Pakistan was built on a rejection of secularism, democracy and pluralism: everything India stood for. It established itself as a Muslim country, and politicians eventually clarified exactly who is “Muslim” according to the Constitution.As the Army battles the Pakistani Taliban, that definition is under dispute. As Feisal Naqvi writes in an illuminating article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune,
[T]he rank and file of the Army have been deliberately indoctrinated with the belief that they are warriors of Allah whose job is to keep infidels at bay. In other words, the average soldier’s patriotism has a distinctly religious tinge in which Pakistan is a fortress of Islam and its enemies are also enemies of Islam.Now this worldview is certainly useful in motivating people to kill Indians. At the same time, it has limited utility when it comes to jihadis because the jihadis claim to be even better Muslims than us.Till date, the Army has tried to deal with this problem not by changing its propaganda but by painting jihadis as Indian stooges. It has done so because it believes the present moment is simply too delicate for wholesale ideological retooling. In other words, the Army thinks that telling the jawans to protect a pluralistic ideal could well result in mass mutiny.
Naqvi astutely notes that the Army’s strategy works in the short term. But in the long term?
Pakistan, therefore, has two options. The rational option is to move in a more pluralistic direction where the state doesn’t have the right to define anyone as a non-Muslim. The politically feasible option is to continue with the status quo but to try and differentiate our particular brand of witch-hunting from the tactics of the TTP [the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, alternatively known as the Pakistani Taliban]. I understand that the rational option is politically dangerous. Unfortunately, the politically feasible option doesn’t work for Shias like me. That’s because we’re likely to wind up dead under that option. Furthermore, while preserving the status quo may work in the short term, the long-term result of such cowardice is likely to be civil war.Rationally speaking, the Army no longer has the option of staying silent. Yes, it is not the Army’s job to fix our muddled and hateful beliefs. But if the Army doesn’t at least prod the civilians into acting, this country will fall apart. When that happens, there will be no Pakistan. And no Pakistan Army either.
No part of this story paints a hopeful picture for the future of Pakistan. Does Pakistan’s leadership recognize the danger? Or has the country gone too far down a dark road to be able to turn itself around?