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The growing religious fundamentalism in Pakistan

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By Farooq Tariq

The religious fundamentalists in Pakistan are once again on the full swing. They are very much encouraged by the outcome of the general elections in Pakistan. In overall, they have got over 16% of the total votes caste in the elections. But in the national assembly, they have emerged the second largest parliamentary group leaving behind Pakistan Peoples Party. Thanks to the support of the conservative Muslim League Nawaz MLN that their nominee for the prime minister Fazal Rehman got 86 votes while PPP trailed behind with 71 votes. The pro military Muslim League Q group was able to fetch the needed 172 votes for the Prime Minister lot.

The upsurge in the fundamentalist support was witnessed on 19th November 2002 when over 70,000 turned up for the funeral of Aimal Kansi (28) in Quetta Baluchistan. This was the largest ever funeral in the whole history of Baluchistan. Aimal, s body was brought from US where was awarded the death sentence after found guilty of killing two CIA officers in 1993. Till his last breath, he was very much proud of what he has done to the American imperialism. He has become another hero of the fundamentalists after Assama Bin Laden.

Another sign of the growth in religious fundamentalism was seen on 24th November when activists of Lashkar Tayaba, the banned religious group in Pakistan took over for six hours two temples in Jammu district of Indian held Kashmir. The incident resulted killing of the two and 10 more in the struggle to re-hold the temples by the Indian forces. There have been more incidents like this during the week in Kashmir resulting over 20 deaths mainly of Indian army men.

This is no incident. The leader of Lashkar Tayaba Hafiz Saeed was released last week in Pakistan. The Pakistan authorities would not accept at Lahore High Court only a month before that he is held up with them. “ Withdraw your writ petition if you want your husband to be released” was the message of the intelligence agencies to the wife. Later the wife of Hafiz Saeed was forced to withdraw her write petition. Hafiz Saeed as brought to his hometown after being held for over a year and was house arrested. Lahore High Court declared the move as illegal. Since his release on 18th November, he has addressed many thousands in several cities of Punjab. At Faisalabad, the third largest city of Pakistan, he spoke to over 50,000 who came to greet him after his release. Many women threw their children in the air and begged him to take them for Jihad. “ Jihad can not be stopped by any mean,” he declared at the meeting.

Lashkar Tayaba was the main religious group promoted by the military intelligence of Pakistan during the nineties to carry on jihad in the Indian held Kashmir. Many youth were provided the military training at camps set up by the group in different parts of Pakistani held Kashmir. "Suicidal missions are the only way forward to further the message of Jihad" was the main philosophy of the group training. The 11th September 2001 changed the priorities of the military intelligence. The Lashkar Tayaba was asked to wind up the camps. The leader was kidnapped. The military intelligences thought that it would be all over by these actions. That is been proved all wrong.

The ghost of religious fundamentalist propped up by the military intelligence is out of control and is in a process of changing its color. From pro military group, it is fast becoming an anti military group in Pakistan.

In the eighties, the religious fanatics were very closely linked with American imperialism. In the nineties, they left them on their own. From the beginning this century, the fanatics have taken roots among the general consciousness of the masses in Pakistan as an anti imperialist force. “It is war between Islam and American infidels,” says Samee-ul-Haq, one of the main leaders of MMA, the religious political alliance in Pakistan. He was also the main supporter of the Talban regime.

While in the nineties, the American imperialism has left them on their own but not the major part of the establishment in Pakistan. They wanted to use them against their traditional rival Indians. They had also the illusions that a stable regime in Afghanistan would give them access to the markets of the Central Asia. So the formation and the support for Talban were the main priorities. All that changed with 11th September.

The crushing of Talban in Afghanistan by bombing of US imperialism has not curbed the spread of religious fundamentalism. It has spread in a different form in Pakistan at present. Leon Trotsky, the architecture of the Soviet revolution of 1917 in Russia, once quoted “You can not crush the will of the masses to change the society”. The will of the most of the masses to change the society has not emerged, as was the case in the past, through the left forces in the region. Rather through the religious sentiment.

The general elections in Pakistan held on 10th October gives some glimpse how they have emerged as a serious political force in Pakistan. The fundamentalist united in one main group called Mutehida Majlas Ammal MMA (United Action Forum) won the most seats in two provinces. They took considerable votes in all other constituencies. But the most alarming fact was their support in the two major cities, Lahore and Karachi. At Lahore, they won three national assembly seats out of 13 and in Karachi, a neck-to-neck fight against the MQM, the immigrant mass force. MMA got 5 out of 20 seats in Karachi but it was very closely defeated in all the other 15 seats. MQM fetched 12 in the end. The MMA anti US rhetoric, which played a seminal role in wooing voters elsewhere in the country, played important part in their victory. But their campaign in Karachi was also centered on the issues like health and education. Mayer belonging to MMA already rules the local government in Karachi.

MMA captured 29 out of 35 National and 52 out of 99 provincial assembly seats in North West Frontier Province (NWFP). In Baluchistan, it got 6 out of 13 National and 14 out of 51 provincial seat. In over all, MMA got nearly 3.2 millions votes. While the main bourgeoisie party MLQ got 7.3 millions. PPP fetched the most votes, nearly over 7.4 million votes. The total vote caste in Pakistan was over 28.9 millions. MMA got over 52 per cent of its seats in the low turnout areas. The fragmentation and disenchantment of the secular vote coupled with increased mobility and motivated election campaign by the MMA are definitely factors that cannot be ignored.

The conservative Muslim League, the main bourgeoisie party in Pakistan was split on the question of the support for military. A large part of it went to support the military rule while the rest under MLN supported the religious fundamentalist on the name of seat adjustment in many parts of Pakistan. MLN was taking revenge from the military as their leader Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in October 1999. Later he was forced to leave Pakistan and now reside in Saudi Arabia. In the process, the MMA got more votes and seats than the MLN. MLN strategy made the fundamentalist stronger and is now no more close associates of the MLN. In fact MLN is fast becoming a tail end of the fanatics in Pakistan.

MMA took more advantage of the lowering of the vote age from 21 to 18 than another political group. The Pakistan Talban from the Madrasas, the religious schools, over 70,000 of them in Pakistan, energetically worked for the successful campaign of the MMA. “ He who has the youth has the future,” Lenin said once. The majority of the youth is fed up with the system. "They are all corrupt", is the argument presented in most of the discussion among youth. “Only Islamic revolution is the answer” you hear very often.

After the general election, the strategy of MMA was to give an impression to the masses of Pakistan that they are ready to shares the power but it has to be on their principal position. To attract and enlarge their support among the petty bourgeoisie, the MMA in words at least has become champions of the democracy and defendant of the 1973 constitutions.

The constitution, unanimously passed by parliament under Bhutto government, is a combination of capitalist democratic values and religious norms. The MMA also opposed the constitutional amendments by General Pervaiz Musharaf regime to give him more dictatorial powers as president. The Legal Framework Order (LFO) was announced on 21st August 2002, giving powers to president to sack the government anytime he likes and also powers for important postings in the establishment. This strategy has earned MMA some more respect and they are not seen as power hungry as was the impression of them in the past.

The religious fanatics have supported most of the military regimes in Pakistan history. Only this time, they opted to remain in opposition in the center. They are more likely to form the provincial government in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) which is next to |Afghanistan and could be part of the government in Baluchistan.

They have not gone to share the government at the center because of their perspective to become a mass force at national level. “ Had Punjab been awoke like the other province, the Islamic revolution in Pakistan would have been complete in this elections” cried Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the main leader of the most organized Jamaat-i-Islami; JI is a decisive component of MMA. It is JI successful political strategy of forming political alliance of all the religious forces that has won the mass support for the MMA. “They are never united and can never be united” was the main arguments of the some of the Left intellectuals during the past years. MMA has at least made these intellectuals think twice before they bring this argument against them.

The unity process of the religious forces started long before the 11th September realizing the political vacuum after the failure of the successive civilian regimes to solve any of the basic problems of the masses in Pakistan. The 10 years of successive failed regimes of PPP and MLN after the fall of the last military regime in 1988, has provided the opportunity to the religious forces to exploit the opportunity.

