Gen (Rtd) The future of democracy in Pakistan

The future of democracy in Pakistan

Written by General Mirza Aslam Beg

Dailytimes  March 20 2014

The Pakistani nation does not accept change through violent means. It has rejected the extremists’ demand to replace the present political order with Shariah        


The trust: trust was first lost in 1958, when the civilian government was dismissed by General Ayub. He was forced to abdicate in 1968, but handed over power to General Yahya Khan instead of the Senate Chairman, as the constitution demanded. General Yahya after the 1970 elections promised to call the National Assembly session in early April 1971 at Dacca, but soon changed his mind, which resulted in the 1971 East Pakistan revolt and military action, leading to the fall of Dhaka. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto lost trust when he summarily dismissed both the army and air chiefs in 1973. The distrust shaped into open defiance by Air Chief Marshall Asghar Khan who urged General Ziaul Haq to dismiss Bhutto’s government and hang him to death. General Zia obliged and took over as a military dictator.

In 1988, when General Zia died in an air crash, we, the three services chiefs, restored the constitution within three hours of his death and handed over power to the Senate Chairman, with the promise that elections will be held in 90 days. Elections were held on November 16, 1988, and Pakistan People’s Party emerged as the largest party. On November 18, I invited Benazir Bhutto to dinner and briefed her on matters that she needed to know as the future prime minister. My purpose was to recreate the trust lost after the hanging of Bhutto by the military ruler. The trust lasted for about ten years, though shaken by misuse of Article 58(2)(b) of the constitution, and was again lost when Nawaz Sharif summarily dismissed two army chiefs and then General Musharraf struck. Later COAS General Ashfaq Kiyani restored the trust by not manipulating the 2008 elections. Ever since, a balanced level of trust has been maintained, affirmed by current COAS General Raheel Sharif saying that, “The military will act under the policy of the political leadership.” These are healthy signs. However, the way General Musharraf’s trial for high treason is being overstretched may well cross the level of tolerance, once again upsetting the present balance of trust.

Our democratic ethos: the Pakistani nation has remained committed to its national purpose that is, “Democracy will be the political order for Pakistan, based on the principles of Quran and Sunnah.” Thus Pakistanis have never voted for religious extremists, yet fear-mongers continue to frighten the nation about extremists gaining control of the government, though they have been proved wrong. For example in 1988, when the military leadership decided in favour of elections, the country at that time was swarming with jihadis fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The region as a whole was radicalised, but the Pakistani nation voted only for the moderates. Such is the democratic ethos of our nation — a valuable asset we must learn to respect.

The agents of change: the Pakistani nation does not accept change through violent means. It has rejected the extremists’ demand to replace the present political order with Shariah. The educated youth in particular responded to the call for change by Imran Khan and helped Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), as well as win some seats in Punjab and Sindh. This puts the PTI to the test, demanding exemplary government in KP and clear thinking to evolve realistic policies utilising the knowledge, talent and expertise of Pakistanis ignored by our political traditionalists, who rely mainly on their old cronies with limited perception and outdated concepts. Yet, the PTI is vulnerable from within, because the party revolves around Imran Khan. He is the public face of the party and, God forbid, if he falls off another forklift, the party may disintegrate. Therefore, there is need to develop a syndicate of leadership, robust enough to evolve policies, so that the party’s ideological underpinnings outlive the founder.

The national parties, namely PPP and PML (N), have withdrawn to their political bases in Sindh and Punjab — a retreat forced on them by voters who rejected corruption, dynastic politics, bad governance and neglect of the poor and the deprived. The retreat has created a vacuum for the more dynamic forces to move-in. In this regard Pakistan is well ahead of India where the Aam Admi Party was only able to form their government in Delhi out of eight union territories and twenty eight provinces, whereas the PTI emerged as the third largest national party, winning one province out of four. But what is common between them is their struggle to eradicate corruption and poverty.

