We need to separate state and religion

Two things have happened after over 130 children were brutally murdered in Peshawar by Islamists. The government was compelled to take action, which it did by meeting with political parties and then announcing the speeding up of army action against terrorists and also by lifting the moratorium on death penalty on convicted terrorists. The people of Pakistan also seem to have woken up and protested against Islamic extremism. 

Many of these actions/ reactions are commendable, but at the same time, the mastermind of the Mumbai Attack, LeT Commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was granted bail by the anti-terrorism court.  He was later detained after protests from India and from within Pakistan, but the fact that he was granted bail, showed that the government as well as the judiciary are still confused about how to handle this situation. To me it seemed that this man was given the bail because that was the plan, and the courts did so because they were not told to do otherwise. They seemed to need a signal from the establishment to re-arrest him.

The confusion of the state of Pakistan was further brought to light when an FIR was filed against protestors speaking against their main Mullah Abdul Aziz, outside Lal Masjid and subsequently some protestors were arrested.

How did we get to the point where children were killed in a school? The answer to that lies in the 67 years of Pakistan's evolution, where hyper nationalism and extensive reliance on faith has been inculcated and promoted. The doctrine of jihad and the superiority of Muslims over others is the root of this problem. It is for this reason that the mind-set of the Pakistani people has been fundamentalist at worst and apathetic at best, for decades. Some of us may not have remained silent over the atrocities committed towards other religious groups, but we are all culpable because we never did more than just protest. 

We as a nation have come together to show our anger and our extreme distress over this carnage, but expecting the army to get rid of the Taliban in Waziristan is not enough. After all the army has been supporting many of these as strategic assets.  

What we must accept is that this is not just the Taliban. We need to come together against all those who spout vitriol against any other group. We must name them and confront them.

We need to accept that we will never get out of this mess until we stop putting ourselves above others. We need to confront those who put the blame of any atrocity on someone else.

When the war is in your house, it is not someone else's war, it is yours. We need to stop those who still live amongst us and call someone else kafir, asking for their death. We as a nation have planted these seeds, have watered them and allowed them to grow because we did not do this actively before. It was not India or Afghanistan or USA or Israel. It was us.

Beyond all of this and most important of all, we need to understand that religion needs to be separated from the affairs of the state. Every narrative in this country, every rhetorical statement by political parties and every decision taken by the State has been based on religious doctrine and we have allowed that to happen.  

It is not enough to protest against atrocities. It is time to stop thinking that our constitution is something that can never be changed. It can and it should be and we must not be afraid of asking for this.

Keep religion out of the state and we would have taken the first step towards changing the hyper Islamic mind-set that is prevalent in the country.

Separate the two and we will see actions that do not allow honour killings, arrests for blasphemy and promotion of jihad in schools. Separate the two and we the people will have fought against Islamism, extremism, terrorism - whatever you want to call it - that led to this tragedy, bravely and rationally.

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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