Extremism: Where do we stand?

Author: Zafar Malik

In 1985, during a session of the Senate chaired by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a point of order was raised by Maulana Kausar Niazi. He waved a copy of the national newspaper, which had published a survey report prepared by the renowned psychologist, Dr. Mubashir Hussain Malik. The report concluded that more than half the population of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad were grappled with psychological issues. Maulana Kausar Niazi pointed out that the twin cities housed federal ministers and senior bureaucrats, hence the possibility that a significant number of them could also be suffering from psychological disorders. He then proposed the establishment of a committee to identify members of the federal cabinet having psychological issues.

I, as a young reporter for a national newspaper, had covered this session. The next day, I met with Dr. Mubashir Hussain Malik at the Central Government Hospital (now known as the Benazir Bhutto Hospital) and asked him about the report. Dr Mubashir Hussain Malik reaffirmed the contents of the report but advised again negative interpretation of his scientific survey. He suggested an optimistic view of the report that around half the population was of sound mental health. Dr Mubashir Hussain Malik may no longer be in this world, but the current state of affairs suggests that the entire country has lost their sanity. The menace of extremism, once sponsored by the state, has engulfed us all.

The state now faces a serious challenge where it will have to put the genie back into the bottle.

In Lahore’s Ichhra Bazar, a young woman wearing a dress designed by some Arab clothing line had to face agitation that could have turned fatal if it weren’t for the presence of a brave young police officer, Shehr Bano. All praise for the bravery of the young police officer but how many likes of her do we have? Will they be enough to patrol every street, round the clock, around the year? Can there ever be a number enough to protect our women; daughters, sisters, and mothers from the wrath of the very men who ought to protect them?

The seeds of fundamentalism and extremism were sown with the emergence of the “Nizam Mustafa Movement,” launched by the Pakistan National Alliance in response to allegations of electoral fraud against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Prime Minister Bhutto, in a futile effort to appease the protestors, changed the weekly holiday to Friday and imposed a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol. Under a premeditated plan, General Ziaul Haq seized power from the civilian government on July 5, 1977, and cunningly manipulated religious elements to serve his ends for eleven years.

General Ziaul Haq introduced fundamental changes in the constitution by establishing redundant institutions such as the Federal Sharia Court and the Islamic Ideological Council, resulting in a significant distortion of the constitutional democratic image. Controversial articles of 62 and 63 were also born of this era. Religious elements which had been confined until then to mosques and pulpits, grabbed this opportunity to assert themselves in society and interfere affairs of the state.

Taking advantage of General Zia’s religious fervour, many individuals, in the garb of religion, amassed wealth and power. We witnessed religious scholars go from riding taxis to being driven around in luxury vehicles. In the Blue Area of the Federal capital, unauthorized construction of mosques on commercial land also began during this period, and the practice of legalizing these mosques started. Today, no civic authority, including the Capital Development Authority can dare to act against this grabbing of state land.

The state patronage of jihad ended after 9/11 with no outlet left for the trained elements to vent their frustrations. A significant number found themselves unable to control their emotions. Many of them, ended up in North and South Waziristan, ready to fight against their former patrons.

The issue didn’t stop there; rather, several elements of the state have continued to arm small groups for short-term objectives. Some of these groups may not carry firearms, but their minds and hearts have been weaponized enough to effectively blackmail the recent governments.

The fault lies not only with those individuals who are becoming fuel for this war but also with the state that creates them. The manner in which these fanatical elements have been emboldened in recent years by the police and civil administration is deeply concerning.

The state now faces a serious challenge where it will have to put the genie back into the bottle. The most recent incident in Ichhra Bazar has occurred at a time when Maryam Nawaz has just taken over the reins of power in Punjab. What makes it interesting is the fact that her father whose legacy she aims to carry forward, had himself vowed to continue the mission of General Ziaul Haq. A paradoxical yet tough piece of work cut out for the first-ever Chief Minister of Punjab: In carrying forward the legacy of her father, will she be able to undo what he once stood for?

The writer is a veteran journalist based in Islamabad. He writes on social, political, economic, defence and strategic developments across the South Asian region. He can be reached through on zm.journalist
@gmail.com

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