Calling A Spade A Spade

VIEW: Parliamentary theocracy —Yasser Latif Hamdani

The 18th Amendment reintroduces the requirement for the prime minister of the country to be a Muslim. Pakistan’s slide down the slippery pole of religiosity is quite clear

Frederick Douglass — the
great 18th century American statesman and abolitionist — once described democracy as a way to take turns. He was a one-man resistance to the tyranny of the majority and its confusion about democracy. It did not occur, however, to the framers of the 18th Amendment that this was also the principle on which Pakistan was founded, i.e. a permanent majority shall not, by sheer force of numbers, dominate and oppress a permanent minority.

It is also forgotten, conveniently, what Jinnah told the legislators in very clear terms: “Even now there are some states in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.”

Now consider the bars that have been put on people of every community other than Muslims in the country since Jinnah’s demise. When, in 1949, the Objectives Resolution was passed, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan reassured the minorities that under the constitutional dispensation so envisaged, a non-Muslim may become the constitutional head of state. The constitution thus framed several years after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination, however, closed the door to the President House on non-Muslims forever and it has been like this since 1956. Still, the 1956 Constitution was perhaps the most cognisant of Pakistan’s multicultural character and, while paying its due respect to the Islamic culture and civilisation, the constitution remained non-committal on a state religion and guaranteed complete equality. This is how Prince Aly Khan, Pakistan’s representative at the UN and the father of the current Agha Khan, described Pakistan’s unique status as an Islamic Republic and an inclusive democracy on May 27, 1958:

“Pakistan, with a personality of its own in the Muslim world, calls itself an Islamic Republic, in the sense that the overwhelming majority of its people, are of the Muslim faith and aspire to a social and political order based on justice and equality, in accordance with the spirit of the injunctions of Islam that I have quoted. The appellation ‘Islamic’, however, does not imply that Pakistan is a theocratic state, run by religious fanatics who seek to reduce the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan to the status of inferior citizens. The relevant provision of our constitution, under which Pakistan became a democratic Republic on the 23rd of March 1956, lays down: ‘Section 5 (1): All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law’.

“The constitution further nullifies as void, any law, custom, or usage, which is inconsistent with the fundamental right to equality under the law, which is an enforceable right under an independent judiciary, the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

“This means that non-Muslims are guaranteed equality with Muslims under the laws of Pakistan.

“While it is true that the president of Pakistan must be a Muslim, he is, in fact, the symbol of the state, and the executive powers are vested almost exclusively in the prime minister and his cabinet. Pakistan is not unique in basing its political institutions on fundamental religious concepts. For example, a number of European nations, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Greece and the UK restrict the office of the head of state to those who profess the predominant religious beliefs of their countries.

“The leaders of the government of Pakistan are liberal and enlightened men, responsible to a freely elected parliament in accordance with the popular will. They function entirely within the framework of the constitution and laws of Pakistan. I am well aware that the people of the US are deeply committed to the doctrine of separation of church and state. We, in Pakistan do not have an established church as such. Basically, the fundamental values and virtues which you cherish and try to practice in the US, are virtually identical with those we believe in and try to practice in Pakistan.”

The 18th Amendment reintroduces in Article 91(3) the requirement for the prime minister of the country to be a Muslim. Pakistan’s slide down the slippery pole of religiosity is quite clear. Having been inflicted a moth-eaten Pakistan against his wishes, Jinnah had envisaged an egalitarian democratic state that would not distinguish between its citizens on the basis of faith. That vision was buried when his lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan, sought to create distinctions of majority and minority through the Objectives Resolution but Liaquat Ali Khan was quick to dispel any notion of barring any office to the non-Muslims in Pakistan. Against Liaquat’s advice, the framers of Pakistan’s constitution created exclusion at the very top but left democracy unfettered by the symbolism of the Islamic Republic. Against that better judgement, a left-leaning secular minded prime minister made Islam the state religion of Pakistan, persecuted a sectarian minority and closed the door on non-Muslims for premiership as well. Then an ‘Islamist’ dictator — in a bid to reduce the office of prime minister in stature — opened it to non-Muslims again.

As the prime minister gets back his rightful position in a parliamentary constitution, our latest liberal democrats have once again created an exclusion, which is untenable in parliamentary democracy. A ‘democracy’ where the leader of the house is from a certain community is no democracy at all. It is a theocracy. Let us a call a spade a spade.

Courtesy Daily Times




Comments are closed.