M D NalapatFriday, December 19, 2014 - General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq was a pious soldier, very different from the whiskey-swilling Yahya Khan, who ran Pakistan before Z A Bhutto took over following the war with India. Certainly such piety is to be applauded, but when a similar mindset is sought to be imposed by the use of state power on the whole of population, problems erupt. The reality is that we are human beings and are therefore far from perfect. Each of us, even those regarded as “good” or “very good” have character flaws. When the Day of Judgment arrives, each of us will be judged as what we are, human beings, and it will not be expected that any of us will be perfect. The good and the bad will be judged not in accordance with criteria enunciated by those claiming to understand and interpret divine but by standards unknown to human beings and indeed not understood by them.
Those people are wrong who believe that human beings can be made perfect, or that personal piety as defined by scholars is sufficient to enable entry into the heavenly space. Even the “imperfect” may qualify, if they have enough good qualities inside themselves, enough faith and devotion, and good deeds done without a selfish motive. Faith and devotion can be shown even by those who do not follow the rules of piety laid out by scholars, for after all, the measures used on Judgment Day are unknown to the human mind. Some of the most productive individuals in the world - including poets and writers - have followed the example of Yahya Khan rather than Zia where alchohol is concerned. As for dress, it is not the outer wear but the inner self which defines purity or otherwise. Even if a young lady wears denims, she may be innocent while a lady wearing a dress approved by some scholars as suitable for women to wear may be less than innocent in reality. An individual who abstains from temptations considered negative may yet do harm to humanity, while an individual with a more liberated lifestyle (such as a scientist) may do much good.
It is no accident that those countries with a high degree of personal freedom are usually those countries where much intellectual progress is made. The more laws get passed to restrict activity, the less room there will be for innovation and enterprise. While laws should certainly be passed and enforced for acts such as violence or trickery, personal behaviour that does not negatively impact others ought to be left to the personal choice of the individual. Few of the societies with highly restrictive laws have much success in ensuring that citizens obey their dictates.
The war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan added fuel to General Zia’s efforts to convert the population of Pakistan into models of what he regarded as piety. These days, there is much condemnation from NATO member-states of the activities of armed religious extremists in locations across the world, but in the 1980s,President Ronald Reagan gave speeches backing armed struggle of the sort that was being waged in Afghanistan. Religious passions were whipped up by skilful use of school curricula as well as lirerature created for the purpose. Hundreds of thousands of youths were sent to war in Afghanistan, where finally the Soviet Union had to admit defeat and retreat.
However, afterwards, many such individuals and the groups they had joined took on a more fanatic hue, and the results are obvious. While the example of Yahya Khan is an unsuitable precedent to follow, there is little doubt that rule under the more modern and moderate Ayub Khan was ultimately better for Pakistan than several of the changes introduced by General Zia. Had millions of young minds in Pakistan been taught modern education,the country would have been in the lead of the knowledge revolution. Violence is evil, and needs to be condemned. Only a state where there is security of life and freedom of the individual makes the progress needed to ensure that its citizens constantly improve their lives. In the GCC, it is no accident that Dubai is a much more attractive investment destination than Riyadh or Teheran, or that ordinary citizens in Kuwait have a better quality of life than their counterparts in Saudi Arabia.
This has been said more than a decade ago and bears repetition: “Sabahism” (moderate rule) is better than “Wahabbism”. The people of a country should have the freedom to choose rather than be dictated to Interestingly, while the first took over power via the military and the second has been elected to office, the example of General Zia is being followed by Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who too is seeking to make the people of his country more piouis, of course based on his own ideas of what piety entails. Just as Zia made Pakistan the reliable partner of those fighters battling the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Erdogan has made Turkey the most important backer of the armed groups fighting against Bashar Assad in Syria. Ankara gives various kinds of assistance to such groups and does so openly. The problem is that a fighter who is “moderate” this month may sign up with “extremists” the next month, after he has been given cash and weapons. Days ago in Aleppo, ISIS got control of a huge stockpile of weapons that had been given by NATO and its regional partners to the “moderate opposition” to Assad.
The fact is that much of this “moderate” force switched sides to ISIS as soon as they entered the environs of Aleppo from Turkey. The US-UK policy of arming the “moderate opposition” is ensuring that a plentiful supply of advanced weapons falls into the hands of ISIS soon after such weapons get distributed by the anti-Assad coalition. Indeed, several fighters active in beheadings and enslavement in Syria and Iraq are sending their families across the border into Turkey and Jordan to be looked after in refugee camps, while they themselves fight. Those who get wounded cross over to Turkey, get medical attention and return to the battlefield as soon as they are fit.
Turkey has become as important for extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq as Pakistan was to the fighters battling the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And just as there has been a deadly blowback to Pakistan from Zia’s policy, in a few years Turkey will suffer an increasingly toxic blowback from its policy of assisting extremists against regimes regarded with hostility by Erdogan. And just as the US backed Zia, Washington is now standing alongside the Turkish President. Hopefully,Ankara will realize before it is too late that empowering fanatics is a short-sighted policy for any democracy to follow. Erdogan needs to move away from General Zia’s path and return to Kemalism.