In 1993, the JI formed a Pakistan Islamic Front with some minor Islamic groups to contest the general elections. The PIF failed badly and fetched less than 3 per cent of the total votes. In 1995, Mutehida Jakjehti Council (United Solidarity Council) was formed mainly to address the question of sectarian killings. In 2000, almost 29 religious groups formed the Islamic Mutehida Inqilabi Mehaz IMAM (Islamic United Revolutionary Front. This was mainly to deal with the Western ideas spread by the NGO, s in the NWFP and Baluchistan. Jamiat Ulemai Islam under Fazal Rehman played the main role in this group. In June 2001, MMA was founded at the initiative of Jamaat-i-Islami. After 11th September, over 40 different religious groups formed Pak Afghan Defense Counsel.

The MMA all eyes are on Punjab, the most populated province with over 64% of the total inhabitants living in this rather prosperous area of Pakistan. Many villages in Punjab particularly in Southern Punjab have young martyrs. Those who have been killed n Kashmir or Afghanistan. These “sacrifices” are laying a strong foundation for the possible growth of the religious political influence on those areas where MMQ is yet to become a majority.

MMA activists unlike the main bourgeoisie parties are not driven by careers or greed. They are from the middle and working class background committed for a change. Most of the elected members of MMA from NWFP are from poor background and are seen by many all the time on cycles. This is contrary to elected members of rich parties who are on land cruisers and Mitsubishi Pajeros. The class question is very much in the mind of many who have gone to support the MMA in the recent elections. In the absence of the any significant left force in Pakistan MMA have echoed the class sentiments mixed with religion.

Would the American imperialism tolerate the growing influence of religious fundamentalism in Pakistan? The Americans has so for relied on the military generals to do the dirty job. Musharaf has done it very happily. But the political situations are getting out of control. The formation of the MMA government in NWFP will bring new contradictions between the new government in he center with the provincial government. The under ground Talban will feel easier in surfacing in NWFP under a religious government. Already new social tensions have emerged in the area. Women rights, human rights advocated in the province are under attack. “NGO, s in these fields must wind up their offices” is the hidden message by the fanatics. The Sunday regular weekly off day will be once again replaced by Friday by the new provincial government. “Beard is a must,” the new young elected leaders of MMA are advocating for every Muslim. “Women must obey the Islamic norms and must cover themselves”. It is Talbanisation of Pakistani society in a different form. It is not yet advocating an open Jihad like the Alqaida did. But it is in the oven.

So NWFP and Pakistan could be the next target of all the propaganda of the US imperialism after Iraq. Any attempt by the center to dissolve or suspend the provincial government at NWFP will result in more civil war like situation. In 1974, the united government of the nationalist and religious fundamentalist was dissolved by Bhutto under the pressure of Shah if Iran, a guerilla war started in Baluchistan. Many were killed and many went to Afghanistan in exile. Now nationalist have diminished to large extent for the time being in this election, as they were seen as pro imperialists force. Many of these nationalists supported the American bombing in the false hope that it will crush the religious threat at home as well.

More dark period is heading Pakistan unless new initiatives is been taken by the Left and progressive forces to stop the onslaught of the fanatics.

The handing over the recorded message of Asama Bin Laden in Islamabad to Algezeera tele network shows how things can develop in Pakistan. The possibility of the presence of Asama Bin Laden in Pakistan, the pro Talban provincial government in NWFP, the growing influence of religious fundamentalism in Punjab and Sind can force the newly elected pro Musharaf regime to take drastic actions against them. This in return will make the life of ordinary Pakistani more difficult. And it will make the ideas of religious fundamentalism more popular.

Labor Party Pakistan had foreseen the recent growth of religious fundamentalism. It has declined to side with them on any issue. It has opposed the American bombing alongside with the condemnation of religious terrorism. It is adopting the policy to oppose the recently formed new civil pro Musharaf regime. The new civil regime is no change for the masses. It is the continuation of the Musharaf regime in civilian cloths. It will carry the IMF; World Bank dictated policies on the name of reform agenda. The religious fundamentalist will also oppose the reform agenda but only in words. Initially they are showing a very liberal face to the West. They have already said that privatization is a must. But under the pressure of the masses, they can make big noise against the economic exploitation of the people by the Multi nationals alongside with the social and political repressions. The hypocrisy of the fundamentalist can only be exposed with a united action of the trade unions, Left and progressive forces.

 
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