Corruption and poverty are the bane of our people, of whom more than 50 percent live below the poverty line. The curse of corruption permeating our entire system has become endemic. This is the malaise our governments have done little to remove. Traditional politics is helping the rich to get richer while the poor become poorer. The news of the day may be true, that looted Pakistani rupees were converted into dollars during the last six months, pushing the dollar up against the rupee. And as the converted dollars were smuggled out of Pakistan and the Saudi $ 1.5 billion gift was added, the dollar lost more than six percent of its value against the rupee — a phenomenon that defies all logic.

The end of dynastic politics: the emergence of the PTI as a third political force spells the demise of dynastic politics in Pakistan. It meets the needs of the people to free them from the oppressive grip of institutionalised corruption and as an alternative to the two national parties who have lost their élan. Our people desire change in our traditional politics. An equitable and just social order is demanded, which the new political leadership can deliver. That will result in a grim struggle against the powerful elite, who dominate politics and power and have proved right the great philosopher Ibn-e-Khaldun’s saying: “When the rich and the powerful gain control of government, the country declines and decays.” That is where the tipping point is, demanding a balance of forces to guide the movement for change, led by the educated youth of the country. That is the best hope for democracy.



Presidential elections will be held in Afghanistan on April 5, 2014

Presidential elections will be held in Afghanistan on April 5, 2014. Incumbent president Hamid Karzai will not be eligible to run in the elections due to term limits. A total of 27 candidates were confirmed to have been running for office. However, on October 22, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission disqualified 16 of the candidates, leaving only 11 in the race. Opinion polls show Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Dr Ashraf Ghani as the front-runners. Afghanistan’s April 5 election is the third presidential poll since the fall of the Taliban.


Secularism and Pakistan

Published 2014-03-23 07:55:36

Like any other ideology, secularism too has produced a number of variants that were moulded and informed by the cultural, economic and social dynamics of the regions that they emerged in.

The central plank of secularism that remains constant across all variants is the separation of church and state and/or the parting of religion and politics.

In Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan however, secularism has largely been denounced (by religious ideologues and sometimes even by the state), as a doctrinal construct that is anti-religion and negates the existence of God.

The advocates of this claim do not differ between secularism that began emerging as an idea in Europe (from the 17th and 18th centuries), and that variant of secularism that was influenced by the writings of Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Tse Tung.

Though it began as an entirely intellectual pursuit and was a gradual mutation of the Protestant rebellion against Catholicism, modern European secularism first exploded into prominence during the French Revolution (1789) as an aggressive ideology. It saw the Church and Christian priesthood to be historical tools and avenues of oppression used by exploitative monarchs and feudal lords against the people.

However, by the 19th century, European secularism evolved and balanced itself as an important component of democracy that merely wanted to keep religion within the confines of the church and around an individual’s personal space.

A scientific understanding of history, economics, society and human behaviour was to drive political and judicial legislation and religion was to only furnish an individual’s personal spiritual make-up (or lack thereof).

This secularism does not repress religious belief. In fact it accepts and protects an individual’s right to practice his/her religion as long as they are doing so in designated places of worship, in their private space, and as long as their religious beliefs and rituals are not offending other people’s beliefs, or encouraging violence, or creating any other social, domestic or political commotion.

Western secularism recognises the psychological need and role religions play in certain swaths of a society, but it does not allow this role to take the shape of politics because such a tendency encourages persecution and repulsion against modern scientific, economic and intellectual ideas because they threaten the existence of politico-religious entities.

Such has been the secularism practiced in the West for almost a century now.

On the other hand, the secularism that emerged in countries that witnessed communist revolutions and regimes inspired by the writings of Karl Marx (and later Lenin and Mao), reverted to the radical (Jacobin) secularism of the French Revolution. They attempted to completely squash religious belief and practice, viewing religion to be a counter-revolutionary and intransigent force that encouraged economic and social exploitation and stunted and retarded the evolution of societies.

Western secularism experienced a boost when European nations began to rise as vast economic and military powers. After the gradual decline of monarchism and feudalism in Europe and the advent of democracy there, modernism began to mean economic and political progress based on democracy, science and secularism.

Non-European regions where religion was still deeply embedded in the social dynamics and milieu faced a dilemma when they came into contact with the domineering arrival of Western imperialism and its early secular ideals.

