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The anti-Zia

Updated Jul 28, 2013 08:19am


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SOMETIMES, it’s the unrelated that have the most in common.

The Supreme Court fiddled around with an election schedule and the ISI was attacked in Sukkur. Two entirely separate episodes that can’t possibly have anything in common, right?

Wrong. There is a common thread, and that thread is religion. Or, more precisely, religiosity.

And if religiosity is a complex enough problem to begin with, what compounds the problem is that no one dare push back.

Start with the court. By now we know the decision to expedite the presidential election is terribly controversial. And the reason it is terribly controversial, according to lawyers and politicians who have spoken about it publicly, is that a) the court only heard the PML-N and b) it was a decision that was, ultimately, the ECP’s to take.

Except, not really.

The court has long ached to establish itself, à la Bush, as The Decider. If there’s a dispute on hand and a bit of the limelight to be had, the Court of Chaudhry wades in and let’s everyone know who’s boss. That’s the way things have been and that’s the way things will be, until December.

But it’s the line of argument the court has deployed so often — and there is now a list of judgements long enough to establish the pattern — that is more instructive, and worrisome.

Essentially, the court has ruled that our legislators’ right to spend Eid in their hometowns or to go on umrah this Eid or to choose to spend the last days of Ramazan in a thoroughly optional religious retreat is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution.

And so fundamental are these newfangled rights of our legislators that they override the legislators’ constitutional duty to elect a president. This is, of course, absurd. The Constitution says no such thing.

Which is why the court made no attempt to explain its reasoning — there is no reasoning available that is legally or constitutionally tenable. But there is one line of reasoning that can be deployed that is immune to criticism: religion.

Listen carefully to what has been said in criticism of the court order. Folk have risked the gavel of contempt being brought down on them by publicly suggesting that the court has issued a political ruling.

But no one has dared challenge the quasi-logic of religiosity at the core of the judgement. The 27th of Ramazan isn’t a public holiday. The country functions normally, or as close to normal as Pakistan can function in Ramazan, on the day.

If everyone else has to work on the 27th of Ramazan every year, what is this fundamental right our elected representatives enjoy that allows them to skip work, ie electing a president, that will come up just once in their five-year terms?

And if our elected representatives do have a right to not work on the 27th of Ramazan this year, then surely the rest of us are entitled to that right every year.

Ever pity the poor sod who has to work in a hospital emergency room or in air-traffic control or in a war zone on Eid day itself? Well, they probably never thought of it, but in the Supreme Court may lie their salvation, or at least a bit of R&R over Eid.Or ever feel sorry for the guard who has to work at iftar time…

Which helpfully brings us to Sukkur and the attack on the ISI.

Here’s the scenario: a truck laden with explosives is wending — possibly speeding — its way through Sukkur towards its target in a so-called high-security zone; the truck’s passengers have their suicide vests strapped on and bags of grenades knocking together at their feet; and wingmen with guns are motoring alongside the truck on their bikes.

Quite the spectacle that may or may not get pulled over before it gets to its target on any given day. But if it’s iftar time, our little spectacle on wheels can be almost sure it won’t get pulled over. And that, when it arrives at its destination, no one will be ready to defend against it.

Why? Because it’s iftar and the ritual of breaking the fast, and breaking it as a group, trumps whatever training has been imparted, and even the instinct for self-preservation.

And nobody can say anything about it. At most, someone will trot up to a camera or microphone and berate the terrorists for not respecting the unwritten code of iftar-time habits.

Few would dare question and absolutely no one would dare excoriate the men who were responsible for protecting themselves and others for failing at the very moment that the danger is the highest and is known to be the highest.

And that’s because sympathy for individuals who are trying to fulfil their religious obligations in the culturally appropriate way trumps everything else.

Everything else including possibly justified anger at what amounts to a dereliction of duty, or at the very least negligence, that allowed the militants to kill and maim and inflict yet another psychological blow on the country.

You see, they, the guards, were just trying to be good Muslims. No job in the world can take precedence over that. Even if it means some of them die. Even if it means others die.

Religiosity has taken over, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Well, maybe not nobody.

It took a Zia to get us here; it will take an anti-Zaia to walk us back. But an anti-Zia in this place, now, today?

May as well take the 27th off and have a hearty iftar: the wait will be a long one.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (17) Closed

Aneel Jul 28, 2013 11:07am

As always brialliant...Kudos...Cyril

Abdullah Jul 28, 2013 12:28pm

Poor attempt to link issues with Islam. Would you then link failure in policy making at state level to - too much securiosity?

Zulfiqar Haider Jul 28, 2013 12:30pm

Fantastic as always. We all Pakistanies, muslims and non muslims, are waiting for a anti -Zia to rid us off the curse of Zia which had befallen this society. Please Cyril, keep up the good work. You and the like are the only hope for the future of this country.

