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Contextualizing theocracy & egalitarian  

Dr. Ikramul Haq


After 74 years of independence, unending, fruitless debates about the raison d’être of Pakistan’s creation continue to exasperate, especially after handing over of power to Taliban by the United States and its allies and likely establishment of a theocratic state. The arguments to justify a state, purportedly created in the name of religion, yet a ‘Republic’, will always remain unconvincing. ‘Republic’ derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the general body of citizens and precludes monarchy and clergy. Pakistan, run predominantly under the laws enacted by colonial masters, till today is a controlled security state where clergy is used to gag the sane voices. Are we moving now in Afghanistan towards a pure theocratic state, not a republic, but Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Since the situation is still not clear, it will be discussed in the next column.

Clergy’s oft-repeated claim (though totally misconceived) is that divorced from religion, politics is “changezee” (chaos, anarchy and disorder). What Iqbal emphasises in couplet is entirely different—higher values (deen) should be part and parcel of governance. Religious parties interpret it to assert that politics and religion are inseparable. They conveniently ignore the first stanza—Jalali padshai ho ya jamhori tamasha. If both stanzas are read together, Iqbal debunks both monarchy and democracy, if sans deen that is not “religion” of clergy but based on Quranic socio-economic justice—egalitarianism.

 جلالِ بادشاہی ہو کہ جمہوری تماشا ہو 
جدا ہو دیں سیاست سے تو رہ جاتی ہے چنگیزی

About 43 countries in the world have a state religion—Islam is the official religion in 27 countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as well as North Africa and the Middle East. Many state religions have roles that are largely ceremonial. Some have official religions primarily as a legacy of history. The issue in our peculiar context can be understood by examining the case of Bangladesh. In March 2016, the High Court of Bangladesh, while reconfirming that Islam is official religion of the country, made it clear that the State will protect “equal status” of other religions. Earlier, the Court in its decision of July 28, 2010 barred the use of religion in politics. Bangladesh’s original constitution barred the use of religion in politics [At the end of the story a person commented: “Excellent! Bangladesh has good educated leadership. I suggest them to make best use of technology to become a model for other Muslim countries. Space science and nanotechnology can lead Bangladesh to sky. Wish you all the best. You are lucky that you got good leadership”].

Many believe that dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 exploded the myth that the “sole” purpose behind creation of Pakistan was establishment of an Islamic state. According to them, the two-nation theory, based on the foundation of religious divide of Hindus and Muslims, received irrecoverable setback when the Bengalis, maltreated by the ruling elites, ultimately decided to say goodbye to Islamic Republic of Pakistan—proving that socio-economic factors, and not religion, play decisive role in politics. Absence of egalitarian Pakistan was root cause of dismemberment.     

Ziauddin Sardar (born in Lahore, left Pakistan in 1960 at the age of nine, now author of not less than fifty books having world-wide acclaim of a public intellectual specialising in Muslim thought) aptly observed: “If you equate Islam with state, then religion becomes a reason of the state and that state becomes the power of religion. Basically you produce a totalitarian system.”

According to critics, Objectives Resolution, made part of Constitution [Article 2A] by General Ziaul Haq, was a departure from the ideals of Quaid-e-Azam of making Pakistan an egalitarian state. They say that declaring Islam as state religion is negation of egalitarianism. Dr. I.H. Qureshi, the chief author of the Objectives Resolution, a well-known academic historian admitted “Resolution was quickly prepared and passed ‘in a snap’ at a meeting of the Muslim League Party.” At the time of presentation of Objectives Resolution, Pakistan was not Islamic Republic. Its structure was republican fully in line with the Indian Independence Act of 1947.

Dr. Ajeet Jawed has documented in ‘Secular and Nationalist Jinnah’ that Quaid-i-Azam did not want a theocratic state. Throughout his political career, he struggled against both Hindu and Muslim extremists. After independence, the feudal class with the help of its cronies—bureaucrats, clergymen and men in khaki—soon managed to hijack the new state and converted it into Islamic Republic—a mere nomenclature whereas the political, economic and legal systems remain that of colonial masters. Even in the very beginning, these classes tried to tamper with the famous speech of the Quaid, but failed to do so as Dr. Ajeet noted in his book: “it was allowed to be published in full only after Dawn’s editor, Altaf Hussain, threatened those who were trying to tamper with it to go to Jinnah himself if the press advice was not withdrawn.”

For building an egalitarian state, Dr. Ajeet writes, the Quaid sought the help of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, because, as he said in his letter to Badshah Khan, he was “surrounded by thieves and scoundrels” through whom he could do nothing. With a mass of evidence, Dr. Ajeet has established that the Quaid remained a secularist and nationalist up to the last moment of his life. Thus attempts to make Pakistan a theocratic State is a great betrayal.

Late I. A. Rehman summed up the entire debate aptly in his article,‘Jinnah’s new Pakistan is possible’,as: “Those who wish to save or reconstruct Jinnah’s Pakistan will do well to avoid following the Quaid’s actions that were determined by time and circumstance….. in order to progress Pakistan must continue to be defined by a firm commitment to constitutionalism and the model of a welfare state, sovereignty of the people, and equal rights for women and members of minority communities….”

Hussain Nadim in his op-ed, ‘Get over Jinnah’s Pakistan’,has opined that the unending debate about ideals of Quaid is not serving any useful purpose, rather it is “polarising” society. He says that there should be a more general consensus “such as: Jinnah only wanted a prosperous Pakistan”. So we must pose the right question: why can we not have an egalitarian Pakistan?

Since becoming “Islamic Republic” in 1963—a gift of military dictator—we have miserably failed to establish a true democracy as the concept of state religion contradicts that of “republic”. Hence, though legislative powers vested with the elected members (labelled as “non-pious” by Mullah), the clergy successfully blocks through street power what they call “anti-Islamic laws” This is the problem of a state religion. In societies like us or one going to be established purportedly by Taliban, it becomes a tool of oppression in the hands of clergy, non-elected institutions and exploitative classes.

In Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the vast majority is living below the poverty line. They have no access to clean drinking water, health, education, and other universal entitlements. The exploitation by the ruling elites continues unabated. The men in khaki, businessmen-turned-politicians, and absentee landed aristocracy (especially pir-cum-waderas) will keep on resisting Pakistan as an egalitarian state as it will deprive them of power and money through which they exploit and control the masses. Islamic Republic suits them—religion for them is justification to perpetuate exploitation. The label of “Islam” with “Republic” is only of cosmetic value. We are neither Islamic nor Republic. We are predatory state for the rich and mighty and for serving the interest of a few. The promise enshrined in Article 3 of Constitution which says: ‘The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work“, in Islamic Republic of Pakistan is still an unfilled dream. Will it be different in Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan? The time will tell. Once “reformed” let Taliban prove it by their actions! Till then it will be unfair to draw conclusions and make comparisons.     


The writer, Advocate Supreme Court, historian, and researcher, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

Email: ikram@huzaimaikram.com; Twitter: @drikramulhaq.

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