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The majority and minorities in Pakistan
Leading Pakistani Physicist and thinker, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, was interviewed by Bisma Tirmizi of Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, on 29 April, 2013, on the issues related to elections, extremism and science in Pakistan. According to Dr. Hoodbhoy, the upcoming elections will not be a game changer though people may get some short term reprieve from nagging corruption and misrule in Pakistan.

He predicts that Pakistani Muslim League, Nawaz Sharief faction (PML-N) would turn out to be the single largest party, though short of a simple majority. He blames mullah and media for not criticizing attacks on little girls going to school, on politicians who oppose the radical Taliban, on polio-workers and other social-activists, thus condoning the acts implicitly and sometimes explicitly.

Dr. Hoodbhoy believes that Pakistanis deceive themselves that Pakistan can thrive as a religious state. But in reality it can only survive that too in the short term. He accuses the majority of tolerating the murder of sectarian minorities just because the particular variant of Islam is different as in the case of Shias and Ahmadis, and he also laments attacks on religious minorities, like on Hindus and Christians.

He offers redefining Pakistan as a tolerant state a solution to the existing problems in Pakistan. For him the two-nation theory dogma created Pakistan but it cannot hold the country together for too long. He thinks that what Pakistan requires is a Constitution that provides equal rights and freedom to all its citizens irrespective of their sectarian, religious and regional affiliations.

He says that science and religion should not be mixed. He loathes the idea of Darwinism, which is not much studied in Pakistan, whereas in more orthodox countries like Iran it is taught, and Iran is a leader in stem cell research among the Islamic countries. He says that Pakistan needs to follow the example of the West on tolerance and freedom, and it should cure itself from xenophobic, conspiracy-driven mindset. According to Dr. Hoodbhoy, Islam is not in danger in the West, including in the US. He suggests that all should be intolerant of intolerance in Pakistan. He gives example of how after 9/11 attacks, Americans went to various mosques to assure Muslims not to fear. He says that the majority of people in Pakistan don’t participate in protests if their identities are not involved.

Well said. But all is good on paper. The fact is that rising radicalism and Islamism should be cause of concern for all thinking Pakistanis as well as the world community but the fact is that it cannot be wished away by mere theoretical proposals. The fact is that there was no other way to govern British India peacefully other than dividing it. The more important point is that division could not have been brought about without religious hysteria and jingoism. What makes the matter bad is the continuation of the same radical policies after Pakistan got it what it used to call its holy land. Kashmir dispute might be of one of the reasons for continued Islamism but Pakistanis are themselves to be blamed for such a high degree of extremism and intolerance existing in their society.

There is no way Islamism can be undone from ordinary Pakistanis’ lives. The ongoing operation on war on terror and the Arab upheavals should have given strong stimuli to the way most of the Pakistanis think and catalyzed the boiling up of Pakistani minds. The fact is that Islam is at cross-roads and is now facing the real survival test. The threats to Islamic societies come from within—the inter-sectarian conflict and conflict with the minorities where Muslims are the majorities and with the majorities where they are the minorities.

The purity beyond a point may not be accepted in all societies and this is true where Muslims are in minority. But the real conflict among Muslims is that within. The ongoing conflict between Sunnis dominated Syrian rebels and Shia dominated government forces in Syria has the potential to Balkanize the minds of Muslims all across the globe if not that of initiating spilling instability all over the Middle East.

Pakistan cannot escape the reality check that inter-sectarian conflict is the reality of the time. But then if it wants to progress than it would have to find a way of tolerating the competing and parallel ideologies. The important point for Pakistan is to improve relations among the Muslims; the inter-religious relations can improve as a corollary to that. If the Pakistan’s Constitution is tried to be rewritten then there may be demands for secession. No state, including India, should think against the sovereignty of Pakistan. And no nation should wish it bad luck. The general elections’ results if they turn out to be in one of the national parties’ favor then it would be good for the stability of Pakistan. What Pakistan needs to see, in spite of all the violence that exists, is that support to English, Anglicization in behavior and Westernization of institutions does not erode. The path towards modernity should continue taking into account the ground reality of Pakistan.

