- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The media - print and electronic - are abuzz about the growing lack of tolerance in Pakistan. The culprits behind the targeted killings and mass murders are often ardent followers of their faith and could shame ordinary Muslims with their knowledge of the scriptures. A would-be suicide bomber, arrested before he could meet his maker, argued that all Pakistanis who are not fighting alongside the fanatics are heretics who deserve death. The death sentence handed out to Aasia Bibi for adhering to her Christian beliefs reveals yet another facet of intolerance in Pakistan’s civil life.

Pakistan’s foundation was based on an ideology of discrimination against other faiths, with the founding fathers vociferously propagating the idea that Muslims could not and would not do well in a country where other faiths also abound. Against this backdrop, the words of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah,that religion “has nothing to do with the business of the state” were contradictory to his objective of establishing a Muslim country. The goal of secularism could have been best achieved in the multi-tonal entity of a united India. Creating a Muslim country in order for it to go secular is oxymoronic.

Pakistan’s eventual emergence as a theocracy was an evolution along the path set out at its foundation as a state for Muslims. The objectives of the country, so to speak, were enshrined in the Objectives Resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1949.This resolution, criticized as the root of all extremism in Pakistan, eschewed secularism and tied Pakistan’s future to the religion of its people.

Within Pakistan, there is a secular view that the state and religion should be separated. But this is the view of a liberal and educated minority. The vast majority of Pakistanis, the non-elite urbanites and the rural majority, have been subjected to the faith-based syllabus as prescribed by the Ministry of Education. The population at large has been indoctrinated into believing that the future of Pakistan and the religion of its people are intertwined.

The Objectives Resolution, the faith-based education system and Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s efforts to return Pakistan to the Middle Ages have ensured that the populace will frown on any efforts to separate the state and the mosque. As a result, there is no political party of national standing with the courage to propose legislation to secularize the country. Furthermore, it is impossible to develop a liberal forum to discuss secular ideas in Pakistan, as doing so would invite the wrath of the religious extremists.

Righteous killings are now a daily reality. Add to that the crushing inflation, the unstoppable corruption, increasing poverty and declining literacy, and there is little that does not define Pakistan as a failed state. Pakistan’s relationship with its own people is that of suppression and denial of health, education, justice and basic civil liberties to its citizens. Pakistan’s relationships with its neighbors are based on antagonism; for years, Rawalpindi raised faith-inspired militants to wreak havoc in neighboring countries. These warriors are now raising hell at home.

Donations and hastily assembled aid packages keep Pakistan afloat, with the West worried about Pakistan’s nuclear capability should the country crumble. It is for this reason that Pakistan’s army continues to contribute to regional strife, abetting extremism and at the same time blackmailing the international community into continuing its handouts. But these aid packages are stopgap arrangements, ill-designed and counterproductive. The slide into chaos will not be prevented, democratic institutions not strengthened, extremism not tackled and literacy not increased. If intolerance in the country continues to grow, at some point in time things will go very wrong, regardless of how much aid the international donors throw at Pakistan.

Pakistan should now be forced to find a different future, one entirely divorced from its flawed ideology. This recognition cannot come from within, where the pro-madrassa, intolerant and myopic sentiments run too strong. At the same time, this extremism cannot be allowed to continue to grow, as Pakistan’s problems are likely to destabilize not only the region, but the whole world on a scale not yet seen.

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Richard Armitage’s threat to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age forced Pakistan’s shortsighted, strategic-depth-focused establishment to give up its support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Forcing Pakistan to choose a future that embraces tolerance, education and economic growth is a more severe challenge that the world can ignore only at its own peril.

Ahab Minhas, an investment banker, is from Pakistan.