we will feel it is a lost case. Instead, if we say we are fed up of all the negative headlines on Pakistan and say let me change this, it will change – the positive attitude will uplift people and make them work hard to build the nation.
Adopting a positive attitude, therefore, is absolutely essential. Let us create a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, as it is called in Sociology. If I tell a particular child or the children of my nation that they can do it, they will have hope and they will do everything to get to that point of success. If I tell them constantly that you are worthless and you cannot make it, they will subsequently give up hope and will not make it. There is nothing that can prevent the success of our nation, but ourselves. I am confident that we can make this nation great as envisioned by its founding fathers. Let us look, for a moment, at all the stunning things we have to give us hope and reasons to survive and thrive. A Very Rich History. Our country is the cradle of civilization. Though many people outside Pakistan and inside may not fully appreciate or realize this – the oldest civilization in the world is not Ancient Egypt (3000 BC) and Ancient Greece as is taught in many schools around the world. It is our own Mehrgarh (7000 BC) located in present day Balochistan. This is a stunning fact, which gives us, as a collective people, deep roots – we are not a new civilization. Taxila is another example of having one of the most important education centres in the world (people from other parts of the world came to study here just as today they strive to go to Oxford and Cambridge in the UK). A branch of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other religions were born here in present day Pakistan. This land has seen many strong, tolerant, and creative leaders, for example, the great Mughals, the Sufi saints, and so forth. This is the rich historical and cultural inheritance of the people of Pakistan.
The People of Pakistan. With their hospitality and resilience in the face of all troubles, the people of Pakistan are survivors. “Some of the most brilliant people I have met,” a senior European academic I interacted recently told me, “are from Pakistan.” Geographic Bliss. A stunningly beautiful vast land from the north to the south with access to water and the most breathtaking and highest mountains in the world “Mashah-Allah”! In size, we are bigger than most European countries.
Fabulous Weather. Sunny most of the time – the word ‘sad’ is from Seasonally Affected Disorder – indeed while I was in the UK, people moaned about the weather all the time. They would die to have this weather which can make us happy medically. Faith. Lastly, faith is very important and the key anchor – faith in the idea of hope and survival, faith in our nation, and faith in God. I have seen reflections of these in members of the army, civil services, educational experts and in ordinary people for whom the services strive, through the course of their lives, to make a better nation for all.
“You” are a Role Model Peace Builder: Embodying the Messages of Great Leaders The message for us in today’s Pakistan from the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) is to build our own great internal strength – faith is an important component in driving us forward and the message of God is the key to survival – to fight for peace, not war, but to defend ourselves and our national interests with great wit, and the tools of knowledge and wisdom. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Prophet (PBUH) came to Arab society in a very difficult time to challenge Jahilya (violent ignorance) when people killed children and disrespected humanity. He came as a Messenger from God, the Cherisher of Humanity, to remind people of the ideals of justice, humanity and compassion. That is why the title of the leader of the Muslim Army, the Prophet (PBUH), was “Rehmat al Alamin.” The beauty of his character that made his role a success was precisely his great strength of standing firmly for what is right and protecting his ummah firmly within the balance of justice and compassion, while being a leader, a father, a husband, and a general. It is for this reason that we are told repeatedly by the God in the Qur’aan that the best role model for us is the Prophet of Islam. However, we can only really “know” the Prophet (PBUH) if we study his life by reading about him.
The Quaid-i-Azam – our special Baba-e-Quom, is another outstanding role model for us. In the December 2014 issue of the Hilal Magazine, the message of the Quaid was loud and clear – of progress and humanity, of justice and compassion written by Professor Akbar S. Ahmed. In his character, in his manners, in his struggle for Pakistan and its survival, the Quaid is a brilliant star. Being himself an outstanding professional lawyer from a minority community, he fought for the rights of all people, especially the most vulnerable – women and those who were from the minority communities. He fought throughout his life till last breath to give us this nation with the help of God. It is now up to us to make it, to build it, to value it and to protect it.
