Friday, April 6, 2012

The tragedy of being Pakistan

Decades of military rule and Islamic extremism have brought Pakistan to its knees. What is striking about the current plight of Pakistan, however, is that it is neatly explicable, to a large extent, in terms of the 'two-nation theory'. The story of Pakistan is, in fact, an incredibly illustrative lesson of history, which every sensible person in the Subcontinent should pay sufficient attention to. This article also shows that Pakistan's constitution has destined the country to be anything but a democracy.   

One of the most remarkable political developments in South Asia in recent years was the mass movement led by Pakistani lawyers against the sacking, in March 2007, of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, by military dictator Pervez Musharraf.
The lawyers led some of the biggest citizen protests in Pakistan’s history against the illegal removal of Justice Chaudhry and the continuation of the military regime.
As the movement intensified, the Supreme Court resisted the machinations of the military regime and restored Justice Chaudhry in July 2007. The lawyers continued to lead the popular, non-violent protests through six weeks (November-December 2007) of emergency and suspension of the constitution when Chief Justice Chaudhry and a large number of top judges refused to take oath under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO).
The democratic upsurge was instrumental in forcing Musharraf to resign as military chief in November 2007 and as President in August 2008, and saw to it that he did not rig the general elections of February 2008.
After the elections, the movement continued through a series of coordinated actions, demanding that the civilian government fulfill its promise of reinstalling the Chief Justice and other judges who had refused to take oath under the PCO.
In March 2009, when the government finally gave in to the popular pressure and reinstated the Chief Justice and other judges, it was a great triumph of hope for Pakistan. The civil society had gloriously reasserted its democratic instincts against a history of military coups, intrigues and political instability, and the possibility of a collapse of the Pakistani state.
A lot of that hope has since been belied. The lawyers who had led the democratic upsurge against the illegalities of a military dictatorship were showering rose petals, in January 2011, on Mumtaz Qadri for murdering Punjab Governor Salman Taseer because the latter had opposed the blasphemy law which has been used for harassing Pakistan’s minorities.
And the ‘civil society’ seemed to have been losing its nerve and democratic instincts in an atmosphere of savagery promoted by most of the Islamic clerics who advised the people not to be shocked or sorry for the cold blooded murder of a ‘blasphemer’.
In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for the minorities and a Christian, was killed, also for speaking against the blasphemy law, by extremists who claimed themselves to be the members of Al Qaeda and Taliban, the Islamist militant organisations.

Unabated violence
Assassinations carried out by Islamic extremists and terrorists are just one of the manifestations of the vortex of violence that the country has been sucked into. In a little over nine years since 2003, terrorist violence, which includes suicide attacks and Islamic sectarian killings, has claimed a total of 39,714 lives – 31 per cent of whom were civilian victims, 11 per cent security persons, and 58 per cent terrorists, according to New Delhi-based South Asia Intelligence Review.
Fatalities in the US-led war on terror, which has been fought on Pakistan’s north-western frontier, are in addition to what has been cited above.
Since 2004, for example, the US security forces have used unmanned aerial vehicles or ‘drones’ to strike at what they believe to be Taliban and Al Qaeda militants hiding in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and its border with Afghanistan.
A total of 316 drone attacks, which have often been off the mark, claimed lives that number between 2,412 and 3,063, according to Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based organization. The civilian casualties range from 467 and 815, children number 178, and total reported injured were 1,158 to 1,263.
Pakistan also has a history of violence blamed on a sub-nationalistic identity like Pashtun clashing with another like Mohajir or Balochs demanding a better deal from the federal government.

Failed state?
Here are a few more important events of the recent past that compel us to consider the scary situation as regards politics and governance in Pakistan, the status of war on terror, and how the Pakistani civil society is being savaged by Islamic extremism.

*It was reported in May 2011 that helicopters carrying a US special operations military unit entered Pakistan undetected and killed Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda and arguably the world’s most wanted terrorist.
Laden had reportedly been living in a large residential compound for several years in Abbottabad, a garrison town with heavy presence of Pakistan’s military.
In a country where the military establishment evokes awe, has largely been placed above criticism, and has gained primacy at a huge cost in terms of civilian democratic governance and ever larger financial budgets, the killing of bin Laden by the Americans exposed the revered institution to harsh criticism. Was the military (or ISI) deliberately hiding bin Laden? If not, how could it have been so incompetent as to be unaware of the presence of the most wanted terrorist in its own backyard?

