Why is the current status of Pakistan of concern to us? What possible benefit could we gain from obtaining knowledge on a country that is so diametrically different to ours? The short answer is that while we are not required to care it is most definitely in our best interest to be mindful of the present situation in the Middle East and Pakistan. Besides, knowledge is power!
I will do my best to summarise the situation from its origins to where they stand at this moment in time. Pakistan is actually a democracy which could be a surprise for many. It is the fifth largest democracy in the world and is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Before 1947 Pakistan and India were one united country until a plebiscite took place, which resulted in the establishment of Pakistan with the assistance of the Muslim League. British India as it was called at the time did not want Pakistan to become a separate country. The purpose of Pakistan was to effectively function as a safe haven for Indian Muslims due to the fact that tensions had been rising between Hindus and Muslims over three decades. There was an escalation in racially and religiously motivated violence. The two religious communities were unable to co-exist side by side. The United Kingdom had no other remedy than to consent to the partition. It was June of 1947 when the transfer of power and independence took place.
Unfortunately, this was not a peaceful transition. Surprising, right? It would be idealistic and naïve to assume that two very different religious ideologies would be capable of peacefully segregating an entire country calmly and in an accommodating manner that serves the best interests of all parties involved. Instead there were riots and violence that led to an estimated 200,000 people being massacred in the Punjab Province. This was a battle between two religions, two distinct ideologies, and neighbour against neighbour. They were people of similar race and region divided by a world view.
There were no angels in this ‘might makes right’ mentality. The unnecessary bloodshed only serves as a reminder that humanity makes the same mistakes again and again. History will always repeat itself when one mandates their “rights” be recognized through demands and specifications and the opposition refuses to acknowledge until there is no other course of action but a show of force. That is when you hit boiling point. It is said over 50,000 Muslim women were abducted and raped by the Hindu and Sikh men and the favour was returned by Muslim men as 33,000 Hindi and Sikh women were also brutally violated and raped. Historically speaking this event in history marks the largest mass migration in modern human history. Muslims from India made their way over to the new Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Hindu and Sikh communities of West Pakistan made their way over to India.
In 1970 Pakistan held its first democratic election although the handover of power did not take place. It has been a struggle for this Muslim nation to remain successfully democratic, as we tend to in the West, without violent opposition and human rights being secured. As we enter the year 2018 has anything changed for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Regretfully its problems persist. This democratic nation is home to a nuclear arsenal. Additionally, the country has to deal with powerful currents of Islamic extremism.
Democracy can be defined as a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Yet Pakistan operates under Sharia Law which is the religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islamic doctrines, particularly the Quran and the Hadith as it has been applied and put into practice in many other nations in the Middle East. It is well documented that countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia are dealing with extensive Human Rights crises. Under Sharia Law the testimony of a raped woman requires 3 males to verify her account or she is stoned to death. It is the same form of punishment for apostates and homosexuals. Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile the concept of democracy alongside Sharia. It would be more accurate to call Pakistan a theocratic nation: a system of government in which priests or religious leaders rule in the name of God or a god.
Pakistan has been the subject of many news stories which consist of tragic accounts of oppression towards women and other minorities. It was not that long ago when a woman named Zilla Human Usman, a Pakistani Minister, was shot dead by an extremist as it was his belief that she was dressed inappropriately for refusing to wear the veil and being involved with politics. The story of Asia Bibi made headlines around the world even the revered and much respected Ayaan Hirsi Ali brought attention to this Christian woman who has been on death row in Pakistan for the crime of “blasphemy” after she dared criticize the Muslim Prophet over a drink of water which has resulted in her incarceration and potential hanging. Pope Benedict spoke out in her defence as did Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer and as a result for advocating her right to live latter two were both murdered by an Islamic extremist.
Salmaan Taseer was the Governor of Punjab and a member of the Pakistan People’s Party. He was an outspoken individual in a political climate where it would have been wiser to remain silent. The former Governor of Punjab voiced his strong conviction that ‘Freedom, democracy and pluralism are inseparable and that all religious minorities should be protected’. His advocacy of Asia Bibi cost him his life as he was gunned down by a radical from his own security team. The murderer Malik Mumtaz Qadri shot him 27 times. Qadri was arrested and put on trial. However, his action of murder was met with praise and celebrated by over 40,000 people and the judge who rightfully found Qadri guilty of murder was essentially excommunicated for exacting justice. Malik Mumtaz Qadri walks free as the extremist’s rule using fear and intimidation.
Is this how a true democracy works? Surely not! Interesting then that Pakistan with all of its failures and faults is heavily depended on for its military strength and both British and American security are under the Pakistani tutelage of intelligence services. They also lead the charge in training Arab militaries whilst simultaneously but ever so intricately juggling the conflicts that exist between Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as Iran. Pakistan leads the way against Terrorism. Pakistan also leads the way as a major supporter of Terrorism. Are you confused? Well this is the contradiction that co-exists at present in Pakistan. The Army is the first in a Muslim domain that trains British and international officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) known worldwide as the oldest military elite training school. Additionally, the United Nations’ centre of excellence for peace keeping training is also located in Pakistan where individuals go to learn among other skills the craft of conflict resolution. In short Pakistan is a democratic country in name only. As a society, it certainly does not reflect the implementation, heritage and culture of what democracy actually can offer. The extremists have political sway and minorities are attacked if they speak out of line or express views that differ from Islamic doctrine.
It is also worth noting that due to the conflict existing in Pakistan the formation of Bangladesh occurred as a result.
So once again I ask: Why is the current status of Pakistan a concern to us? As a country with a nuclear arsenal that assists questionable and corrupt regimes such as Iran and Saudi Arabia with military training it is certainly in our interest not to ignore it. They are helping our allies England and America however they are also helping Islamic extremists. Is this a mixed message they are sending to us? How are we supposed to interpret these actions when we don’t know where they stand?
Against peace or for peace? I am dubious! Perhaps the possibility of Islam alongside democracy is a formula that can one day be solved but as of yet it has not been successful. With Sharia in the mix democracy will always be just a fairy-tale.
Written by Dia Benitez