There is a tragic dimension in Mr Nawaz Sharif’s preoccupation with Islamising state and society. It is almost as though he sees it as a panacea for all our problems of poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment.
While the PM has been harping on this tune and taking time off for ‘umra’ to cleanse his soul, he has not bothered to take any steps to avert the rising peril of floods. Hundreds of villages have been swept away, a million people are homeless, roads and bridges have been destroyed, the cotton surplus has been wiped out. And, pray tell, what does Mr Sharif propose to do about it? Take a joyride on a helicopter and announce a consolation fund to alleviate the untold losses and sufferings of the people.
Unforgivable, you say? Imagine how the Chief of General Staff, Gen Farrukh, must have felt when he, along with the army’s Engineer-in-Chief, were called last Sunday to brief the cabinet about the floods and found all the ministers dumbfounded about what had happened and clueless about what to do. “Why don’t you brief parliament also”, suggested one crafty loyalist, hoping to pass the buck on to the army.
It is the same story all over again. Pass the buck and praise the Lord. Verily, Mr Sharif leads a charmed life, or so he must think, at any rate. He has survived one crisis after another and lived to create a new one. Unrepentant, he continues to gush about Islamisation even as the country lurches from one tidal wave to another.
But where does the IJI place Islam in relation to the state? Who in government properly reflects its Islamic concerns? Going by what different functionaries of Islamabad have to say on this subject, it seems the prime minister’s left hand doesn’t know what the right one is doing.
Time and again, Sardar Asif Ali, the IJI’s minister of state for economic affairs, has come out loud and clear. By banning ‘interest’, he argues, the Federal Shariat Court has threatened to wreak havoc with the financial system. But for six months after the FSC’s judgement, Mr Sharif dithered over what to do. At the last minute, however, the government persuaded a couple of private sector banks to appeal before the Supreme Court. The nature of their prayers, however, leaves much to be desired. Yes, they bleat, we don’t dispute that ‘riba’ is indeed ‘interest’, your Lordships, but could we please have some breathing space in which to explore alternative systems of finance before ‘interest’ is banned?
This is ridiculous. Unless the hypocritical intention is to call ‘interest’ by some other name like ‘mark-up’ or ‘profit’ and carry on as before, these convulsions are totally unnecessary and meaningless. And it is absurd to pretend that we can tinker with the global capitalist system and tailor it to our fancies.
Now the FSC has declared that the ‘quota system’ is also repugnant to Islam. In other words, ‘affirmative action’ by the state to redress historical inequities or imbalances between regions, groups and communities is unlawful. If implemented, this decision is primed to alienate the smaller provinces further and erode the spirit of federalism. The Sindhis, for example, will resist it violently because it would amount to handing over the province’s administrative, educational and public sector system to the MQM. The Baloch will take up arms against the more assertive, qualified and entrenched Punjabis and Pashtoons in Balochistan. Women all over the country, too, will suffer. Their quotas in medical colleges and institutions of learning will disappear; they may even lose their special seats in parliament. And so on.
Yet there hasn’t been a squeak from the IJI. No one in Islamabad has thought fit to challenge a decision which threatens to corrode the modern nation-state.
Instead, the prime minister has been keying up to amend the constitution and make the Quran and Sunnah “the supreme law of the land”. Along with the chief minister of the Punjab, he has been exhorting the mushaikh to support this endeavour. If passed, this amendment will strengthen the jurisdiction and claims of the FSC to make and unmake laws at the expense of an elected parliament and restrict the scope of the Supreme Court’s powers of judicial review. It is a perfect recipe for unmitigated disaster.
Thankfully, though, not everyone in the IJI is in step with Mr Sharif’s opportunism. Apart from Sardar Asif, the minister of state for population planning, Rana Nazir Ahmad, has had problems with the mullahs. In trying to implement a rational policy to reduce population growth, he has spoken out against the narrow, literal interpretations of the thekedars of Islam. Punjab Governor Mian Mohammad Aslam and the ANP’s Haji Bilour have also taken a swipe or two at them recently. There are other dissenting voices too. We understand a group of at least 20 IJI MNAs have told the PM that they will conveniently absent themselves from parliament should he decide to present the proposed bill.
Nevertheless, Mr Sharif may exploit the susceptibility of Muslim Leaguers to the carrot and try to ram his amendment through parliament. If so, we are surely entitled to pray that ‘someone’ with a stick will rap him on the knuckles and send him packing.