Very recently, along with thousands of other viewers, I saw one of the most horrific scenes on television - a Taliban mullah beating two middle-aged burqa-clad women on a street in an Afghan town. Apparently the burqa had momentarily slipped from the faces of one of the women for which they were being punished.
Is this Islam of any description? Is it Islam as practised by the holy Prophet? As practised by any known sect? In the House of God, the holy Kaaba, women are not supposed to cover their faces. Haj is performed with unveiled faces. So who are these unkempt morons to treat women like this in the name of Islam?
There can be no doubt about the inhuman nature of the Taliban regime. Their treatment of women is very well known and recorded. It could be according to Afghan custom but it certainly has no relation to the status of women in Islam. To be deprived of education, of the right to work, of freedom of movement and to be treated as subhuman is a disgrace not only to a society claiming to be Muslim; it is a disgrace to its Muslim neighbours - above all, to Pakistan which claims to be the patron and friend of the Taliban and is now its advocate.
These self-appointed champions of Islam destroy all Buddha statues which are not only part of their country's historical past and a part of human heritage but also sacred relics of a great religion. Does Islam not enjoin respect and tolerance for other religions and tell us that God himself has preserved signs of the past to remind us of our history?
They prosecute aid workers on charges of preaching Christianity but, at the same time, reserve the right to take advantage of the liberal laws of other states to preach their own religion. They forbid music and festivals which are part of our sunnat. The holy Prophet himself allowed celebrations: the word Eid means festival or celebration. It is certainly ironic that now hard-pressed and desperate, the Taliban are allowing a more relaxed way of life and lately music has been heard in Afghan cities.
Only a few weeks ago the world was regaled with the stories and pictures of Afghan refugees on the sea rescued by a Norwegian ship while they were trying to get to Australia. They did not want to go to any other country except a 'western' one. It must be assumed that all those young and enterprising citizens of Afghanistan who can manage to get away want to go to a western country to try their luck and live presumably in a non-Islamic society. Where does that leave the Taliban and their claims of a great society in Afghanistan?
What one finds most galling and indeed offensive is the support of the so-called Taliban regime by our foreign office. It appears that the Pakistan foreign office is prisoner of a fantasy scenario in which Afghanistan is ruled by its client regime and Pakistan gains "strategic depth". How wrong and how chimerical this fantasy has proved. In fact, as an intelligent Pakistani commentator put it: "It is not Pakistan which has gained 'strategic depth' but Afghanistan which has absorbed Pakistan into its strategic depth."
However, one must never despair of the mercy of the Almighty. He has given us this opportunity to rid ourselves of this albatross. The coalition against terrorism that the US has formed will hopefully rid the world of the 'Taliban' - and their different variations - for the creation of which it should take at least part responsibility. Some credit for this monstrosity belongs of course to our home grown-agencies. One hopes that our mandarins will now desist from pleading the case for this aberration on the fair face of Islam.
This is the opportunity for Pakistan to strengthen its liberal credentials and to restart the process of building up a progressive Muslim state. This process, which was part of the agenda of our founding fathers, was abruptly halted in the late '70s. It should be noted that the word 'Islam' should not be used to describe Pakistan which has by no means achieved the qualities of great wisdom, tolerance and perfect justice that should be the chief characteristics of such a state. To call ourselves an Islamic state is sheer arrogance.
The facts about our 'Islamic state' to date are as follows. We are willy-nilly in the process of being Talibanized. The ordinary Pakistani, uneducated and ignorant though he may be, is a tolerant Muslim. In hard times and sickness he goes to his murshid and gets his dua and water sanctified by Quranic prayers. He is not given anything like adequate medical or educational facilities by his government and does not hope to get them in his lifetime. He is not very well-versed in religion but he believes in Allah and His Messenger. He aspires to educate his children so that his boys may get jobs as bank clerks or chaprasis and the daughter could perhaps become a teacher or an LHV.
There can be no thought of purdah for the girls. At best they will work and earn a salary and at worst they will work in the fields and look after the animals. The entertainment for him and his family used to be annual urs of the saints in the neighbourhood and nowadays he can sit in tea shop and see MTV or Zee TV.
The youth is on its way out of the country. Young men who matriculate or get a bachelor degree have no opportunities for jobs - there are no clerkships waiting for them. Every young man dreams of going to the US or failing that to any other western country. They are to be found in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, or anywhere which could be considered to have a route to Europe or America. These days most middle class families and many working class ones have young people living in Europe and the United States and that is the dream and the goal of millions of others.
This is our reality. One is fed up with reading columns and columns in our newspapers telling us that we should tell America to be blown; that we should stand firm with our Islamic allies and be independent; that we should break the begging bowl. It is, alas, too late for all this bravado. Some decades ago, fifty years ago, we could have charted a different path. We could have built a prosperous self sufficient state without pretensions to world status. This would have been good for our people. But instead we had delusions of grandeur - Pakistan the largest Islamic state in the world' delusions. These delusions have brought us to a sorry state. Now we have to make the best of the present realities.
We know that the opportunities for our youth lie in the West because we have failed to develop our society enough to give them a chance. Every parent, poor or rich, wants his children to learn English. Why? Because they know that that is the passport to a job, to a future in the US. For a while and for some even now there is an alternative. There are the oil-rich Muslim states which also offer jobs but the difference is that even if one manages to get to one of these states with a job in hand, there is no prospect of becoming a citizen or being able to own a business or property there - rights which are taken for granted in western countries.
A person holding a Pakistani passport would find it impossible to get into a brotherly Muslim country without a visa and that visa is not possible without sponsorship from the country itself. On the other hand any one holding a US, UK or any other European country's passport can get in with a visa at the port of entry.
The fact is that the West in general and the US in particular provide 'outdoor relief for the middle classes' of Pakistan and other South Asian countries. So let us acknowledge the ground realities and build our relationships on that basis. We need to educate our young people and make them eligible for good jobs so that they do not just aspire to being taxi drivers and gas station attendants. We need to make them skilled enough to be respected abroad and to be sought after for employment.
We are Muslims and love our religion but we do not need to thrust it down everyone's throat. We have to build bridges with the rest of South Asia and work together with them. The new global culture does not make a distinction between a mullah and a Sikh and between a Hindu and a Muslim taxi driver. When a brown-skinned person is mugged in a New York street no one waits to find out his religion. It is a tough life which is going to get tougher for the browns. So let us get rid of the Taliban baggage and be prepared as forward-looking Asians.
This article was published in Dawn, Pakistan. True, there are people in Pakistan who think sensibly!!