By Dr. Khalil Ahmad
In order to secure constitutional protection for Muslims, the Muslim League argued in separatist language on the basis of a different religious identity. However, as the Congress would not budge on the issue, the Muslim League went ahead with its demand for Pakistan.
Thus, the constitutional issue was merged into a religious issue. Naturally when Pakistan came into being, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah found himself facing a dilemma: the Muslim League had been using the rhetoric of separate religious identity and now he wanted to make the new homeland a religiously neutral state as is evident from his speech of August 11, 1947.
That it could not happen, and the controversy lives to this day, proves that.
Also, that a constitution could not be framed until 1973, or while a few were framed and enforced, whatever their merit was, they could not survive, is sufficient to demonstrate the point: transforming the constitutional issue (especially the right to religious freedom) into a religious one proved disastrous for the new homeland.
That it provided various elites, including military and religious, with an excuse to exploit the absence of a constitution to their benefit is undeniable, and it was they who tried their best to ensure that no constitution should prevail in Pakistan.
The fundamental rights of the citizens, which found a mention as far back as in 1928 in the Nehru Report, remained a chimera in Pakistan until the lawyers movement brought them to the streets in 2007. Socialism, populism, religion, enlightened moderation, and a mixture of parasitism and welfarism completely eclipsed the issue of fundamental rights.
All the politics through the last six decades can be summarized thus: from the very beginning, a constitutional issue, i.e. the issue of fundamental rights of individual citizens, was confused with the issue of states control of individual citizens lives, i.e. the States right to determine what is best for its citizens including their religion.
Principally, the only point of a constitution is its ability to protect life and property and fundamental rights of individual citizens. Also, the States control of its individual citizens is a relic of the monarchical past where instead of law, the ruler was the law, and he acted like a father or mother taking care of his subjects. When law rules supreme, however, it means the laws and the State give equal protection to every citizens life, property and fundamental rights. That is why all the attacks on constitutions first require the suspension of these fundamental rights.
That brings us to two beliefs: that it is right to deprive others of their natural freedom, and that it is not. Whether those who deprive others of their freedom also try to control their lives or not is beside the point: what is important is whether this deprivation is achieved by force or by (false) law. That such rule of law, ensuring the fundamental rights of each citizen to live his life as he wished, was missing in Pakistan, created a vacuum which many groups and parties, religious, sectarian, ethnic and otherwise, and conglomerations of intellectual, political, business and military elites rushed to fill. That this vacuum was deliberately kept intact and prolonged is obvious.
That what is happening around us in Pakistan today again proves that the nature of the crises is constitutional. It explains the onslaught of the Taliban as a violent resurrection of that mindset which was never brought under the constitution nor dealt with constitutionally. The absence of a constitution, and when we had one, its sheer violation by all elites, intellectual, religious, political, business, and military, strengthened that mindset.
Additionally, this mindset was deliberately strengthened by all the elites to perpetuate their rule and hegemony, and to protect their parasitism. It was nourished and nurtured and trained at the cost of constitutional provisions relating especially to fundamental rights and especially religious freedom.
So, what was sowed by the intellectual, political, religious, business, and military elites is being reaped mostly by ordinary citizens in the form of absolute insecurity that threatens their very existence without any reprieve in sight. This tragedy is deeper than our imagination can fathom: the number of Hardcore Taliban in Pakistan may well be smaller, as is repeatedly claimed these days by the political and military elites, at hundreds or thousands who will be wiped out in months, but who can enumerate the number of Softcore Taliban living amongst us! The Softcore category can be divided into active and passive. Religious groups and parties fall into the active, while the passive are those ordinary citizens who are unaware of their own Taliban mindset. This passive category openly believes in depriving others of their freedom and controlling their lives according to its own scheme of thought. That may be why we see no mass agitation against the Taliban in spite of their killing us indiscriminately.
To fight this war we first have to admit that we are in the midst of an intellectual as well as a real war. The constitution of 1973 should be the rallying point for all who do not believe in depriving others of their freedom and who believe in the fundamental rights ensured in that constitution. Not only will that help us fight both the Hardcore and Softcore Taliban but it will help bring harmony, peace, stability and happiness to Pakistanis!
The writer is founder/head of the Alternate Solutions Institute.
The article was carried by Pakistan Observer, The Post and The Frontier Post on various dates.