When general Parvez Musharraf says yet again that he wants Pakistanis to vote for "moderate’ parties and vote against ‘extremist’ it doesn’t even have a comforting ring to it. Leave aside any hope for a plausible outcome. Whatever Pakistan’s problem with extremism and violence in sections of its politics, it is not the mandate of the Head of the State, the role that general Musharraf has acquired for himself, to advise the voters which way to vote. A legitimate Head of the State would best be serving the country if he were to be reiterating his constitutional role-that he will do all it takes to protect the life, property and Constitutional rights of the citizens of Pakistan. The implements that the head of the State must deploy to fulfill this mandate are indeed the institutions of the State. The State has to be class, gender and religion blind in order to play its role creditably.
Issues that general Musharraf, like many others in Pakistan, has raised about the negative fall out of political extremism, violence and intolerance, are valid questions. These need to be raised mostly in the parliament, in the print and electronic media, public forums and also within the confines of courtrooms where the ‘learned judge’ must also deliberate.
There maybe an enticing ring to it, the call from the top to vote for moderates, to defeat the extremists. But such a call compromises the contest. A State that has almost vicariously often played the dangerous game of promoting political extremism has to reclaim its neutrality. The past role of security agencies in promoting political extremism, ethnic, provincial or religious, to counter mainstream political parties the agencies considered ‘security threats’ has significantly contributed to the current climate of political extremism being sign often promoted by the State.
What is the anatomy of what is referred to as religious extremism? Political extremism has caused religious extremism. State policy artificially created groups- like Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), supported sectarian groups, facilitated the creation of ethnic groups, through various covert means undermined mainstream political parties including the PPP and the PML-N. None of the sectarian groups have evolved through a natural organic growth. Most flourished under State patronage. That needs to be altered.
The State needs to build institutions respect tolerance, protect diversity but all within the framework of law and the Constitution, protected by an independent judiciary. The State, prompted by power calculations, must not dictate for society any ‘kosher’ political ideology.
It should also not issue divisive calls. We need national reconciliation not further divides. For that we need rule of law, institutions and constitutionalism. Bring that back and extremists will go.
Pakistanis have made practical political choices. Their religious choices are personal and political choices practical- but for the State interference. Despite a supranational Muslim consciousness they chose national leaders through the ballot practically.
The State however must not dictate political, ideological and intellectual evolution. It can and must however facilitate the existence of an environment in which different political parties and groups can freely bring their ideas and ideologies in the society’s market place- in the media, forums, conferences and political gatherings. So long as the idea or ideology does not violate the basic precepts of Pakistan’s Constitution, its entry into the ‘market place’ cannot be stopped.
We are the inheritors of a rich and varied cultures, of an ancient civilization the Muslims, the Buddhists, the, Christians, the Hindus. Our cultural diversity even today stretches from the desert of Cholistan to the Hindukush range, from the monasteries of takht-i-bai to the kalaash valley, from the eternal abode of the Sufi Shahbaz Qalander to the Data Darbar and the Badshahi mosque in Punjab.
The majestic peaks of Nanga Parbat to the rugged Khunjerab pass and the enchanting Kaghan Valley, from the historic Khyber pass to the stunning Shandur pass and Karakorum Highways; the numerous masterpieces of Nature partner with the diverse and colorful cultures to create the cultural mosaic that is Pakistan. Pakistan is repository of a rich and magnificent past and of the emergent and the contemporary. These are the treasures that are then veiled behind the self-inflicted and simplistic divide that we chose to inflict upon ourselves; the extremists and moderates divide.
The State and society jointly need to create space for the spirit, for the people’s creativity, art and culture to perpetually evolve and flourish. The energy created through this diverse spiritual and cultural experiences constantly create the common space for Pakistaniat; one that is steeped in the many soulful mosaics that Pakistan’s rich and diverse culture and creativity produces.
This then among others has to be the business of the State; to remove the hurdles that obstruct the flow of the Pakistani soul. What then is this divide that the State is casting on the entire 150 million population? The State must sit up now. The problem of ‘extremism’ has to be dealt with administratively. Not raise a verbal assault, perhaps counter-productive assault against "extremism."
We have operated in a broad security context, one that is I would argue was inevitable, given all else that was happening in the region, to support the Taliban. All those realities have altered, today the environment is to create. Yet we must re-create on our own terms, with our own organically linked realities and in our own diction and texture. Not by sitting on judgment on who the good the bad and the extremist Muslim is not our reality. If there is a categorization that is relevant for the present and the future of Pakistan it is of the good and bad State. Pakistanis need the good State. One, that creates a context within which the highest values of Islam, insaaniyat and humanism, flourish and blossom.