*The incident has already led to a further straining of the uneasy relations between the military and civilian government of Pakistan as manifested in ‘Memogate’ controversy. It involved Mansoor Ijaz, an American-Pakistani businessman, alleging in November 2011 that Husain Haqqani, the then Pakistani Ambassador in Washington, asked him to deliver to the Americans a confidential memo on behalf of President Asaf Ali Zardari, asking for US assistance against a possible military takeover of the government.

*There have been multiple reports citing sources in western intelligence agencies that say Pakistan has been playing a double game in the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan with the ISI providing covert support to Taliban and Al Qaeda, particularly groups like Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura, while pretending to be an ally of the western forces.

*In May 2011, an audacious attack by the Taliban on Mehran naval base in Karachi destroyed Pakistan Navy’s two premier anti-submarine and marine surveillance aircraft. The attackers were dressed as naval officials and were aware of the security protocol at the base and carried themselves like soldiers, according to eye witnesses cited in media reports. The attack showed that certain elements within the Pakistani armed forces had joined hands with the Islamic extremists to subvert the State.

*Pakistan’s ISI and militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had coordinated with each other for the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, David Coleman Headley, who has been implicated for his role in the crime that killed 166 people, told Americans. The ISI provided military and moral support to the group, he said.

The rear-view mirror
Pakistan’s political instability has mired it in an economy that is a few decades behind Indian achievements in modern industry, and worsened the condition of the poor who make up, officially, over 17 per cent of the population of about 18 crore.
As suggested above, the military expenditure eats up an increasingly larger chunk of annual economic output at the cost of the needy citizens. The traditional hold of the military over foreign policy has left Pakistan as virtually a client state of the US. And modernization of a predominantly feudal society has become increasingly difficult because of Islamic extremism.
What is remarkable about the present plight of Pakistan is that its most serious problems are neatly explicable in terms of its history – particularly the two-nation theory, the rationale for the partition of the Subcontinent, and how Pakistani society and the state have evolved since then.
A 64 years of post-colonial history is long enough time to make sense of what Pakistan has come to be as compared to India and why.
Pakistan’s current situation can be broadly classified into the following two rubrics.
1. Stunted growth of democracy and constitutionalism under successive military rules
2. A problematic nationhood originating in the two-nation theory and struggle with Islamic extremism
It’s easy to see that each of these two problems traces its origin to the forces and the circumstances that created the state of Pakistan as a home for a part of the Muslim population of the subcontinent in a not-so-distant past.

A false start
Both India and Pakistan inherited the same systems of governance from the British in 1947, but have since performed widely differently in political development and stability. While India has been able to develop a functioning democracy with a few serious disruptions like the Emergency in 1975-77, Pakistan allowed the entire period of its existence since independence to be under the shadow of junta -- more than half of which was direct military rule.
The different attitudes and ways of dealing with a common legacy are evident right at the beginning. While ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the tallest leader of the Muslim League, the party that won Pakistan for the Muslims, he also made himself the first Governor-General of the newly independent dominion and the president of the constituent assembly. A powerful leader centralizing three powerful political or governmental roles into himself was hardly a good start, in addition to being unwarranted, if his objective was to foster democracy.
An evidence of the exercise of this unchecked power by Governor-General Jinnah, which is cited by some historians, was the dismissal in September 1947 of the government in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which was affiliated to Congress and was duly elected in the 1946 provincial elections.
Under British Raj, a Governor-General was also known as ‘viceroy’ (adjective: viceregal) in its role as the representative of the Crown. The viceregal tradition of exercise of vast powers would haunt Pakistan throughout its subsequent history as more governments were dismissed and assemblies dissolved by the Governor-Generals and Presidents.
Third Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad, for example, dismissed Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin’s government in 1953 and dissolved the constituent assembly itself in the subsequent year. The latter action, subsequently condoned by the judiciary, was taken in response to constituent assembly’s move to curtail the powers of the Governor General.
While India gave itself a constitution that established it as a republican and parliamentary democracy in 1950, Pakistani constituent assembly took nine years to draft a constitution during which a lot of developments took place that were detrimental to the fostering of democracy. The central authorities, for example, indulged their anti-democratic tendencies by imposing military rule in Punjab in 1953 following Ahmadiya riots.
The constitution that came into force in 1956 proved short-lived. In 1958, President Iskander Mirza abrogated the constitution, dissolved the national and provincial assemblies, and banned all political party activity. He placed the country under martial law and appointed General Ayub Khan the chief martial-law administrator.
(In a subsequent power struggle the same year, General Ayub Khan got Mirza arrested and exiled. He then ruled the country for more than a decade.)
The early Pakistani leadership thus steered their country away from patient nurturing of democratic culture and willy-nilly allowed the military rule to take root.