A number of intellectuals and political activists of these regions after observing how resisting these ideals were isolating their people from the economic benefits that these ideals now offered, began to concentrate on how to adopt these ideals without completely discarding those aspects of their cultures and beliefs that were tightly tied to their national, ethnic and religious identities.

In South Asia for example (in the 19th and early 20th centuries), certain Muslim and Hindu reformers and scholars began to develop revisionist scholarly narratives that presented their respective religions to have been inherently modern, progressive and in tune with science.

Some Hindu reformists suggested that Hinduism was inherently pluralistic, whereas the Muslim reformists suggested that Islam was inherently secular because there was no concept of priesthood in it.

Thus began the attempt of many Muslim and Hindu scholars and thinkers to mould their own, indigenous concepts of secularism that ironically derived their variants of secularism from their respective religions.

Thus, when a cleric or a conservative Muslim or a hard-line Hindu describes secularism as an ‘anti-God/anti-religion’ idea, he is almost entirely wrong — at least on two counts.

First, western secularism is simply about the separation of faith and the state (for reasons discussed above). Secondly, secular in both India and Pakistan has largely involved thinkers and advocates who justify the separation of religion and the state by suggesting that their respective faiths encourage such a separation.

In Pakistan secular thought is largely tied to the musings of 19th century Muslim scholar, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who painstakingly demonstrated how ‘scientific reasoning’ and rationality can be used to interpret Islamic scriptures.

He also tried to demonstrate that such an interpretation was closer to the true (rational) spirit of Islam and that faith needed to be a personal matter.

He insisted it was material progress (through the sciences) that furnished spiritual progress.

Sindhi scholars like GM Syed and Ibrahim Joyo went a step further by suggesting that societies where Sufism had played a strong historical role in shaping the people’s religious make-up are inherently secular because the Sufi saints that they follow were highly tolerant and against the orthodox clergy and ulema (who were allied to economic and political forces who were using faith as a cynical and opportunistic tool of exploitation).

In the 1960s thinkers like Hanif Ramay and his group of intellectuals who published a highly influential Urdu monthly, Nusrat, tried to counter the ‘Political Islam’ of Abul Ala Maududi and the Utopian pan-Islamism of Iqbal, by concocting a concept called ‘Islamic Socialism’.

The concept suggested a socialist philosophy that fused modern socialist economics and democracy with the pluralistic manoeuvres of the Prophet (PBUH).

Islamic Socialism claimed that the socialism and secularism that it was advocating was inspired by the ‘Madina Charter’ authored by the Prophet in which he granted widespread rights to non-Muslims and the downtrodden.

But no amount of innovation in this regard has changed the conservative ulema’s views about secularism. The reasons for this seem to be quite apparent. Even the more spiritually-tinged variations of secularism are seen as a threat by these ulema and clerics most of whom were pushed into the mainstream by the gradual politicisation of faith in Pakistan from the mid-1970s onwards.

Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims
As Muslims we have to learn to accept different practices of Muslims. God has intentionally created diversity, every thing in creation is different and unique, it is a model for us to accept the spiritual differences and co-exist in harmony. Prophet Muhammad expanded on that by acknowledging the otherness of other faiths and including them, as they were, with their own belief system into the Madinah pact, an inclusive form of governance.
God knew we are obdurate beings and had asked us to recite the Sura Fateha with every unit of the prayer, Muslims recite “God alone is the master of the day of Judgment” at least fifty times a day, God was hoping that it will rub off on us, he was hoping we would understood the meaning of it and not be judgmental towards others. A good majority of us do believe that only God alone is the judge in matters of faith, the few others may not be sure about God’s wisdom, so they keep on judging other people.

The Ismailia’s pray differently than the Shia’s, Sunnis and Bohra, it is their right and their belief, just as others do what they are taught. They do believe in God and the prophet like all other Muslims.

Please remember, no one is responsible for other’s deeds, each one of us is on our own.
Let’s acknowledge the otherness of other and let every one take pride in their practices.