Tahir Ali Jul 28, 2013 01:56pm

The Quaid used religion as an instrument to carve out a country called Pakistan, Objectives Resolution was passed during Liaqat Ali Khan's tenure, Bhutto totally succumbed to Mullahs and Zia used Islam to perpetuate his rule. However, we should not forget that Zia played a role in disintegration of USSR and independence of Islamic Central Asian Republics. Either we should rejoice this achievement or stop calling ourselves an ideological state. So when we blame Zia, we must also blame those responsible for creating grounds which could be exploited by Zia, though I would never condone his take-over and dictatorial rule.

Thousands of trucks ply on roads and it would be naive to assume that each can be checked for hidden explosives. It takes seconds to turn the explosive laden truck to turn and strike the target and a few hundred kg is enough to blow the area around. So blaming the guards for negligence just because it was Iftar time is not in order.

Guest63 Jul 28, 2013 04:11pm

Yah , Religiosity is probably the Cover used to condone The Pure Personal acts ( going on Umrah and or sitting eteqaf) of having No good at all for the nation . Fundamental right was used as a cover to protect and pardon these law makers Who did not want to act on their constitutional duty first and foremost ( to cast their vote to elect the head of state ) which you rightly pointed out , would be only for once in their 5 years perks and privileges filled tenor as the so called Law makers . Mind you the real essence ( in my humble opinion ) Lies in protecting the Entitlements ( of which free Omarah at the cost of national kitty , is one ) . Ours are the Leaders and Officers , who thrive on the Entitlements of the jobs first and foremost and they would go to any lengths and carve out any legal, moral , ethical Reasons to avail those Entitlements and that is the basis ( in my humble opinion ) of this awkward decision to bring back " the doctrine of necessity " via judicial overreach on some one else's domain after all .

a sensible human Jul 28, 2013 05:32pm

Unbelievable. What non-sense is being correlated with each other. Disgusting

Iqbal Yasin Jul 28, 2013 05:55pm

very well written. i wonder the same when i have to pass on the jinnah avenue security check right after iftar. it's amazing for a place that usually witnesses much long queues for security check. nobody around maghrib time bothers to stop any car at that time for a check and some assailants can so easily pass by and enter any area they want! not to mention, not too far away from the parliament and stuff. Something needs to be done about this! either they sit and eat where they are supposed to check vehicles or at least where they can have a full view of them or they eat in shifts. but the security guys are nowhere to be found at that time and feels like anybody can walk up or drive at that time wherever far they want.

Muhammad Rizwan Jul 28, 2013 07:43pm

Cyril your best column to date...... great work

Mustafa Jul 28, 2013 09:24pm

If you cannot think anything to write about, please take a vacation, it will save some time for Dawn's readers. It is pathetic what is passing for journalism at Dawn these days.

nusrat Jul 28, 2013 11:41pm

unfortunately ... too apt and true

Tariq Hussain Jul 29, 2013 01:20am

What a lovely piece. I hope you remain safe and pray for your life. It is time we ( Pakistani ) separate religion from state and to expect to happen with the help from ARMY ( which actually calls the shot ) is like asking for a moon.

hassan Ali Jul 29, 2013 04:41am

Top class article. You have touched their nerves, the element of religiosity is so much prevailing in our society that it seems the only dominant subject in national life.

NASAH (USA) Jul 29, 2013 07:58am

One of the Pakistan's undoings is too much religion..

abhinav Jul 29, 2013 08:29pm

Glad to know that there are people in Pakistan who actually believe so. And more glad that so many comments in support of the writer.

May Pakistan get over its religiosity, and may india get over its fake and corrupt 'secular' netas, so that both colonial cousins rise together.

Kudos to the writer!

Akhter Husain Jul 29, 2013 10:40pm

A very logical article.I wish that the courts also apply sane logic while giving decisions.

Khalid Jul 30, 2013 12:42am

Dear Cyril, this is just too much common sense for us to handle and I can't tell you how proud I am to have people like you I can call fellow Pakistanis. I have read your article a couple of times and it brings tears to my eyes to see where Pakistan is today. Zia is of course to be blamed for a lot of what we see in Pakistan. Ramzan is an interesting month. No one and I mean no one takes their jobs seriously because it is Ramzan. I really don't understand how can they justify taking their salaries for doing absolutely nothing in Ramzan. My father had a heart attack on Eid day and guess what, when he was taken to the nearest hospital in Karachi, we were told there are no doctors and they didn't know how to open the gate. He unfortunately died after around 20 minutes of waiting at the gate of the hospital. He could have been saved in any other country of the world. I am in the UK and I know Christmas Day for medical staff is just another day. Keep up the good work and I wish you all the best. We desperately need more people like you.

Khalid Jul 30, 2013 09:15am

No connection to religion, this is simply the consequences of unchecked power. Sukkur is not related to SC decision. For years we talked about separating the executive from the judiciary. Well now it's the other way round, separating the judiciary from the executive and parliament. Only December will tell if this is a temporary phenomenon or something more permanent to fulfil the unfilled dream of NSC.