Contradictions & anomalies

By Tahir Mirza


A COLUMNIST has suggested that members of the Council of Islamic Ideology, resentful at being bypassed in the debate on the women’s protection bill, should not resign, as they have threatened to do, and General Musharraf should talk to them and remove their grievances.

The Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Sher Afgan, has also said something similar, but he has made it clear that the women’s bill to be presented to parliament will follow the recommendations made by the parliamentary select committee that examined the proposed legislation.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the PML-Q president, said on Monday that it would be regrettable if the Council of Islamic Ideology had any reservations about the recommendations made on the bill by the relevant parliamentary select committee, although it was he who engineered bypassing the committee by accepting the MMA demand to refer the measure to an ulema committee.

An important member of the council has already resigned, and the chairman says he and the rest of his colleagues are contemplating doing the same. The whole issue has become extremely confusing, but the sequence of events so far has been something like this: the government proposed a bill to amend the Hudood laws and make them more socially just. This amended bill was referred to a select committee of the National Assembly. The MMA and the PML-N for different reasons boycotted the select committee.

The draft was changed by the committee, and the changes were seen as unacceptable by the MMA, which threatened to resign from the assemblies if the bill as changed was passed. The conservative, pro-status quo lobby within the PML-Q welcomed this as a godsend to delay the bill, and immediately agreed to set up an extra-parliamentary committee of experts on the recommendation of the MMA. Now some in government say the bill will be approved as vetted by the NA select committee, some want more discussion, more temporising.

In all this exercise, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) doesn’t appear to have figured anywhere. If this institution exists, and it is a constitutional body set up specifically to scrutinise all legislation from the point of view of Islamic shariat, then it is right to feel that it has been spurned. Its views on the Hudood laws 1979 may not have been very progressive. Earlier this year, its chairman, Dr Khalid Masud, in an interim report on the laws, had said the Hudood Ordinance “does not conform fully to the Quran and Hadith. Partial amendments to this ordinance cannot bring it in accord with the letter and spirit of the Quran and Sunnah. A thorough revision of the Hudood Ordinance is necessary in order to make it more responsive to the philosophy of crime and punishment in the Quran and Sunnah as well as more effective in a modern judicial system (this is on the council’s website).”

Was this opinion considered by the government when undertaking amendments in the draft bill? Is this the bone of contention between the council and the government or is the council upset by the fact that when its expertise was available, why was a maulvi committee set up? The failure of the law ministry and the ministry of religious affairs in settling such issues should also be considered.

The council’s view that a revision, rather than partial amendments, is necessary to see how a law like Hudood can be amended to conform both to the Quran and Sunnah as well as made more effective in a modern judicial system shows the contradiction inherent in our approach to such matters, and the plea here is that the council members should be encouraged to resign so that such contradictions can be brought out in the open and discussed.

It may then transpire that, as columnist Nazeer Naji wrote recently, it was a mistake in the first place to allow the clergy to have a say in the business of temporal governance and law-making through institutions such as the CII and Shariat courts or by responding to pressure from the maulvis to come to self-defeating compromises that only perpetuate the hold of the orthodoxy. In the process, the supremacy of parliament is constantly abridged.

The council members will do everyone a favour by resigning and thus making us confront the contradictions in this as well as in so many other areas and even if the government appoints new members to replace them, at least a public discourse on the utility of the CII and the parallel system of Shariat courts at various levels, which are perceived as sinecures with very little to do, might materialise. It will also help expose the contradictions within the ruling party and other political parties on issues like rape and oppression and honour killings and weddings to the Quran where religion has got mixed up with feudal customs and exploitation. It will show us how we continue to wallow in humbug and hypocrisy and what a lot of rubbish cluttering our minds goes unchallenged.

Shibboleths like “Islamic ideology” or Pakistan ideology are accepted unthinkingly and suggestions that an effort should be made to spell out such concepts to improve our understanding of them are mocked as liberal humbug. Issues that are seen as settled are actually totally unsettled and enveloped in claptrap that needs to be cleared. Parliament as the sovereign legislative body should have the final authority to decide on all legislation, feeling free wherever it considers necessary to consult expert religious, legal or lay opinion.

