Religion in politics

By Anwar Syed

While reading a historical novel (The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown), I came across some startling claims. An Oxford historian and a Harvard professor of religion, both of them specialists in pagan and Christian symbolism and dogma, are discussing matters with a cryptographer who is also a symbologist. Here are the high points of their exchange.

Christianity had been spreading exponentially and, at the beginning of the fourth century, it appeared that it was going to be the wave of the future. As conflict between the pagans and Christians threatened to rend Rome, Emperor Constantine decided to unite the empire under Christianity. In order to make it acceptable to the pagans, he fused elements of pagan rituals, mythology, and symbolism with the Christian tradition.

The New Testament in the Bible was collated under his direction, and gospels (other than those of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) that portrayed Jesus as a prophet but nevertheless a mortal human were excluded. Constantine chose to invest him with divinity in the expectation that it would stop pagan challenges to Christianity, consolidate the empire, and augment his authority as well as that of the Catholic Church.

The emperor knew of pre-Christian precedents for his move. A pagan god, Mithras, called son of God, was believed to have been born on December 25 and later, three days after his death, resurrected. Osiris, Adonis, and Dianysus were credited with the same date of birth. A conference that Constantine called in 325 AD, known as the Council of Nicaea, debated and settled the date for Easter, administration of sacraments, and the status of Jesus as the son of God.

Originally Christians had observed the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, but Constantine moved it to Sunday, the day on which the pagans paid their weekly tribute to their sun god. Pictograms of Isis (Egyptian nature goddess), nursing her miraculously conceived son (Horus), may have led to the Christian images of the Virgin Mary nursing the Baby Jesus.

We know of other rulers taking a hand in the formulation of religious dogma and practice in Zoroastrian Persia, mediaeval and early modern Europe, and in several places during periods of Muslim rule.

Linkage between religion and politics has been debated in Pakistan since before its inception. It is true that those who led the campaign for its establishment invoked Islam often enough. But it is true also that they did not all contemplate the same role for it in governance and politics.

Ambiguity has continued to be the refuge of secular-minded politicians. They would like to implement Islamic principles and values, which are open to interpretation, but they do not want to enforce Islamic law and injunctions. At the same time, they would rather not say so publicly. Let us look at the Objectives Resolution as an illustration of the paradoxes that ambiguity can cause.

The Resolution, adopted by the Constituent Assembly in March 1949, committed the state to exercise its authority within the limits prescribed by God; observe the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice as enunciated by Islam; enable Muslims to order their individual and collective lives according to the teachings and requirements of Islam as set forth in the Quran and Sunnah.

The word, "enable," has been problematic. In ordinary English usage the word means providing a person, who wants to perform a certain act, with the means or opportunity of doing so; making it possible, practical, or easy, and to that end, removing the impediments, if any, lying in his way. But enabling does not carry the meaning of forcing, or otherwise persuading, the person concerned to want to perform the act in question. There are other words in the language to convey that meaning.

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan added a word of explanation. The state, he said, would create conditions conducive to the development of a truly Islamic society, one that practised democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice. There is no way one may construe this or any of his other statements during this debate to mean that the state would force Muslims to pray, fast, and do all of the other things that the Islamic injunctions require.

The prime minister further explained the import of the Objectives Resolution when he observed that the acknowledgment of God's supremacy was essential because politics unrestrained by ethics tended to become tyrannical. Moreover, the terms "democracy," "equality," and "social justice" had larger and more wholesome meanings in Islam than they did in other systems of thought. For instance, Islamic social justice implied that all citizens would be free from want. Islamic democracy meant that not only government and politics but all social institutions would function democratically.

His government, he said, would build a "truly liberal" society wherein all would be equal before law, which would bring about a better distribution of wealth and removal of want; where no shackles would be put on thought; where disadvantaged groups would be helped to catch up; and where everyone would have a say in the determination of public policy.

Several Hindu members of the Constituent Assembly objected that, as some of the ulema had told them, non-Muslims could not have equal rights in an Islamic state. Liaquat Ali Khan denounced "these so-called ulema" as enemies of Islam and Pakistan. He went on to make the astonishing claim that a non-Muslim could indeed be the head of the administration in an Islamic state, such as the one envisaged in the Objectives Resolution.

