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The art of justice

November 28, 2011


Selective outrage is a national pastime – and it’s becoming incredibly infectious. Those who profess to hold the up banner for liberalism are inconsistent whilst they condemn home grown religious extremism they show reluctance in condemning US foreign policy in the region. Whilst those who claim to speak in the name of a religiously tinged nationalism cannot bring themselves to admit that although American foreign policy has created a fragile situation in Pakistan, some of the fundamental problems facing the nation come from within its own institutions such as the unconstitutional interference of the Army in political affairs. In the process Pakistani politicians and intellectuals have lost the art of justice.

The art of justice is more than just producing flashy rhetoric – it’s all about asking the difficult questions that most of us would prefer to hide under the pretence of patriotism, ideology or religious dogma. Today in Pakistan there is an atmosphere of polarisation where real justice, in terms of observing a critical distance from power is lost. So let’s lay down the agenda – condemning religious extremism and the insanity of American foreign policy are not mutually exclusive. It is imperative for Pakistanis to reorient themselves with a fresh understanding of justice that is universal and consistent. Human suffering is a universal fact of this world and if you are outraged then you must be prepared to be consistent in your outrage.

The latest Nato attacks on Pakistan are a blatant example of injustice and calls into question Pakistan’s relationship with the West. Beyond the crude dichotomy of total isolation and utter subservience to American hegemony there must lie another way. Pakistan’s participation in this so called “War on Terror” has shaken its foundations to the core; it has exposed pre-existing problems and created more difficulties. The story of Pakistan’s turbulent political history cannot be read in isolation from geopolitical events and the actions of international power or by ignoring the phenomenon of home grown terrorism and radicalism.

Nor can we ignore the gargantuan failings of our so called “civilian” politicians and parties such as the PPP. It can be safely said that after Zia, the biggest disaster for democratic liberalism in Pak is the PPP – people acting in its name but producing nothing but a nepotistic dystopia. The actions of this party and its woeful record on the economy, foreign policy and domestic affairs have left a tarnished legacy for Pakistani liberals to confront. For those who call for civilian supremacy, are they willing to consider the records of corruption, political malpractice and violence that has characterised Pakistan’s woeful experience of democracy?

But civilian supremacy must equate to more than simply having elections – there must be demonstrable accountability and transparency in the performance of the Armed forces. The actions of the Army must be within the parameters of the democratic framework and its performance scrutinised by both the parliament and public opinion.

The loss of precious life should awaken Pakistanis to the fact that America is not a friend. This is nothing unique to American power – because the fact is that all great power has no friends it only has interests. And Pakistan must look after its own interest and safeguard the liberty and security of its own citizens first and foremost. The relationship with America has clearly undermined the Pakistani State’s responsibility of safeguarding its citizens and Armed forces. It is only logical to assume that Pakistan’s relationship with America is an abusive marriage and now it is time that the battered wife that is Pakistan be brave enough to step forward and file for a divorce.

America’s actions in the region have caused immeasurable suffering – this is a fact beyond doubt and one that we must confront head on. But having said that Pakistan has demons of its own that it has been harbouring for many decades. A principled opposition to injustice must be created – if you condemn American foreign policy then you must also condemn the atrocities and barbarities of the Taliban. The drone attacks should be protested again but so must the brutal treatment of the Ahmadis and other religious minorities such as Christians. Protest and outrage must be based on principle otherwise it becomes susceptible to the forces of political opportunism. Pakistan must reject the tyranny of both Uncle Sam and the mullah if it wishes to have the chance of determining its own destiny.

Those who try and portray any opposition to American foreign policy within the polemical framework of Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” are missing the point. Any principled opposition to American power in the region is not because there is any opposition to the ideals of freedom and democracy which are universal ideals. It is rather because American power has yielded only death and destruction. Indeed in the name of democracy and freedom American power should be opposed and criticised thoroughly.

If you truly value democracy and liberty then you will oppose American power. For decades American hegemony has crushed and suppressed the hopes and dreams of millions of people from the Shah’s Iran to Mubarak’s Egypt and beyond. The Nato attack should bring into focus one clear outcome – the future of Pakistani democracy is dependent on achieving independence from American power and American money. But looking beyond the apocalyptic consequences of American power there are uncomfortable questions to face within as well. What about the role of the Army? Is Pakistan actually a democracy given the rampant electoral fraud that plagues the system? How does the State confront the proxies that it once created in the hope of confronting its bigger neighbour India?

The reason most of our esteemed columnists and politicians do not wish to have a principled conception of justice is because it’s difficult. By tying yourself to principles you open yourself up to asking complicated questions that open up a whole can of worms that most would best leave unopened. But now is the time to grasp principle beyond ideological dogmatism or political point scoring. It is time to ask the difficult questions – no one said justice would be easy.


Ahmad Ali Khalid is a freelance writer and blogger based in the UK. He can be reached at or twitter.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.