Inherited disadvantages
It’s important to take a look at the nature of Muslim League and Congress as political legacies themselves if we are to understand the attitudes of the early leaders towards democracy. Being established in 1885 Congress had a headstart over the Muslim League, which came into being in 1906, in developing a nationwide mass base. While Congress drew its support primarily from the masses, Muslim League was dominated by the landed gentry and lacked a commensurate mass base. Congress’ secular outlook gave it an obvious advantage over Muslim League in gathering a nationwide support. Also without dispute is Congress’ more illustrious record of struggle for independence as is evident, for example, in the time that the various leaders of the party had served in prisons.
It’s easy to imagine the role that the Muslim League must have played in ensuring that the landed gentry dominated the political culture of Pakistan after independence.
Pakistan’s geographical inheritance reveals certain obvious disadvantages – in addition to the fact that the country was divided in two wings 1000 miles apart.
The obvious tolerance of the military rule in Pakistan has its origins in the admiration for the ‘disciplined’ soldiers that is found even to this day in what was once the western wing and the close ties between the dominant classes in Punjab, the largest province, and the armed forces.
The military has traditionally recruited heavily from the landed classes in Punjab and NWFP; the top and middle tiers of the armed forces have been dominated by people who belong to the gentry.
This intimate relationship has resulted in an ever growing weight of militarism in Pakistan and stunted growth of democratic culture, democratic institutions and citizenship.
It’s interesting to re-look at the ongoing Memogate controversy through the lens of the military rules that Pakistan has experienced since its early days. Is it any surprise that the military establishment and its intelligence wing is the real wielder of power and the civilian government lives under constant threat of being taken over?

Problematic nationhood
Bengali nationalism leading to the secession of the East Pakistan from the country in 1971 was a decisive disproof of the theory that the Muslims of the Subcontinent make up a separate ‘nation’. The persistence and assertion of cultural identities like Punjabi, Sindhi, Mohajir, Pashtoon and Baloch is a further disproof.
The two-nation theory has been harmful for Pakistan in a more insidious way, namely in the form of the efforts that have been made over the years to apply Islamic tenets to running the affairs of the State.
The current constitution, originally drafted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in 1973, designates the country as ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.
The preamble reads: “Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;
And whereas it is the will of the people of Pakistan to establish an order;
Wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people;
Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;
Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah…”
Article 2 of the constitution says: “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan”.
Article 31 (1), under Principles of Policy, says: “Steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”
Article 227 (1) says: “All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah and no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such Injunctions.”
Article 228 (1) constitutes an Islamic Council that will advise the national and provincial assemblies on bringing legislations in compliance with Islamic principles.
The constitution also requires the President and the Prime Minister to be Muslims and all central and state ministers, chief ministers and governors to “strive to preserve the Islamic Ideology which is the basis for the creation of Pakistan.”
Article 260 also defines the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘non-Muslim’ and declares Ahmadis, who consider themselves Muslims, as a non-Muslim community.
What that means is that an Ahmadi, such as Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, the first foreign minister of the country, who had also drafted Muslim League’s Pakistan Resolution in 1940, would be ineligible to become the Prime Minister or the President.