As the debate proceeded, varied opinions were voiced. Several members saw the resolution as a confirmation of the ruling party's commitment to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan. Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani endorsed this commitment, and he was frank enough to say that only the believers could run it. Some administrative positions might be open to non-Muslims, but they could not be asked to frame the state's general orientation, or to deal with matters vital to its safety and integrity.

Professor Mahmud Husain pointed out that the resolution had made no reference to an Islamic state. Dr I.H. Qureshi endorsed the prime minister's position that non-Muslims would be equal participants in its government and politics. In a subsequent debate on a similar subject (Basic Principles Committee Report in 1953), Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar offered the curious interpretation that while a Hindu citizen could not be head of the state in Islamic Pakistan, he could become prime minister.

Two questions may be raised at this point. One, is there anything wrong with the Objectives Resolution? Two, were Liaquat Ali Khan and his colleagues invoking Islam essentially for their political purposes?

The resolution employs terms whose meaning is far from settled in western political discourse from where they have come. For instance, no one can claim to know what precisely social justice means. Reducing the gap between the rich and the poor? If so, how much? Social Darwinists (exponents of "survival of the fittest") would leave the poor where they are unless they rise out of their hole by their own effort. The hard line conservatives everywhere have been disinclined to accept equality as a desirable value. There is disagreement even today as to whether equality is to be taken as equality before law (if even that) or as equality of condition. Khrushchev in Russia and Mao in China claimed that they practised true democracy while that in the West was actually a farce.

Far from reducing the ambiguity surrounding these terms, we increase it when we add the adjective, "Islamic," to them. The ulema have been telling us all along that western democracy is not Islamic. In saying that his government would establish Islamic social justice, Mr Liaquat Ali Khan was promising to build a society where no one would go without the basic necessities of life, where no one would be destitute. He spoke in these terms probably because they had become fashionable.

The Objectives Resolution is internally inconsistent. It makes Islamic injunctions the guiding framework for policy and then goes on to say that all citizens, including non-Muslims, shall have equal rights - a position that is unsustainable in the context of religion. It assures citizens freedom of thought and expression, freedom to profess and practise one's religion, but then abridges them (without indicating the limits of such abridgment) by making them subject to "law and public morality."

Religious injunctions will surely place severe limits on the freedoms of thought and expression, especially if these are exercised with reference to established dogma or major theological assertions. It is doubtful also that non-Muslims can profess their religion from a street corner or go out to preach it. The courts in Pakistan have held that the Ahmadis cannot profess and practise their religion the way it enjoins them to do.

Were Liaquat Ali Khan and his associates reformulating Constantine's precedent? It is likely that they brought in the Objectives Resolution as a political necessity. They had to do something to counter the more militant of the ulema (Maulana Maududi and his cohorts in Majlis-i-Ahrar) who were urging Muslims to disobey the state of Pakistan because it was un-Islamic.

Constantine modified Christianity to a more traditional position for the purpose of consolidating his empire. Liaquat Ali Khan was reinterpreting Islam to give it modernistic and liberal inclinations and thus to make it compatible with the system of governance he and his associates hoped to create and maintain.

As a statement of ideals that governments might endeavour to reach, as a pointer to the adjustments that must be made in our day and age, as a frame of reference, and as a preamble to the Constitution, the Objectives Resolution did the needful. But it was violence to Islam, an insult to the nation's sense of moral integrity, and an invitation to obfuscation in the realm of law to make it a substantive part of the country's Constitution.

The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, US. E-mail:

A case for more autonomy

By Kunwar Idris

Altaf Hussain is making a safe bet when he says that his party, the MQM, will quit the government in the event of an army operation in Balochistan. The army itself seems wary of undertaking one. But a punitive strike against the "miscreants", or call them nationalists, who rocket the gas wells in Sui cannot be termed an "operation".

However, offence is part of every defence strategy. The army is defending the gas field while the Bugti tribesmen defend themselves in their hilly fortifications surrounding the field. Both may sally forth at any time.

In any case Altaf Hussain's men would have no reason to quit the government nor would they like to do so. The comment of the regime's philosopher-guide Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has been brusque. He has suggested that the MQM's departure from the government would make no difference as the Muslim League and other parties in the coalition would still command the majority in parliament.

Maybe, but the bravado of Chaudhry Shujaat arises not from his slender parliamentary majority but from the presence of the president-cum-chief of army staff Pervez Musharraf at the top. The situation demands equanimity. The government cannot keep narrowing its liberal base and, at the same time, defeat militancy.

Whether the government stays or falls is of little consequence. The powers that be will have no difficulty in putting together another cabinet which costs less and, perhaps, works better. The real anxiety should be about the future of the federation. All along, that is right from the first year of independence, the federation has floundered falling apart halfway and, if cynics prove right, this might happen once again.

Every exercise in ideology, starting with the Objectives Resolution of 1949, and every experiment with the constitutional system dating back to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by the governor-general in 1954, has shaken the federation to its foundations. More shaken than the other provinces after the exit of East Pakistan has been Balochistan. It has experienced military campaigns even under civilian governments. Knowing their dismal outcome, it is quite astounding that the present government appears to have an appetite for yet another.

One way or the other, the current unrest will lessen, but that should not distract attention from the root cause of discontent which lies in the power structure of the country and is not confined to Balochistan. Sui is the trouble spot at the moment. Next time it could be Sindh. Blaming the saboteurs or sardars will not help.

Under the current constitutional arrangement and the laws, traditions and practices that have grown around it, economic resources, physical power and skills lie at the centre. The provinces, even in order to maintain law and order which is their first duty, are becoming increasingly dependent on the paramilitary forces controlled by the federal government. Even to discharge their basic civic functions, the cities and local councils have to get money from the centre.

In this kind of relationship those political elements, the Baloch sardars or Sindhi nationalists for example, who are not prepared to recognize the overlordship of the centre, nor pay homage to it, are left out of the power circuit and constantly hounded. On the other hand, those who are willing to submit to the centre's superior authority tend to turn into corrupt oppressors in their own little domains, immune from accountability.

The need is to alter this master-servant relationship between the centre and the provinces into one of equal partners in the federation. That can come about only by transferring subjects from the federation to the provinces. For that, the Constitution has to be amended.

Some other measures suggested to make the country a genuine federation include the creation of more provinces (one proposal put forth by a party recently floated by Feroz Shah Gilani and some other regionalists is to divide the four provinces, to make them 11 - five carved out of Punjab alone) and switch over to a presidential form of government in which the chief executives - the president of the federation and governors of the provinces - are directly elected by the people for a fixed term.

All proposals aimed at changing the form of government, assigning more functions to the provinces and creating a balance of power among the provinces have to wait until the next elections. Only the new and more representative national and provincial assemblies can bring about such fundamental changes. But to ensure that the new assemblies and the Senate truly reflect the will of the people and the provinces, some procedural articles of the Constitution should be amended by the present parliament before elections are held.

One is to make the Senate truly representative of the people (and not of the parties) and to have direct elections to it by the people (and not by the members of the provincial assemblies). For this Article 59 has to be amended.

The second is to amend Articles 62 and 63, and delete the vague (hence open to abuse) disqualifications for candidates such as "not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions" or "abstains from sins" or "is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and ameen" or "defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the armed forces" or "has not after the establishment of Pakistan worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan".

Hardly any candidate, knowing them as we do, would survive the application of any one of these clauses. Similar disqualifications for the provincial assembly candidates in Article 113 should also be deleted.

Articles 213 to 221 relating to the chief election commissioner (CEC) and election commission should also be amended to throw open the offices of the CEC and members of the commission to all public servants and distinguished citizens (only the judges are eligible at present). They should be selected by an independent body and not by the president in his discretion.

This amendment is crucial to fair elections. Elections in Pakistan have always been marred by charges of foul play and low attendance. By contrast the elections in India conducted by retired civil servants like Seshan, Gill, Lyngdoh and now by Krishna Murthy have been held as models of free and fair polls with large turnouts.

Of special and immediate importance to break the current stalemate is an amendment to Articles 160-162 which describe the composition and functions of the National Finance Commission. This commission, like the election commission, should consist of independent and knowledgeable men who should size up the total national resources and then apportion them across the federation and its constituent units taking into account the prevailing needs.

At present, the commission is dominated by the central government and the total resource picture is known to it alone. The provincial members can quarrel, defy for a while or, in rare instances, quit (as Sindh's Abdul Karim Lodhi did recently) but cannot win because of the central government's overwhelming authority.