This may be one point for urgent deliberation when, after the next election, a truly representative and freely elected parliament takes up necessary amendments in the 1973 Constitution to cleanse it of the many insertions made in it over the years.

There are contradictions on religious and social issues even within that supreme body directing our political life — the military, and its all-powerful, all-meddling intelligence arm, the ISI. The most recent example is provided by General Musharraf’s remarks, after strenuous denials of any ISI help for the Taliban, that some retired ISI men may have been helping the Taliban. He said: “I have some reports that some dissidents, some people, retired people who were in the forefront in ISI during the period 1979 to 1989 may be assisting with their links somewhere here and there.”

This is interesting. If the government knows that some retired ISI personnel have been actively involved with the Taliban, their identity too must be known and the ranks they held. Shouldn’t this information be made public and the people also told whether their association with the Taliban had the blessings of anyone in the military or the government? Gen Musharraf’s statement can only be seen as underlining the commonly held belief that the military and the ISI are divided, like the rest of society, between fundamentalist and liberal elements, and the former had assumed a predominant role during the Zia period which may have continued down the years. Old habits die hard.

In the 10-year span mentioned by Gen Musharraf, the ISI was headed by Lt.-Gen Ghulam Jilani (1974-1980), who as governor of Punjab let loose Mr Nawaz Sharif as a politician on an unsuspecting Pakistani public; Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman (1980-1987); and Lt-Gen Hameed Gul (1987-1989); and for part of 1989, Lt-Gen Shamsur Rahman Kallue (names and dates from Wikipedia website). In a rebuttal, which is neither here nor there, Gen Gul has said that the Taliban surfaced in 1994, five years after his tenure ended as ISI chief.

However, his political activities prior to his retirement, including the rousing tour of Punjab in support of Mr Nawaz Sharif and the IJI after the dismissal of the Junejo government, are well known, and the ideological thrust of his views well established. A few days ago, another ISI chief (1990-1991), Gen Asad Durrani, said in a private TV channel interview that he was asked to receive money given for the IJI in what is known as Mehrangate. The money was duly passed on and the general candidly confessed that while it was wrong in principle for him as ISI chief to have undertaken the mission, in his personal capacity he believed that the change that this might augur would be good for the country.

So we have army generals and ISI chiefs who meddle in politics, face no accountability and presumably continue to get their pensions and other post-retirement privileges. Most of them seem to be more knowledgeable about our ideology and collective good than are ordinary mortals or elected politicians. Their political instincts also for the most part are clearly honed in a particular right-wing direction. Isn’t this another mess that requires to be cleared?

Balochistan: truth & reconciliation

By Dr Athar Osama


IN a recent article, I had highlighted the need for the creation of a truth and provincial reconciliation commission to investigate the abuse (or lack of it) of inter-provincial relations in Pakistan. In the backdrop of events in Balochistan and the demand by the Baloch grand jirga for greater autonomy, the need for a major reassessment of inter-provincial relations in Pakistan is in order.

In this article, I intend to look at some of the relatively better known examples of truth commissions around the world and highlight how and what they achieved for their respective countries.

The idea of setting up a truth and reconciliation commission is not new. These are bodies established to research and report on human rights abuses over a certain period of time in a particular country or in relation to a particular conflict. However, their use is not always limited and may encompass other violations of law and human rights as well.

The concept behind a truth commission is that of “restorative justice”, which differs from the customary adversarial and retributive justice. The truth and reconciliation process seeks to heal relations between opposing sides by uncovering all pertinent facts, distinguishing the truth from lies, and allowing for acknowledgment, appropriate public mourning, forgiveness and healing. The process promotes the belief that confronting the past is necessary for the successful transition from conflict and tension to peace and connectedness.

These commissions allow victims and alleged perpetrators to give evidence of abuses and provide an official forum to document their accounts and make recommendations on steps to prevent the recurrence of such abuses. They are created, vested with authority, sponsored and/or funded by governments, international organisations, or both.

They help create a process of listening and healing psychological wounds that may afflict the victims of injustice. Secondly, they often come up with a final report that documents the abuse, provides recommendations for compensating the aggrieved party and identifies the steps that must be taken to avoid the situation from recurring.