But Dr. Hoodbhoy proposal for Pakistanis to compare themselves with the West is completely erroneous. Not even countries like India and Brazil can become like the West in any conceivable future leave alone Pakistan. Pakistan should look eastwards and look towards its estranged neighbor India. It should try to become like India. Mind you India is a decent society but is still far away from being a perfect society. Not only the majority of India is in conflict with other religious minorities, the caste and class war within the majority make things very complex.

But then there is a difference of degree: India is far more peaceful and stable than what Pakistan is. In spite of conflicting consciousness Indians are pluralistic and Hindus in relative subcontinent context can accept minorities provided they are mainstreamers. The argument for Pakistan is that it should give opportunity to all to become mainstreamers and it should accept those who become so. The argument is not ‘equal opportunity for all’ but ending the rejection of many. In short Pakistani society should start some social churning making the society more homogeneous.

Dr. Hoodbhoy is only partly correct in suggesting a solution to Pakistan’s present problems. The argument that if all minorities can be given equal rights as the majority has, then things would improve, is only technically correct. To be practical, minorities in Pakistan cannot have the same rights and privileges as the majority Sunnis have. But if the intelligentsia in Pakistan continues to compare Pakistan with the West, then it cannot find a practical solution to any problem.

The solution lies in comparing Pakistan with India. Not through the eyes of caste but through the compulsion of continuing economic activities. The point is the continuity and upgrading of economic activity, belief in growth and a fair competition of Pakistan vis-a-vis India. Pakistan should believe in economic selfishness and should promote consumerism. Pakistanis should aim high and Pakistan’s majority should be more tolerant of minorities’ beliefs. Frankly speaking, Pakistani majority would never consider minorities as their equals in any conceivable time.

Therefore, the solution lies in economics instead of politics. A good economic situation can improve the political situation. One can say that per capita income of Pakistan and value of Pakistani Rupee is of the same order as those of India. True, but then India produces a very high number of rich people and its economy is very diverse. Pakistan first of all should learn from India and that too in economics.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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Please refer to the following news item in the Dawn: "PPP, MQM, ANP say elections a battle between forces ‘for and against Taliban 2013/05/01 KARACHI: The leaders of PPP, MQM and ANP on Wednesday called upon ulema and scholars to issue a fatwa against terrorism and termed the elections as a battle between forces which were for and against the Taliban. They also expressed apprehensions as to whether elections in the current circumstances could be held in a free and transparent manner.These three parties which are considered progressive have been facing terrorist attacks recently forcing them to restrict their election campaigns. Dozens of political activists from PPP, MQM and ANP have been killed in these attacks.PPP’s Rehman Malik, MQM’s Farooq Sattar and ANP’s Shahi Syed addressed a news briefing in Karachi on Wednesday.In an apparent reference to PML-N and PTI, they questioned why some political parties have been given freedom to carry out their election activities while others have become constant target for the extremists. They said a conspiracy was being hatched to ensure that right wing parties come to power in the May 11 elections. They urged the people to support them in the polls and defeat the “nefarious designs of extremists and terrorists”.MQM’s Farooq Sattar said progressive parties were being prevented from actively participating in election campaigns. “The election campaign is being dictated by the Taliban and not the Election Commission,” he asserted.The leaders of PPP, MQM and ANP welcomed the remarks of General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani that the war against terrorists was Pakistan’s war." Taliban will call the shots and will never allow PPP, ANP & MQM which was the ruling coalition upto now to return to power. They will only support Pro-Taliban parties like PML-N, Tahreek-e-Insaaf Party and JUI-F of Maulana Fazlul Rehman. These parties will further strengthen the Talibanization of Pakistan although Maulana Fazlul Rehman is deemed to be a moderate among the leaders of these parties. So, there is no question of Pakistan becoming strong economically. The only thing to be seen is that these parties are anti-American while Army would still be pro-American. So, whether Army takes over in Pakistan is a question to be answered. I feel that Army is going to take over Pakistan shortly after the elections.
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