Following uproar from Islamist groups, and his own political allies, over the decision to construct Pakistan’s Shri Krishna temple in Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan has approached the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for review.
The CII, a constitutional body originally mandated to review legislation “in light of Quran and Sunnah,” is now tasked with verdicts every time the executive chickens out on a progressive step. This means that the CII can be seen reviewing everything from accountability laws to Lollywood flicks.
And now Imran Khan, after dubbing Osama bin Laden a “martyr” of Islam, has tasked the CII to once again define the vision of his much touted “Medina state” for him.
There indeed is cause for pessimism that the government is likely to take an Islamist volte-face on the Shri Krishna temple – the first in the country since Partition. After all, we’ve seen the administration back down many times before, on the appointment of an Ahmadi economic adviser, the sacking of an anti-Hindu minister, the release of an award-winning progressive film, and the constitution of the national minority commission.
Should the cynicism be vindicated, it would be the latest nail in the coffin of a tolerant Pakistan. The June 23 ceremony for the Hindu temple was a groundbreaking as much for the construction of the country’s first Hindu temple as it was for a pluralistic future of Pakistan – one that distances itself from its bigoted past.
Over 8 million Hindus live in the country, according to the Pakistan Hindu Council. To put things into perspective, Pakistan’s Hindu population is larger than the entire populations of half of the countries of the world – despite thousands of Hindus leaving the country, or being forcibly converted to Islam, annually. And yet, a demographic the size of Switzerland has failed to construct a place of worship for itself in 73 years.
The cause for this blatant marginalization has been Hinduphobia, in the guise of the “Two Nation Theory” that formed the basis of the Indo-Pak Partition in 1947. The principal proponent of the “Two Nation Theory,” Muhammad Ali Jinnah, won his case for Pakistan based on repeatedly rehashing Muslims and Hindus as “radically antagonistic… different beings.” Jinnah’s Pakistan, just like Khan’s Pakistan, was sold as a “new Medina.”
And yet such has been the marginalization of the non-Muslims over the past seven decades that the leader of Pakistan’s Islamist separatist movement has provided some of the only straws for religious minorities to clutch at.
Jinnah’s much echoed August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, where he paradoxically suggested a secular vision of the country, where Hindus were to be “free to go to temples,” has been cited yet again amid the Shri Krishna mandir controversy.
Imran Khan too has delivered speeches underlining the equality of non-Muslims in his envisioned Pakistan. However, neither Jinnah nor Khan could muster the integrity to spot the glaringly hollow contradiction in simultaneously spearheading blatantly Islamist projects.
The throwback to the 1940s separatist movement isn’t to suggest that it was inevitable, or obligatory, for Pakistan to transform into an Islamist bastion. On the contrary, whatever vision was espoused at the time, for better or worse, is largely irrelevant, having been superseded by 73 years of empirical evidence underlining the need for Pakistan to shun its Islamist narrative. However, any intent to pursue the latter is only possible after acknowledging the ideological flaws rooted in the creation and sustenance of Pakistan.
The founders of Pakistan repeatedly highlighted how “Hindus worship cows” while “Muslims eat them”; the refusal to challenge this divisive narrative results in a minister deeming it appropriate to use “cow” in his anti-Hindu tirade – or another ruling party leader transforming this bigoted differentiation into calls for violence against the entire Hindu community.
When the country’s foundational speech reiterated that a “Muslim hero” is a “foe” for Hindus, it translates into decades of glorifying temple vandalizers echoed by, among others, the current prime minister of Pakistan. The demolition of 95 percent of pre-Partition non-Muslim worship places hasn’t taken place in a vacuum.
Pakistan’s Hinduphobia is perpetuated by decades of school curricula teaching impressionable minds that “Hindus have tried all their means to harm Muslims… The foundation of [the] Hindu set up was based on injustice and cruelty… Hindus… used all means to weaken and harm Pakistan…”
This anti-Hindu narrative rehashes the Islamist literature propounded by the Muslim League in the 1940s. The transformation of Islamist rallying cries into jihadism as a military ideology, following the creation of Pakistan, was designed to serve the state’s strategic ambitions. Muslim invaders and temple vandalizers like Mohammed bin Qasim, and Mahmud Ghaznavi are maintained as role models to churn out radical Islamists to serve domestic, and regional, strategic interests.
Now, Pakistan has a new temple vandalizer to eulogize after a young man demolished the foundation of Shri Krishna mandir on Saturday. Another proud father has uploaded a video of his toddler son threatening to “kill every single Hindu” if a temple is built in Islamabad.
Those outraged by the very idea of an Islamic country constructing a Hindu temple include the chief of Khan’s allied Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML‑Q) Pervaiz Elahi, the current speaker of Punjab Assembly, who cited Prophet Muhammad demolishing idols at the conquest of Makkah as evidence that such a building in Islamabad would be “blasphemy against the Medina state.”
Meanwhile, Pakistani social media has been littered with images mocking Hindu idols. This in a country where the government allows citizens to damage state property, and instigate violence, for caricatures of Prophet Muhammad published overseas.
Pakistan’s Hinduphobia is rooted in the paranoid Indian Muslim elite apprehensive about losing their political clout in the 1940s. It has been sustained by a similarly paranoid establishment xeroxing jihadists to create post-1971 strategic depth against India. The baton has now been passed on to a paranoid Imran Khan, willing to do whatever is necessary to cling on to power by the skin of his teeth.