Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is looking for what has come to be called biyania (narrative) to defeat the influence of Islamist killers among the victimised masses. What he actually wants is a revision of the ideology of Pakistan which is the same as the one taught by its tormentors, al Qaeda and Islamic State. The counter-narrative is wrongly presumed to be what Pakistan needs: What is needed is the rollback of the state ideology and the lawmaking done under it. And that is going to be a tough ask, risking the undoing of the state itself rather than a revision of its ideology.
Sharif may have not realised, but his first big effort was misconceived and a failure the moment he made it. He called on madrasa Jamia Naeemia in Lahore on March 11 and asked the scholars there to invent a new biyania that would oppose the worldview of the terrorists killing Pakistanis in the name of Islam. Naeemia’s founder-priest, Allama Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi was killed in 2009 by a suicide-bomber after he condemned the killing of innocent people by the Taliban in the name of Islam. Sharif made a fervent appeal to the current head of the seminary to issue the genuine narrative of Islam against the trend of Muslims killing Muslims.
But his ministerial courtiers did not tell him about an unpleasant antecedent. On November 12, 2005, the Christian community of Sangla Hill in Nankana Sahib district in Punjab experienced a hair-raising day of violence and vandalism. Dawn (November 13, 2005) described it like this: “The burning down on Saturday of three churches, a missionary-run school, two hostels and several houses belonging to the Christian community by an enraged mob of some 3,000 people in Punjab’s Nankana district.”
Daily Pakistan (November 25, 2005) reported that Naeemi declared that the government had paid scant attention to the desecration of the Quran but had rounded up 88 Muslim citizens of Sangla Hill on fake charges of destroying Christian churches. He declared that the Christian clergy had set the churches on fire after the desecration incident and should be put behind bars and not allowed to leave the country. He warned that he was taking a procession to Sangla Hill to get the Muslims released from jail. Madrasa Naeemia, therefore, was not the place where a counter-narrative to terrorism could be found.
Pakistan’s killer narrative, which Sharif wants to change, has evolved over 70 years and its toxic direction can be described as a retreat from the memory of the British Raj under which the people of India felt they had become one nation. This may have happened because casteism and sectarianism was not recognised by the British. Pakistan’s preamble pledges sharia and the courts have followed this direction, interpreting various disputed laws in the light of sharia. When ideology stiffened under the pious military ruler, General Zia, Nawaz Sharif was with him, following the lead given by him and didn’t object when the laws against blasphemy and desecration of the Quran were passed and even made more draconian. Zakat tax meant to be spent on the poor can’t be spent on non-Muslims who are counted among the poorest communities in Pakistan. Muslims who are born in Christian hospitals and study in English-medium schools funded by Christian charity don’t mind if
poor Christians are not helped with Muslim charity.
When Pakistan’s most sickeningly pathological terrorist Fazlullah killed 130 children in a school in Peshawar, he quoted from the hadith which form a part of sharia in Islam. Pushed back by sharia, Sharif took himself to Karachi last year where he mixed with the Hindu minority community and made them happy by observing Holi with them. But he was chastised for that by Pakistan’s religious parties who gathered in his hometown, Lahore, to warn him that they would overthrow his government if he continued to poison Pakistan with “ungodly liberalism”.
But Sharif doesn’t give up. His own counter-narrative is issuing expensive TV ads where he quotes Jinnah as describing Pakistan as a secular state. If Jinnah thought he could change the pledge made by his party, the Muslim League, of an Islamic state he was soon to be disabused in 1948 after his death: The Muslim League-dominated Constituent Assembly passed the Objectives Resolution, formally promising a state under sharia. The passage of time has not dimmed the resolve; actually the rest of the Islamic world too is hurtling towards what Pakistan has done to itself and what Nawaz Sharif wants to roll back.