This land has had many other outstanding leaders – some of whose lives have been forgotten and remain unexplored today but are a treasure for the students and teachers of courses such as ‘ilm, adab aur insaaniat’ to slowly uncover one by one and explore as we are beginning to do so. These examples give us, and our children, hope. They show us how to survive as these great leaders did in the face of all odds and adversity and to make the world we live in a better and more peaceful place. Conclusion
After travelling for months on the research project, across Europe and earlier the Muslim world (on “Journey into Islam” – a book by Prof Akbar S. Ahmed, which was the first part of the four part project, “Journey into Europe”) and hearing the stories of immigrants losing their homes, their countries in wars, the plane I arrive in touches the soil of Pakistan and I am grateful to be back “home”. I say a prayer, a ‘sajdah to Rabbee’ for blessing us with this home – a place better than thousand palaces. I come back enthusiastic and wanting to contribute to building this nation into a beautiful, strong and united country. I pray for all those who have worked towards peace in Pakistan and in the wider region, for the sacrifices they have made, to make a stronger, peaceful world community.
Our progress will start with the building blocks and tools of knowledge and strategy. We will celebrate and be proud of Pakistan just as our neighbour, India, celebrates themselves (you may remember the widespread ads, “Made in India”, “Fabulous India,” etc). We will build on our own knowledge through courses like ‘Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniat,’ by exploring our shared rich heritage (South Asia, Islamic, Andalusian and world debates on Dialogue of Civilizations), which will give us the confidence to propel us forward. We will begin to read up on our own history and polish up our knowledge on the Qur’aan, on the Prophet of Islam, on the Caliphs, on the Quaid-i-Azam and so forth. This will help us understand the balance of justice, rights and respect for others and ourselves and will help us understand the balance of cause and effect. Our minorities must feel a part of, not apart from Pakistan – they must not feel as being on the periphery but included in the centre. Finally, we must acknowledge, value and protect what we have as our strengths.
Drawing inspiration from my father’s great relative, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; my maternal grandfather the Wali of Swat, Miangul Jahanzeb, who built universities and education centres in Aligarh and Swat where the creators of Pakistan on the one hand, and on the other girls like Malala Yusufzai comes out of a system of education which is local (not Oxford or Cambridge); and my husband, Arsallah Khan’s grandfather, Sir Akbar Khan of Hoti, who is said to have built and collected the largest library in South Asia, I am personally convinced that knowledge, and especially “Peace Building Education”, is the key to strengthening and creating a progressive and successful Pakistan. That is why both my husband and I left Cambridge where I had a permanent job as Director of the first centre on peace studies and chose to come to Pakistan, like so many other Pakistanis who came “home”, to help build our valuable homeland and contribute whatever little we have here with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm.
Finally, all of us should remember the message of the Prophet (PBUH) that scholarship is more important than anything else – it is the bright light of hope and of progress. Indeed, there is a famous saying of the Prophet (PBUH): “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” I urge you to think hard about this – if God in the Qur’aan gave the highest darja – or status to the martyr why is then the ink of the scholar more sacred than the blood of the martyr? It is because with scholarship comes understanding and with deeper understanding comes respect and with that, steps to peace are possible. Again, I go back to the example of the best general in any army of all time, the Prophet of Islam, who valued the tools of knowledge to fight all forms of jahilya (violent ignorance).
I want to leave you with the thought that “nothing is impossible” for us: we “can” soar to the highest of heights. We only need the will and mental strength to fly high. When I look at the young generations, I think that with their enthusiasm, great heights are certainly possible. For all those who serve Pakistan in their varied ways, remember Allama Iqbal’s words, “Tu Shaheen hai, bassera kar pahaaron kee chattaanon par”!
The author is a PhD Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Presently she is Director at Centre for Dialogue and Action.
The history of religious extremism in Pakistan does not go back very far but rather is a recent phenomenon. It can be traced back to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when under the patronage of USA and its lead intelligence agency; the CIA, Jihad was waged against occupation forces in Afghanistan through a network of Mujahideen coming from all over the Muslim world.
Massive recruitment drive for Mujahideen was launched through print, electronic media, religious clerics and other related segments of the society. A Large number of individuals from Pakistan and other Muslim countries especially Arabs / Middle Eastern countries, participated in the Jihad with financial and material support mainly from the West with USA having lead role owing to its regional and global interests. Although the Soviets were finally defeated and Jihad in Afghanistan came to a logical conclusion but most of these Mujahideen including foreign individuals never went back. They got settled in bordering areas of Pakistan-Afghanistan, married there and permanently settled down. When these individuals had nothing to do, they started participating in local wars of influence under different war lords and started living in strong groups with affiliated sectarian groups.
