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Pakistan occupies a unique place in the Muslim world. It is the only state explicitly established in the name of Islam, and yet fifty years after its independence, the role and place of Islam in the country remains unresolved.
Whatever exact dates and sources one chooses to support; there is no doubt that Islamization of many peoples in present-day Malaysia southern Thailand Indonesia Brunei and the southern Philippines occurred within a few hundred years. The process of religious conversion absorbed many pre-existing Southeast Asian beliefs (often referred to as 'animism', or the belief in the power of invisible spirits of people's ancestors and the spirits of nature to influence the fortunes of humans on earth.)
The scholar Anthony Reid, Professor of History at the University of California Los Angeles, argues that this process of Islamization (and Christianization in the Philippines) occurred rapidly in Southeast Asia especially during the period of 1550-1650.
For example, Islam became strong in eastern Indonesia, especially coastal kingdoms of Sulawesi, Lombok, Kalimantan, Sumbawa, Makassar, and in Sulu and Magindanao (Cotabato Province) in the southern Philippines from 1603-1612. This does not mean that rulers and their subjects in these areas were totally devoted to upholding all the basic rules of Islam. It means that Islamic influence was present, as evidenced through ruling elites' obligation to renounce the consumption of pork and to pronounce the daily five prayers. Some also practiced circumcision during this period.
Islam is the official religion of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which has a population of about 190,291,129. The majority (95-97%) of the Pakistan people are Muslim while the remaining 3-5% is Christian, Hindu, and others. Sunnis are the majority while the Shias make up between 5-20% of the total Muslim population of the country. Pakistan has the second largest number of Shias after Iran, which numbers between 16.5 million to as high as 30 million.
Pakistan occupies a unique place in the Muslim world. It is the only state explicitly established in the name of Islam, and yet fifty years after its independence, the role and place of Islam in the country remains unresolved. The basic divide regarding the relationship between religion and the state pits those who see the existence of Pakistan as necessary to protect the social, political and economic rights of Muslims, and those who see it as an Islamic religious state. During the past fifty years, the public has resoundingly rejected Islamic political parties in every general election.
A combination of domestic and international developments over the past two decades, however, appears to be pushing Pakistan in the direction of a more explicitly religious state. Just in the last year, for example, the government of Pakistan has introduced strict shari’a laws and there has been a rise in Shia-Sunni violence. Some analysts have even begun to consider the prospect of a Talibanized Pakistan. The shift from liberalism to a more overt religious character for the country has been affected by developments in neighboring Iran, Afghanistan and India.
Sufism has a strong tradition in Pakistan. The Muslim Sufi missionaries played a pivotal role in converting the millions of native people to Islam. As in other areas where Sufis introduced it, Islam to some extent syncretized with pre-Islamic influences, resulting in a religion with some traditions distinct from other parts of the Muslim world. The Naqshbandiya, Qadiriya, Chishtiya and Suhrawardiyya silsas (Muslim Orders) have a large following in Pakistan. Sufis whose shrines receive much national attention are Data Ganj Baksh (Ali Hajweri) in Lahore (ca. 11th century), Baha-ud-din Zakariya in Multan and Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan (ca. 12th century) and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Bhit, Sindh and Rehman Baba in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Popular Sufi culture is centered on Thursday night gatherings at shrines and annual festivals which feature Sufi music and dance. Contemporary Islamic fundamentalists criticize its popular character, which in their view, does not accurately reflect the teachings and practice of the Prophet and his companions. There have been terrorist attacks directed at Sufi shrines and festivals, 5 in 2010 that killed 64 people.
Pakistan is wallowing in a real quagmire which encapsulates Pakistan's current problems and their genesis. They are viral issues that occupy considerable space even outside Pakistan such as the army's omnipresent role, the Islamists, the existential threat at the hands of al Qaeda and Tehrike Taliban Pakistan, and the persistent fears of an Islamist or military re-takeover in a realistic perspective.
The contentious themes of democracy, development, and security in Pakistan today are closely interlinked, the political and economic experience of the past 50 years show that neither democracy nor capitalist development can survive without the other.
In Pakistan, tradition and family life continue to contribute long term stability; the areas where very rapid changes are taking place are large population increase, urbanization, and economic development, and the nature of civil society and the state. Pakistan has wide range of ethnic groups and popular culture is strife.
Since 2001, terrorism has grown to become the biggest security threat to Pakistan, although a range of other internal security threats are still present, due to enduring problems with sectarianism, religious extremism, drug and weapon smuggling, and violent ethnic and religious disputes.
The government is playing its role in addressing many of the security threats and conflicts faced by Pakistan but the role of civil society has been crucial. Some local and international NGOs and think-tanks have been executing projects to promote inter-faith harmony, women rights, and peace building within Pakistan.
Internally, the wave of terrorism and religious extremism spearheaded by the Taliban has destabilized and polarized the country. The Taliban phenomenon in Pakistan has, also, important repercussions on the situation in Afghanistan and indirectly on its relations with the US because of the close links between Pakistan Taliban (TTP) and the Afghan Taliban. The issues of the economy and the Taliban constitute the most serious challenges awaiting the new Prime Minister’s attention. Who are the Talibans?
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the TTP) (Urdu/Pashto language: تحریک طالبان پاکستان; lit. Student Movement of Pakistan), alternatively referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, is an umbrella organization of various Islamist militant groups based in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Pakistan. Most, but not all, Pakistani Taliban groups coalesce under the TTP. In December 2007 about 13 groups united under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud to form the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Among the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's stated objectives are resistance against the Pakistani state, enforcement of their interpretation of shari’a and a plan to unite against NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.
The TTP differs in structure to the Afghan Taliban in that it lacks a central command and is a much looser coalition of various militant groups, united by hostility towards the central government in Islamabad. Several analysts describe the TTP's structure as a loose network of dispersed constituent groups that vary in size and in levels of coordination. The various factions of the TTP tend to be limited to their local areas of influence and often lack the ability to expand their operations beyond that territory.
Nawaz Sharif has clearly articulated his preference for dialogue with the Taliban to overcome the serious dangers that they pose to the country’s security and stability. He also called for an end to the drone attacks by the US in his speech in Parliament after his election as the Prime Minister.
Nawaz Sharif’s willingness to resolve the Taliban issue through dialogue, if possible, has generated a heated debate in the country on its pros and cons. The liberals, on the whole, are opposed to the idea, while the conservative parties and groups seem to favor the dialogue option.
Contrary to the fashionable view in Pakistan, the Taliban as an organized group emerged much after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989. It is true, however, that many of the leaders and members of the Taliban had played an active role in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation. The emergence of the Taliban as an organized group in Afghanistan under the leadership of Mullah Omer in 1994 was, in fact, a movement of protest against the lack of peace and stability, which prevailed in Afghanistan after the fall of the Najibullah regime and the alienation of the Afghan people because of the excesses of the various Afghan commanders.
This explains more than anything else the success of the Afghan Taliban in establishing their writ on most of Afghanistan under the leadership of Mullah Omer barring some small areas in north-eastern Afghanistan by 1998. But Pakistan’s help to the Taliban did play an important role in their successes against their opponents in Afghanistan. The fighting and instability in Afghanistan enabled al-Qaeda to establish its foothold in the country leading ultimately to 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban government following the US-led attack. This inevitably led to the expansion of the fighting by the Afghan Taliban against the US-led forces in Afghanistan because of the tribal links on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border.
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