Bigotry prevails, republic fails
The federal government, initially with the facilitation of the Punjab government and finally with the arbitration of the military leadership, has – by agreeing to the November 27 accord exactly as was demanded by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah (TLYR) – has signed its own indictment as bigotry now clearly defines the ideological contours of the ‘land of the pure’.
Like in the past, except the first martial law of 1953 enforced in Lahore by a valiant General Azam Khan on the behest of warring politicians to quell anti-Ahmadi riots, the state and its legislative and executive arms panicked, capitulated and surrendered before self-appointed inquisitors and apostatizing low clergy. Both the civilian and martial arms of the executive competed in appeasing a crowd of a few hundred rioters, and abrogated their constitutional mandate as the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court watched haplessly the breakdown of the constitutional order they are supposed to uphold in the garrison city and the capital.
Even if the Islamabad High has now raised quite pertinent questions about the sordid saga and the document of surrender, it was the very honourable court that had bound the hands of civilian law-enforcement agencies by vague and contradictory directions regarding the use of force to get Faizabad interchange vacated from the armed-occupiers of the TLYR.
First it was our so-called sovereign parliament that was held “collectively responsible for having committed the blasphemy” of minor tinkering (from “solemnly swear” to “hereby declare”) of no legal substance in the oath for being ‘Muslim’ in the subordinate Election Act of 2017. The fact is that the constitutional provision of the definitions of “Muslims” and “Non-Muslims” on the touchstone of faith in the “absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the last of the prophets” under Article 260(3) continues to prevail. The sovereignty and collective wisdom of parliament came to its knees when the substitution of words with the same intent was adjudged blasphemous by religious zealots.
Within days the whole parliament had to stand on its head to rectify the ‘blasphemy’ it had collectively committed. By doing so it has, at the very least, handed over its pervasive legislative authority over matters of faith – which it had acquired under the 2ndAmendment to the constitution – to non-state sectarian extremists. After the resignation of Minister of Law Zahid Hamid on the demand of the TLYR, parliament should logically be seeking redemption from the Amir-e-TLYR!
Now matters of faith and the emotive issues of blasphemy and punishment of alleged blasphemers will be in the hands of the warring factions of the Sunni clergy, which is also engaged in accusing one another of blasphemy and apostasy. This will open the floodgates of an internecine sectarian conflict in Pakistan with cross-border implications, especially after Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi and COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa have assured the Saudi monarch of Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia’s endeavours for “peace and tranquillity in the region”. The law of the jungle is to prevail with the abdication of the state authority and submission to violent religious extremists, even as our brave sons – like Major Ishaq – continue to sacrifice their lives while fighting against the scourge of terrorism.
Sectarian differences have been rooted in Muslim history and can co-exist only in a culture of tolerance and pluralism, with Muslim-majority states treating their citizens as equals regardless of their faiths. But when these states became the instruments of sectarian divisions and intervened in the faiths of their citizens they lost their role as neutral and honest arbitrators. And this is what has been happening with the state, and with nation-building, in Pakistan.
The compromises the state has been making with religious extremists to expeditiously avert various threats have in the long run cast irreparable damages to both our state and society. First, the state patronised the Deobandi/Wahabi/Takfiri extremists to fuel various jihads and to counter ethnic nationalists. And now, it is encouraging and appeasing Barelvi extremists who have started following in the footsteps of the violent Takfiris. With this, a vicious cycle of sectarian divisions is reaching its zenith. The paradox of an ideological state now impedes the very existence of the state which has left its citizens and their fundamental rights to the mercy of demons.
The Islamabad High Court had first exceeded its mandate by constraining the hands of the civil administration. But after the operation, the court has taken serious exception to the November 27 accord under which the officials responsible for the aborted operation on November 25 for the eviction of an unlawful occupation are to be investigated and punished for acting on the orders of the IHC to uphold the law and keep order. The greatest tragedy is that, rather than the violators of the law, those very few from among the whole range of sprawling arms of the executive who dared to enforce the writ of the state are to be prosecuted and punished at the behest of the rioters.
And the greatest irony, in the eyes of the IHC, is that “Prima facie, the role assumed by the top leadership of the army is beyond the constitution”. How could – asks Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui – they play the role of an “arbitrator” or “facilitator”? It is all so obvious that Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal did not take ownership of the operation against the sit-in as the civilian law-enforcement agencies struggled with the call of their duty after the army decided not to join in the eviction operation.
While ideological, institutional, constitutional, federal and democratic paradoxes of this
state are now haunting us right in our face, various arms of the state and other stakeholders are fighting among themselves to expand or preserve their turfs and fiefdoms. It appears as though Pakistan is a conglomerate of contending fiefdoms – not a unified state governed by a constitution and by a respect for the social contract made with its citizens.
Unfortunately, as the garrison asserts its supremacy and the judiciary timidly questions the former’s role as a de-facto ultimate arbiter, the civilian forces are at each other’s throat. With the PML-N governments in Punjab and at the centre at loggerheads in appeasing the religious extremists, the PTI bent upon derailing a quasi-democratic transition and the PPP exhibiting crass opportunism, no one is left to defend even a lame-duck republic. This leaves the citizens of this country at the mercy of authoritarian state actors and violent extremists and bigots – all in the name of faith and ‘national interest’. And this is how bigotry prevails – as the republic fails.