I had an interesting conversation yesterday in which I was trying to convice Person A why PPP’s national election wins should be seen as the Pakistani public’s rejection of Jamaat-e-Islami style Islamism. Person A is not Pakistani but is somewhat acquainted with the PPP’s history and given the nature of the 1973 constitution, the 2nd Amendment and various evidence of Bhutto’s Islamization of the 70s, it’s understandable why he was somewhat skeptical about my claim.
I don’t know if I convinced him. In fact I might have ended up convincing myself against what I was trying to argue. PPP’s record in resisting Islamization, especially in the 70s, is, after all, terrible. The point I was trying to make is that Bhutto’s Islamization was a tactic to pre-emptively diffuse any tensions that could potentially destabilize his regime. For example, the declaration of Ahmadis as non-muslim – a betrayal to his Ahmadi voters – was a move taken keeping in mind the dismissal of Khwaja Nazimuddin’s governement as a result of the anti-Ahmadi agitations in Lahore in 1953. In the 1970 general elections, both Bhutto and Mujib responded to attacks by the religious parties with several arguments: 1) That there was no need for a government comprised of religious parties since Pakistan was already a Muslim country 2) that it would cause a fratricidal war for religious parties to come into power who believed that muslims of other sects were kafirs and worthy of being killed. 3) That religious parties with their rallying cry of “Islam in danger” were merely posturing and that Islam could not be in danger in Pakistan. Bhutto also focused on the religious parties’ initial opposition of Jinnah in order to discredit them.
Anyway in the course of the discussion I realized that both Bhutto and Mujib’s arguments against the religious parties were really pathetic as far as arguments go and not only that but in Bhutto’s case his adoption of increasingly Islamist rhetoric during the election was directly responsible for the concessions that he ended up making to the ulema during his rule. I realized that unless one observes Pakistani politics from day to day and observes the hostility to PPP from the religious establishment, one can’t get a very good idea of how PPP is an anti-religious force because on paper, its rhetoric is practically indistinguishable from the right-wing parties.
But the strange thing is that it’s pretty obvious that there is a conflict between the two sides and it’s very easy to define the exact objectives of the right wing – independence in foreign policy, Islamization of laws, etc. What isn’t easy is to define PPP’s objectives or where it stands, exactly, in the debate. A few months ago, Muhammad Waseem had a really great article in Dawn in which he described the conflict as one between an ideological middle class and what he called the political class:
Instead of mosque and madressah, the political class adheres to pir and shrine. The vast rural hinterland of Pakistan is studded with a number of devotional sites belonging to Sufi orders. The political class reflects the social structure based on caste and tribe. Partisanship rather than consensus is the hallmark of its political imagination. Ultimately, it depends on the civil bureaucracy for the articulation of its interest.
The political class considers nationalism as the outermost expression of collective life, not as a mission-mantled agenda. It adheres to various sub-national identities based on ethno-linguistic ties, and seeks to build alliances across communities and regions. If ideology is at the heart of the middle class ethos, identity is the rallying point of the political class in pursuit of electoral victory or a popular movement.
I guess that’s the best definition of the PPP, right there. Because it’s not ideological, it’s difficult to define it in ideological terms. I guess one could call it a traditional resistance to an encroaching ideological class. It remains the only major party whose leader could say this and be met with cheers and laughter from her party workers:
mazhab k jo byopari hain,
wo sab se bari bemari hain,
wo jin k siwa sab kafir hain,
jo deen ka harf-e-akhir hain,
in jhute aur makkaron se
mazhab k thekedaron se
main baghi hoon main baghi hoon
But the same people who clapped and cheered at the sentiment expressed in the poem would never be able to go on a talk show and give an even half-convincing argument against the Islamization of Pakistan’s laws whereas even the most mentally deficient right-wing news anchor would be able to present a clearly articulate argument for the complete Islamization of Pakistan in accordance with the Objectives Resolution. It never ceases to amaze me how inarticulate and all over the place PPP’s message is and how badly it has failed the voters who voted for it and demonstrated their opposition to the Pakistan that Jamaat-e-Islami would like it to be. Is this because of a failing of PPP itself? Or is it a more general problem in Pakistani society and all Muslim societies? I recently read a really interesting quote by Olivier Roy: “‘a defacto separation between political power’ of Sultans and Emirs and religious power of the Caliph was ‘created and institutionalized … as early as the end of the first century of the hegira,’ and that what has been lacking in the Muslim world is ‘political thought regarding the autonomy of this space.‘”
In other words there is no clearly articulated counter-argument to the very clear vision of the right-wing parties.