A view of Islamabad Image Credit: Supplied

As I write this, the people of Pakistan have taken to the streets to answer the call of their Prime Minister Imran Khan to protest against India’s recent actions in Kashmir, an area disputed between the two nuclear-powered neighbours. Reports of massive violence and human rights abuse against the Kashmiris by observers on the ground have stirred the proverbial pot. Tensions between the two countries have risen to dramatic levels, after India abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, leading to a strong and furious reaction from Pakistan.

Alarming rhetoric and military activity have been cranked up several notches with India’s Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen M.M. Naravane saying last week that Pakistan can keep raising its “nuclear bogey”, but India will not be scared of such threats.

What was unspoken said a lot

Not to be deterred, Pakistan’s Army spokesman said that they carried out “successful” night launch of a ballistic missile last Thursday. The surface-to-surface Ghaznavi missile is “capable of delivering multiple types of warheads” up to 290 kilometres said Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman of Pakistan army. What was unspoken said a lot.

While Indian-administered Kashmir with its predominantly Muslim population has figured prominently in Pakistan politics, the country has no shortages of other issues to contend with. Chief among them has been crippling effects of looting of the state treasury by past governments, the result of which has left Pakistan in a critical financial state.

Then there is the proliferation of gangs of thugs headed by powerful clerics who recruit the illiterate masses to their sides for their own nefarious purposes.

Regulating religious schools

I happened to have a debate on the subject recently with one Pakistani who was somewhat incensed by the government’s recent actions taken against religious groups in the country and the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, a self-proclaimed religious figure whose notoriety shot up after he was linked to the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Some charities linked to Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) terrorist group, were shut down.

What upset my Pakistani associate even more was the move by Pakistan’s army for more reforms which included bringing more than 30,000 madrasas or religious schools under the monitoring of the state. The intention is to regulate the curriculum across all schools. “The government of Pakistan has decided that these madrasas will be mainstreamed,” General Asif Ghafoor announced. “(Religious) education will continue to be provided but there will be no hate speech.”

“The key issues under the discussion are madrasa registration and their curriculum, strengthening oversight of their funding sources, training of teachers to prevent the radicalisation of students, ensuring the cutting of madrasas’ ties with banned militant groups, and issuing visas to foreign students,” an Education Ministry official said.

My Pakistani friend then went on, “Pakistan’s 30,000 madrasas are to be brought under state control. It seems Pakistan military still controls the country. And Imran Khan is merely a front. It is high time that Pakistanis come on the streets and demand that the military interventions should stop. We should learn from the people in Hong Kong. By the way, if Saeed has committed any crime, he should be brought before the courts and tried. The action against Saeed merely shows the master and servant relationship that exist between Washington and Islamabad.”

Impediment to progress?

I listened as patiently as I could but then had to reply.

“I have to disagree. Pakistan began spiralling downwards when President Zia went on the ‘religious’ drive and they never recovered since. The mullahs happen to be an impediment to Pakistan’s progress, and they are more concerned about acquiring personal power than anything else.

“If your prime minister is doing anything right, he is reformatting these madrasas and arresting the so-called clerics. If I was him, I would also chase down all previous administration leaders who had fattened their wallets at the expense of the state. In our country, we recovered more than $100 billion when our Crown Prince sent people to prison. Pakistan should take a page from that and proceed against the political bigwigs of recent times who had contributed nothing except to leave Pakistan in a financial mess!”

My Pakistani associate then said little and walked away.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena