The Imran Khan regime is making use of religion to divert public attention from grave issues that are emerging from their incompetence and bad governance. This government has given the nation an unstable economy, super inflation, unemployment, price spiral, weak currency and an increased poverty rate.
Almost 40 per cent of Pakistanis are living below the poverty line and the anti-government sentiment in the public is increasing daily. The Oxford-educated Prime Minister is shrewd enough to know how to use religion for his political objectives. He is bending backwards to establish a nexus with the clergy and the obscurantist forces of the country to maintain his grip on power. Will this strategy work? The short answer is that it will not.
The Politics of Religion
Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) have been criticized from various quarters of society. They have been criticized for describing Osama Bin Laden as ‘shaheed’ instead of a terrorist on the floor of the National Assembly; for blaming the increase in male sexual violence against women on women wearing “very few clothes”, and giving men a free pass by stating that they are not robots.
The policies and attitude of the present government have polarized Pakistani politics leading to reduced tolerance for religious minorities. Religious extremism and bigotry has been aggravated by using words that are sympathetic towards religious prejudice. Language that openly supports forces of obscurantism and intolerance is employed by the Prime Minister and his party.
In the first few years under Imran Khan’s leadership, 31 people belonging to religious minorities were murdered, another 25 were targeted for blasphemy.
The recent capitulation to the extremist hoard of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan is also troubling. First, the government described it as a banned outfit, then they shook hands, next they imprisoned the leader, but then they welcomed him back with a bouquet of flowers. No remorse has been shown for the damage done by the TLP. The regime’s love and support for religious groups with street power is apparent. Imran Khan and the PTI are responsible for Pakistan’s rapid descent into obscurantism and religious intolerance.
A New Committee
Another move by Prime Minister Imran Khan based on his politics of religion is the creation of the Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen Authority. This is a stepping stone to achieve the utopian dream of Riyasat-e-Madina. The Authority was established through a presidential ordinance, not through an act of parliament. It is the brainchild of Imran Khan, who is its patron-in-chief.
The mandate of this Authority is to research the life and teachings of the Holy Prophet, and to supervise the education system and the media industry to ensure that they are confirming to Islamic values. The Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen Authority appears to be a crude attempt to use religiosity for the promotion of a political objective.
The most upsetting part is that the Authority is mandated to monitor the media and the education system. Already, the Single National Curriculum previously introduced by the PTI has done irreparable damage to the education system. This venture by the government will encourage the next generation to be closed minded. The SNC does not fulfill the requirements of a modern and progressive education system.
A Controversial Leader
Dr Ejaz Akram, a very controversial religious scholar, has been appointed as the head of the Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen Authority. Dr Akram is openly against the democratic system of governance, he believes in the rule of the ‘Elite of the Elite’. His public views about regional and global politics are bizarre and obscurantist.
Moreover, the appointment of Dr Akram, whose controversial ideas supporting dictatorship, reminds us how seriously extremism is rising in the country. Dr Akram’s open denial and hatred of democratic values and traditions is clear in his writings and speeches. In one published article he says: “The idea of a republic, nationalism, capitalism, feminism, absolute freedom of speech, are all false conciseness that must be abandoned by us for things that work for us.” He has described Pakistan’s political leadership as “coward, stupid, and sold out for many decades.” He says that the “Only hope this country has now is if the whole principle and structure of governance is completely dismantled.”
Dr Akram wants the creation of a new system of governance led by an elite “that have an upright character and espouse a much deeper understanding of ideologies, religions, civilizations, and principles of statecraft.” His views are not different from those espoused by fascists in the 1920s. It is no surprise that Imran Khan has selected Dr Akram to head the Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen Authority, in order to determine the ideological direction of Pakistan, given that the Prime Minister himself has the same views.
Imran Khan’s obscurantist, retrogressive, and controversial ideas about state and society are well known. His use of religion in politics raises serious concerns about further restrictions on the freedom of expression under the cover of Islam.
Undermining our democratic process, encouraging authoritarianism under cover of resetting the system, and doing all this in the name of faith, are all extremely dangerous moves for the country. Imran Khan’s vision of Riyasat-e-Madina is in fact an effort to further General Zia’s obscurantist legacy. It is a great leap backwards.