DAWN - Editorial; July 22, 2007

July 22, 2007


After the verdict

WITH the landmark judgment on the CJ reference case issue delivered after 43 agonising days, it is time all sides sobered up and looked to the future. The time for recriminations and bitterness is over; what lies ahead is the more challenging task of building and strengthening democratic institutions. The judiciary will also have to prove that it will not allow the present state of euphoria to interfere with the norms of justice, especially in an election year when it may be required to sit in judgment on matters of vital constitutional and political significance. The legal community’s struggle shows that the challenges to the rule of law and perhaps to the very essence of democracy can be addressed by legal and constitutional means. Barring some exceptions, where over-enthusiasts among the protesting lawyers behaved in a way that was beneath the dignity of their profession, the campaign against the presidential reference and the treatment meted out to the country’s highest judicial adjudicator was by and large peaceful. The lawyers’ campaign also showed that a noble goal can unite disparate elements in a joint struggle for the good of the nation.

When it comes to strengthening democracy, certain bitter truths must be accepted. It is true that the attacks on democratic institutions have come from dictators. But at times the opposition of the day too behaved in a way that harmed the cause of democracy. Many times in our history, the opposition found itself unable to control the mob fury it had unleashed and rejoiced over a dictator’s fall. The end-result was that, instead of democracy, another dictator took over. Then the process began all over again, often with the same result. We also saw how during the period of political governments — 1988-1999 — the opposition had no other aim except that of overthrowing the rivals’ government. In the process, the politicians had no qualms about appealing to the army to “do its duty” — to usurp power. This short-sightedness must be avoided. Often, our politicians seem to forget that the country’s economic development is not the responsibility of the ruling party alone; it is the joint responsibility of the entire nation, and for that it is the duty of all political parties to focus the nation’s attention on economic development, especially on the acquisition of science and technology, so that the people of Pakistan can enjoy the fruits of modern life. This points needs to be emphasised, because repeated wheel-jam strikes and mob violence have paralysed the economy and discouraged foreign investment and the transfer of technology. Let us also accept the harsh reality that some religious parties have deep sympathy for elements which are behind the current wave of suicide bombings. Opposition to the government’s policies, internal and external, does not mean that one should express it in a way that leads to widespread bloodshed and anarchy and threatens to destroy the country itself. The wave of bombings in recent days has shaken Pakistan to the core. While the government, no doubt, gets a bad name, the acts of terror demoralise the people and send signals that prompt foreign governments to talk of intervening in Pakistan militarily. The horrible consequences of such a possibility should persuade all Pakistanis to unite irrespective of political affiliations and eradicate an evil that is eating into the nation’s vitals.

Learning from history

SPEAKING at a conference commemorating the centenary year of the All India Muslim League, distinguished scholar Dr N.A. Baloch cautioned against viewing the freedom movement through the prism of sentimentality. Sadly, objectivity has been sorely missing from our reading of the country’s history in all its aspects, dating from the era of ancient civilisations to independence and beyond. Since 1947, successive political dispensations have sought to glorify certain historical aspects and glossed over others, either in the name of ideology or in pursuit of limited agendas. The result has been a fragmented understanding of the events that have shaped us as a nation. The dates may be there in a sequential order but truth and objectivity have fallen victim to the selectivity of chroniclers — politicians, academicians, military men etc — many of whom have either distorted events or been selective in their narration of these. Official versions of history have made their way into textbooks, leading to fuddled concepts and blinkered views among teachers and students. With no application of logic or analysis, the result is that few question the interpretation of history, and readily accept whatever version is presented, thus rejecting the natural flow of historical continuity.

Do our leaders realise what this means? Apart from its debilitating impact on the national intellect, such disregard for the truth in its entirety has dealt a blow to our collective psyche. On what platform can Pakistan’s diverse communities unite when no solid base has been provided for national integration? How can differences of religion, culture and ethnicity be fused when the focus is kept on particular phases of history to the exclusion of others? Unfortunately, it is our myopic interpretation of the past that has kept us from evolving into a cohesive society, one that is tolerant of all communities and accommodates diverse viewpoints. Sober reflection on past failures while celebrating a rich historical heritage is the way forward for a nation that wants to overcome the divisive forces of dogma and historical selectivity. There is no doubt that the truth can hurt. But, in the long run, it can also expedite the healing process.

