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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Growing Polarization of Religious elements in Pakistan

Daily The Bangladesh Today, Dhaka
June 2, 2009

With every passing day the line between pro Taliban and Anti Taliban ulama (religious scholars) is getting sharper- and more trenchant. The most important question is: are the ulama, belonging to the school of thought to which Taliban too belong, doing enough to diffuse the sectarian rift rising dangerously?It is no secret that Taliban, of whatever hue, belong to Deobandi School of thought. Right from Mulla Umar, who once ruled over Afghanistan, to Maulana Sufi Muhammad and his son in law Maulana Fazlullah, all subscribe to Deobandi school of thought. In Zia's days when "jihad" in Afghanistan was going on in full swing, former students of Madrasa Haqqanya were at the forefront. This madrasa located on Grand Trunk Road between Indus and Peshawar, has been a landmark in the then anti Soviet Union struggle. Although present situation is different but the over all faithfulness of Taliban remains committed to the same orientation. Present day Taliban can be grouped, broadly, in three categories. Firstly, those who were resisting the allied forces within Afghanistan. We, in this column, are not concerned much with them as our main focus is on what is happening on the Eastern side of Afghan border. Secondly, those who have been carrying on their activities in Waziristan, north as well as south. Baitullah Mehsood is their commander. Once a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, he, at present, holds almost a legendry position in and around Waziristan. Third group consists of Taliban who are fighting elsewhere within Pakistan whether it is Swat or Buner or Bajaur. They lack a unified leadership. However names of Fazlullah, Muslim Khan, Shah-e-Dauran, and few others, have been, off and on, rising to prominence. Mualana Sufi Muhammad, whose true status in present situation can not be defined clearly, and who, it appears, has lost control over local Taliban, was once an office bearer of Jamaat-Islami. When in recent past he issued a decree declaring democracy as Kufr (infidelity), the present chief of Jamaat Islami taunted him reminding that Sufi Muhammad too once participated in a local election and it implied that he too did commit a bit of Kufr by doing so!It is intriguing that ulama of this school of thought have not cleared their position vis-à-vis the abominable and terrifying acts committed by Taliban. One can venture to infer by a long lull prevailing over these ulama and their seminaries that they are, somehow, privy to these acts. Whether it is Justice Taqi Usmani or Dr. Asrar Ahmed or Maualana Fazlur Rehman, none has shown even an iota of disapproval. Blasting barber shops and video sale-points, killing women going to their jobs, chopping the body of a singer woman in eighteen pieces, slitting throats of fellow Muslims like once Serbs did with Bosnian Muslims, issuing threats not to wear Patloons lest they would be killed - these and many other acts of terror under nomenclature of Islam have all been met with tacit approval of ulama of this school of thought. So far so good; but every action has a reaction and in matters where human beings are involved, parameters and extent of reaction can neither be forestalled nor modulated. The rival school of thought viz. Barelvi, who are greater in number, have finally made attempts to unite themselves and have vowed to fight it out. It maybe recalled that body of an important spiritual leader (pir), belonging to this school of thought, was taken out of grave, was desecrated and hung for many days. Unfortunately no leader of Deobandi School of thought condemned the barbaric act. Of late different segments of Barelvi scholars have been holding conferences and have vowed to counteract what Taliban have been doing and propagating. If polarization continues, these segments, so far peaceful, may get armed, which would have all the potential of proving lethal for national coherence. In all fairness, the situation can be contained only by the ulama of Deobandi school of thought, to which Taliban claim their loyalty. By remaining quite and implicitly supporting acts of Taliban, these ulama have been committing great disservice to the unity of the country. A common Pakistani now is bracketing Taliban with these ulama and their school of thought. Unless, these ulama disown certain acts of Taliban, the growing polarization may take a dangerous turn. That the Barelvis outnumber the Taliban's school of thought should never be thrown into oblivion. Is civil war around the corner?It is intriguing that majority of students as well as ulama in Deobandi Seminaries, wherever they are, belong to a particular province, rather a linguistic group. Whether it is south Punjab or the coastal city of Karachi, these seminaries are dominated by them. The linguistic and parochial factors cutting across this school of thought present an ominous picture for the future. Thus intra-school and inter-schools of thought both tendencies warn and deserve to be pre-empted by saner elements wherever they are.

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