Stakes of ‘Islamic vote bank’ and religious politics in Pakistan

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Under the enigmatic political leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan came into being in August 1947, a Muslim majority state but not an Islamic state. During Jinnah’s 13-month governorship, the name of the country remained only “Pakistan.” However, it was labeled as an “Islamic Republic” in 1956.

After the demise of its founder, orthodox religious strata and state-supported radicalization emerged with the Objectives Resolution in March 1949, prepared by Liaquat Ali Khan and passed by the first National Assembly of Pakistan. This historic resolution was the first step toward legislation as well as the religious bias of all three constitutions categorizing Pakistani citizens as Muslims and non-Muslims.

Steadily, religious factions pierced through the socio-political fabric of Pakistan. The madrassas and street power of religious bands worked to strengthen and publicize their doctrines, all labeled as the true version of Islam.

The religious political parties became more powerful and patronized during the reigns of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq because of public ignorance, as people could not differentiate between religion and politics.

Zia’s Madrassa Ordinance and dream of becoming Amir-ul-Mominen (“Commander of the Faithful”) brought him closer to the religious factions and religious political accumulations. Regrettably, this religious-based politics flourished through the 1970s and 1980s because of outrageous religious sentiments and policies of Pakistani regimes, and the Afghan war, Talibanization and the emergence of extremist groups pigeonholed Pakistan as an extremist nation-state.

About 15 registered religious political assemblages are still playing a foul game in the name of religion. Furthermore, many political collative fronts of these religious bodies partake in elections and parliamentary politics. Without proper ideologies, most of them are merely power seekers, as they have remained part of power politics even during the authoritarian regimes.

In Pakistan, religious political parties have a certain and definite vote bank, which mostly comprises orthodox religious classes, illiterate common masses, deprived interior parts of the provinces, tribal areas, particularly FATA, and madrassa students, all having targeted ignorance in common.

Some of these parties and religious politicians have most of their vote banks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the interior of Balochistan. Unfortunately, in FATA the overall literacy rate is 28% for men and a mere 7% for women. Women have no rights to participate in politics and participate in the uplifting of society. Therefore, so-called political religious parties exploit their illiterate voters in the name of sharia with no intentions to give them a developed, modern and progressive society.

Allegedly, many religious political parties are following and implementing foreign and internal agendas to destabilize the country for their own financial and political benefits. Their demands imitate their extremist agendas. The respective leaderships are stirring up the sentiments of their followers with emotional and harsh religion-oriented speeches as political stunts to stimulate and swell their vote banks for the upcoming general elections.

Political forces also use these religious clutches to obtain political benefits.

Religious political parties seek votes to implement sharia, Islamic laws, development of Islamic society, and so forth. Some religious leaders are not even willing to offer prayers behind one another but seem eager to get votes in the name of religious harmony and unity. Divided into various religious thoughts, the religious political parties have different approaches to promote their religious/communal thoughts with the political force of concerned associated religious party and its leadership, which further subdivides the religious vote bank.

These religious political parties have entirely failed to serve their voters and constituencies as they acquire votes to serve the religion, sovereignty of Islamic laws as well as their constituencies, of which they delivered none. Consequently, unfulfilled agendas drive them to play a blame game with other competitive political forces. This phenomenon begets some unnatural coalitions for political benefits, but serving the constituencies has never been their priority.

The religious political parties are not only manipulating religion but also the socio-political and democratic norms of the country. The big guns of religious politics have entirely failed to serve even their agendas on Islam; invigorating and contributing only hatred, violence, sectarianism in the society of “Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” The political warfare of religious political parties are the misfortune of an Islamic society and fuel momentum toward a destabilized, radicalized society.

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