Mike Ghouse

The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim sect, or Ismaili for short, is one of the largest and little known esoteric sects in Islam. Its members otal about 15 million people and can be found in India, Pakistan, Central Asia, China, East Africa, Europe, and North America. They are all united by their common allegiance to their spiritual leader, Imam Karim Aga Khan IV, who is a direct descendant of Imam Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law and successor, appointed to lead the Islamic community.

Most people in the West view Islam as sort of monolithic religion, but in actuality it is divided into numerous sects. The basic division is the Shia/Sunni split over who should have succeeded the Prophet after his death. Before his death, the Prophet appointed Ali as his successor during his last hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) in the year 632 CE. However, Ali as rejected by a group of the Prophet’s close followers, known as the Companions, who elected Abu Bakr as their Khalif (political successor the Prophet). Ali was eventually elected as the fourth Khalif, but was always considered the leader (Imam) of the Shia (party of Ali). His assassination and the death of his grandson Hussein split the Islamic community permanently into two factions: the Shia and the Sunni.

Imam-e-zaman (The Imam of the Time) must always be a descendant of Imam Ali, and has the sole authority to interpret the Koran according to the time and place. Ismailis hold that Allah’s Noor (the Light) is eternal; they believe this same Noor which was with Ali resides in the current Imam. This light allows the Imam to speak authoritatively and to give out firmans.(spiritual teachings) which Ismailis follow. The Imam has also been called a speaking Koran. As an Ismaili friend once said, “Allah did not stop talking to humankind 1400 hundred years ago; he never has stopped guiding us.” They see the Imam as a reflection of the Divine Reality in this world.

The Shia followed Imam Ali and each succeeding Imam thereafter, who is appointed (nass) by the Imam from amongst his male offspring (usually the eldest son, but not always). Shia Muslims have occasionally faced internal problems regarding the succession of an Imam. As a result of disagreements, the community split and a new sect came into existence. Such a split occurred over the succession of the 6th Imam, Jafar es-Sadiq. It was this split that gave rise to the Ismaili sect. They followed the Imams from Imam Jafar’s son Ismail, while the majority of the Shia followed his other son, Musa al-Kazim. Musa’s followers are known as Ithna Asharis (The Twelvers) which became the state religion in Iran.

Since the split from the Ithna Asharis, the Ismaili movement went on to spread throughout the Islamic world as a social revolutionary movement. Ismaili Dais (religious teachers), appointed by the Imam, would form teaching cells in local communities and conduct missionary work (Dawa).

Their mission was to lead others to recognize and give allegiance to the Imam of the Time. By the 9th century, these groups were strong enough to launch a revolt in North Africa and Eastern Arabia, which resulted in the formation of the Ismaili led Fatimid Empire in Egypt (lasting until 1171 CE).

During the later days of the Fatimid Empire, the Ismaili movement split into two factions over the succession to the 19th Imamate. The Must’ali factions, who maintained control over the Fatimid Empire, are now known as the Bohras, who live mainly in India and Yemen. Since their line of Imams went into hiding, the Dais assumed leadership of the community in the Imam’s name. Before the murder of Imam Nizar by his brother Must’ali, a Dai by the name Hasan bin Sabbah established an Ismaili stronghold in the mountains of Northern Iran. When Nizar was killed, Sabbah started a Dawa called, “The New Preaching.” A son of Nizar was smuggled out of Egypt and kept concealed at the fortress of Alamut. From Alamut, Ismaili missionaries (Pirs) spread the ideas of Ismailism throughout the Middle East and South Asia. They were very successful in South Asia, where several Hindu castes converted en mass to the new faith. These South Asian Ismaili’s gave the Ismaili faith a body of religion called ginans.

In the year 1256 CE, the Ismaili State at Alamut came to end when the expanding Mongolian Empire destroyed it. Ismaili Imams and their followers then went into hiding. They mostly disappeared from history until Imam Aga Khan I fled Iran in 1841 and took charge of his Khoja Ismaili followers in South Asia. In Iran, the group took on the appearance of a Sufi Order, whereas in South Asia, they appeared as Hindus. This concealment, called “taqqiya,” is practiced by all Shia sects for self-defense. From the time Imam Aga Khan I entered India, the Ismailis have gradually lifted taqqiya and practiced their faith openly as a group.

