Connect to share and comment

Opinion: How can Pakistan turn over a new leaf?

The only chance to cleanse the state is to return to a secular identity.

Wazir Khan Mosque
Pigeons fly over the Wazir Khan Mosque in the walled city of Old Lahore on July 9, 2010 in Pakistan. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI, India — It isn’t a topic that’s making headlines in Pakistan. But it’s a debate that’s been raised countless times since the country’s birth in August 1947: Should Pakistan be secular?

Dogged by internal crises, the rise of a growing intolerant extremist segment and a deliberately apathetic state and military response, Pakistan’s future seems bleak.

Imagine a reinvention. Get rid of the "Islamic" part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Shred all copies and records of the 1973 constitution and repeal a series of self-serving amendments to the constitution as well as bigoted anti-minority and anti-women laws. What you may be left with is the skeleton for a secular democracy.

A spate of recent terror attacks suggests this might be Pakistan’s only way of battling its inner demons. On May 28, armed militants attacked two mosques of the Ahmadiya community in Lahore. Ninety-seven people died and dozens were wounded.

Then on July 1 there were twin suicide attacks on Data Darbar also in Lahore, one of the largest and most visited Sufi shrines in Pakistan. The attack on the shrine was extraordinarily bold because it was an attack on Pakistan’s majority of Sunni barelvi believers. Some 43 people died.

In Faisalabad, on July 2, two Christian brothers were arrested for violating the Blasphemy Law. They’ve been accused of writing a pamphlet with derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad. In Waris Pura, a locality of some 100,000 Christians, Muslim mobs have been threatening to burn homes and kill Christians if both brothers are not executed.

The simple fact is that the state has, especially over the last 40 years, allowed for the persecution of its minorities. It has rewarded its majority to discriminate against them.

Sound harsh? A little exaggerated? Here are the facts.

Lets start with the Ahmadiyas. In 1974, under the supposedly liberal leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, parliament passed a law declaring Ahmadiyas non-Muslims. This was a reward to the Jamaat-e-Islami party in Pakistan for spreading virulent anti-Ahmadiya hate speech and demanding their removal from the esteemed list of Pakistan-approved Muslim identities.

As if that wasn’t enough, Pakistan’s favorite general, General Zia ul Haq — whose arched eyebrows would have given Jack Nicholson some sleepless nights — presided over Ordinance XX in 1984. The ordinance spelt out the following: Ahmadiyas were not allowed to call themselves Muslims, to pray in regular mosques, to read out Quranic verses, or to "pose as Muslims."

Move now to Faisalabad where street protests against two Christian brothers are mounting. No one has witnessed the brothers writing the pamphlet. As members of a tiny minority they’re unlikely to have wanted to defile anything Muslim in public or in private.

But the problem for Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel is something called the Blasphemy Law. Another gift of Zia ul Haq, the 1986 law carries the penalty of death for anyone who desecrates the Quran or defiles the name of Prophet Muhammad.