Prof. Ijaz Khan Khattak, a Pakistani intellectual, in an exclusive interview with The Oslo Times
Professor Ijaz Khan has been teaching at the International Relations Department of the University of Peshawar, for the past 28 years. He has authored three books. He has written a number of research articles as well as Op-Eds for newspapers in Pakistan. His area of interests is Pakistan, its foreign policy, the war on terror, Af-Pak relations, human rights, peace, and conflict.
TOT: Would you like to share your thoughts on “human rights” with us? And what human rights mean to you?
Ijaz: Human rights include civic rights and political rights. Being a citizen of a country, you have a number of fundamental human rights. Despite your nationality or where you are from, you have a number of similar rights. The right to live is the top most human right. Whether you are a Pakistani, American, Indian, Afghan, we all have the right to live. Whether someone comes to Pakistan with or without a passport, he has the right to live. Yes, it becomes a matter of legal debate if he doesn’t have a passport and resides here in Pakistan. Action can be taken against him under the law, and if someone commits a crime, legal actions must be taken against them. You cannot directly label them a criminal. If a Pakistani and a foreigner commit a crime, they must have access to a fair trial. You cannot favor one over the other. And they have the right to defense. And when we talk about the “right to live” then it doesn’t mean just breathing. This right to live means, having access to education, health facilities, job opportunities, security, and protection of one’s life, property, and honor. And it is obligatory in every state to protect all these rights. when a state fails in protecting human rights, its citizens agitate against it and when a state suppresses human rights, then it’s obligatory for all the nations of the World to jointly condemn it and put pressure on that very state to ensure human rights.
TOT: You talked about human rights, the right to defense, the law and fair trials. What is your view on political and religious minorities’ rights? To what extent they are being protected in Pakistan? And do you think there are fair trials when it comes to the circuitous routes being taken in police stations and mob justice?
Ijaz: You see when we talk of human rights we mean all human beings. They are equal. To discriminate or divide people in the name of race, tribe, religion, social and economic positions (class conflict), is quite unfair when it comes to one’s fundamental rights however if someone owns a palatial house, a luxury car, and the other lives in a slum area and is a public transport commuter this is something else, here I talk of their human rights, not economic strengths. By equals I mean they have equal rights. The rest is related to one’s capacity. Someone may earn more while the others may have a lower income, but their basic right is the same—their access to economic opportunity should be equal. You cannot deny someone their right on the basis of class, race or religious beliefs. Every state makes its laws, rules and regulations while looking at the needs and aspiration of its own people. While making laws, the legislature must treat all the citizens as equals. When it comes to making laws, many laws are looked upon from another state. If you deny the religious minority its rights on the basis of religion, it is a naked aggression on human rights. it is against human rights to discriminate citizens on the basis of religion. It means if you say that this particular citizen has a few privileges over the other because he/she does not belong to the religious majority, you are depriving him/her of their rights as human beings. The demand of the human rights is to give equal rights to those from religious and political minorities. But here in Pakistan we have a few problems in our Constitution that clearly says that a non-Muslim cannot be the president or the prime minister of Pakistan. Here, there is very little chances that a Hindu will become a president or a prime minister. But under human rights you cannot strip a non-Muslim of this right on the basis of religion. Here inPakistan, the law says all the citizens are equal, but in practice and theory there is the difference as on the ground, religious minorities are being suppressed. In Sindh province, non-Muslims are being converted by force. Non-Muslim women are taken into marriages by force. And are forced to accept Islam. No one hears that a Muslim woman converted to Hinduism and married a Hindu. But here they say that Hindu girls converted and married a Muslim happily and out of their own free will. A few days back in a political debate I underlined the need of reforms in jails. You see in jails, they say, all the prisoners will be given Islamic teachings so that on the release they become good and responsible citizens of the state. Here comes the basic point. And it is when you have a non-Muslim prisoner, how will you teach him Islamic teachings? And if yes, under which law? Besides that in social and economic practices, religious minorities, unfortunately, are discriminated and this comes under human rights violations.
TOT: It is believed that when Pakistan came into existence, extremism was nowhere visible on the ground. However, later on extremism made deep inroads in the society. What is responsible for the surge in extremism? Or it is the backfire of Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives, identity-making approach, domestic policies or military regimes?
