Elections 2013: Pakistan Embraces Modernity, Rejects Liberalism

By Usman Khalid

Imran Khan- Chosen to be the apostle of modernity

May 11 Elections in Pakistan has produced no surprises but they are a watershed in its history. All the four parties in the ruling coalition over the past five years – Asif Zardari’s PPP, PML(Q) of Chaudhri brothers, the ANP rulers of KPK, and the MQM rulers ofKarachi since 1999 – all lost. The PML(Q) and the ANP have been well nigh eliminated from the electoral map. The PPP and MQM have survived in Sindh and even secured a majority but it is a pyrrhic victory because it has been obtained by elaborate rigging of elections. While there is disquiet in the country over serious cases of local manipulation and fraud but the result would not have been different if the reported fraud had not occurred. The victory of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N), which  won the most votes and seats in the National and Punjab Assembly, is quite decisive. Imran Khan’s PTI has won the most seats in KPK and has already garnered a stable coalition. The Baluch nationalists have lost heavily and the main religious party ofBaluchistan – the JUI – has lost considerable support. The ruling coalition inBaluchistan would be based on the main Pashtun party – Pakhtunkhawa Awami Milli Party (PKAMP), and PML(N). Asif Zardari’s PPP can easily form a government in Sindh but it will face a challenge from PML(F) in the interior of Sindh and from PTI in Karachi.

What does it all mean? Political observers and commentators – local as well as foreign – are missing the point. The number of parties that lost support and who gained seats are several and there was no formal alliance between them. But there was a grouping in the minds of the people that was given expression, ironically, by the TTP who are opposed to democracy and elections. They identified the PPP, ANP and the MQM as ‘enemies of Islam’. They warned they will disrupt political campaign of those three parties. They delivered on their warning; many meetings and rallies of these parties were bombed and many candidates killed. None of the three parties were able to carry out proper election campaign. The press and the politicians predictably ‘condemned’ the TTP but the people were satisfied that someone did use the ‘T’ word as the majority considers them as traitors who pursue the agenda of the arch enemy – India.

The so called ‘jihadists’ have made an entry into the politics of Pakistanin a manner similar to that of the MQM a quarter century ago. At its inception, the MQM remained silent and let the guns speak targeting the police and the armed forces personnel. By a combination of gerrymandering and intimidation the MQM secured a majority in Karachithus blackmailing its way into partnership with every ruling coalition since 1989. The TTP has done the same but similarities end here. The MQM calls itself ‘liberal-secular’ whereas the TTP is a religious albeit ‘Islamic’ group. The parties in the ruling coalition either had no principle or were ‘secular-liberal’. All of them have been defeated fairly and squarely on May 11. The victorious parties are yet to define themselves as a group. Their enemies have called them ‘pro-Taliban’ and ‘reactionary’ (rujaat pasand), but they are neither. What are they?

The word secular is translated in Urdu as ladeen (anti-religion). No part in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan calls itself ‘secular’ but their detractors do. The word liberal usually means someone who violates a religious taboo openly. A Muslim who drinks, a Hindu who eats meat, a Christian who is gay, is a ‘liberal’ and this view is supported by almost every society. The problem is complicated as a large segment of Christians are either agnostic or atheists. The ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ portray the Christian youth to be interested only in alcohol and sex. The Western culture is widely seen to be hedonistic. The trouble is that Muslims who embrace ‘Western Values’ are manifestly hedonistic and agnostic. They enjoyed respect during Western colonial rule and were eagerly accepted in the fold of the ruling elite. But the Muslim mainstream stood aloof from the ‘liberal-secular’. In fact, any one with Western education was seen as ‘subverted’ if not as an instrument of subversion. The elite and their children, who were often well educated, began to experience a prejudice against them in politics.

This was the experience of the generation that led the Pakistan Movement. At that time the western educated were accepted in leadership position because they were a link between the Western rulers and the masses. But this link transformed the leaders as well. From ‘secular-liberal’ they became ‘modern’ Muslims. Unlike secular -liberalism which has obvious connotation of ladeen (hedonistic) life style, the foundation of modernity is ‘logic, reason and mathematics’. During the first one thousand years of Islam it was a force of ‘modernity’. When Islam lost vigour and direction, the West became the flag bearer of modernity. The point that is missed by most Pakistanis is that the Pakistan Movement was a movement of modernity. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (who was the first leader to say that the principal enemy of the Muslims in India were the Hindus not the British) founded the Aligarh Muslim University to educate the Muslim youth and equip them with instruments (logic and law) to meet the challenges of the modern times. Poet Philosopher Allama Iqbal became the leading voice of modernity in the world of Islam and retains that position till today. He learnt ‘logic and law’ from the Islamic as well as the Western sources and articulated the argument and sharpened the battle cry that led to the French Revolution as founding principles of Islam – liberty (hurriyet), equality (musawaat) and fraternity(akhuwwat).

