Disregard of international law

Published December 6, 2014
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and was federal law minister in the last caretaker set-up.
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and was federal law minister in the last caretaker set-up.

A VERY large section of teachers at seminaries and religious scholars refuse to see Muslims as anything other than a single organic ummah. For them, the resort to coercive methods against those seen as threatening this organic whole is kosher.

In international terms, this means that they are oblivious to the legal development of the UN Charter and the many treaties that prohibit a subject of a state to unilaterally resort to such methods irrespective of religious motivation.

In justifying the use of any means and methods against a perceived enemy of the ummah, such teachers and scholars disregard the barriers and frontiers of legal frameworks.

This line of thinking has nurtured a mindset that is set to operate independently of the discipline of the state — and, by extension, of the international community whose laws and regimes have been recognised by the state.

Also read: Muslim world’s silence

This mindset can visualise its own cause, select its own target, and take a decision to deal with the target on its own terms and prepare itself further to use force anywhere, anytime, against anyone. These actions can manifest themselves in terrorist strikes that are in complete violation of the recognised legal principles of protecting civilians and civilian properties. Worse, this mindset is eliciting support through distorted interpretations of religious injunctions.

It is in this context that I maintain that systematic and state-supported awareness of international law could become an effective tool to de-radicalise youth that is swayed by the propaganda disseminated by non-state actors.

It also needs to be explained to many Muslims that the successes and failures of battles at the present time can no longer be gauged through a military perspective. Victories for states are now defined in terms of their ability to negotiate their positions successfully in treaties and international forums to extract maximum benefits in bilateral relations on the table.

They have to participate intelligently in the process of global lawmaking to secure their own interest — with this process of lawmaking continuing on an almost daily basis through hundreds of international law organisations. With these realities, it is necessary that the Muslim mindset move away from seeing the modern version of Salahuddin Ayubi (the state’s readiness for battle in general terms, not necessarily against a particular entity) as the only symbol of a state’s strength and victory, and instead invest in intellectual pursuits and areas of research as pegs for future victories.

There is a need to explain all these issues to students in madressahs, to their teachers and to scholars of Islam, so that they begin to appreciate the contribution of global adherence to international law and development. This appreciation will hopefully lead to a realisation that compliance with international law, even by a state’s citizens, is beneficial for all.

These scholars can hopefully then link the vision of Islam as a religion of peace with the ultimate direction of international law, which also promotes peace. Barring a handful of scholars such as Dr Muhammad Hamid Ullah, most have not exhaustively explored the synergy between modern international law and such a vision.

Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find significant literature written in the last 60 years by scholars on Islam in Pakistan, India, Egypt or Saudi Arabia that compares or even analyses international law instruments that are binding on Muslim states including Pakistan, and are unable to assess their implications in a progressive light.

It seems that Muslim scholars have carried out their discourse and debate in the subcontinent without factoring in developments in international law. They have never paid attention to the number of treaties that their respective states have ratified. They have never discussed the text of those treaties in their scholarly work. They have never analysed the benefits or disadvantages of such texts and treaties.

In fact, they would do well do delve into their own history. All schools of thought in Islam accept that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) always honoured the commitments made with other tribes through treaties, regardless of the positive or negative implications of such treaties. Extending the same spirit to the year 2014, one can easily argue that honouring treaties and texts one is bound by, such as the UN Charter, the ILO Conventions, counterterrorism resolutions etc is a continuation of that tradition.

At the same time, we should be clear that a citizen in this day and age can be critical of a treaty entered into by the state although he cannot himself violate it. If a state has entered into a treaty of non-intervention with a neighbouring state, then its citizen is equally bound by the covenant, irrespective of his commitment to jihad or belief in extremist ideology.

In fact, scholars of Islam in the Muslim world need to start viewing international treaties that bind states to peaceful methods as milestones in man’s spiritual journey too. In the light of this, as well as the fact that history has shown the extreme utility of putting in place the building blocks of peace, there is no justification for shunning treaties and undoing the progress achieved so far.

Scholars of Islam in the subcontinent need to evolve a fresh approach towards new realities and include developments in international law in their research. Not many realise that the best works and poetry produced by Allama Iqbal in the context of the ummah as a whole, without any treaty boundaries, were written in the years before the signing of the UN Charter in 1945.

The Charter declared unlawful all aggression, declared any acquisition of territorial title through force as illegitimate, and indicated that collective well-being had to be preferred over war. This completely transformed the context in which Iqbal had written some of his best and most popular works. Therefore, even his work should be understood in the context of the shift in goalposts in the international legal order.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and was federal law minister in the last caretaker set-up.


Published in Dawn December 6th , 2014



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