DON’T GIVE UP ON THEIR LIB­ER­ALS YET

Yes, it’s the foam­ing mul­lahs and brood­ing gen­er­als who re­ally count in Pak­istan. But In­dia has a vi­tal stake in en­sur­ing its be­lea­guered lib­er­als are not iso­lated.

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On the face of it, few causes are more hope­less than that of the Pak­istani lib­eral. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey by the Pew Global At­ti­tudes Project, more than one in five Pak­ista­nis ap­prove of the ter­ror­ist group Lashkar- e- Toiba. De­spite Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh’s per­sis­tent ef­fort to reach out to Is­lam­abad, nearly 60 per cent of those polled see In­dia as their coun­try’s great­est threat. ( Only 4 per cent feel the same way about al- Qaida.) More than four out of five Pak­ista­nis want their coun­try’s laws “to strictly fol­low the Qu­ran”. In con­trast, fewer than one in five per­sons in Mus­lim- ma­jor­ity Le­banon or Tur­key is sim­i­larly in­clined.

Un­like in In­dia, where the English- speak­ing mid­dle class con­trols the high ground of in­tel­lec­tual dis­course, in Pak­istan lib­eral news­pa­pers such as The Ex­press Tri­bune and The Fri­day Times are more cu­riosi­ties than se­ri­ous shapers of pub­lic opin­ion. On tele­vi­sion, reli­gious big­ots such as Amir Li­aquat Hus­sain get away with jus­ti­fy­ing the slaugh­ter of Ah­madiyya Mus­lims for their faith. On the street, the pious hail murder in the cause of safe­guard­ing the coun­try’s bar­baric blas­phemy laws.

Mean­while, the Pak­istan Peo­ples Party ( PPP) gov­ern­ment, which broadly stands for reli­gious tol­er­ance and neigh­bourly bon­homie, has proven in­ef­fec­tual as a part­ner for peace. Nearly four years af­ter the 26/ 11 ter­ror­ist at­tack, we ap­pear no closer to achiev­ing even a mod­icum of jus­tice for its vic­tims. Is­lam­abad seems un­able to ex­e­cute even rel­a­tively straight­for­ward poli­cies such as lib­er­al­is­ing the visa regime with In­dia.

The less said about Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari and Com­pany’s record of com­bat­ing rad­i­cal­ism at home the bet­ter. On the PPP’s watch, Mus­lim zealots have mur­dered a sit­ting gover­nor ( Sal­maan Taseer) and the only Chris­tian Cab­i­net min­is­ter ( Shah­baz Bhatti). Just last month, a mob burnt alive an al­leged “blas­phe­mer” for in­sult­ing Is­lam. This was fol­lowed by the Pun­jab po­lice de­mol­ish­ing the minarets of an Ah­madiyya mosque un­der a harsh law that for­bids the het­ero­dox sect from iden­ti­fy­ing it­self as Mus­lim or us­ing Is­lamic sym­bols. In Baluchis­tan, Sunni mil­i­tants reg­u­larly stop buses car­ry­ing mem­bers of the tiny Shia Hazara community and butcher pas­sen­gers in cold blood.

Against this back­drop, you can’t re­ally blame the av­er­age In­dian for re­gard­ing the Pak­istani lib­eral as a hope­lessly en­dan­gered species. Why bother en­gag­ing with a group that counts for lit­tle be­yond pleas­antries ex­changed at Track Two jun­kets, or the oc­ca­sional whiff of nos­tal­gia about reli­gious amity

in pre- Par­ti­tion Pun­jab? It’s all very well to ap­pre­ci­ate the lin­guis­tic dex­ter­ity of nov­el­ists Kamila Sham­sie and Mo­hammed Hanif, or lose your­self in Coke Stu­dio’s Atif As­lam and Mee­sha Shafi, or ap­plaud the wit and wis­dom of jour­nal­ists Cyril Almeida and Na­jam Sethi, but at the end of the day we all know it’s the foam­ing mul­lahs and brood­ing gen­er­als who re­ally count.

Tempt­ing though this view may seem, it’s also false. You don’t need to be­long to the can­dles- at­Wa­gah crowd to recog­nise that In­dia has a vi­tal stake in en­sur­ing that lib­er­al­ism in Pak­istan does not die. Pak­istan’s lib­er­als are less of a fringe phe­nom­e­non than is of­ten as­sumed. They’re also the only peo­ple who hold out the hope of a bet­ter fu­ture for their trou­bled coun­try.

On closer ex­am­i­na­tion, the case against Pak­istani lib­er­al­ism is weaker than it ap­pears at first blush. To be­gin with, no civil­ian gov­ern­ment could be rea­son­ably expected to im­me­di­ately as­sert its author­ity over an army that has di­rectly ruled the coun­try for 34 of its 65 years, and in­di­rectly for much of the rest. As the ex­pe­ri­ence of In­done­sia and Tur­key shows, only when democ­racy grows roots do politi­cians ac­quire the self- con­fi­dence to take on gen­er­als ac­cus­tomed to com­mand. Per­haps Pak­istan’s politi­cians would look less feck­less if the over­bear­ing army— and, of late, the hy­per­ac­tive ju­di­ciary— granted them the same right to gov­ern un­mo­lested en­joyed by their demo­crat­i­cally elected peers around the world. This re­quires pa­tience.

Nor are Pak­istani lib­er­als the root­less crea­tures of car­i­ca­ture. Those among the English- speak­ing elite rep­re­sent a col­li­sion of Is­lam and the West that goes back more than 150 years and has given South Asia some of its most gifted writ­ers, lawyers and

sci­en­tists. These in­clude, iron­i­cally, the coun­try’s Shia founder Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah, and its only No­bel lau­re­ate, the Ah­madiyya physi­cist Ab­dus Salam. More­over, though a small set of out- of- touch elites— whose spirit is best cap­tured in the satir­i­cal Face­book group Fash­ion­istas Against Tal­iban­i­sa­tion ( FAT)— do in­deed in­vite ridicule, the broader lib­eral cause in Pak­istan boasts deep roots. Its nat­u­ral con­stituency in­cludes Pash­tun singers and Karachi ac­tivists, Sindhi na­tion­al­ist politi­cians and Hazara aca­demics, Urdu po­ets and Shia doc­tors.

In short, be­yond English- speak­ing elites, any­one with a stake in pro­tect­ing eth­nic iden­tity, reli­gious lib­erty and free speech is threat­ened by the ho­mogenis­ing forces of rad­i­cal Is­lam and the cen­tralised se­cu­rity state. Some ex­press their lib­er­al­ism in terms of loy­alty to the idea of a sec­u­lar Jin­nah. For oth­ers, the strug­gle takes sim­pler form: Bid­ding farewell with the tra­di­tional “Khuda hafiz” rather than the Ara­bic “Al­lah hafiz” or keep­ing alive the syn­cretic tradition of wor­ship at the graves of pirs. For oth­ers still, such as mem­bers of the band Bey­gairat Bri­gade, it could take the form of bit­ing satire aimed at con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety.

For it to work, In­dia’s sup­port for Pak­istani lib­er­al­ism ought to be about ideas rather than in­di­vid­u­als. Broadly speak­ing, any­one who be­lieves that democ­racy must be per­se­vered with be­fore it can be expected to de­liver re­sults, that Pak­istan shares much of the re­spon­si­bil­ity for nur­tur­ing rad­i­cal Is­lam in the re­gion, that the coun­try can’t fix its myr­iad so­cial and eco­nomic prob­lems with­out good­will from both neigh­bours and the West, and that a pros­per­ous and peace­ful In­dia is in Pak­istan’s best in­ter­est, ought to be en­cour­aged.

What form should this en­cour­age­ment take? Thanks to its sheer size and rapidly grow­ing econ­omy, in cul­tural terms In­dia is to Pak­istan what the US is to Canada or Aus­tralia to New Zealand: The large stage to which lo­cal tal­ent as­pires. It’s

only nat­u­ral that over time more ac­tors from Rawalpindi and croon­ers from Lahore will aim for ca­reers in Bol­ly­wood or In­dian tele­vi­sion, and crick­eters from the back­streets of Karachi or the bad­lands of Pak­istan’s north­west fron­tier will dream of mak­ing their for­tune in the In­dian Premier League.

The first signs of this are al­ready vis­i­ble. The singer Ra­hat Fateh Ali Khan works reg­u­larly in Bol­ly­wood, and the rock band Junoon boasts a con­sid­er­able In­dian fol­low­ing. Non­fic­tion writer Fa­tima Bhutto and fic­tion writer Daniyal Mueenud­din flog their books in Mum­bai and Delhi. At the Jaipur Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val last year, Pak­istani nov­el­ist H. M. Naqvi won the in­au­gu­ral $ 50,000 DSC Lit­er­a­ture Prize spon­sored by an In­dian con­struc­tion firm. And then there’s Pak­istan’s most fa­mous ex­port to In­dia— the ir­re­press­ible Veena Ma­lik.

Like other democ­ra­cies, In­dia should not ex­pect vis­it­ing artists or in­tel­lec­tu­als to be­come crude pro­pa­gan­dists for its gov­ern­ment or peo­ple. But at the same time, as a multi- reli­gious and in­creas­ingly pros­per­ous coun­try, In­dia au­to­mat­i­cally of­fers Pak­ista­nis some­thing they lack at home: A soap­box from which to chal­lenge the weight of in­tol­er­ance within their own so­ci­ety. As Pak­istan’s own cul­tural space shrinks un­der an Is­lamist on­slaught, the im­por­tance of In­dia as a life­line for the coun­try’s be­lea­guered lib­er­als will only grow. It’s in In­dia’s in­ter­est to en­sure that it isn’t snapped.

AFP

AC­TIVISTS OF THE TEHREEKE- AZADI- EKASH­MIR TAKE OUTAN AN­TIIN­DIA RALLY IN IS­LAM­ABAD IN SEPTEM­BER 2010

AFP

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