The Pakistani state is all set and primed for a fundamental change in its constitutional ethos from a theocratic state to a secular state. However, the matters are so arranged at the moment that withdrawal of the United States and allied armed forces from Afghanistan is a condition precedent for such a turn of events. The premise of the above argument may seem tenuous to some. Indeed, beginning from at least 12 March 1949, that is, the date of the passage of the Objectives Resolution, Pakistan has gradually become Islamised in form as well as substance. So much so that it is impossible to do any kind of politics in Pakistan — polemical or legal — that does not acknowledge Islam as the fundamental and primal norm of the state and the society. However, precisely because the Islamisation of the state and the society seems to be at it highest point at the moment, it is possible to argue that a reversal of sorts would be set into motion in near future.
In the past decade or so, the state has in no uncertain terms made it clear that it is aiming for such a reversal. The earliest sign of such change was General, then also President, Pervez Musharraf’s narrative of ‘enlightened moderation’, which earned him the wrath of the Lal Masjid vigilantes. Subsequently, after prolonged wavering and vacillation interspersed with frequent suicide and other terrorist attacks, Pakistan eventually passed the 21st amendment to the Constitution in 2015, which is to be considered a categorical negation of use of Islam for the sake of terrorism. Subsequently, PM Nawaz Sharif, as he was until recently, made the state’s intention clear through calls for a new narrative. And most recently, Army Chief Gen Bajwa made it clear that jihad was state’s responsibility and not that of ordinary Muslims.
Pakistan has been using non-state actors since early 1990s for the fulfillment of its objectives in the Indian-held Kashmir and Afghanistan. As far as the Indian-held Kashmir is concerned, it has already developed an indigenous freedom movement and no longer needs military support from Pakistan. Afghanistan, however, is still an issue
However, the state cannot become secular without inviting severe and violent backlash from a thoroughly Islamised society. One may hope of successfully facing such backlash from ordinary, unaffiliated citizen through the coercive machinery of the state. The backlash from the highly organised and well-equipped non-state actors is worrying. Pakistan has been using non-state actors since early 1990s for the fulfillment of its objectives in the Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) and Afghanistan. As far as the IHK is concerned, it has already developed an indigenous freedom movement and no longer needs military support from Pakistan. Afghanistan, however, is still an issue.
If Pakistan changes course towards secularism, it will be seen as siding with the USA out and out, inviting severe and fatal backlash from pro-Taliban elements within and without Pakistan. However, if the USA were to leave Afghanistan, the question of picking the wrong side would not arise and Pakistan would be able to support whichever faction it likes in the inevitable civil strife that would inevitably ensue in Afghanistan.
Of course it’ll be slightly more difficult to support a jihad in Afghanistan without being and becoming an Islamic state, but support for a proxy in Afghanistan would depend more on money and weapons supplied rather than the ideology espoused by Pakistan state. And lo and behold, there would be no backlash! As for the USA itself, it must realise that nobody in the entire recorded history of the world is known to have successfully tamed the wild Afghans. Moreover, Osama Bin Laden is dead and the 9/11 is avenged, many times over. The USA must realise that by spending more time in Afghanistan, it is only aggravating the discord, in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan.
Indeed, if the US does not leave Afghanistan soon, the Pakistani state might have to orchestrate another martial law to introduce a secular Constitution for the country. That would be the only way to effectively face a backlash from Afghanistan-oriented non-state actors. However, if the US is still dreaming of leaving behind a stable Afghanistan, it will not only ruin the future of Afghanistan but, in all probability, also of Pakistan.
The writer was born and raised in Mian Channu, he did his BA/LL.B. from LUMS on an NOP scholarship. Then, he completed an LL.M. from Michigan-Ann Arbor Law School on a Fulbright scholarship. He has served as Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja’s law clerk. Currently, he is a senior associate at the law firm of HaidermotaBNR in Lahore.
Published in Daily Times, September 22nd 2017.