Pak’s Religious Diplomacy Has Disruptive Overtones

Religion and theology, though used in an interchangeable manner, are seldom analysed for their nuances. The religion (dharma) is more about practices of a particular faith, while theology (dharma shastra) encompasses analytics. Religion and faith have always been potent drivers in international diplomacy and politics. The United States of America created a special office with the designated ambassador at large for ‘International Religious Freedom’ in 1999. Out of five incumbents, only one has been non-Christian, a Rabbi.  The current ambassador, Senator Sam Brownback, was appointed after casting vote by vice-president reflecting the ironic polarisation in an appointment mandated to promote consensus. He recently visited Dharamshala for parleys with the Dalai Lama.

The biggest theological challenge is to evolve a more moderate form of Islam, containing designs of caliphates and groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. King of Jordan and Saudi royalty are also engaged in this effort, without much success. It appears that the outsourcing of Wahhabism and Salafi strains to the extended neighbourhood, especially the Indian subcontinent, has run its course and radicalism is already back in the Middle East. Hence, it is more of a compulsion to roll-back radicalisation.

India has been at the receiving end of malevolent forays of Pakistan religious diplomacy, which has acquired ‘fasaadi’ overtones. The use of term fasaad in preference to incorrectly used ‘jihad’ is theologically validated. Pakistan army chose to call its anti-terror operations as Raad-ul-Fasaad. It is hardly logical to have different terms for indigenous and exported versions. Pakistan army’s hypocrisy was first seen in the early 1950s, when it colluded with Naga militant groups, openly striving for Nagaland for Christ. Its army under Tikka Khan indulged in rape and massacre of fellow Bengali Muslims leading to East Pakistan breaking away. The same trend is currently seen in silence on rampant persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang by Chinese.

Pakistan, created as a homeland for Muslims, got initial thumbs down when 35 million Muslims chose to cast their lot with secular India despite partition riots. Compared with this, Hindus and Sikhs deserted Pakistan in droves despite Jinnah’s assurance that a new nation will be inclusive, allowing minorities their fair share. Soon after Jinnah’s death, an Islamic nation, which had Karachi as capital, chose to make Islamabad, a suburb of Rawalpindi as the new seat of power. With this naming, it also chose to carry the cross  — or crescent, if you may — of Islam.

Manifestations were already seen in Qabayali lashkars in Kashmir under Colonel Akbar Khan (anointed as General Tariq) and Razakars in Hyderabad, albeit religious aspect was subdued. More sinister was contrived misplacing of ‘Moi-e-Muqqadas’ (holy hair relic of the Prophet) to whip up emotions in the valley in 1963. Despite the failure to achieve diabolic designs, Operation Gibralter was launched in 1965.  Mujahideen infiltration task forces were organised under General Musa Khan, named after mostly infamous Muslim raiders   — Salahuddin, Ghaznavi, Tariq, Babur, Qasim, Khalid, Nursat and Khilzi. Provocative tendency continues in the naming of missiles as Ghaznavi, Babur and Ghauri.

In this dangerous lurch from subcontinental Sufi/Barelvi to Deobandi, Wahhabi and Salafi forms of Islam, Khuda Hafiz has become Allah Hafiz and Ramazan replaced by Arabic Ramadhan. Another major milestone was Bhutto’s articulation of resolve to manufacture an Islamic bomb. Sadly, competitive radicalism under Zia-ul-Haq and later Taliban accounted for both Zulifkar, his daughter Benazir and probably even Zia. The very dream of an Islamic bomb is getting reduced to Sunni bomb because Shia Iran doesn’t trust Sunnis. In Talibanised Pakistan, Jinnah’s Shias and Nobel physicist Abdus Salaam’s Ahmediyas are being targeted and eliminated. The former chief, General Raheel Sharif is now leading a coalition of Sunni forces against Shia Houthi rebels.

This dangerous course has been defined by Zia’s decade of 1978 to 1988, which catalysed Pakistan army’s Sharization, committing itself to Nizam-e-Mustafa (rule of the Prophet) and taking upon itself to be guardians of ideological frontiers. The traditional motto of ‘ittehad, yaqeen, tanzeem’ (unity, faith, and discipline) was changed to ‘imaan, taqwa, jihad-fi-sabilillah’ (faith, righteous and holy war in path of Allah). How do minorities reconcile to such exhortation? Zia also made ‘The Quranic Concept of War’ by Brigadier S K Malik, which legitimises the use of terror a mandatory text for forces.  An interesting quote from the Pakistan army’s official website (reading like the objective of extremist groups),  states that “the mission and aim of momin is martyrdom”.

ISI having probably realised that Kashmir is proving to be a case of diminishing marginal returns has come up with diabolic K2 plan to exploit latent sub-nationalism of Sikhs. The timing of the Kartarpur corridor, initially offered by General Bajwa, anchoring of construction by Field Works Organisation and timing with ‘SFJ 2020’ are all ominous indicators of the shape of things to come. While nobody doubts the loyalty of Sikhs, yet fringe groups can be potential prey. It is also pertinent that Punjabis defeated extremism and are cognisant of the state of the Valley being put back by a couple of decades. Nobody is even remotely suggesting that Sikhs are so naive that they will be brainwashed by a couple of posters and displays of shell. Yet, it does open up possibilities for profiling and long-drawn psychological warfare. Combating Pakistan-aided ‘druggistan’ designs remains a major challenge for Punjabis.

The near-complete disregard of Kashmir rhetoric by Ummah has resulted in Pakistan blaming fellow Islamic nations for according market-driven compulsions and preferences over religious issues. The crying need of inter-faith diplomacy is a collective endeavour, for theological correction to evolve a moderate religion. Pakistan needs to demonstrate sincerity by dismantling export-oriented, ‘fasaadi’ assembly lines and detoxing its army.

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