Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Scope and potential of compromise and national reconciliation

There may be a scope for compromise among well meaning liberals who wish to bring about an egalitarian system replacing the existing unjust and feudalistic order under the garb of democracy, and the Islamists, if not the die-hard terrorists. The common cause among the two, otherwise diverse groups could be a “just socio-economic order’. Liberals may have to forego or postpone their emphasis on Western values of wining and dining, flaunting and exhibitionism, vulgar and obscene media etc.

The Islamists may have to forego or postpone their emphasis on initiating Islamic interpretation and implementation with “cutting hands”, caning the defaulters, mishandling women and restricting their participation in economic life.

Ziaul Haque’s Islamic rule came with trying to impose “hand chopping” punishments without arranging and providing for the poor and hungry (the latter) as enshrined by Islam. Talibans in Afghanistan did violence to women coming out of their homes and interfered with relics of other religions. Pakistani Taliban flogged a girl and routinely destroyed girls’ schools. On the other hand, liberals insist on flaunting sexuality and nudity, even display of sexual acts on television and media, and all that goes with it. Both the diverse penchants can be delayed or if not totally, foresworn permanently, till happy and workable solutions are found.

Elimination of hunger, poverty an injustice can be the compromising agenda, if the two sides are faithful to their ideals. The recent revival of the judiciary should not be confused with the social justice. The former is legislative and even elitist while the latter is real, enduring and all pervasive. Liberals could never have the wherewithal to change the system while the Islamists have a wider base and can mobilize support, mass appeal and street power. Islamists need respectability and acceptability in the corridors of power, national and internal, and a marketable outlook. Jamaat e Islami originally, perhaps, offered a potential vehicle, but has now chosen an extremist path. Many in this country dread a collapse of the system and sudden surrender at the hands of extremists in the form of a hurriedly organized compromise. The alternative prognosis of a pervading war of attrition with extremists led by TTP is not a good prospect either which may leave us divided and under developed, with our neighboring India looking forward to reap the benefits. An intellectually negotiated consensus should reside as an option of the State of Pakistan.

Profile of a settlement

A conference of Pakistani Deobandi scholars and ulemas had been called recently by the government circles to garner support (and a declaratory supporting statement) against terrorism and suicide attacks. The organizers could not succeed in getting any fatwa or statement against terrorism unleashed by the Taliban, led by TTP and other factions. Indeed as reported by the daily Dawn newspaper and by its editor, everybody else was criticized and condemned for their failures; drone attacks, the US action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the non-Islamic character of government in Pakistan. The conference reveals confusion in the minds of Deobandi scholars, if not outright support for terrorism. Earlier there was the Lal Masjid episode, in which demand for Islamist system was pushed by the extremists who occupied a children’s library and created a severe law and order situation. Unfortunately excessive force was used which resulted in many deaths and disappearances of the female students of the religious seminary. It is often said that this show of force by the rulers at the time resulted in further alienation of the extremists from the existing system and the Pakistan Army and impelled them towards a deadly terror campaign that materialized soon after the Lal Masjid episode.

Subsequently the Swat peace deal did not succeed and was followed by operation Raahe Nijaat, in which the whole city had to be evacuated and the infiltrators and terrorists had to be wiped out after a deadly military campaign. If we look for the common thread in the demands and the conduct of the extremists, and the participants of the Deobandi scholars’ conference, we can conclude the following:

  1. Resentment against immorality spread through the media and films, CDs etc with the assistance or benign neglect of the government(s) of Pakistan.
  2. Establishment of some obvious manifestations of Islamic system especially a fast-track legal system based on Qazi Adalat and Shariat.
  3. If they have their way, they would also have demanded several anti-woman initiatives, stress on beard and salaat etc.

On the first two, even liberals may like to support the extremists. Many of us would not like to show us on TV, what is being shown e.g. vulgarity and raw sexuality and almost copulatory acts. All kinds of x-rated films and songs encouraging flesh trade are not the grievances of the extremists but also have a common cause of conflict with an average law abiding and progressive Pakistani.

That the existing legal system of Pakistan is highly inefficient, corrupt and time- consuming and absolutely inadequate for the needs of an average Pakistanis well known and almost undisputed. Without sacrificing the fundamentals of the existing legal doctrine and regime, it may be possible to induct a fast track effective system which is available in the form of a Qazi system on which there are procedures and consensus.

Small cause courts, felonies and personal laws like marriage, divorce, inheritance etc., could be entrusted to Qazi courts, wherein both lawyer and police are avoided and side tracked. Most people cannot afford lawyers and police and want to have immediate recourse to an institution which is readily accessible, without intermediary and un-necessary costs and whose quick adjudication can be achieved. Qazi / Shariat adalat system could be introduced first in NWFP, in the districts where there is excessive demand for the new system. Localized referendum can be organized to ascertain the will of the people. In Punjab and Sindh also initially some rural areas could be given to the Qazi system.

Keeping in view the deteriorating situation and even expanding and intensifying terror campaign by the militants and fundamentalists, the choices before liberal forces are not too many. They may risk a future war of attrition at best and a take-over at worst. Pakistan’s states’ security cannot be left to the whims of a handful of liberals who may idealize western cultures and values, but are totally out of tune with the minds and attitudes of a largely uneducated populace living in harsh and difficult conditions. Poverty and extremism are usually best friends.

Attempts to force the change in seminaries curriculum and the associated pedagogy would not succeed. However, enmasse induction in these seminaries could be completed away by offering alternative education facilities to the children of the poor. Financial and modernization assistance such as libraries, computers and internet, provision of teachers of modern sciences such as economics, philosophy and natural sciences could in the medium to long run may dilute extremism and help produce more balanced and seminary graduates and scholars.

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