A liberal and democratic Pakistan
Nasir Saeed

The recent statement by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif on how the “nation’s future lies in a democratic and liberal Pakistan” has started a new discussion in the country. Reaction from different factions was natural as this statement came out of the blue and nobody expected such an audacious statement from the PM who is considered to be very conservative and is the head of the centre right wing party.

At one time he was credited with establishing an Islamic state because of his struggles for the implementation of sharia law; in 1993, he publicly announced that if his party came into power, sharia would be implemented in Pakistan. This now seems a distant memory and that is why disgruntled mullahs are in an uproar and pro-sharia writers and politicians seem formidable as their dreams have been rudely shattered.

We know Islamic groups desperately want to impose sharia in Pakistan whether it is with the support of military dictators or the Taliban. They have been trying hard for decades, taking every opportunity and using every avenue to convert Pakistan into a theocratic state. The Taliban do not accept Pakistan’s Constitution and even wanted to impose their own version of sharia in our country. However, thank God they failed. We must be thankful to General Raheel Sharif, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), for taking the timely decision of launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb; who knows what would have happened to Pakistan if he had not.

The Taliban have been slaughtering innocent Pakistanis mercilessly. The worst example of this was the video footage of Taliban soldiers playing football with the heads of innocent Pakistani soldiers. They have been attacking our places of worship and military bases relentlessly, and undermining the government. Despite the operation, they (Islamic groups) still had some hope from the PM but now it seems their hopes have been squelched.

Those who were thinking that the PM’s statement was just political rhetoric to improve the image of Pakistan globally have been proved wrong as his subsequent statement during a Diwali gathering made it clear that he is trying to be sincere to the cause of inclusivity and is clear in his vision. He has decided to be a PM for all Pakistanis, including Hindus who have been fleeing Pakistan because of non-acceptance and mistreatment.

For decades, extremism, which has been devouring our country from the inside and had become an existential threat to Pakistan, continued to be promoted. But now because of the military operation and the PM’s National Action Plan (NAP) — though there are still some challenges — the situation has started improving and the public appears to be relaxed and at peace with the measures that are being taken to control terrorism.

Some people are quoting references to remind the PM of personal meetings with him in which he ensured them of the implementation of sharia in the country. Some are warning about the subversion of his political career but I do not think the PM will recede from the path he has chosen, though it is difficult and thorny. They seem dismayed and upset, which is natural and I do not think they will just sit idly by. Instead, I anticipate that they will start creating hurdles and using their influence to stop the PM from implementing his new idea. But let us hope that he stands firm and is unshaken in his determination.

There are several stories circulating in the media and, according to one prominent and renowned writer, this is all happening because of the PM’s new ‘mentor’. No matter who he is, it is commendable, as it cannot have been easy for him to persuade the PM to make the statements for which he is already under fire. Making such tough decisions is inevitable in every great leader’s life; he might have to take unpopular but right decisions in the best interests of the nation. Although they are widely criticised and not understood at the time, the passage of time shows them to be right and their decisions are remembered for generations. This decision by the PM is momentous and time will prove it. There is a need to understand the demands and the changing realities of the 21st century. Sadly, critics are telling half-truths to the public by just counting the anomalies of western countries and not the characteristics of this system they adopted centuries ago.

Their citizens enjoy full freedom, social and economic justice; the state even looks after those who are jobless, their children still go to school and colleges, they are provided with housing and food, no one sleeps on the roads or goes hungry and nobody dies because they cannot afford medical treatment when they are sick. They have transformed their countries into welfare states and believe in equality. That is why we see many Pakistanis working on very high posts, like Saeeda Warsi and Sajid Javed. This is only because of the system we always call malevolent but in actuality is inclusive and fair. However, in our country the situation is totally different and completely chaotic. There is no hope for the future of the common man.

The time has come to take the country in the right direction and make Pakistan Quaid’s Pakistan. We do not need an old or new Pakistan but what was envisioned and drafted by the founder of the country: A country where religion has nothing to do with the business of the state, all citizens are Pakistani and just Pakistani, and equal human beings where nobody is treated on the basis of religion, race or creed, and everybody has full religious freedom.

If this is liberalism then we should not be hesitant in accepting it. We should give a chance to the PM and even support him in his struggle. I think this is the time for introspection and determination