Ijaz: Pakistan’s foreign policy and religious Madaris (seminaries) are the results. They are not the reasons. This is the result and the outgrowth of Pakistan’s attempt of identity-making approach. Religious slogans were used to achieve Independence from British-India Later on whatever attempts Pakistan made in terms of establishing its identity at the state level it was done through prioritizing one religion while suppressing other identities. Here, identity is based on religion rather than the land and blood. Pakistan has been declared an Islamic Republic. After declaring Pakistan an Islamic state, religious intolerance and extremism were quite natural and predictable. Extremism didn’t increase overnights. At the same time, foreign policy, as well as domestic policy, aligned together which led to the gradual growth of religious extremism. In 1950s, there were riots and protests under an organized movement against Ahmadiyas (Qadianis—a religious minority by the Constitution of Pakistan), the state of Pakistan suppressed this movement sternly, at that moment. When in late 70s, the anti-Ahmadiyya movement resumed, the state succumbed. It is one clear instance of how the state gradually ceded space to extremism. Earlier civil bureaucracy was powerful whereas the security establishment gradually became a dominant force. When we talk of the security establishment, we also talk about security threat perception from India. Here we go to the historical feud with Hindus that Muslims and Hindus cannot live together as they are separate nations. In history, this is called the “Two Nations Theory” and this is the linchpin of Pakistan’s Movement. And when you say that Muslims are a separate nation therefore it was necessary to build a national identity based on religion. Unfortunately, democracy didn’t thrive. Immediately after the creation of Pakistan, attempts were made to obliterate the proven ancient history and a new history was that began was based upon religious identity.
As you know Pakistan is not one country composed of only one “nation” but is a conglomeration of socio-cultural differences and different nationalities. Four of them are the major ones—Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis and Balochs. In developed countries of the World, all the nationalities are being accepted and such states are called multinational states. But here the opposite happened. Here the stress was on the religious identity rather than multinational ones. It says that all the citizens are Pakistanis and they are Pakistanis because they are Muslims. When you lay particular stress on religious identity, actually you are suppressing all other identities, which triggers tensions among and reservations among the nationalities. For instance, it was said that don’t call yourself a Pashtun, a Punjabi or a Sindhi rather call yourself a Muslim and a Pakistani. Again and again religious slogan was used. For becoming a Pakistani, you need to be a Muslim. Here I would respond to your second question regarding religious minority. Now that Pakistanism has been based on religion, it is where the problems start. If you are a Hindu, cannot you be true and a loyal Pakistani? The problem is they used “religion” as a powerful tool. This tool was used against those who talked about pluralism, democracy, federalism, ethnic identities. They were being suppressed with this tool. The first use of this tool was seen in the shape of al-Badar and al-Shams (militant wings of then united Pakistan’s Jamat-e-Islami). This tool was used against Bengali nationalists in the then eastern Pakistan. Here the relation of the state and this tool was quite visible. Since its birth, Pakistan has attempted to vie with India. It went into American camp and also joined China against India. After 1971, then Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto attempted to increase relations with the Muslim World. Here Islamic identity was stressed more and more. The conference of OIC was organized in Pakistan. Though, Bhutto attempted to paint his government as a secular one however it was during his government that dissidents started coming from Afghanistan. Gulbaddin and people like him were brought here. They were trained here. And the tool of religion was used against Afghan nationalists in Afghanistan.
This concept became international and even other states sensed how powerful this tool was. Even the United states together
with Pakistan tried to promote extremism against Communism. This tool was benefiting Pakistan in suppressing nationalists at home and also suppressing Afghanistan’s irredentism, besides using it against India. For US, the religious extremists were an advantage as the then USSR was dubbed as an atheist state while the hidden objective was to contain the Iron Curtain. Thus, Mujahideen were formed where they were told that Afghanistan is under the invasion of atheism. Saudis and other Muslims also came here. Pakistan realized that religious elements are quite helpful in foreign policy objectives. When the Soviet forces in Afghanistan were defeated, this tool was used in Kashmir. And thus religious seminaries flourished. Only in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the number of these seminaries reached three thousand in 80s. The concept of jihad was made part of the syllabus. Gradually extremism was taking root inside Pakistan. Today we see that like Afghanistan, Pakistan has also been affected by extremism at home. Now, Pakistanclaims that it is not discriminating against good Taliban and bad Taliban. Today Pakistan faces a substantial challenge as the religious elements inside the country have become very powerful. They asked that Islam and Sharia must not only be brought in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan. The problem was that policymakers in Pakistan wanted Sharia for others not for themselves here at home and the clash broke out. Pakistan started isolating and dividing these religious elements by dubbing them as good Taliban and bad Taliban. Good Taliban are those who are fighting outside Pakistan’s territorial integrity. And the bad Taliban are those who are fighting inside Pakistan. Unfortunately, our security concerns, foreign policy objectives and undemocratic practices at home have collectively helped extremism thrive.
