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The anti-Zia

Updated July 28, 2013

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.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm