Do we want to be a part of an open society?
An open society provides freedom and protection enabling the basic tenets of democracy and thrives on critical intellectual discourse, paving way for the future. It provides access and opportunity to all segments of the society through a carefully cultivated tradition of inquiry and critique in order to reach collective solutions. The foundation of our country lays in this very idea and a democratic tradition, which despite torrential forces opposing democracy, has continued to strive in that direction.
The signing of both the Charter of Democracy agreement in 2006 (London) by major political rivals—Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), subsequently All Parties Conference in London; and the consequent 18th Amendment in 2010 began a new chapter of distributed power in the country, by strengthening democracy and safeguarding against the threats that had suspended democratic rule in the past.
PTI’s ascent to power has been analysed in two major ways. One, PTI government was seen to have continued its struggle to reach the helm of affairs, attracting a young majority who were otherwise disgruntled with the lethargic politics of the country. The 18th Amendment facilitated the party to become a resounding opposition, though in most cases outside the parliament, and through their judicial activism and efforts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Two, we saw a lot of finger-pointing at the alleged coercion exercised by the country’s deep state for making room for the newcomer.
This wasn’t the only change the country saw in its democratic-dictatorial past. Despite the political and military forces’ commitment to purge the land from religious extremism, the horizontal expansion of the religious militancy has grown in the country. The religious extremists have made Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and PML-N governments acquiesce to this creeping coup in recent years, further narrowing the public space for the religious minorities and independent thinkers.
Are we still working towards an open society?
Criticism by all stakeholders can only make a democracy dynamic if tolerance is practiced as a leading virtue. Those power-wielders, who cannot tolerate criticism, can only spoil the democratic broth, as has been the case in Pakistan where conscientious objectors have been dubbed as enemies to be victimized, lynched and murdered under various pretenses. Extremist religious leaders have instigated hate crimes issuing fatwas against them and the law enforcement and judiciary have hesitated to charge against the strong extremists hands. The objectors have included Muslim and religious minorities, ethnic dissidents, members of academia, the judiciary, the media, and an acting governor. Blasphemy has been used as a ploy to muzzle political dissent as well. Some objectors have simply disappeared.
The recent move by the PTI government to withdraw Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Bill 2018 is a regressive move. The amendment was proposed in 2017, following a ruling by Ex-Justice Islamabad High Court, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui that those making false accusations of blasphemy be awarded the same punishment as those convicted of blasphemy under the law. Surprisingly, while the PPP member of the committee welcomed the amendment stating it would dissuade groundless victimisation of many, the IT minister and that of religious affairs and interfaith harmony objected to it, stressing that this amendment may discourage accusers from reporting blasphemy for fear of consequences and demanded the restoration of the bill to its original soul.
The PTI government would do well to work towards enhancing tolerance and amity in the country. Moves like this recent withdrawal could alienate the citizens. We have already lost gems like Dr Abdus Salam, Salman Taseer and estranged Mala, Atif Mian and numerous others.
We are products of nature, but nature has made us together with our power of altering the world, of foreseeing and of planning for the future, and of making far-reaching decisions for which we are morally responsible. Yet, responsibility, decisions, enter the world of nature only with us”
― Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies – Volume One: The Spell of Plato