Ismailis today continue to practice their beliefs in secrecy for fear of persecution. The faith, however, is becoming more recognized by outsiders and no longer a secret. They meet daily in Jamatkhanas for prayer and community activities. Only Ismaili Muslims who have pledged allegiance to the Imam are allowed in the Jamatkhanas for services (though most Jamatkhanas do give tours to interested persons). It is Ismaili doctrine that unless one has taken baiyat (oath of allegiance) to the Imam, then Jamatkhans services would not be of any value to the visitor or to the Ismailis worshiping. So visitors during services would merely be a distraction.

While the religious rites are performed privately in Jamatkhanas, their doctrines are not hidden from public view. The teachings and practices of the Ismailis are readily available in books and on the Internet. The group is open to converts, though they do not seem to actively recruit new members. The Ismailis follow the Five Pillars of Islam by obeying the Farmans (official teachings) of the Imam of the Time. Their interpretation of Islamic doctrines and practice can change according to the time and place in which they live. This change can only be brought about by the Imam of the Time.

Ismailis learn from their Imam how to live ethically and find the true way o achieve union with “Divine Reality.” The first step taken by an Ismaili to begin this journey is to recite the Shahada: “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and Ali, the commander of the faithful, is from Allah.” Every Ismaili, or a convert to the faith, must pledge allegiance to the Imam of the Time and follow his Farmans. This is basically how Ismailis receive and follow Allah’s achings.

Ismailis perform Du’a (prayer) three times a day in Jamatkhanas or at home. This is derived from the later Shia practice of combining the five regular prayers into three prayer sessions.

Ismailis pay Zakat (alms levied) to the Imam of the Time, which is collected monthly in the Jamatkhanas. It is set at 12½ % of one’s income, but individual Ismailis may pledge to pay more. This tithe is called the Dasond. A portion of this money is used to finance local Jamatkhanas,with the rest being sent to the Imam. The current Imam has used these funds in various Aga Khan Foundation projects throughout the Third World, often in close association with the United Nations (many of the Imam’s close family work in various U.N. developmental projects). Ismailis practice ritual fasting according to the religious customs of the regions in which they live. Some follow the typical Islamic fast of Ramadan as a form of taqqiya in countries ruled by Islamic Governments, while others living in secular societies do not. Many Ismailis fast on days of the year known as Shakravari Beej, which occurs when Fridays coincide with the appearance of a New Moon. This is a traditional fast practiced by Ismailis of South Asian origin. During this fast they repent of their sins and ask for Allah’s forgiveness through their Imam.

Ismailis perform their hajj (pilgrimage) by seeking a Deedar (glimpse) of the Imam of the Time. Since the Noor (Light of the Imam) is present in every Jamatkhana, going to Jamatkhana each day is equal to performing hajj. In the Prophet’s time, to go on hajj was to be with the Prophet.

Therefore, to be in his successor’s (the Imam) presence is the modern hajj. Also, Imam Aga Khan IV has been the most accessible of all Imams. He regularly visits his followers all over the world. This can be seen as an interesting reversal of the pilgrimage. The ultimate goal of Ismailis is to achieve union with Divine Reality.

This part is the deepest secret of Ismailism and must be taught in person. It is pure gnosis, a gift from Allah given to those who prepare to receive the Light of Qiyamat.

Esoteric means the “inner, in the sense of the inner consciousness;
the contemplative, mystical or meditative transpersonal perspective.
This can only be understood by intuition or higher mental or spiritual
faculties.Shiites, more especially Shia Ismailis or Batinis follow the
esoteric interpretation of some of the verses of Qur’an.

Exoteric is opposite of esoteric, which means the “outer”, i.e. the
outer or surface or everyday consciousness.This includes both the
scientific-materialistic and the conventional (or literal) religious
perspective.Sunni Muslims follow exoteric interpretation of Qur’an.

Peace and Light,
Jim Davis