Doctors for Lahore BHUs

IF the Punjab government is able to live up to its promise and ensure that all 37 of Lahore’s Basic Health Units have a doctor on the premises, it will be a good deed done. This is not to suggest that the government has completely neglected its responsibility towards the health sector but it has, unfortunately, not taken the right steps to ensure that the BHUs are run well. Part of the problem the BHUs are facing is that the doctors are working there on a rotational basis. This means that patients do not know whether their area’s BHU has a doctor on call when they go there. The executive district health officer says that they are recruiting doctors for this purpose, which one hopes will be done soon for every BHU. The government also needs to ensure that BHUs are properly equipped to handle the cases they receive as a doctor alone cannot provide the care needed. It has given Rs20 million to repair BHUs in the city which is a step in the right direction, but it must be matched by a commitment to ensure that all units are functioning well with the necessary paramedics, equipment and medicine available.

The Punjab government deserves some credit for improving things in the health sector — for example, providing free treatment to emergency patients in major hospitals — and also for increasing the health budget by 22 per cent this year. But it is by no means enough as health is one of the most neglected sectors in the country and the poor still suffer for not having proper access to treatment. This is why BHUs were formed in the first place. Their maintenance and operations must also be improved. Doctors should be sent to work at BHUs as part of their training so that they can fill a vital need.

Lal Masjid: our day of shame

By M.P. Bhandara

AFTER December 16, 1971, when the Pakistan Army surrendered in Dhaka, the Lal Masjid episode is our second ranking day of shame. Why so? There are five reasons:

One: This episode represents the culmination by way of thought, word and deed, everything contrary to the Quaid-i-Azam’s hope for the new state of Pakistan, which he single-handedly created.

I dare say, were the Quaid alive today he would have preferred to live in exile rather than in the Pakistan of today where AK47 gun-toting suicide bombers, masquerading as clerics, are honoured with the titles of Maulana and Ghazi and Shaheed (when dead) and where religious bigotism, sectarianism and fanaticism are the order of the day.

The Quaid would have never wanted to live in a de facto theocratic state.

Two: The Lal Masjid episode amply displays the feebleness of the state when facing fanatic aggressiveness.

The entire Jamia Hafsa next to the Lal Masjid is an illegal construction built on encroached land that was never given, allotted or sold to the seminary. The seminary is one big scam in the name of religiosity. The value of the illegally occupied land is said to be around a billion rupees. How do such things happen? A phone call to the CDA from some high-up: “Please lay off the madrassah encroachment, they are doing a great job of educating the youth in the way of Allah. Besides, they are our hand-fed terrorists fighting the anti-terrorist war.” That does the trick.

Bottom-line: A law should be passed making it mandatory for all office-holders, on receipt of an ‘advice’ from above, asking a blind eye to be turned on an illegality, to record the same and so inform the giver. Someday a court may be required to examine the genesis of each illegality or violation of the law.

Three: The deputy cleric of the Lal Masjid was caught red handed with weapons and bomb-making materials in the boot of his car; he was let off on the ‘advice’ of a federal minister.

Burqa-clad women carrying ‘lathis’ occupied the children’s library next to the seminary last January. No FIR, no action was taken to evict the squatters. This single act of brazen defiance triggered what were to follow next: the abduction of ladies of alleged easy virtue, vandalising music shops, kidnapping of Chinese health clinic women and provoking a protest from the People’s Republic of China; kidnapping of policemen on duty, culminating in the setting up of a ‘Shariat court’. We can be thankful that no copy cat felonies arose in other madressahs all over the country.

Bottom line: ‘A stitch in time saves nine’.

A suo motu inquiry should be held by the Supreme Court into this sorry episode right from the time of illegal encroachment and construction to the bitter end involving the loss of over a hundred lives, and hold to account those who ‘intervened’. This Jamia is said to have housed 4,000 talibs; the monthly expenditure of this “hostelry” must have been no less than Rs10 million.

A prime focus of the inquiry will be to source the funding of this enterprise. One expects the CDA to reclaim its ‘lost’ land without succumbing to the usual pressure.

Four: our intelligence services appear to be unaccountable to any known entity or authority. The ISI remains an enigma wrapped in mystery. Its real budget is unknown. I recall a head of one of our foreign missions informing me about two years back that an ISI officer in his embassy procured some information which cost thousands of rupees.

The following day the head of the mission chance-visited a local bookshop and found the ‘information’ in a book sold freely. What use is our ISI if it has not penetrated a major centre of terrorism, as was apparent in the Lal Masjid episode?