TOT: Do you think this experiment was successful? And do you conceive that after the school carnage in Peshawar where hundreds of schoolchildren were killed by militants, there has been a policy and mindset change?
Ijaz: It is successful to the extent that they can create trouble through these religious elements in Kashmir and Afghanistan but when we look at the backfires at home, then, it is not a success. Nothing is free. You pay a price. Here everyone has his own perception regarding the price of this experiment. We see terror incidents on the daily basis. The Peshawar school carnage was one of such horrific terror incidents. The situation has become so plaguing that when three to four men die in a terror incident, it hardly becomes a news. In such a situation when I assess the gains and loss, I believe that Pakistan has been at a loss. After the Peshawar school carnage, powerful slogans were raised that there would be no discrimination between good Taliban and bad Taliban. Zarb-e-Azb military operation was already started in North Waziristan before the Peshawar school carnage. Thousands of families were displaced. These homeless people were stationed in camps. It triggered a humanitarian crisis. However, the general public kept thinking that as they are getting rid of this cancer called extremism they ready to pay this price, but, unfortunately, the concept of good Taliban and bad Taliban is still there. Though change is taking place in Afghanistan now. As Ashraf Ghani is the president of Afghanistan now and he is eager to see ties with Pakistan improve. Pakistan has also responded well. In Pakistan these days there is a debate. One political school of thought says Pakistan has changed while another school of thought says that “no”, Pakistan has not changed. Those, who negate the change, raise questions about the presence of Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban. In North Waziristan, these days, a good Taliban leader Maulvi Halim is at the lead. He replaced Hafiz Gulbahadar. He was the deputy of Gulbahadar.
After launching a huge military operation there in North Waziristan, eventually they compromised with the Taliban. It means that despite such a huge military operation, North Waziristan was not fully brought under control rather power was ceded to a pro-Pakistan Taliban leader. In Afghanistan, militancy is soaring and people are pointing their fingers towards Pakistan.
You know here we don’t talk about intentions. If a president or a prime minister assumes the office, he definitely comes with good intentions. It is about your image, the journey the state has made, its friends in the international community, all these matters are taken into account. Take an example of an individual. For instance, I am 55 years old what has my life been about? My life is the collection of some experiences and experiments. Some of them were driven by me and some were shaped by circumstances. I made some friends and some rivals. At this stage of life I cannot change my friends and rivals. Even if I want to change, but cannot. And if I do, my rivals will look at me with suspicion about why I have changed my approach. My friends will be upset that I took a different approach. Circumstances don’t let me to change. Even if I defy the circumstances and take two steps forward in the direction of
change and when I don’t see benefits I will just have to take four steps back. If you apply this concept to Pakistan and want to change it altogether, you will have to bring seismic and fundamental changes. However, the life of a state is not like the life a human. States have usually longer lives and at times short lives as well. It’s debatable. Yes, we can bring changes, but it is a time-consuming job and a challenging one as well. You will have to lose some friends. Here, Pakistan will have to change its identity altogether. Even a good leader, who wants to change the situation, is influenced by circumstances. What he can do is deliver a few good speeches and initiate some good policies but sooner or later he will have to quit the office and the old policies will start making a comeback once again. Until the religious content is reduced in identity-making ingredients and the use of the religion as a powerful tool is relegated, things will not change for the better. This will be an evolutionary process. You cannot change them through a revolution. It is believed that Nawaz Sharif wants to change the policy regarding the Taliban, I won’t say he is not sincere, but the question is if he has the capacity and time? All of a sudden he cannot dump the Taliban and extend a hand of friendship towards India.
