Murder applauded by Muslim clerics
Salmaan Taseer, the secular-minded Governor of the Punjab was killed for opposing the country's blasphemy law; a murder that was openly celebrated by thousands, and applauded by 500 Muslim clerics who warned that to mourn the late Governor would also be considered blasphemy. Taseer was closely associated with the centre-left Pakistan People’s Party, and the Bhutto family, its founders, and was passionately concerned with preserving democracy, and defending the rights of the minorities. In this particular instance, Taseer was concerned for the safety of the Christian woman, Asia Bibi, found guilty of blasphemy, for insulting the Prophet Mohammed. She denied the charge and said she was framed by a group of Muslim women with whom she had a row.
Taseer was a secularist, and fervently believed that all religions should be treated equally, no one religion was legally privileged; hence all believers, whether Sunni or Shiites, Christian or Hindu, and of course non-believers, were equal before the law, they were equal citizens of the state. In other words, Taseer shared the vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Pakistan founded by an atheist
One of the great ironies of the creation of Pakistan, a state whose very existence is defined by religion, Islam, is that Jinnah, was an atheist.
Before being forced into his role as defender of Muslim interests in 1930s, Jinnah was a British trained lawyer, given to wearing Savile Row double-breasted suits, and who loved his whisky, and is even said to have eaten pork.
In today’s Pakistan, Jinnah would undoubtedly have been flogged in public. At any rate, Jinnah favored a secular constitution as was evident from the very last major speech that he gave just before his death in 1948:
“You are free ; you are free to go to your temples , you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan ...You may go belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State....We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are citizens and equal citizens of one state ...Now, I think we should keep in front of us our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State ...”
When asked by a journalist in July 1947 if Pakistan would be a religious state, Jinnah replied, “You are asking a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.”
It was clear that for Jinnah the new State would be a modern democratic State, with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of their religion, caste or creed.
When the religious scholars, the ulema, were asked whether Jinnah’s conception of a State was acceptable to them everyone of them replied in an unhesitating negative.
In fact, for them, a State based on this idea is the creature of the devil, none of the ulema can tolerate a State which is based on nationalism and all that it implies.
Not acceptable to the mullas
After Jinnah's untimely death in 1948, the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan prepared a Constitution that was also essentially secular. This was not at all acceptable to the mullahs, who began foaming at the mouth at very mention of Democracy.
Under pressure from them, the democratic Constitution was withdrawn. Then in 1951, Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated, many believe that the assassin was paid by the mullahs.
In 1971, after years of military rule, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over as Martial Law Administrator and in 1972 as Prime Minister. Though Bhutto was also essentially secular minded, he was no democrat. He also made overtures to the mullahs, banned gambling and alcohol, despite his own well-known taste for whisky; and declared that the Ahmadi sect was Non-Muslim.
In 1977, General Zia ul Haq took over in a military coup declaring that the process of Islamization of Pakistan was not going fast enough. The mullahs had finally got someone who was prepared to listen to them. Zia imposed martial law, total press censorship, and began creating a theocratic state, believing that Pakistan ought to have “the spirit of Islam.”
He banned women from athletics contests, and even enforced the Muslim fast during the month of Ramadan at gunpoint. He openly admitted that there was a contradiction between Islam and Democracy.
Zia introduced Islamic laws that discriminated against women. The most notorious of these laws were the Zina and Hudood Ordinances which called for the Islamic punishments of amputation of hands for stealing and stoning to death for married people found guilty of illicit sex.
The term Zina included adultery, fornication and rape, and even prostitution. Fornication was punished with a maximum of hundred lashes administered in public, and ten year's imprisonment.
It is clear that despite attempts to lead Pakistan towards true democracy, the people of Pakistan, encouraged by the mullahs, have clamoured, ever since its creation, for an Islamic state.
And as the 1954 Report of the Court of Inquiry on the anti-Ahmadiyya riots that resulted in at least a dozen dead in the Punjab in 1953 concluded:
“If there is one thing which has been conclusively demonstrated in this inquiry, it is that provided you can persuade the masses to believe that something they are asked to do is religiously right or enjoined by religion, you can set them to any course of action, regardless of all considerations of discipline, loyalty, decency, morality or civic sense.”
The United States must insist on the protection of the minorities; it will give a ray of hope to the dwindling Christian communities, and other minorities. As soon as you accord Christians their rights you are beginning the process of secularization.
Only secularism can safeguard the rights of all.