This article argues that what is always required of a government is the writ of law that must be established and maintained without any relaxation and dilly-dallying. In the case of Lal Masjid, by ignoring what was happening in and around the Lal Masjid the government acted unlawfully. But in forcing the Lal Masjid brothers and occupiers to abandon their unlawful activities government acted lawfully. It tried, though belatedly, to establish the writ of the law. It tried to protect the people from the usurpers of Lal Masjid who used force, the monopoly of a government, to encroach upon the inalienable rights of the people.
by Dr. Khalil Ahmad
The State is the only institution entitled to apply coercion and compulsion and to inflict harm upon individuals. This tremendous power cannot be abandoned to the discretion of some men, however competent and clever they may deem themselves. It is necessary to restrict its application. This is the task of the laws — Ludwig von Mises, Austrian Economist, 1881-1973.
Mystifications give rise to conspiracy theories.
What if the mystified acquires the status of curiosity in the eyes of people and they try to explain it by messing it up with their biases and irrationalities? In addition, this mystification provides political, economic, religious, sectarian, moral, and other elements with an opportunity to capitalise on it.
The issue of Lal Masjid has been such a mystery that was further shrouded by a plethora of conspiracy theories. Also, the delaying of government action against the Lal Masjid brothers and their accomplices strengthened the stances of the conspiracy theorists. As one of the important explanations, it was suggested that the government itself or some intelligence agencies were behind its staging. Another such explanation placed the Lal Masjid issue against the backdrop of the judicial crisis and fight against terrorism. Indeed, the Lal Masjid issue was prolonged and used to defuse the tension built around the CJ case. Moreover, as an embodiment of the Jihadist threat, it was also used as an excuse to justify the prolongation of military rule.
The issue needs to be analyzed in the context of the law of the land. It is one of the biggest examples of unlawful activities of the government and its agencies, which behave like little governments. Actually, as is the case with powerful individuals, they patronise gangsters for furthering their interests, but with time when these gangsters themselves come to gain enough power, they stand up to confront their masters. Governments in Pakistan have been fond of patronising such elements who could be used on various occasions for furthering their cause. As unrestrained power begets unrestrained reaction, such elements, whenever they see it fit, try to assert and establish their own authority. The Lal Masjid brothers were no different from such elements. With time, they also started, as is said, “challenging the state or government’s authority”.
Regardless of the controversy that the whole episode of Lal Masjid was a concocted drama, the government could not attain all of the ‘intended consequences’. It succeeded in playing down the judicial crisis, and the gravity of loss of life and property by storms and floods in Sindh and Balochistan. Of course, that is a temporary phenomenon. The issues that are crucial do not die down so easily. At the same time, it is much more important to realise that the government’s authority suffered a dangerous setback as a result of the Lal Masjid authorities taking the law into their own hands. It is for the government to take stock of its gains and losses, if there was such a game.
It is indeed appreciable in clear terms that in wrapping up the issue of Lal Masjid, the government acted very wisely in spite of the fact that it could wipe out the defiant dwellers of Lal Masjid without taking pains. One cannot deny that it did care for a large number of innocent young girls and boys. It did show restraint. Also, it did not bow down to the unlawful demands of the defiant dwellers. It is a victory for the rule of law. Had it “surrendered” to these elements once again, whether due to outside political pressure or for its own expediencies and let the occupiers of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa escape from the law, the conspiracy theorists would have been proved right.
However, the restraint and care for human life do not absolve the government from its criminal negligence or complicity. Why and how did it let this happen in the heart of the capital? How come the Lal Masjid brothers stored such firepower and managed to hide the militants in the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa? Why were the Lal Masjid brothers set free on the instance of a minister while they were caught in possession of unlawful arms? Hadn’t one minister who is now a member of the federal cabinet passed a number of years in jail for the same offence? Why under the nose of the government and its agencies, the Lal Masjid brothers were given unbounded freedom to play with the freedom of local and foreign citizens? Why despite many cases registered against them, the Lal Masjid brothers were never taken to task?
What was needed and what is always needed is the writ of the law that must be established and maintained without any relaxation and dilly-dallying. Here, one clarification needs to be made. Since the Lal Masjid issue gained a prominent place in the media, almost all quarters argued, emphasized and demanded that the writ of the government or writ of the state be established. It is misleading. Also, this promotes and strengthens a wrong concept of government and its functions.
From my childhood, I got one concept akin to this one. I remember a number of people who used to say that the biggest gangster is the government itself. All along I have been wondering if it is so! Is government the biggest gangster? Let it be first clear that a gangster is he who only has his personal rules to follow. He has no regard for others’ life, liberty and property. To be exact, he has utter disregard for law, i.e. rules meant for the protection of life, liberty and property of all the citizens of a society and sure to be abided by everyone without any exemptions.
Thus, terming government the biggest gangster amounts to saying that it does not follow the rules and laws. In almost all of the cases, governments behave like gangsters despite the fact that they are formed under law to overcome anarchy and create order. However, in one positive sense, a government is the biggest gangster of all. In an anarchic situation, where many groups try establishing their authority, it is one powerful group that after subjugating all others, finally establishes its authority and an order is created. It is not simply a matter of creating an order by establishing the authority of one group. In fact, it is a matter of establishing the authority of one of the competing groups to implement certain rules and laws. If it is not so, it is the rule of gangsters.
Obviously, such group which comes to establish its authority enjoys the support of the people it belongs to, otherwise, usually, it would not succeed. This legitimises this group’s authority. Also, this group acts under certain rules. It does not usurp the inalienable rights of the people, instead protects them. It lets people live, earn, and spend as they wish. It does not aim at controlling them. It is like a covenant with its people. This makes the rule of this group lawful. This lets this group monopolise the use of force against those who try to encroach upon the rights of others. But in no sense it is the writ of this group. It is the writ of the law that allows this group to use force. Hence, it is the duty of this group to establish and maintain the writ of the law, and not its own writ. A group that establishes its own writ loses the legitimacy and lawfulness of its authority.
Likewise, a government, like ours, that tries to establish and maintain its authority is an illegitimate and unlawful one. Those who exhorted the government to do this misled it and the ordinary people too. What the government in Pakistan is urgently required to do is to establish and maintain the writ of law. Only the writ of law! Nothing less than that or more than or other than that. In the case of Lal Masjid, by ignoring what was happening in and around the Lal Masjid, the government acted unlawfully. In forcing the Lal Masjid brothers and occupiers to abandon their unlawful activities, the government acted lawfully. It tried, though belatedly, to establish the writ of law. It tried to protect the people from the usurpers of Lal Masjid who used force, the monopoly of a government, to encroach upon the inalienable rights of the people. That’s a commendable job, anyway!
Dr. Khalil Ahmad is associated with Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan’s first free market think-tank
This article appeared in The Post on July 16,2007.