TOT: You talked about the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the likely change in relations between the two states. Recently a Pakistani delegation led by minister of trade, Khurram Dastagir Khan, visited Kabul where the two sides signed a number of trade and economic agreements. Do you think Nawaz Sharif and Ghani will succeed in overcoming the challenges the two nations are facing?
Ijaz: Life is not stationary. In politics, people’s views are open for change. The coming of Ashraf Ghani onto the Afghan political stage as president and his initiatives, towards changing the situation with Pakistan, and the interest of China, together all these factors, push the two states to bury the hatchet. A number of pledges have been made and some practical steps have also been taken. Agreements and MoUs have been signed but the pace of implementation is slower than expected. Personally I think the prospect for change and development in the relations of the two neighboring nations looks promising. But at the same time I am apprehensive as the history of mistrust between the two nations has been powerful. How they cast off the environment and culture of mistrust, only time can tell.
Ijaz: China can play a very effective role. China’s prime interest these days is to see peace in the region restored. Its international strategy is linked with peace in the region as it needs land and sea connection with the World through a number of routes in the region, which for it needs peace. Earlier China used to invest in Afghanistan in terms of economic projects however recently it has increased its political and security interests as well. Relations of China, withPakistan, have always remained very cordial. Pakistan has always remained obsessed about India’s role in Afghanistan but now given that China increases its role in Afghanistan, it will reduce Pakistan’s concerns. China’s interest is to see an end to militancy. It is believed that whatever unrest is there in China’s Xinjiang province has its roots are considered to be in Pakistan therefore China is also looking forward to military actions against insurgents in the region. For the region, this augurs well. The more China engages itself in the region, the more Pakistan will get a push to do something against the militants on its soil and to bring changes in its Afghan policy. When the two (China and Pakistan) change, Afghanistan will also change naturally.
TOT: Recently Pakistan and China signed a number of economic development projects including the massive project—corridor. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province, which was turned into a front line corridor in the war on international terror, which for the people of the province paid a heavy price in terms of loss in men and material. Against this backdrop how to do you see the alleged changes in the original corridor of China–PakistanEconomic Corridor (CPEC) by Punjab?
Ijaz: I told you earlier that you cannot bring changes with mere statements and slogans. Earlier I also told you that I am apprehensive about the change in Pakistan and the reason is here mere lip service is being projected as if it will achieve the goal. When we talk about the economic corridor route, we see it could benefit Pashtuns’ economically but China will also look at it which route is the shortest possible. This route is not only for Gawadar port. Afghanistan will also be linked via this route. This route will also go to Iran. This route will reach Myanmar and so on. As many as 31 countries would be linked through this route. This is really a huge and massive project. Now if you bring changes in its original route, you have kept Afghanistan and Iran out of the project. By doing so, you unleashed unrest in the federation of Pakistan. There is a serious concern among Pashtuns and Balochs over the change in the route. This is the beginning of a new tension in Pakistan. Punjab will use the same old tactics and will stigmatize those who oppose the change in the original route would be dubbed as Indian agents. If such a situation is created, even Punjab wouldn’t be in the position to take benefits of this massive project.
Pakistan first will have to be a democratic country in a true sense where the rights of all it’s the units of its federation must be respected. Local identities must be accepted and respected. First it will have to bring changes at home and then we can expect that its relations will the outer World will change. Moreover, China is investing this huge capital while keeping its certain objectives in its mind therefore why China would be the on the same page with Punjab. Moreover, people’s perception about China is much friendlier unlike their thinking about America. However, both, China and America want Pakistan to do more. However with a basic difference. The United states used to tell Pakistan to do more against the militants. Its language was a bit bossy. And China is doing the same askingPakistan to do more against the militants, however, its tone is friendly and soft. China is also asking Pakistan to support Afghanistan in its peace efforts and the United states too used to ask Pakistan the same. If Pakistan doesn’t work closely China, Pakistan would never yoke off the problems it is surrounded by. Pakistan will have to take some biggest decisions. It will have to decide whether it wants to go abreast with the changes that are taking place in the region or against them?
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