By Rana Banerji
February 14, 2016
Purifying The Land Of The Pure
By Farahnaz Ispahani, HarperCollins; Rs 499
In her book, Purifying The Land Of The Pure, Farahnaz Ispahani explains the plight of minorities in Pakistan.
Though Mohammed Ali Jinnah had re-assured Pakistan's minorities in his August 11, 1947, speech that they would be "free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship" and that there would be "no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another", this vision remained unfulfilled. Pakistan slid down the slope of intolerance and religious extremism during the last 60 years of its existence. Farahnaz Ispahani's book chronicles this descent with great diligence, even anguish, depicting how insecurities of identity, quest for an ideological State, militarism and islamisation pushed Pakistan inexorably downhill. Granddaughter of Pakistan's first ambassador to the United States, Mirza Abol Hassan Ispahani, the author was born in Karachi and grew up in Karachi, Dhaka and London.
She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, USA, majoring in political science. She is the third wife of the mercurial yet brilliant Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, whose tenure there was short-lived because of ire earned from Pakistan's all powerful army establishment over "the Memogate affair" in May 2011. Farahnaz seems to share the hurt caused by this shoddy treatment of her husband. At the time of Partition in 1947, almost 23 per cent of Pakistan's population comprised non-Muslims. Now it stands at less than 3 per cent. The turmoil of communal clashes and exodus/influx of refugees across the entire subcontinent during Partition threw all these demographic data topsy-turvy. Hindus particularly seemed to face unmitigated repression and had to hide their temples in their own houses. Even in the aftermath of Partition, Ispahani recounts how a series of political decisions and miscalculations sent "the land of the pure" hurtling towards an "embrace of bigotry and prejudice".
In March 1949, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, for instance, moved the 'Objectives Resolution' in the Constituent Assembly, which accepted the premise that "sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to God Almighty alone" and that the State would exercise authority "within the limit prescribed by Him" - this laid the foundation of an Islamic State. Defeat in the 1971 war and separation of Bangladesh forced Zulfikar Bhutto to initially promise a new beginning, where ageold ties of Muslims with Hindus and Buddhists would be nurtured. However, for possibly political reasons, his tenure first as President and then as Prime Minister, under the 1973 Constitution was influenced by obscurantist tendencies and an unconstructive harping on Islam. The proportion on non-Muslims in Pakistan had shrunk considerably. The 1972 Census revealed that out of a total population of 62.4 million, Hindus amounted to 8,99,000, then falling below Christians, who numbered 9,07,861. Anti-Ahmediya violence escalated during this phase. Ahmediyas were banned from performing azaan through a Presidential Ordinance in 1984. Once Gen Zia-ul-Haq seized power through a military coup in 1977, draconian Islamic laws were brought in - ostensibly designed to create 'Nizam-e-Mustafa' - the aim essentially was to provide underpinnings for a long stint of dictatorial rule. Sectarian strife intensified immediately afterwards as Shias felt unfairly targeted and persecuted under the Zakat & Ushr Ordinances. Sunni clerics started receiving heavy funding from State and foreign donors. Anti-Shia militancy strengthened. Ispahani emphasises that "religious minorities in Pakistan have continued to suffer under the discriminatory legal order left behind by Zia" and "at the hands of jihadist groups, which were nurtured by the Pakistan military".
In subsequent chapters, she narrates the unfortunate fate of Pakistan's minorities under 'the era of global jihad', when militancy, terrorism and sectarianism continued to prosper under the State's blind or even benevolent eye. The Hazara pogroms in Baluchistan after 2008 are attributed by Ispahani to "Pakistan's national security policies", as "Sunni extremists involved (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) were seen as the military's allies in its campaign against Baloch nationalist insurgents". All in all, Ispahani's book is a brave narrative, described aptly by Asma Jahangir, well-known human rights activist, as "an amazing account of the manner in which Pakistan's laws were instrumental in perpetuating injustice and encouraging brute force by religious militants with impunity". This makes the work indispensable reading for all serious Pakistan watchers.
Rana Banerji is a Pakistan expert.
Source: The Mail Today, New Delhi