Pakistan Day: Dream of an egalitarian state  


While celebrating 79th National Day, many Pakistanis expressed bafflement as to how a state purportedly created in the name of ‘Islam’ is juxtaposed with the term ‘Republic’. They wonder how a Parliament, where majority is not that of theologians, enacts Western-inspired laws and yet claims that Shariah is supreme. In the Western world, ‘republic’ is considered a State that precludes monarch and clergy. In our context, the predominant view (though totally misconceived) is that divorced from religion, politics is “changezee” (chaos, anarchy and disorder).

What Iqbal emphasised in the couplet, Jallah badshahi ho ya jamhori tamasha ho Juda ho deen siyasat se, to reh jati hai changezee, is that ethics (here deen is misconstrued as religion) contained in the holy Quran should be part and parcel of governance, but clergy interprets it that politics should only be in the name of religion. They conveniently ignore the first stanza of the couplet. If both stanzas are read together, the idea that emerges clearly is that whether it is monarchy or democracy, governance sans ethics is “changezee”.

The contentious issue since the adoption of Objective Resolution of 1949 has been what Shariah is. In a fragmented society marred by sectarian hatred (not merely genuine differences over interpretation of Islamic laws) this has becomes a permanent source of conflicts with claims and counter claims on how to run the State.

Ziauddin Sardar (born in Lahore and left Pakistan in 1960 at the age of nine, now author of not less than fifty books with world-wide acclaim of a public intellectual specialising in Muslim thought) says that “if you equate Islam with state, then religion becomes a reason of the state and that state becomes the power of religion. Basically you produce a totalitarian system.” He elaborates that the very idea that “Islam is equal to state is a totalitarian equation. We don’t have to go very far; we just have to see recent history. Wherever Islam has been equated with state, we have produced totalitarian systems, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, you name it.”

According to critics of Objectives Resolution, it was a departure from the ideals of Quaid-e-Azam of equality for all citizens and his principles of fair governance. Using it as a ploy, they say that all governments managed to convert Pakistan into an exploitative State where ultimately the Shariat Court held land reforms against religion. According to them, Quaid-e-Azam did not want to make Pakistan a theocratic state.

Objectives Resolution, passed by the first Constituent Assembly on 12th March 1949 under the leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan, is undoubtedly one of the most important documents in the constitutional history of Pakistan—it served as preamble for the Constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 and eventually became part of the 1973 Constitution when the Eighth Amendment was passed in 1985. Its proponents claim that it confirms the true genesis of Pakistan by reiterating that “sovereignty of the entire Universe belongs to Allah alone and authority should be delegated to the State through its people under the rules set by Allah.” So it has become a blend of Islam and Western democracy.

Liaquat Ali Khan explained the context of the resolution in his speech delivered in the Constituent Assembly on March 7, 1949 claiming it to be “the most important occasion in the life of this country, next in importance only to the achievement of independence.” He said that we as Muslims believed that authority vested in Allah Almighty and it should be exercised in accordance with the standards laid down in Islam. He added that this preamble had made it clear that the authority would be exercised by the chosen persons; which is the essence of democracy and it eliminates the dangers of theocracy. The events that followed proved him wrong as clergy started asserting its own authority instead of that of Allah by saying “religion is what we interpret as.”

The logical outcomes of the Objectives Resolution were: (a) movement against Ahmadis, (b) clergy’s campaign against Ayub Khan’s regime in the name of Islam, (c) support of religious parties and right wing to military crackdown in East Pakistan culminating into dismemberment of the country and (d) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s compromises with the religious leaders. The matter did not end there. It paved the way for an 11-year dictatorial rule of General Ziaul Haq, with his legacy reflecting in Nawaz and Musharraf and which is still haunting us—the militants and terrorists derive their ideological strength from the notion that real authority rests with Allah and they are waging jihad to make Pakistan a true Islamic polity.

Objective Resolution, being part of our Constitution, though emphasises existence of a Muslim State based on the principles of justice and equity for all, yet it contradicts the concept of a State having no sectarian connotations. Shariah cannot be free of sectarian biases, thus, we cannot reconcile the two conflicting ideas. For example in Indonesia, the debate whether you can have an Islamic state was a long drawn one with much depth, and they finally came to the conclusion that Islam and politics are linked, not through the state but through a civic society. It means that if you are a socially-conscious Muslim, you ought to bring your own moral and ethical outlook, express it openly in a civic context, debate and discuss it. Obviously, this has nothing to do with declaring Islam as State religion. The idea of Islamic state has to be construed innovatively to create a civic society and not a state religion through constitutional command as done by us through Objective Resolution.

Dr. I.H. Qureshi, the chief author of the Objectives Resolution, a well-known academic historian admitted “Resolution was quickly prepared and passed ‘in a snap’ at a meeting of the Muslim League Party.” At the time of presentation of Objectives Resolution, Pakistan was not Islamic Republic. Its structure was republican fully in line with the Indian Independence Act of 1947. After becoming “Islamic Republic” we have miserably failed to reconcile these two conflicting objectives. The concept of an “Islamic State” logically calls for decision-making in the hands of ‘pious ones’ certified so by the clergy!

We must learn from Bangladesh where Supreme Court, while reconfirming State as secular pluralistic constitutional democracy, barred use of religion in politics. We have yet not admitted the fact that dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 exploded the myth that the “real” purpose behind creation of Pakistan was establishment of an Islamic State. The two-nation theory, based on the foundation of religious divide of Hindus and Muslims, received irrecoverable setback when the Bengalis were maltreated by the ruling elite of West Pakistan that ultimately led to the division of the so-called Muslim state—proving that socio-economic factors, and not religion, play decisive role in politics.

It is well-documented— Secular and Nationalist Jinnah by Dr. Ajeet Jawed—that Quaid-i-Azam wanted a secular Pakistan. Throughout his political career, he struggled against both Hindu and Muslim extremists. After independence, the feudal class with the help of its cronies—bureaucrats, clergymen and men in khaki—soon managed to hijack the new state and converted it into Islamic Republic (sic)—a mere nomenclature whereas the system remains quite un-Islamic. Islam does not permit feudalism and concentration of wealth and its main stress is on the empowerment of the have-nots. Even in the very beginning, these classes tried to tamper with the famous speech of the Quaid, but failed to do so as Dr. Ajeet said in his book: “it was allowed to be published in full only after Dawn’s editor, Altaf Hussain, threatened those who were trying to tamper with it to go to Jinnah himself if the press advice was not withdrawn.” For building a secular Pakistan, Dr. Ajeet writes, Quaid sought the help of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, because, as he said in his letter to Badshah Khan, he was “surrounded by thieves and scoundrels” through whom he could do nothing. With a mass of evidence, Dr. Ajeet has established that Quaid remained a secularist and nationalist up to the last moment of his life. Thus attempts to make Pakistan an ‘Islamic Republic’ is a great betrayal.

Mr. I. A. Rehman has summed up the entire debate aptly in his article, Jinnah’s new Pakistan is possible, as: “Those who wish to save or reconstruct Jinnah’s Pakistan will do well to avoid following the Quaid’s actions that were determined by time and circumstance….. in order to progress Pakistan must continue to be defined by a firm commitment to constitutionalism and the model of a welfare state, sovereignty of the people, and equal rights for women and members of minority communities…it is necessary to retain Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, subject, of course, to changes in details demanded by contemporary realities…. all those interested in building this Pakistan must realise that they will not be successful without going beyond the August 11 speech and that state-building cannot be done by think tanks alone.”

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