The government was intimidated by a threat of mass suicide bombers: a good intelligence agency would have called off the bluff.

Bottom line: Any institution accountable only to itself will eventually go feral.

There should be an intelligence committee of parliament consisting of a blue ribbon membership. The committee will not be expected to go into the details of any major intelligence operation but have an oversight of operations involved and costs of these. It will also ensure that the law is observed by our spooks. All unaccountable intelligence agencies have a penchant for provoking ‘ghost’ wars. Let me provide an example of the usefulness of an oversight parliamentary committee on intelligence.

On the termination of the Soviet-Afghan war in 1986, a number of unemployed ‘jihadists’ of different nationalities and organisations offered their services for ‘jihad’ in Kashmir. From the intelligence point of view, it seemed an attractive idea at the time to transfer these jihadists (of whom a fair number were highly paid mercenaries) from Kabul to Kashmir. They were credited to have rolled back the Soviet Union in Afghanistan (a claim that was only partially true, the Stinger missile was the other part). This dovetail opportunity was seized upon forgetting no two sub-rosa wars are alike.

A parliamentary committee might have injected a different view. The aims of the jihad and Kashmir liberation were widely different. The aim of the jihad was a Taliban-type Islamic state while the Kashmiris wanted, first and foremost, the expulsion of the Indian army. Historically plural and sufist for centuries, Kashmir would regard Wahabism a burden as great as the Indian occupation army. Our ghost war in Kashmir ended up polluting the cause of Kashmiri liberation.

It seems only proper to have a civilian-cum-political input in any such intelligence venture.

Five: Today’s madressah is vastly different from the Sindh Madrassah of the 19th century where the Quaid once studied. Today, some of our major madressahs produce brain-washed robots, as happened in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. The young mind is extremely impressionable and can easily be educated in botany or bomb-making; geometry or guns. The jihadists, like the communists and fascists of the last century, instil the single idea unto impressionable minds. W.H. Auden has summed up the single idea utopist in the following memorable lines:

And make it his mature ambition / To think no thought but ours /

To hunger work illegally / And be anonymous.

Bottom line: Madressahs which refuse to accept the law of the land must be closed down or their managements removed. The state should take over these institutions and run them. Privately-run madrassahs funding should be strictly monitored.

The State should enter the madressah education system, as is the case now in Iran and increasingly in Saudi Arabia, where state appointed teachers are employed.

I have said earlier that our Quaid would not have lived in the political environment of present-day Pakistan. Why so? The highest consideration in his mind was for ever Muslim unity.

He was opposed to mullaism — which he referred to as ‘theocracy’, because its derivative is sectarianism and disunity. The mullah in history has been the harbinger of Muslim disunity. The fall of the great Mughal empire can be directly attributed to the parochialism of Aurangzeb which was the opposite of the pluralism of Akbar and non-sectarianism of Babar.

For Jinnah, the eternal message of the Qur’an was to be ingested. It sets a personal standard for each Muslim for truth, honesty, tolerance, piety, knowledge and abhorrence of hypocrisy. These were the attributes of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The community is thus uplifted by an internal individualist dynamic and not by the fiat of external compulsion.

To strengthen the Muslim state, Jinnah held that faith was a personal matter — not a trumpet for regimenting believers, and, if it becomes the latter, it would impose a thousand cuts on the Muslim body politic. And this exactly is what has come to pass.

It would not have mattered to the Quaid whether or not Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan attended his Namaz-e-Janaza —whether he was a Qadiani, Christian or Buddhist. What mattered was his resolute advocacy of Pakistan’s case on Kashmir at the UN.

The Quaid’s motto of ‘work, work and work’, derived from the Islamic injunction to seek knowledge. Muslims worldwide are far behind the Jews, the Christians, the Buddhists and the Hindus. It is the knowledge-based industrial power which has outpaced Pakistan in relation to India and the West.

We ask ourselves over and over again to our utter shame: would our Quaid be happy to live in today’s Pakistan? How would he react to the fact that some of the religious parties which opposed his concept of Pakistan tooth and nail and even tried to assassinate him have now become the purveyors of Pakistan’s ideology?

The truth is that his enemies have won the battle for the Pakistani mindset and that he is no more than a picture on our walls and currency notes. Sixty years of Pakistan have been by and large unworthy of its Founder.

There is little doubt that were the Quaid with us today, he would have fought the battle for the Muslim soul and Pakistan all over again.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007