THE recently passed Punjab Tahaffuz-i-Bunyaad-i-Islam Act provides sufficient cause for concern to anyone invested in the intellectual and cultural climate of this country. There are several aspects of the legislation that elicit consternation, but I want to focus on three in particular: the first is the deference to unilateral executive authority on issues related to cultural production and consumption (book selling, publishing, distribution); the second is the renewal of state-sanctioned efforts at socialising and disciplining populations through regulation of the intellectual domain; and the third is the straitjacket that legislation such as this one places on the entire political process.
That Pakistan is still a deeply bureaucratised state is obvious to all. Everything from formulation of policy, design of projects, to implementation and administration is tied to bureaucratic authority with only semblances of participation-based accountability. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way urban centres in this country are run — ie at the whims of insular civil and military bureaucrats.
What has become increasingly apparent over the years from this bureaucratisation of public life is that it leaves little space for oversight and accountability. These terms tend to be associated with acts of malfeasance carried out by politicians, but the reality is that much of Pakistan’s governing structure — from decision-makers to implementers — is opaque and unaccountable. What this new legislation has done is place an entire domain — one central to the cultural life of an entire society — into the hands of yet another bureaucratic office with marginal provision for transparency and oversight.