Over the last three decades, truth and reconciliation commissions have functioned in more than 30 countries with considerable degree of success. These include Argentina, Chile, Germany, Morocco, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Nigeria, South Korea and East Timor, the best known being in South Africa. The truth commission here was established after the era of apartheid. Anybody who felt they had been a victim of violence could come forward and be heard at the TRC.

The South African TRC’s hearings made international news and many sessions were broadcast on national television.

The TRC was a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa and, despite some flaws, is generally regarded as a model for subsequent truth commissions around the world.

It had the authority to not only listen to testimony and award reparations where necessary but also — in the spirit of healing and moving forward —awarding amnesties to those charged with atrocities during the apartheid. This was done as long as two conditions were met: the crimes were established as politically motivated and the whole truth was told by the person seeking amnesty. No one was exempted from being charged including members of the ruling African National Congress.

While there have been criticisms of the commission’s work, the public nature of its proceedings and its popularity led other countries to establish such commissions.

The Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation in East Timor is one such example. The idea was presented in 2000 at the Congress of the Timorese National Resistance. After a series of consultations with local communities and with the support of international agencies, legislation was adopted in 2001 to set up the commission.

The commission members were appointed through a selection panel that sought nominations from the local communities. Three hundred nominations were received from which a much smaller number was short-listed and interviewed and the names publicised within communities for comments. Finally, seven national commissioners took oath.

The commission is specifically charged with helping the East Timorese nation reconcile with its troubled past by investigating abuses between April 1974 and October 1999 and working with the aggrieved parties and alleged perpetrators to develop a mechanism for reconciliation. After more than two years of work, the commission delivered a 2,500-page report to the president of East Timor who has handed it over to the UN secretary-general as required by the commission’s founding legislation.

Apart from developing countries, truth commissions have also been established in developed countries. Germany, United States and South Korea are three examples.

The German commission was set up by members of the German parliament in March 1992 to investigate human rights violations under communist rule in East Germany from 1949 to 1989. It was charged with confronting the legacy of communist rule and helping bring all Germans together as a unified nation.

The United States’ first ever truth and reconciliation commission was set up in Greensboro, North Carolina, to deal with a particular instance of the community’s troubled past of racial violence.

The commission was set up to help Greensboro grasp the importance of having an accurate collective memory of how the events of Nov 3, 1979, happened and why. The events related to the killing of five people by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party during a protest march. Seven respected individuals from the community were appointed through a democratic nomination and selection process to serve as commissioners. The commission’s civic engagement programme addressed the need to educate, inform and involve the public in truth-seeking, truth-telling and reconciliation.

What comes across in these examples is that truth and reconciliation commissions are an exercise in democracy that allow various parties in a conflict and the general public at large to seek and confront the truth about alleged injustices. They have been used extensively and effectively in investigating injustices over several decades as well as those pertaining to a single incident. They can be set up and empowered in various ways such as through legislative and executive action, citizen demand and through a mandate by international organisations.

Irrespective of how they are set up, they derive legitimacy from the people whose participation is required to make the whole exercise worthwhile. Finally, while the tasks that they face are tricky at best and highly contentious at worst, a genuine desire to know the truth and act upon it to avoid injustices from occurring in the future is a critical ingredient of success.

In the words of the Greensboro Commission’s report: “There comes a time in the life of every community (and nation) when it must look humbly and seriously into its past in order to provide the best possible foundation for moving into a future based on healing and hope.”

The truth commission model, applied successfully elsewhere around the world, can be followed in Pakistan to allow its people to confront their own troubled past of abuse of inter-provincial relations and avoid a repeat of the 1971 tragedy. If nothing else, it can help the nation address past grievances and move forward with unity, resolve and confidence.

The challenge remains: can we move beyond rhetoric and really establish a process to bring truth and transparency to inter-provincial relations? Are we capable of solving our problems in a systematic way without resorting to agitation and sabotage?

Although, this has never been done in Pakistan’s history, there is no reason why it can’t be done now. As someone once said, “a country that forgets its own history is condemned to repeat it.”

The writer is public a policy analyst based in Santa Monica, US.

Email: athar.osama@gmail.com



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