Monday, April 6, 2015

Political use of religion in Pakistan

In Pakistan, everything stands politicized. So is religion. Those who are clever enough make hay while the sun shines. Tahir-ul-Qadri is one of them and is famously know as a religio-political power seeker. He is more of a religious leader; trying his luck in politics. Since the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) was founded about two decades ago, it has constantly been failing in winning the voters’ mandate. It never made any headway in any general elections. So the PAT is a party, like so many others having this or that much of following in various parts of Pakistan, which has been forced to indulge in politics outside the parliament.

No doubt, it’s such a phenomenon which has yet to attract the attention of the social and political academics. How such parties survive and behave which remain outside the parliament since they succeed in obtaining only a few or no seats in the national or provincial assemblies. There are a number of such parties; Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JIP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) are on the top of the list. What is characteristic of them is that they all are basically religious in their appearance; in reality, however, they all are politically crazy power-seekers. When they happen to win a small number of seats in a situation which puts them in a bargaining position vis-à-vis other parties needing their support to form the government, they fully take advantage of that opportunity. JUI-F excels in that gamesmanship.

In contrast, JIP is a player before the play starts. It sells its street power to negotiate as many seats from a winning-horse party as is possible. This time in the last year general elections, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) pierced the myth of its street power, possibly once and for all. Thus JIP lost whatever clout it enjoyed outside the parliamentary politics. It may be surmised that it is this significant factor which has softened its political stance towards constitutional politics. Another important factor is its apparent delinking from the security establishment the symptoms of which emerged last year under the leadership of Munawar Hasan, its former Amir. The authenticity of its present pro-constitution posture and politics, under the leadership of Siraj ul Haq, is yet to be tested against the forthcoming realpolitik.

Coincidentally, such parties share a commonality: they all evolved out of the teachings of (almost) purely religious scholars. JIP’s intellectual progenitor is Maulana Abulala Maududi; and JUI-F’s Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. These parties contracted political ambitions later. The case of Tahir-ul-Qadri and the PAT is no different. As the chain of events tells, Tahir-ul-Qadri started solely as a religious scholar. It is after sometime when he had developed a substantial following that he appeared to be nurturing political aspirations, and it is then that he founded the Pakistan Awami Thereek (Interestingly its official website is a commercial domain:

Could it be otherwise? Could it be a case of political parties which were to be founded expressly for political purposes without involving religion? Why they happened to be inclining towards using the religious sensitivities of their followers?  Why is it so that almost all the political parties, seeking political power in the name of religion, are initially religious entities and it is only later that they thought of converting their religious following into their political following? And more than that, why is it so that these parties try to exploit the religious convictions of voters for political purposes? Be that as it may, the question is: Is it religion or is it politics that they value most? In case they value religion most, they ought not to be indulging in politics then. In case they value politics most, they should abandon political use of religion and come out openly as political parties.

It is in that spirit that I love to imagine a party forming and flourishing in Pakistan which would prefer to convert its political following into its religious following! As far as my scant knowledge of history is concerned, never ever such a party existed in any part of the world. The history is replete with such examples, however, where a religious organization when came to seize political power, it was this political power by which it stood seized later itself. The crux of the matter is that when it is politics, whether it is valued most or not, i.e. vis-à-vis religion, it is politics, from A to Z. That means seeking and holding political power is in itself an exhaustive cause; that is why it is habitually believed that everything is justified in politics.

It is here that politics miserably needs a bit of guidance from morality; otherwise, it remains mired in its own vicious cycle of seeking and holding political power at any cost and by any means, to which Pakistani citizens are a patient witness to. Morality teaches: Ends never justify means. So whatever their ends, if they come to adopt immoral and unfair means to achieve them, they lose their moral core and moral appeal. The same applies to all those parties which make political use of religion; i.e. when in order to seek political power they use religion, they lose whatever moral sensibility they possessed. Also, in the end, they come to lose whatever religion they espoused. Out of such ventures, only political tyranny comes out!

In conclusion, it may be said that whenever any religion is put to political use, not only is it drained out of its true religiosity, but its moral principle also, on which it has been built. Hence, those who claim to be the real followers of a religion and in that spirit try to use it for their political purposes verily prove to be those who are the real enemies of that religion. At best, they are politicians in disguise who might use anything, be it a religion, faith or creed, to seek political power. It is in that sense that there is no difference between Tahir-ul-Qadri and Imran Khan. Both are Machiavellian! Both are seeking political power! At any cost! By any means!

Note: This article was completed on August 7, and was originally posted in August 2014.

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