Countenance with Caution

Statements from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), arguably since its inception, are followed by widespread condemnation by progressive vocal minds in the country. The cause for concern stressed is the perpetual retrograde agenda that religious scholars in the country allegedly posses. However debates that emphasize a holistic approach to analysis attuned with worldly events is surprisingly rare.

Our case in point, the recent announcements by our religious scholars on the incompatibility of Pakistan’s conjugal laws with the Shariah – namely the validity of child marriage and of multiple wives that some might even term polygamy – come at a time when the impasse of the state sponsored talks with the Pakistan Taliban seems to be breaking; perhaps with some wisps of light visible at the end of the tunnel.

To understand this we should take a look at how the Pakistani state has historically dealt with rogue elements and militancy; the emergence and prominence of Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) in 1985 as a breakaway group of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) can give us an insight. Although there is no direct evidence of this but the rise of Shia extremist organizations provided an impetus for the support of Sunni militants by the state and Saudia Arabia at the time for fear of increasing Iranian influence in the region.

This militancy that took roots in Southern Punjab, primarily in Jhang, however spread to other areas of the country where Sunni and Shia tensions were latent such as in Peshawar, Quetta and Kurram Agency of FATA encompassing other militants, forming allegiances and increasing its mandate to further target Christians, Ahmedis, Hazaras and other minorities. In short a Hydra headed monster took birth that has many faces each begetting the other, spreading its arcane ideology often violently.

Although the states attempts at controlling this has been effective to an extent one needs to take it with a pinch of salt; in the 90’s several militant leaders such as Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi and Azam Tariq were killed by unidentified gunmen with all signs indicative of Shia terrorist and the Pakistani state. In the words of Anatol lieven in his book Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011)

According to credible reports, Pakistani intelligence responded in typical fashion with a mixture of arrests, extra-judicial executions and attempts to split the militants and draw more moderate Sipah-e-Sahaba members into allegiance to the state.

This brief anecdote on the history of militancy has two very important lessons. Firstly it seems that the present strategy of the state in dealing with the Pakistani Taliban is similar to its dealing with other militants. The twin attacks on 3rd March in Islamabad, when a ceasefire had been agreed with the Taliban, show the rifts emerging within the Taliban camp. Undoubtedly these talks will help the government and the state understand the organizational setup better, gather intelligence and increase the efficacy of counter insurgency in the region.

The announcement made by the CII becomes very timely indeed under these circumstances as the CII is a government institution and any lobbying on its part demonstrates the Pakistani government’s efforts to be privy of religious sentiments of the people. It increases the government’s credibility for genuine dialogue in FATA with ‘moderate militants’. A similar announcement by CII last November by declaring DNA evidence against the defendants of rape cases as un-Islamic shows a similar pattern. These announcements in quick successions by the normally sluggish CII seem unlikely to be a coincidence.

The second implication of CII announcements in Pakistan must be looked within the context of the rise of the Habermasian public sphere in a ‘South Asia that stands at the crossroads of possibilities fraught with alternative scenarios of a great developmental and democratic ascent’ (Kukreja and Prasad 2008)[1]. The virus of insurgency is a byproduct of democratic transitions in South Asia; the naxalities in India and Nepal and the now defunct Tamil Tigers of Srilanka are prime examples of this issue. In fact the insurgency in India is according to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the ‘single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country (India)[2]’.

It is an escapable reality that Islam is and will always be an integral part of Pakistan’s identity as in many other Muslim countries. The extremist militancy in Pakistan however is an apt representation of the most impoverished areas of our country devoid of infrastructure, health services and food security. The narrative of the CII is but one face of our evolving public sphere that is contested by numerous actors before it reaches a fairly acceptable form. This certainly is the essence of inclusion in governance as is evident by the voices heard in the media against these announcements. For now though, it seems to fit in well in the scheme of affairs that we should countenance albeit with caution.

[1] Kukreja, V & Singh, M.P., (2008) Democracy, Development and Discontent in South Asia, India: SAGE



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