War of influence in these bordering areas continued with Taliban emerging as a strong force and finally getting control of majority of Afghanistan with their affiliates also having influence in KPK / FATA. They started practicing their own type of Islamic ideology with extremist thinking / tendencies with no, or very little, room for other sects of Islam. This battle of influence caused the unleashing of sectarianism and religious intolerance in Pakistan.
Sectarianism is a byproduct of religious extremism. This battle of influence continued and got expanded to other areas of Pakistan. In order to get support, most of the sectarian groups started looking towards foreign countries; consequently heavy funding started pouring into Pakistan. A large number of Madaris belonging to different sects were established. Lots of hate material was distributed to malign other sects and preach about own beliefs. This battle resulted into creation of armed wings, resultant killings and sectarian bloodshed, especially 1990s onward. Then came 9/11 and the world witnessed the US forces occupying Afghanistan (along with their regional and global interests) to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban. Pakistan was again used as a front line state in the so called GWOT (Global War on Terrorism). This war has proved devastating for Pakistan politically, economically, militarily and on aspects of sectarian harmony and religious tolerance. This period has seen emergence of different militant sectarian groups which are receiving huge funding from within the country and from foreign countries unchecked. This has made them strong and owing to divergent views / beliefs about certain portion / history of Islam, tolerance for one another has declined sharply. It resulted into religious / sectarian polarization, intolerance and so called “Religious Extremism” for which Pakistan is being propagated as one of the dangerous places by the West. This threat is growing rampantly across the whole country. It has the potential to destroy the very fabric of our society. The solutions to this problem must come with no waste of time. It is time to take various measures which if implemented in true spirit, may control this menace. These include:-
• The federal and provincial governments should make efforts to revisit syllabus of education institutions and Madaris to eradicate hate material and modify subjects with divergent views of sects. The syllabus must promote harmony rather than creating dissensions. Moreover, reforms introduced from time to time for Madaris must be implemented in letter and spirit. The unchecked spread of Madaris must not be allowed. A system may be evolved to monitor all Madaris for above mentioned aspects. For this purpose, Ministry of Religious Affairs can take lead in coordination with the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). Those institutions found involved in spreading extremism must be banned and their organizers punished.
• The government should acquire information on domestic and foreign funding of all religious organizations / institutions. After consensus of all stakeholders, this funding must be channelized / brought under scrutiny. All concerned should declare the source of funding and their expenditures to bring transparency in the system, and also to deny use of this money for anti-social / anti-state activities. It is also important to ban hate speech for which strict laws be introduced and violators be dealt with severely. The government may also enforce ban on use of loudspeakers by all mosques / Madaris except for “Azan”.
• The next step for the government should be to ensure complete crackdown on those individuals and organizations responsible for creating / spreading extremist tendencies and hate towards other sects / school of thoughts. This is seriously affecting our national unity and ultimately national security. In this regard, the government can chalk out strategy for use of media; both print and electronic in order to preach tolerance amongst all segments of society. Articles, programmes and talk shows can be arranged to curb extremist tendencies. All those found involved in propagating extremism must be banned to appear on TV screens, radio talk and newspapers’ headlines.
• Together with these measures, the government must ensure provision of speedy and fair justice as this would address public grievances and would help reduce extremist tendencies in the society. Also, more jobs can be created to ensure keeping majority committed, reducing unemployment and thereby making less number of people available to extremists for motivation / utilization.
• Another important step is that appropriate Cyber laws be made / implemented against propagating religious extremism. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in coordination with other LEAs can track down individuals involved in these crimes. The criminals then should be dealt through speedy justice and punished. This will serve as a deterrence for others to stop using the web for promoting sectarianism.
• Appropriate percentage of budget should be allocated for education sector to increase literacy in our society. Modern and balanced religious education will help in reducing and then eradicating extremism, and also will pave way for our economic development. We have examples of many countries where religious extremism has not been allowed to take roots.
Malaysia, Turkey, UAE etc are better examples. We must learn from their experiences and implement policies in line with their laws.
• In this regard, “Ulema and Citizen Councils” down to sub-tehsil levels may be formulated having full support from LEAs in order to investigate and prosecute violators. Individuals with extremist tendencies must be identified and isolated at all levels. There is an urgent need to be proactive in our approach / fight against religious extremism and sectarianism. We must not wait for “miracles” to happen and should rather curb these tendencies with iron hand. If we are sincere with our country and want to develop, live honourably in the comity of nations, we should not waste more time and start implementing corrective measures. Any lapse would not be forgiven by either history, and our future generations.