Lastly, the provinces must get a much bigger share in their natural resources than is being given to them at the moment. The provincial ownership of oil and gas is a ticklish question in an interdependent economy which is predominantly agrarian. While this issue might have to wait for elections and constitutional amendments, the share of the provinces in the royalty and development surcharge on oil and gas can be increased instantly. That should calm the situation in Balochistan which would be the major beneficiary.

The overarching theme of all talks and campaigns should be to make the federation stable and one where all units, big and small, feel equal. This can be achieved in two stages - immediately and through constitutional amendments after the next elections. Naming the provinces as states (which most federations do) will give a boost to both their ego and status, without the centre having to part with either power or money. A constitutional amendment to give this change in nomenclature should cause no controversy or harm. It is worth considering.

A long-haul effort to rebrand Pakistan

By Shadaba Islam

As all Pakistanis living in Europe know only too well, good news stories about the country are not the norm in European newspapers. When and if Pakistan does get a mention in the press, the focus tends to be on ethnic violence, terrorism or nuclear proliferation.

But times may be changing. Belgium's leading dailies all this week have been full of reports about Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's successful encounter with Belgian officials and business leaders - and Pakistan's changing economic fortunes.

Mr Aziz's first trip to Europe as prime minister may not have resulted in sudden breakthroughs on Islamabad's long-running quest to get relief from European Union anti-dumping duties or gain access to the EU GSP-Plus scheme for duty-free imports. But it does appear to have succeeded in setting the country on the path to achieving another longer-term objective: giving Pakistan a new image in Europe.

Rebranding Pakistan certainly seems to have been the key goal during the prime minister's three-day blitz of meetings with EU, Belgian and Nato officials. Pakistan's foreign policy is viewed as too US-centric by most EU officials. As such, Islamabad's diplomatic effort - albeit a belated one - to break with tradition and look beyond Washington by making friends and allies in Europe is appreciated.

Interestingly for future relations with Europe, the focus in Pakistan appears to be shifting from a view of the EU as a mere collection of 25 states to an understanding that the Union has a life and significance of its own. While Pakistan has long-standing bilateral relations with many EU member countries - especially Britain, France and Germany - foreign policy experts in Islamabad have taken too long to realize that the EU is more than a simple sum of its parts.

As such, closer links with the European Commission, the EU council of ministers and the European parliament must be developed in parallel with bilateral ties with EU member governments.

The EU Commission's importance is not just evident in global trade - where it negotiates on behalf of member states - but also increasingly in foreign and security policy where it takes an active part in decisions and debates. On a host of issues, including immigration, energy and research and development, the Commission is gaining an increasingly strong voice.

Europe's emergence as an international player to be reckoned with is being recognized by none other than China which has been particularly successful in cementing its ties with the EU. Part of Beijing's strategy clearly has to do with keeping Washington on its toes but China is also reaping important rewards for being a good friend of the EU. Europeans are leading investors in China, have stepped up their trade with that country and are delivering important technology and expertise to Beijing in a range of areas.

India, meanwhile, has been identified as a key strategic partner by the EU and both sides are working to upgrade their hitherto lacklustre ties.

In contrast, relations between the EU and Pakistan have been marked by far too much volatility and unpredictability. It is hardly a coincidence that no Pakistani premier has visited Brussels since Nawaz Sharif's trip to EU headquarters in 1998.

Ties with the EU improved dramatically after Islamabad joined the US-led war against terror and helped remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. Relations hit bad times rapidly afterwards, however, after an EU parliamentary team said Pakistani parliamentary elections held in October 2002 had been seriously flawed. That in turn led the European parliament to suspend plans to ratify a new EU-Pakistan agreement signed by the two sides after Sept. 11, 2001. Relations between the two sides remained tricky until the new agreement was finally ratified and then entered into force last September.

Significantly, EU's view of Pakistan has also been shaped by the opinion of its neighbours, including Iran, Afghanistan and India. As a result, while recognizing the country's strategic importance, most EU diplomats have in the past commented to this correspondent on Pakistan's role as "regional troublemaker."

The country's unstable democratic record has also worked against its reputation in Europe. In addition, the EU has voiced concern at Pakistan's nuclear programme and alleged involvement in sales of nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Changing such European perceptions of Pakistan will take time - and enormous efforts. But a very necessary process of an EU reassessment of Pakistan appears to have started.