Who will decide?
Here is an imaginary dialogue between a Pakistani citizen and an apologist for the constitution; it discusses just a few of the innumerable questions that Islamic features of the constitution raise.
If the “order” that the constitution seeks to establish is to be based on “the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam,” then who will decide what Islam determines “democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice” to mean?
‘Article 31 (1)’ which requires the State to “provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah”. In other words, the State will ensure the provision of teachers who will interpret Islamic scriptures for the masses and define “democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice” according to those scriptures.
That sounds like a fairly grotesque way of promoting things like ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom.’ I see democracy simply as a way of life in which people make their own decisions rather than rely on a few wise men.
But the constitution does not stand for “democracy”; it stands for “democracy as enunciated by Islam”?
Then why use the word ‘democracy’ for a system in which we the ‘demos’ (people) would not even be able to decide what ‘democracy’ should mean to us without the help of a few wise men? What if those few wise men disagree with each other? Would the Shias agree with the Sunnis? Would the Hanafi school of law agree with the Malikis? Does the acrimony, and sometimes outbreaks of violence, between various sects of Islam (and schools of law, theology, etc.) suggest agreement on any issue of significance? Would ‘freedom’ have the same meaning for Pakistani women that Taliban realized for the female population of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a state recognized by Islamabad? Would ‘democracy’ be given the meaning that Taliban realized in its regime (1996-2001)? And if the Islamic teachers are to decide the very freedoms of individuals and the society, then why do we need a constitution? Why not just leave everything to the Holy Quran and Sunnah that the constitution seeks to implement?
Hasn’t the constitution made everything explicit – that Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan and that sovereignty belongs to the Almighty Allah, not to the people?
If Almighty Allah has the ultimate sovereignty, then everything depends on Holy Quran and Sunnah and its interpretation by the clerics. We have always had the scriptures as well as the clerics. Why did we need the constitution then?
The constitution and the State are just the facilitators.
I am not sure I ever asked for such facilitation.
Maybe your political representative or the party you or your father once supported did!!

More questions
The following are some more disturbing questions that Pakistan’s constitution raises.
If establishment of an Islamic order is the ultimate objective of the constitution, then how is Pakistani state different from the Islamists – many of whom get branded and outlawed as violent ‘extremists’ – who would also want a social and political order based only on Islam, not any man-made law?
Wouldn’t the likes of late Osama bin Laden of Al Qaeda and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed of LeT claim the same objective for their activities? Why has the Pakistani state been collaborating with the US in cracking down on Al Qaeda and Taliban both of which would also want an Islamic order?
How would Pakistan argue against the use of violent Jihad as an Islamically legitimate way for some people to bring about an Islamic order if such a means were to be supported by some schools of theology based on their interpretation of Holy Quran and Sunnah?
Would the Pakistani government take sides in a theological dispute over whether a meaning given to ‘Jihad’ is Islamically legitimate or not? If yes, doesn’t that leave open the possibility of the future Pakistani governments siding with an interpretation of Islam that will be unacceptable to the global community?
Given the mounting evidence, is it constitutionally sound and Islamically legitimate for an arm of the Pakistani state to aid and abet militant individuals and groups, like the 26/11 attackers of Mumbai and the Taliban, who spread violence in other countries?

Religious land-mines
The Islamization of society that General Zia-ul-Haq, the fourth chief martial law administrator, brought about holds some important lessons for Pakistan.
Based on Islamic injunctions, the Hudood Ordinances, for example, were enacted in 1979 to criminalize adultery and non-marital consensual sex. They also made a rape victim liable to prosecution for adultery if she cannot produce four male witnesses to the assault.
The Hudood Ordinances have led to hundreds of incidents where a woman subjected to rape, or even gang rape, was eventually accused of adultery and jailed, according to human rights groups in Pakistan.
After a public outcry and recommendations of a couple of government-appointed committees, the Hudood Ordinances were amended by the Women’s Protection Bill 2006 which took rape out of the ambit of Sharia (Islamic law) and placed it into Pakistan Penal Code. The Bill does away with the need for the four witnesses and allows convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence.
Opposing the amendment, the Islamist political parties said the Bill went against Articles 2a and 227 of the constitution, which say respectively that “Islam will be the state religion” and “No laws will be passed which are repugnant to the Quran and Sunnah.”
The constitution also insists that all important elected officials must swear allegiance to the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ – a term whose genesis has been discussed by Pakistani scholars Pervez A. Hoodbhoy and Abdul H. Nayyar in their book, ‘Islam, Politics and the State: The Pakistan Experience’.
The authors quote former Chief Justice Mohammad Munir as writing that the Quaid-i-Azam never used the words ‘Ideology of Pakistan.’ Nor was that phrase known to anybody until 1962. That’s when a member of the Jamaat-i-Islami, a fundamentalist party, used these words (in the National Assembly) for the first time when the Political Parties Bill was being discussed.
“On this, Chaudhry Fazal Elahi (who was also the fifth President of Pakistan) objected that the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ shall have to be defined. The member who had proposed the original amendment replied that the ‘Ideology of Pakistan was Islam’, but nobody asked him the further question ‘What is Islam?’ The amendment to the bill was therefore passed.”
Given the state of Pakistani society and politics, Indians have a lot of reasons to feel proud and relieved. And it goes without saying that the two countries have a lot to learn from a shared and very painful history.
(End of the matter)


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