Zia is rightly blamed for defacing the constitution but he did not pull his ‘Islamisation’ process out of thin air
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has completed the initial vetting of nomination papers. The antics that the returning officers (ROs) resorted to last week could be termed childish were they not so pernicious. The bull imbued with moral certitude ran amok in the china shop of scrutiny. The search, ostensibly, for ‘sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest (sadiq) and truthful (ameen)’ candidates entailed prying into highly personal matters of the applicants.
Noted columnist-politician Ayaz Amir, easily one of the best in both the fields, whether one agrees with his take or not, faced perhaps the worst interrogation, followed by disqualification. Amir has now appealed the decision that was based on a couple of his columns, which were slapped with the objection that he implied imbibing and, more sinisterly, charged him with criticising the ideology of Pakistan. But are the ECP and its ROs the only ones to blame for making a spectacle of Pakistan around the world? One must say that unfortunately not. The morass has been 65 years in the making.
Even more unfortunate is the focus solely on the national piñata, i.e. General Ziaul Haq and his induction into the constitution of Articles 62 and 63 under the umbrella of which the ROs took it upon themselves to ridicule the politicians to the extreme. Zia is rightly blamed for defacing the constitution but he did not pull his ‘Islamisation’ process out of thin air. The raw material was readily available for Zia to build his parochial enterprise. Also, he did not act alone and neither did General Pervez Musharraf, who has been summoned to the Supreme Court of Pakistan and could potentially be found guilty of high treason for abrogating the constitution.
The same 1985 order through which General Zia inducted Articles 62 and 63 also incorporated the 1949 Objectives Resolution as a substantive part of the 1973 constitution. Before that the Resolution was kept only as a preamble of the 1956, 1962 and the original 1973 constitutions. However, the issue that the Resolution might have actually achieved its objectives and Articles like 62 and 63 are congruent with its aspirations is generally skirted. When Senator Raza Rabbani came under criticism for leaving both these Articles intact despite three amendments to the constitution by the outgoing parliament, he blamed the religious parties for not allowing an amendment to these vague and rather prejudicial regulations.
Introducing the Objectives Resolution in March 1949, the then prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan had said: “Islam is not just a matter of private beliefs and conduct. It expects its followers to build up a society for the purpose of good life — as the Greeks would have called it, with this difference, that Islamic ‘good life’ is essentially based upon spiritual values. For the purpose of emphasising these values and to give them validity, it will be necessary for the State to direct and guide the activities of the Muslims in such a manner as to bring about a new social order based upon the essential principles of Islam including the principles of democracy, freedom, tolerance and social justice.” Ziaul Haq and those who acted in Zia’s support might have — however erroneously — thought then that they were furthering the cause envisioned by one of the founding fathers. While the preeminent leftist leader of the era, the venerable Mian Iftikharuddin — who was in the Muslim League by then — unfortunately endorsed the Prime Minister, the opposition leader from East Bengal Bhupendra Kumar Datta delivered a prophetic speech that should be essential reading today before pinning the blame on just Articles 62 and 63 or a few individuals. Datta, a Congress leader, almost foretold the predicament that the Objectives Resolution, if adopted as presented, would entail. He moved that the “paragraph beginning with the words ‘whereas sovereignty over the entire universe’ and ending with the words ‘is a sacred trust’ be omitted”, saying that such explicit inclusion would inevitably lead to mixing of religion and politics and a potential for abuse.
Datta’s concern was that mingling divine, which may not be critiqued, with temporal politics that thrives on criticism would create a tripwire that triggers charges of disrespect and put whatever is done in the name of religion beyond reproach. He said: “Politics belongs to the domain of reason. But as you intermingle it with religion, as this Preamble to this nobly conceived Resolution does, you pass into the other sphere of faith…on the one hand, you run the risk of subjecting religion to criticism, which will rightly be resented as sacrilegious; on the other, so far as the State and State policies are concerned, you cripple reason, curb criticism. Political institutions, particularly modern democratic institutions, as we all know, Sir, grow and progress by criticism from broader to still broader basis.” The country not only did set off that tripwire but also created blasphemy laws with ensuing lynching of the minorities, and indeed Muslims, including prominent leaders, by fanatical mobs.
The intentions of the founding fathers were not impugned whatsoever by Datta. In fact, he said: “Sir, I feel, I have every reason to believe that were this Resolution to come before this House within the lifetime of the Great Creator of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam, it would not have come in its present shape. Even with you, Sir, the Honourable Mover of this Resolution at the helm of affairs in the State, I have no fear that criticism will be stifled or absolutism will find a chance to assert itself.” His apprehension was that the constitution and its preamble are supposed to outlast the framers and might become a tool in the hands of usurping adventurists. Datta pleaded: “Let us not do anything here today that may consign our future generations to the furies of a blind destiny. Maybe, may God forbid it, but some day, perhaps even within our lifetime, extremely troublous times as we live in a political adventurer, a Yanshikai, or a Bachcha-i-Saka (sic) may find a chance to impose his will and authority on this State. He may find a justification for it in this Preamble.”
Senator Rabbani may be right that the religious parties did not let him and his colleagues fix the wrongs. But his focus, like many others, is the few manifestations of the problem, not the problem itself. Absent a herculean political effort to capture the political narrative, the Resolution will continue achieving its objectives and not least in the upcoming elections.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki