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The End of Jinnah’s Pakistan
Governor Salmaan Taseer's murder raises questions about the future of Pakistan’s Western-educated elites.
By SADANAND DHUME
Every time you think things can’t possibly get worse in Pakistan, along comes something to prove you wrong. On Tuesday, in possibly the country’s most consequential political shock since the 2007 murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, the 65-year-old governor of Punjab province, was gunned down in an upscale Islamabad market by one of his police bodyguards. The reason: the governor’s plain-spoken defense of Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. According to press reports, Taseer’s killer pumped nine bullets into him for daring to call the blasphemy provision a “black law.”
Needless to say, Taseer was right. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws belong more in a chronicle of medieval horrors than in a modern society, let alone one that receives billions of dollars in Western largesse. Since the mid-1980s, blasphemy—including criticizing the prophet Mohammed—has carried a mandatory death sentence. Amnesty International calls the laws “vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced” and “typically employed to harass and persecute religious minorities.” Over the past quarter century, at least 30 people have been lynched by mobs after being accused of blasphemy. Many others have been forced to flee the country. Though Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s population, they account for about half the country’s blasphemy cases.
In a larger sense, however, the significance of Taseer’s murder lies in what it says about the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan. Carved out of the Muslim-majority provinces of British India in 1947, the country has long struggled to reconcile two competing visions of its reason for being. Is Pakistan, as imagined by its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah—a London-trained barrister with a fondness for pork sandwiches and two-toned spats—merely a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims? Or was it created to echo the far more ambitious formulation of Abul Ala Maududi, the radical Islamist ideologue born roughly a generation after Jinnah: for the enforcement of Islamic Shariah law upon every aspect of society and the state?
Taseer broadly belonged to Jinnah’s Pakistan. He was educated as a chartered accountant in England, founded a successful telecom company, and published the country’s leading liberal newspaper in English. (Though, as the son of a famous Urdu poet, Taseer was perhaps more culturally authentic than his nation’s founder.) By contrast, Taseer’s killer, a 26-year-old named Mumtaz Qadri, symbolizes Maududi’s vision. In photographs, he’s bearded and moustache-less, in the manner prescribed by fundamentalist Islam. That Mr. Qadri could defy South Asia’s usually rigid codes of hierarchy by murdering someone far above his station jibes with the contempt radical Islamists often feel for traditional elites. According to press reports, Mr. Qadri showed no remorse for the murder.
The murder highlights anew the way in which Pakistan’s English-speaking classes resemble a small island of urbanity surrounded by a rising tide of fundamentalist zeal. They have only themselves to blame for their predicament. From independence onward, successive governments—military and civilian alike—have ridden the tiger of fundamentalism out of political expediency, misplaced piety or geopolitical ambition. A statistic from Zahid Hussain’s “Frontline Pakistan” is telling: When Pakistan gained independence in 1947 it housed 137 madrassas. That number has since swelled to about 13,000, between 10% and 15% of which are linked to sectarian militancy (Sunni versus Shia) or terrorism.
For many analysts, Pakistan’s slide began during the prime ministership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the debonair, Scotch-swilling feudal from Sindh first elected in 1970. Believing that he could co-opt the then small fundamentalist lobby, Bhutto banned alcohol and gambling and shuttered night clubs. He replaced the traditional Sunday holiday with Friday and declared the tiny heterodox Ahmadiyya sect to be non-Muslim. Bhutto promoted the pious and ultimately treacherous Zia ul-Haq to head the army.
After Zia seized power in a coup in 1977, the Islamization of Pakistan took off in earnest. The general set up Shariah courts, began government collection of zakat (an Islamic alms tax), denuded libraries of books deemed un-Islamic, and mandated compulsory prayer for civil servants and marks in their personnel files for piety. In the 1980s, army officers were instructed to read “The Quranic Concept of War,” a book by a zealous officer, Brigadier General S.K. Malik, which argues that “terror struck in the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end in itself.” Many of these officers subsequently rotated through the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence whose links to violent fundamentalist groups fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan and India in Kashmir are widely regarded as too deep to sever entirely.
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. has worked hard to stem the rising tide of fundamentalism in Pakistan. First it backed the military strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf. When he failed to deliver, policy makers in Washington held out hope that a democratically elected government, armed with greater legitimacy, would fight a better fight. But so far—despite co-operating with stepped-up U.S. drone strikes against militants in the country’s remoter reaches—the regime of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has hardly succeeded in stemming the tide of fundamentalist anger in either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Perhaps Governor Taseer’s murder will lead the country’s squabbling politicians and scheming generals to come together in a renewed bid to save Jinnah’s country from Maududi’s vision. Perhaps Pakistani society will be outraged enough to act against the thousands of madrassas that poison the country daily. But if the past is any guide to the future, it may not be a good idea to hold your breath. Jinnah, it can safely be assumed, is spinning in his grave.
Mr. Dhume is a columnist for WSJ.com and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.