main sharaab peeta hoon; kissi ka khoon nahin peeta

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.


5 responses to “main sharaab peeta hoon; kissi ka khoon nahin peeta

  1. Mr.Tambourine Man

    Good post Rabia. Why the PPP is a rejection of Islamism is a difficult argument to articulate. I guess part of it is the implication from the way PPP leaders act and behave that when they mention Islam it is merely paying lip service or using it as a political tool rather than an end in itself.

    The lack of a coherent argument against Islamism is not only an ill that plagues the PPP but also the upper liberal class in Pakistan regardless of political affiliation. Some can quote Bulleh Shah at will but when it comes to articulating a precise, consistent and condensed argument against Islamization most are at a loss for words.

    Our middle class’s affinity with an Islamic identity is a political reality. Politicians who seldom pray, seldom fast and live with somewhat disinterestedness in religion have to pay lip service as a pre-requisite for credibility with the middle class. Its simply the predictable result of systemic brainwashing by the state and the development of a hegemonic cultural identity over the years, more so since Zia’s time.

  2. takhalus

    you are right ..the PPP has always coached it’s language with Islamic references Islamic socialism, and even policy it’s tapping of the JI supporters in Afghanistan against Daud for example and the OIC conference. I believe the PPP has shifted more to the right since 1977, if only because the society has become more ideological and the left ran out of steam since 1988 but also because of the devastating effect of the Niazm e Mustafas campaign slogans..consider in 1970 and 77 (which was the time when the right wing parties polled the highest number of votes) it wasn’t uncommon for example in NWFP for voters to be told that The Prophet was counting each vote or in some cases that peoples nikkahs were void if they voted for PPP! Similarly in 2002 ..a vote for PML-Q was a vote for PML kafir!

    PS you might like this

  3. humza ikram

    @Rabia ji

    in my view BB had more clearer stance on this. recall the Fatwas against Polio campiagn and BB going head on against it.

  4. Extract from my chat with Rabia:

    Stanley Wolpert in Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan calls it ‘siasat’. In other words, it is pragmatic politics in the Pakistan context

    I think the PPP’s ‘problem’ or ‘challenge’ is rooted in the creation of Pakistan, i.e., the two nation theory. This is exactly the same problem that confronted Jinnah.

    This ‘challenge’ is clearly evident in the first fundamental of the PPP’s manifesto, i.e., Islam is our faith

    The reason for this inclination is simple. They have to play in this crowd, on this wicket, in this history, in this geography etc.

    In my view, what ZAB started was a great project, it had to evolve from its 1967 vision, but unfortunately it did not because of a number of reasons.

    The PPP’s is is a story of tragedy, conspiracy, incapacity, suffering etc. However, it is is not just one family which suffered, it is also the ideology and the party which was heavily compromised. It was not allowed to evolve.

    Having said that, there are indeed certain issues where ZAB took a wrong stance, e.g. when he crossed certain limits in ‘showing’ an Islamic inclination, e.g. the Ahmedi case.

    However, were the party allowed to evolve in a free manner, things would have been much different not only in Pakistani politics but also in the party’s manifesto.

  5. I believe ZAB was never too far from the rightist parties on the issue of Islamization, considering his so-called Islamic socialism and the consequent steps towards Islamization. I don’t see any other defined ideological roots he tried to grow, other than the famed Islamic socialism.
    PPP, as a matter of fact, is only a left-wing party in name. It has never really endeavored to change things, not even when it has been in the government. While Islamic rhetoricians spew entire literature over their ‘models’ of Islamization, PPP seems rather disinterested in even countering them. It doesn’t come as a surprise when we see that PPP is mainly composed of feudals, pirs and the likes who don’t really give a damn about islamic or non-islamic. They simply want a bite in the cake and they don’t give a damn about the rest.

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