Islam, cricket and Pakistan

Posted on February 7, 2010 by


By Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

Published Daily Times- Sunday, February 07, 2010

Two mutually unrelated incidents last week show the growing dilemma of a large number of Pakistanis to relate themselves in a meaningful manner to the imperatives of citizenship of a nation-state. They may talk of Pakistan and its sovereignty when it is relevant to achieving their individual and group agendas or to pursue some transnational Islamic vision. The key question is, can a person pursue any agenda on the basis of a self-cultivated aura of righteousness or highly partisan considerations while neglecting its negative implications for Pakistan?

The first incident is the statement by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F in Peshawar that the military operation against terrorism is directed against a particular religious group and that the Waziristan problem should be resolved through dialogue. He asked the military and the government to side with the people rather than the US.

The second incident was ball tampering by Shahid Afridi in the Perth One-day International. He later maintained that he resorted to this method “in the heat of the moment as the match was a close one”. He knew that ball tampering was an offence in cricket but he was focused on immediate personal gains of consolidating his captaincy by winning the match without giving any attention to its negative fallout for Pakistan in international cricket. This revived the old controversy that Pakistani players engage in ball tampering.

These two incidents raise three questions. First, should personal or group interests and considerations override collective good and reputation? Second, should one focus on immediate and temporary gains without having a clear vision of long-term goals? Third, should a person consider the negative implications of any high profile action for Pakistan as a state in the comity of nations at a time when the growing perception at the international level is that the urge to function as a responsible nation-state is dissipating in Pakistan?

Fazlur Rehman, like other leaders of Islamic political parties, is opposed to military operations against the Taliban and other militants. Islamic political parties often function as the political front for militancy. They were the main supporters of the US policy of helping the Afghan-Islamic resistance to the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan and benefited from western financial assistance and weapons supply to the Afghan resistance. After the exit of the US from the region in 1989, the Pakistani state patronised selected militant groups, especially the Taliban since 1994-95, and floated new groups to fight in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Pakistan’s participation in the US-led global effort to contain terrorism after September 2001 was a major setback to Pakistan’s Islamic parties. They turned against the US and their differences sharpened with the Pakistani state by 2006-2007. They became more critical of Pakistan’s role in the war on terrorism.

Their disposition towards the Taliban is shaped by religious considerations and group interest. Some support is due to religious-denominational considerations, i.e. Wahabi/Salafi, Deobandi and Ahle-Hadith Islamic tradition, and partly due to ideological and political considerations.

It is interesting to note that some religious groups belonging to the Barelvi Islamic tradition condemn the violent activities of the Taliban but share their perception of an Islamic order on orthodox lines and that the US, India and Israel are out to destroy Muslims.

The Islamic groups and parties hardly take into account the threat of the Taliban to Pakistan as a state. They are not convinced by the assertion that no state can allow a group to impose its political and religious choices on others by force and Pakistan cannot allow some groups to challenge its writ and create a state within a state. The notion of the nation-state is peripheral to their worldview and they talk of the transnational concept of an Islamic Ummah or brotherhood.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the Jamaat-e-Islami leaders ask the government to stop military action in the tribal areas but they do not make a similar appeal to the Taliban to end violence against ordinary people and discontinue fighting against the Pakistan military. They often complain that the government has not opted for negotiations with the Taliban as suggested by the resolution of the joint session of parliament in October 2008.

The Islamic parties use the resolution in a highly selective manner. The joint parliamentary resolution maintains that “extremism, militancy and terrorism in all forms and manifestations pose a grave danger to the stability and integrity of the nation state”. Similarly, it suggests that “dialogue will be encouraged with all those elements willing to abide by the Constitution of Pakistan and rule of law”. No Islamic leader calls upon the Taliban to respect Pakistan’s constitution and law. They do not entertain the notion that citizenship of the Pakistani state should get priority over their transnational agendas. They are interested in protecting militant groups without taking into account their threat to the Pakistani state and society.

The Afridi ball-tampering incident can be traced back to the Pakistan state-sponsored education and socialisation project initiated in the mid-1980s by the military government of General Ziaul Haq. This pattern of education and socialisation lasted into the first decade of this century. State education, the state-media and the state’s reward system shifted the focus of young people from Pakistan as a nation-state, civic education in the context of citizenship, and cultural-religious pluralism to Islam as a transnational identity, religious-Islamic explanation and interpretation of the past and the present, greater attention to conservative Islamic ritualism, global conspiracy against the Muslims and admiration for militancy.

These policies produced a generation whose intellectual and psychological ties are weak with Pakistan as a nation-state and it invariably views the domestic and international processes within religious parameters. The main discourse of this generation is Islamic-conservative, and greater emphasis on public display of religiousness. Several cricketers have become Islamic preachers and there were reports of collective offering of prayers in cricket fields. This disposition has got nothing to do with professionalism and sports discipline.

With such a blinkered disposition, one can engage in offensive activities that cannot be condemned from a purely religious point of view. A ‘victory’ against the non-believers is a desirable objective from personal and collective perspectives. Therefore, the rules of the game and professionalism become secondary.

There is a need to reorient not merely the Pakistan sportsmen towards professionalism, discipline and rules and regulations, but also the generation of the late 80s and the 90s that seems to have been lost to religious conservatism and militancy. The focus of education and socialisation needs to return to Pakistan as a nation-state that cannot afford to be at war with every other nation and that diplomacy and good reputation count at the international level. Other issues that need to be emphasised are the obligations of a citizen in a nation-state, constitutionalism and the rule of law, cultural and religious pluralism and service to humanity irrespective of religion, sect, ethnicity and gender.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst