On the occasion of Christmas, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Bajwa, joined the Christian community at Christ Church, Rawalpindi, to take part in the festivities of its parish. This was a positive message going to the minorities of Pakistan.
The day was incidentally the date of birth as well of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, whose Aug. 11 message still consoles Pakistan’s stricken minorities. In fact, many Christians of the Punjab actually observe Aug. 11 as Independence Day instead of Aug. 14.
The Army chief paid two tributes while attending the Christmas service: he acknowledged the Christian community as equal citizens while reaffirming the worldview of Jinnah on his birthday. This was significant because the past three years have seen the rise of elements in Pakistan who view the country’s minorities with suspicion and often target them under the blasphemy law.
Unfortunately, the “secular” message of Jinnah—which minorities connect with the Compact of Medina of Islam’s Prophet as per Jinnah’s own assertion—is equated by the country’s rising extremism with anti-Islam atheism. Citizens who embrace Jinnah’s pluralism are often labeled “liberal” and condemned as “kafir” or deniers of God. In the recent Barelvi protest sit-ins, the slogan of hatred was often directed against “secularists” and “liberals.”
Unfortunately, India’s “secular” Constitution has been set aside by the street power of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party targeting Muslims and Indian liberals. Going against the example set by his predecessor BJP premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Narendra Modi is actually fanning the fires of communalism with public statements equating Indian liberals with “pro-Pakistan renegades.” But Pakistan, it appears, is on the mend—despite the recent loosening of internal sovereignty of the state in the face of extremism. General Bajwa’s message was clear in this context.