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Religion Figures Prominently in Pakistan's Politics

By ADNAN RASHID, written for UPI.com   |   May 11, 2013 at 12:53 PM
MINGORA, Pakistan, May 11 (UPI Next) -- Politicians have always used religion to achieve political goals in Pakistan, a country where more than 95 percent of the population is Muslim.

This year, religious symbolism and calls for unity have reached unprecedented levels, with politically motivated campaigns and furious violence marring national and provincial elections.

Both right- and left-wing groups use religion for political goals.

Ghulam Subhan, chairman of the Political Science Department at Jahanzeb College in the Swat city Saidu Sharif old UPI Next that religion is "a tool for a successful campaigning and nothing more."

He noted that although the Pakistan Peoples Party is considered a liberal party, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, used to appear at public gatherings with prayer beads wrapped around her hand.

Pakistan came into being as an Islamic state and the slogans of its independence movement were based on religious themes. These slogans continue to be useful for conservative and right-wing groups.

In the 2002 elections, a coalition of religious parties, Mutaheda Majlis Amal, used the book as its emblem on ballots, but many complained it deliberately resembled the Koran.

This year, the Election Commission of Pakistan issued a guideline barring solicitation of votes on the basis of religion or sects.

The regulation has not yet been implemented, but social media commentators have criticized the emblem chosen by religious party Jamat-e-Islami, the scales of justice over a model of the Kaaba, a Muslim shrine in Mecca.

In conservative Swat, candidates of the Awami National Party, part of the liberal coalition, carry banners with Koranic verses rather than their achievements and future plans.

"It's not a big issue," said Muzafar Ul Mulk, a party candidate for the National Assembly from Swat, saying the texts are recited at the beginning of the day and the party followed suit for the campaign.

Asked by UPI Next why the ANP didn't use the verses during the 2008 campaign, he said, "That time it was not in our mind."

There are signs that voters are fatigued by the blending of religion and politics. Young people have taken to Twitter to complain and even mock religious campaigns.

Youths last week beat a candidate from a rival party after attending an ANP political rally.

ANP's Leaders should write [religious suras] on their forehead," tweeted Naeem Khan. "One was beaten in Main Bazar #Mingora today because of their performance."

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