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Religion And Rule Of Law In Pakistan

After military might, religion is the greatest alibi to defy the rule of law in Pakistan.

Probably the greatest tragedy that happened to Pakistan is that religious factor decisively succeeded in putting everything on defensive. How under such circumstances a value like rule of law could take root? Thus, what happened in Gojra is not un-expected.

By Dr. Khalil Ahmad

After military might, religion is the greatest alibi to defy the rule of law in Pakistan.

One of the most precious achievements of human civilization is the value of rule of law, as against the rule of man, ideology or faith. Herein is implied an inherent regard for the life and liberty of each person, his right to profess and practice any religion; in sum his right to live a life of his choice. It is as simple as that – that as against man, ideology and faith, rule of law is tolerant and accommodative of all creeds and all cultures, i.e. to all the individual differences of mind and body found in human beings. It looks upon each and every person as by birth endowed with certain inalienable rights, treats him as equal and without any discrimination; it provides equal protection of law to all; it gives every person right to be prosecuted under due process of law and prove himself innocent. That bestows the rule of law with an over-riding status.

Human history is replete with examples of rule of men, ideologies and faiths. At its best, it is the story of such men warring against each other and killing each other mercilessly in order to impose their ideologies and faiths on others. As we gradually learned to live together with each other’s differences intact, the recent history came to look much different from those bloody days. However, there still exist some blots on the world map that reminds us of that old world torn apart by the differences of culture and creed.

As since 1947 to this day, military might made fun of rule of law with intermittent civilian governments also manipulating the law to their purposes, and as in the absence of rule of law the religious groups, parties and institutions found a vacuum sufficiently fertile to their flourishing, Pakistan was degraded into an elitist anarchist state.

Surprisingly, the six decades of our history narrate, on the one hand, a gloomy tale of the retreat of the forces which should have supported and established rule of law in Pakistan, and on the other, the continuous offensive of religious entities on everything un-tasteful to them and even on law itself such as during the regime of General Zia-ul-Haque. In a sense, these decades provide a kaleidoscopic vision of ever increasing interference of military and religious factors in the polity of the country. How they got married finally was but a natural end of their love affair!

Initially, it was in the wake of the Objectives Resolution that rule of law suffered its first casualty. Then, the very concept of law and constitution was repeatedly hammered equally both by military-men and politicians. It was down into 1973 when first elected assembly adopted a constitution. In between took place religious riots of 1953 on the issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwat. Also, now and then the flame of sectarian hatred and violence kept erupting.

Actually, both dictators and civilian rulers used religion and religious entities un-sparingly to strengthen and prolong their governments and to promote their elitist interests, and obviously, at the cost of constitution, rule of law, and fundamental rights of the citizens; so much so that these values did not remain part of whatever little political discourse we had. The damaging nature of successive military takeovers and decades of their coercive rule on the one hand and incompetent, short-sighted and self-seeking politics of manipulative temporal civilian governments on the other can be gauged by the proverbial falling standards of education. Not only was the quality of education but academic freedom and excellence were also sacrificed at the altar of ideological slogans. That turned educational institutions into hotbeds of ideological recruitment for religious entities. While teachers, learners, and researchers disappeared from the academic scene, an army of ideologues infested the intellectual environment to say the least.

What started during the last days of Pakistan Peoples Party’s government (1973-1977) General Zia-ul-Haque’s dictatorship actualized it to its peak! In order to save his and his government’s skin, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in utter disregard of the constitutional values, ceded much space to religious entities. That may not be the case, since PPP has always been one of the most opportunist parties, and it was just in his government’s early years that via a constitutional amendment in 1974, Qadianis were declared a non-Muslim minority. Instead of promoting the “progressive and liberal” agenda as he and his party claimed, he and his party’s politics and style of government infused new blood into almost defunct religious entities. It seems General Zia-ul-Haque’s declared agenda had its roots in the policies of its predecessor PPP government!

It is under the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haque that state, government and religious entities merged into one. Everything got a check-up, if diagnosed negative, declared so, operated upon, and made to look and behave as he and his team of ideologues wished them to. A wholesale process of Procrustean-ism was unleashed that still continues mostly unabated. The US-sponsored Afghan Jihad against the Reds proved like manna from the heavens. On it nourished the nonentities and became leviathans of tomorrow, the Jihadis of today, the Taliban.

Again another General who imposed himself as the enlightened one, in fact supported the Taliban whole-heartedly until the 9/11 came like a bolt from the blue, and he abandoned them half-heartedly to be kept on board clandestinely. General Musharraf’s dictatorial rule is the worst in the history of dictatorships in Pakistan. No one more than him caused irreparable disfigurements to the constitution, rule of law, and fundamental rights. He by using the launching pad provided to him by General Zia-ul-Haque threw Pakistan away into a wilderness of anarchy where Taliban and their covert and overt supporters seem to enjoy the sway. In other words, it meant the death of the constitution, rule of law, and fundamental rights of the citizens of this country.

This cursory look at the phenomena of rise and arming of the religious factor coupled with its support from the military section and political parties shows how instead of bringing it into the fold of law the religious factor was appointed against the values of rule of law and fundamental rights. On the social side also, it’s sort of a daily experience how religious entities and personalities defy law and rule of law. Not only they seem to have an inherent disregard for law and rule of law, they cultivate and promote it in the coming generations also to the best of their abilities.

It’s a matter of common observation how from a mosque to a madressah no respect for the law of the land is shown or taught. The irony of fate is that both military and civilian politics (this includes the quality of their governments also) encouraged this religious disregard for the law of the land. As far as religious factor is concerned, never ever was it made to behave according to, and abide by, the law. Probably the greatest tragedy that happened to Pakistan is that religious factor decisively succeeded in putting everything on defensive. How under such circumstances a value like rule of law could take root? Thus, what happened in Gojra is not un-expected.

Yeah, the new born Supreme Court has started the process of setting things right, but it will take time, and, no doubt, it is not the duty of the Court to maintain law and order and protect life and liberty of the citizens of Gojra be they Christians, however it must take notice of the criminal lapse of the administration and the law enforcing agencies due to the negligence of which lawlessness in the name of religion was let lose in Gojra. Aren’t those whom law invests with the duty of protecting life and property and rights of the people without any discrimination of creed, equally responsible for the arson, loot and murder of Gojra citizens as those who actually committed these crimes? They all must be indicted equally guilty. Obviously, where there is no accountability, there is no hope! If the court does not come to the rescue of the religiously discriminated and persecuted as in the case of Gojra, there will be no hope for the rule of law either. Let the Supreme Court decide what the over-riding value in post-restoration Pakistan is!

وقت کرتا ہے پرورش برسوں
حا دثہ ایک دم نہیں ہو تا

The writer is founder/head of the Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan’s first free market think tank.