Pakistan’s founders explained their hasty creation as the Promised Land where no Muslim would be killed for being Muslim. Today, it is a land where Muslims are killed for not being Muslim enough. Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, was assassinated because he had the temerity to assail the country’s anti-blasphemy laws. In responding to the plight of Asia Noreen – a 45-year-old Christian woman awaiting execution for the capital crime, under Pakistan’s penal code, of blasphemy against Islam – Taseer had inflamed god’s warriors, earning himself a fatwa. On Tuesday, as Taseer was entering his car in Islamabad, one of his security guards shot him dead. The guard then surrendered himself, explaining, like a latter-day Godse, the Hindu fanatic who murdered Gandhi for being too “soft” with Muslims, his opposition to Taseer’s views.
“Facts”, Louis Fischer wrote in his autobiography Men and Politics, “cannot compete with a fiction that is comforting”. If history is a reliable guide, comforting fiction is what is likely to emerge from Pakistan. Who bears the responsibility for Taseer’s death? To Pakistan’s liberals, the principal cause of religious extremism in their country begins and ends with one person: Zia-ul-Haq, an austere bigot who governed the country from 1976 until his death in 1988. But apportioning the blame so disproportionately exonerates his predecessors, erases the deeper history of religious supremacism that underpins the very idea of Pakistan, and promotes, to the present generation, the false idea that, prior to Zia, Pakistan accommodated pluralism.
The formal Islamisation of Pakistan was initiated as early as 1949 by Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister; the Objectives Resolution he introduced that March set out the core constitutional principles by which the new country would be governed. Among other things, it proclaimed that Allah, who held sovereignty “over the entire Universe”, had “delegated it to Pakistan”. Most alarming of all, it called for the creation of conditions “Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah.”
By the time Ayub Khan launched the first military coup in 1958, 11-year-old Pakistan had been ruled by seven prime ministers. His finely clipped moustache and fondness for scotch whiskey led outsiders to view Ayub as a great modernizer. Indeed Ayub’s first major act as president was to commission the construction of a new capital city. A Greek firm of architects was tasked with the job. On 24 February 1960, Ayub gave the city its name: Islamabad, the City of Islam. Fittingly, while the parliament and the supreme court built by the Greeks are frequently forced into abeyance, the one building that is always open for business in today’s Islamabad is a lavishly built mosque named after a Saudi despot who funded it.
What followed was an intensive program of indoctrination. Education was the principal target – textbooks were filled with myths; the study of “Islamiyat” was promoted at universities; a whole new discipline called “Pakistan Studies,” locating the country’s origins in the history of Islam, was created; and the army, particularly Ayub, was portrayed as its saviour.
To validate this myth, Ayub launched a war against India in 1965. At the battle of Badr in the 7th Century, the Prophet’s tiny band of Muslim soldiers claimed to have vanquished the Quraysh with the help of white-turbaned angels sent by Gabriel. Ayub’s propaganda machinery borrowed directly from that legend, reaffirming Pakistan’s position as the defender of Islam. Stories about Pakistan’s forces being assisted by green-robed angels who deflected Indian bombs with a wave of their hand were circulating, as were legends about Pakistani soldiers shooting down Indian aircraft with Enfield rifles. Pakistanis weren’t just being invited to celebrate the valor of their soldiers – they were being told that their side had received celestial sanction.
Salman Taseer’s security guard seemingly felt blessed by that very divinity when he pulled the trigger yesterday on the man he was commissioned to defend. To all those in Pakistan’s armed forces who sympathize with Taseer’s killer, this may be a logical culmination of the journey that began in 1947. Advocates of tolerance have gone into hiding. The government has surrendered. Taseer’s killer is now a hero, beatified by Pakistan’s mullahs and televangelists. Dissent carries the death penalty. Historians will look back at the murder of Salman Taseer as the point at which Pakistan was irrecoverably lost to extremists. This was Pakistan’s very own Khomeini Moment.