We lost our way soon after Pakistancame into being. We never claimed to be champions of modernity and allowed others to define and direct us. Indiaeagerly walked in to occupy that space. Even today we blame ourselves for the secession of East Pakistan, not the subversion and invasion by India. There have been no scholar of stature; the politicians blundered hopelessly in statecraft; but Pakistansurvived as two countries – not one. The victory of the Muslim League in May 11 Elections is indeed a victory of modernity but no one is claiming that victory. It is a victory won by the people not by any political party or politician. Those who called themselves secular-liberal (PPP, ANP and MQM) have clearly been beaten. But those who won are not yet willing to call themselves – definitely not liberal-secular but just modern.   Mian Nawaz Sharif is evidently a ‘modern Muslim’ as is his constituency of support because his values are Islamic but his goals and methods are modern. He did not make an alliance with any party before the elections and has made alliances with like minded parties after the elections. But he is reported to be seeking an alliance with the JUI which represents ‘takfiri’ values. The victory of modernity may follow an uncertain course if wayward alliances or policies are pursued by PML(N) in power.

Imran Khan is one leader who is the symbol as well as a vehicle of modernity.  What is more important is that he has mobilised the ‘educated westernised’ to take active part in politics and provide leadership. The educated ofPakistanare not secular-liberal; they do not have a hedonistic lifestyle; it is the feudal and new-rich who have.  Most of them are ‘modern Muslims’ who have not been offered a platform in politics. They cut their political teeth taking part in the debate that characterises the founder ofPakistan–Muhammad Ali Jinnah – as Secular-Liberal. They fight back against this characterisation with argument and their own example as modern Muslims. They reject being characterised as ‘liberal’ which implies open violation of religious taboos. This debate was started inIndiaand carried intoPakistanby Western supported NGOs. Even Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh ofIndiawrote a thick book in ‘praise of Jinnah’ the secular-liberal who went over to the ‘other side’ because of bad treatment by Congress leaders.

The intent behind the whole Indian campaign that culminated in “aman ki aasha” has been that we acceptIndiaas a leading Secular-Liberal country from which a ‘genuine liberal’ like Jinnah got disenchanted because of the ill-treatment. Indian historians and scholars have been successful in their campaign. Two political parties – ANP and the MQM – have been promoting the Indian line. Their electoral success and inclusion in government in 2008 gave them credibility and respect. There are many TV anchors who call themselves liberal or secular, promote the Indian line. They say that the founder ofPakistanwanted it to be a ‘liberal-secular’ state and his vision was compromised by the Mullah Military alliance that came into being during Zia rule.

Imran’s personal history is similar to that of the founder of Pakistan – Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah married a beautiful young Parsi lady who converted to Islam, gave birth to one daughter, and died young. Jinnah never remarried. Imran married Jemimah, an heiress from Britain, who converted to Islam, gave birth to two sons and fully participated in her husband’s efforts to raise funds for and build one of the most modern cancer hospitals in the world. Imran had been known for a hedonistic life style until his marriage. Imran was a typical liberal. His discovery of the grandeur of his faith – Islam – was neither sudden nor thorough but it changed him completely. It is probable that the journey of the husband and wife to Islam occurred in tandem but on different tracks. Their marriage ended in an amicable divorce and but neither of them remarried. Imran underwent a conversion of a different kind – from liberal to a modern Muslim. The phenomenon of the ‘zeal of a convert’ is well known. He is yet to become aware that he has been chosen for the role of ‘apostle of modernity’. If he became aware, he would be accepting the discipline of “reason, logic and mathematics” and transform Pakistan that might have global impact. If he proved to be inadequate in meeting the challenge, there will be others who would. The people have spoken; the Jihadists are eager to have a role and act in unison. We live in exciting times indeed!

Recommended For You

About the Author: Tribune