Mr Aziz's message in Brussels was that Pakistan is now a different country, with changed policies, new priorities - and a strong economy. EU policymakers and Belgian business leaders listened with interest, remarking on the prime minister's convincing presentation of what he described as Pakistan's new realities.

In talks with this correspondent, EU diplomats said they had been impressed by the prime minister's detailed explanations about Pakistan's economic situation and need for stronger trade relations with Europe. Most importantly, in contrast to their past scepticism about Pakistan, few seem to dispute Mr Aziz's central argument that Pakistan was now a modern and moderate Islamic nation which wants global peace and good relations with its neighbours.

Discussions between Mr. Aziz and Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy chief, appear to have been especially interesting. Solana - who is set to become the EU's first foreign minister when a new constitution comes into force in 2007 - is an increasingly important figure in Brussels and a crucial craftsman of EU foreign policy. Significantly, he was interested in talking to Pakistan about the West's difficult relationship with Iran and seeking Islamabad's help in bridging gaps in the EU's understanding of Tehran.

Repeatedly also, Mr. Aziz was queried about Pakistan's relationship with Afghanistan and India. EU policymakers are clearly encouraged by Islamabad's change of stance towards both countries. Given Europe's heavy financial involvement in Afghanistan, the EU is eager to ensure that Islamabad plays a stabilizing role in the country.

The prime minister's assurances on Pakistan's interest in having a strong, stable and economically vibrant Afghanistan appear to have convinced most EU officials who recognize that Islamabad did facilitate the organization of last year's presidential elections in the country.

The EU is also especially anxious to encourage closer relations between India and Pakistan, while remaining careful not to take sides on the Kashmir conflict. Mr Aziz's promise to continue with confidence-building measures with India and especially his offer to build an "energy corridor" from Iran to India, through Pakistan, are just the kind of initiatives that the EU - itself built on cooperation between former adversaries - likes and supports.

Unlike the US, Europe is also open to arguments that fighting terrorism requires action to address the root causes of extremism - a point made on several occasions by Mr Aziz. Part of the EU's "soft diplomacy" is based on aid and trade measures to reduce poverty and deprivation.

Much to Islamabad's regret, however, the Commission has so far failed to translate this strategy into real action - especially as regards Pakistan's long-running battle to become eligible once again for the duty-free market access scheme known as GSP-Plus.

Pakistan's argument is that as a country which is working to fight extremism and terrorism, it must be given the tools to create more jobs, fight poverty and ensure stability. The EU agrees that this is necessary. But EU officials insist that they cannot change the current GSP rules for one country alone. "Pakistan talks of fighting terrorism, but for other countries it's about drugs, Aids or malaria," said one EU official.

Brussels is also arguing that to become eligible for GSP-Plus benefits, countries must sign a raft of international conventions on labour standards, environmental protection and the like.

Relations with the EU are further complicated by the 13 per cent anti-dumping duty currently imposed on Pakistani bed linen. Attempts to remove the duty failed last week just ahead of Mr Aziz's visit but the long and difficult process of trying to overturn the initial decision will continue.

EU demands that Pakistan sign a readmission agreement to take back illegal immigrants from Europe is another long-running source of acrimony between the two sides. The EU argues that such a pact will help it look more favourably at Pakistan's demands for easier access to Schengen visas. EU officials also say that signing of such an agreement will help create a "more indulgent climate" for ties between the two sides, facilitating relations in other areas.

Islamabad says, however, that it is wary of taking on responsibility for third country nationals and stateless people. But discussions with the EU on the issue will now be raised to the level of government secretaries.

While the focus in Brussels was clearly on trade, economics and Pakistan's international role, Islamabad would be unwise to believe that EU policymakers are no longer interested in issues relating to democracy in the country. Questions relating to Pakistan's political situation remain important for the European parliament in particular.

"We are keen to work with Pakistan - but that does not mean we will ignore questions of human rights and democracy," an EU lawmaker told this correspondent after Mr. Aziz met the parliament's chief Josep Borrell. EU parliamentarians are regularly lobbied by their constituencies on questions of human rights, gender and minorities in Pakistan, the lawmaker said, adding that such concerns would therefore also have to be addressed by Pakistan.


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