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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Secular Democracy: the only way forward for Pakistan

Secular Democracy: the only way forward for Pakistan

Wednesday 8 February 2017, by siawi3


March 15th, 2015

Mustafa Kamal

Today, on 15th March, 2015. Two Taliban suicide bombers attacked a Christian church in Lahore, killing almost 14 and injuring around 76 people. The death tolls will increase, it is doubted. Previously, Christian churches have been vandalized, and towns resided by Christian community have been set torched and looted by fundamentalist Islamic groups. Number of Christian individuals have faced severe punishment as they were falsely accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. As a state, Pakistan finds it hard to compromise with its growing religious militancy.

Both the secular and religious allies of Pakistan like America, United Kingdom, Saudia and Iran have a coherent framework concerning with their respective secular and Islamic state ideologies. But as far as Pakistan is concerned, the state oscillates between secular and religious identities, and finds no suitable compromise. The country is controlled in some parts by religious militant wings, by the military in other parts and by elected representatives in some other parts. The country is managed by politico-military-mullah alliance.

This is the basic reason that the elected governments have no consistent policy in formulating defence and religious policies of the country. The policy related to defence is controlled by its military establishment, laws pertaining to the blasphemy issue is safeguarded by Islamic parties and other; the elected government in the end is limited only controlling administrative issues. A Leading Pakistani newspaper DAWN labels it the Government’s Confusion in a recent editorial. It has, however, been the collective confusion of all previous governments.

Often, the state, heavily dosed by Islamic ideology, finds itself helpless in taking bold decision in deciding the course to take the country out of its current tumultuous conditions.

Though its ministers legislate in favor of the rights of its minorities, yet thousands of people belonging to minorities have been killed. Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus have continuously faced various sorts of state violence, mob violence and persecutions.

The state through its official media always reassures to its citizens that it highly respects the freedom of expression, yet several pages propagating democracy, secularism and liberalism have been banned by the its broadcasting agencies.

The state has maintained duality vis-a-vis its state policies. The best way is to adopt a coherent, inclusive policy based on secular and democratic principles instead of religious emblems.

Pakistan has always loved and hated secularism. Some of its political parties and military dictators were outspoken liberals and others were religious psychopaths. This duality has created numerous problems in better governance of the state. Given the multiplicity of various rival Islamic sects, Pakistan is certainly not in position to adopt a religious state like Iran and Saudi Arabia. The solution for its survival has to be ensured through a secular democratic political system.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, secularism is seen as a system opposed to religious values. The powerful religious urban elites mobilize people against secularism in their Friday sermons in mosques. Huge literature produced by right wing political and religious circles define secularism as a western innovation against religious values. But, the fact is totally opposite to what is being preached to the masses of Pakistan.

In his famous book, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity,Talal Asad draws an interesting analogy between America, United Kingdom and France about the varying degrees of being politically secular and socially religious. He observes the existence of a secular society and government in France, established religion and secular society in UK and religious society and secular state in USA. The American experiment is an obvious example that the secular state is not always opposed to religious values, a lesson that Pakistan could ponder over.

Secular democracy is not a system about negation of God in the society; neither is it a system of taking God out of politics. Thus we see, with exception of Roosevelt, majority of American presidents have been taking oaths on Bible. Thus secular democracy is to give complete independence, liberty, and confidence to its citizens as an important stakeholders in state affairs without any religious and socio-cultural discrimination. Only under a secular democratic system can an individual can both have secured religious and political rights.

Once secular democracy is place in order in the country, the state must focus more towards the ‘Politics of Recognition’, a political term coined by Charles Taylor. The basic idea, as Taylor puts it, ‘is that our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being’.

The growing uncertainties among smaller provinces in Pakistan are due to this misrecognition of the rights of smaller units by federation. For example, the state patronage of militant outfits in Punjab is tolerated at the expense of Shia killings. By doing so, the state is negating the rights of liberty and security to Shias. The nationalist movements in Pakistan are seen as a threat to the state instead of the nationalists’ urge to be recognized and given equal treatment.

A basic democracy, as Taylor argues, must embody ‘a fair degree of nationalist sentiments’. The nationalist sentiments within states are not always insurgencies or conspiracies against the state as seen by the state agencies rather they are deeper sentiments of being recognized and empowered by smaller groups. The state can solve these phenomenal issues through decentralization of powers.

The better future of the state lies in promoting secular democracy and incorporation of ‘Politics of recognition’ in its otherwise religiously biased constitution. Pakistan must recognize these two political ideals to make its future secure.