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Defensive Discussions

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo. Arif Ali—AFP

A crisis of governance after 70 years as a nation

Come Aug. 14, Independence Day, Pakistanis want to be upbeat about their country, willing to navigate away from the crisis of the state that engulfs them and has high global visibility. This is what happened in a BBC discussion held by veteran journalist Owen Bennett-Jones on Aug. 11, National Minorities Day, a day non-Muslims celebrate their own Independence Day, recalling what Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had said about the nature of the new state on that very day in 1947.

Two women panelists understandably embraced realism while two gentlemen strained to negate what the world fears about Pakistan: religious extremism targeting non-Muslims and breaking the law on human rights with religious sanction. One said what is happening is according to the will of the common man who polls, with overwhelming majority, in favor of Islam as law of the land. The state therefore is not going downhill because some evil dictator has mangled the Constitution but because the people want the state to be Islamic. While the Christian lady complained that she couldn’t rent a room in Karachi because of her religion, the Muslim lady pointed to the depredations of the blasphemy law that defeats human reason to allow the state to hunt mainly Christians through local clerics. One discussant tried to win the argument against ideological oppression by saying that the religious parties, unlike those in Iran, never win enough votes to form their government.

The non-state killers that harass innocent Pakistanis claim authenticity through Islam, rebuking Pakistan for not being Islamic enough even though, through a kind of Stockholm syndrome, the victim state is doing exactly what they want by victimizing non-Muslim citizens through the blasphemy law. The biggest drawback of Islamizing the state on lines not clearly indicated by the founders is that it has lost its writ on most of the territory in its control. The big cities used to reflect the state’s compromise with modern times, but now it is the big cities where most violent reaction against moderate values is in evidence. No matter how our intellectuals manage to gloss over realities in discussions, the crisis of the state after 70 years of ideological turmoil is staring the world in the face.

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