PAKISTAN: When the state capitulates

Source: Dawn

The recent buckling down of the state to mobs of the radical right is not the first time it has done so.

By I.A. Rehman

Buoyed perhaps by signs of cleavage between Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and its protectors, the government is trying to look brave after the event and separating dharna (sit-in) participants from arsonists and destroyers of property. It is also true that the concessions allowed to the agitators in the ceasefire document lack substance or are not feasible. Yet these factors cannot blur the reality that, through their latest dharna, conservative religio-political forces have tightened their siege of the state of Pakistan. And their next attempt to change the character of the state might be somewhat stronger.

This prognosis is based on the history of the various national governments’ acts of surrender under pressure from conservative political elements operating under religious banners and which have invariably whetted the latter’s appetite for more gains.

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Seventy years ago, a number of religious groups called upon the government to replace the democratic foundations of the few-months-old state with theocratic pillars, a proposition the Quaid-i-Azam had repeatedly repudiated before independence and, finally, in his August 1947 speech. Nearly all of these groups had opposed the demand for Pakistan as they didn’t expect it to be a religious state. The demographic change in the Muslim majority provinces, caused by the partition of Punjab and Bengal — especially of the former — persuaded them to rewrite their theses and raise the banner of theocracy.

The government conceded ground to a greater extent than required and adopted the Objectives Resolution which institutionalised the concept of dual sovereignty, the higher sovereignty of Divine authority and the lower-level sovereignty of the state’s parliament (as a delegatee). The government spokesmen denied Pakistan’s status as a laboratory for religious experiments, but the religio-political lobby quietly celebrated its success in opening the way to defiance of the state by invoking Divine injunctions.

The recent buckling down of the state to mobs of the radical right is not the first time it has done so in Pakistan’s history. But the repercussions on the country’s social fabric are cumulative

Throughout the decades since 1949, the state has been yielding to theocratic forces bit by bit, and the latter have used each concession to press for a further erosion of the democratic character of the state. The custodians of power have chosen to compete with them instead of holding on to the pledges made to the people during the struggle for freedom.

In the first draft of the constitutional framework for Pakistan, presented in 1950 by none else than the mover of the Objectives Resolution and Pakistan’s first prime minister, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, the name of the state was simply Pakistan and its head was not required to be a Muslim. The Objectives Resolution was to be incorporated in the constitution as a directive principle of state policy “subject to the provision that this will not prejudice the interpretation of fundamental rights in the constitution at the proper place.” In order to “enable the Muslims to order their lives in accordance with the Holy Quran and the Sunnah”, steps were to be taken to explain what such life meant and, among other things, the teaching of the Holy Quran was to be made compulsory.

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