By Minahil K.

The Prime Minister’s statement that the future of Pakistan lies in becoming “democratic and liberal” immediately received censure from religious parties. While it can still be debated as to whether or not he was referring to economic liberalism, it was perceived to be an attack on the ideology of Pakistan.  Amidst events of violence due to religious intolerance – factory lynching, mob attacks and the like, the statement is very much a need of the hour. In Pakistan, the words secular and liberal are interchangeably used as equivalents of immorality and obscenity. The repugnance for a society that is secular and liberal is thought to be one of the basic tenets of nationhood. Yet, time has shown us that even if this idea is to be entertained, it serves little purpose other than maintaining the status quo.

The statement of the Prime Minister at a time when Pakistan is struggling to emerge from the violence, extremism and chaos is welcome and commendable. What followed later was ridiculous and pathetically laughable. Siraj ul Haq, Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, said that the Prime Minister and those who support liberalism and secularism should pack their bags and move to New Delhi. Successfully spinning a web around himself, he further added that the country was founded on Islamic ideology and any attempt to make it liberal is contrary to the ideals of Jinnah and Iqbal. What he conveniently left out of the discussion was the reason as to why the founding fathers of their organisations blatantly opposed the idea of the country and the ideals of its founder. Did Moulana Maududi not call him an infidel? It is convenient how this fact has been brushed under the carpet and never comes up in public discourse.

It gets better. The far right may have gone up in arms over nothing at all considering that at least from the looks of it, the Prime Minister was talking about economic liberalism. It may still be premature to decide what future course the PML (N) will be taking but again, it gives something to be hopeful for. It is also a widely known fact that parties in the mainstream generally offer little besides lip service on such sensitive issues as embracing religious harmony and diversity in Pakistan. To state the obvious, a liberal, democratic and secular state is one that guarantees socio-economic and political justice to citizens regardless of their identities.  The problem really begins when religiosity is confused with morality – something that happens in Pakistan quite a lot. It is time that we try to drive home the idea that liberal and secular societies in fact respect individual differences and embrace diversity creating an environment where all communities can be at ease, thrive and prosper. Religious parties are making these concepts the bogeyman, perhaps, in an attempt to remain relevant and seek public support.