A plague of saviours

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

  •  Musharraf’s specific contribution to the toxic cauldron in which Pakistan’s polity stews and bubbles was the imposition of his military will without a declaration of martial law. The visible outcome a bit more than a decade later is a widespread non-perception of any infallibly observed and consistently applicable laws at all. Civil law was clearly treated as of no consequence in the ‘countercoup’ and it died without a whimper. No one heard justly esteemed legal personae renowned as civil rights champions and constitutional experts haranguing military trespass.

The simple fact on the ground was that Nawaz Sharif was using his party’s once popular absolute parliamentary majority (there had been extensive disgust with the presently hallowed Benazir in her second tenure) to make legal nonsense of its origin: The legislature or rather too many of its members were on the verge of legislating the PM’s office repugnant dictatorial political powers. Musharraf averted Sharif’s obtaining these legally by appropriating them for himself unlawfully. Why was the interventionist COAS more representative of popular as well as intellectual sentiment at that juncture than the democratically elected prime minister? Because he blocked the misapplication of Islam in politics that Nawaz Sharif was using to whitewash his proposed 15th Amendment.

The point to be made here is that it is not just a COAS Vs PM tussle our political experiences have familiarised us with, but a religious practice Vs democratic practice choice that is constantly if variously posed us. There is a lingering and misleading assumption that a martial law or fidelity to the supremacy of civil authority choice is mirrored in what we view as an Islamization or parliamentary democracy option. Civil politicians and military dictators have, as demanded by the times, been exponents of either.

Their formulaic mutations have coalesced to form the electorate’s present dilemma: What is to be defended or trampled over in the case of a challenge – universal human rights or homeland security, a particular tangential cleric’s writ or a nationally accepted constitution’s? Is the constitution inviolable? Set in stone? Amendable – but not entirely? Who decides?

It is embarrassing illogic if a soldier legislates from behind the barrel of the gun, but religious political coercion is condemned. The deep flaw in our present retort to religious hectoring and violence is that it overlooks the latent threat that military political vanity and appetite pose civil polity. Not enough voices are heard asking the military to reaffirm and publicly demonstrate to nervous civilians that it is not autonomous and obeys the elected prime minister. Politicians choosing to remain outside the parliament they vilify and would like to have reconstituted seem ready to drown the baby and smash the bathtub if they don’t fill its waters. Leaders and public representatives continue unedifying party manoeuvres. Many would rather try CJs sans their gowns than COAS-es sans their uniforms.

 

 This reassuringly reminds that the force of public opinion is not held down even by the barrel of the gun and the carrots and sticks of party preferment.

But it was also civil political aspiration and the popularly evidenced desire for the restoration of the spirit of the rule of law (galvanised by CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry’s resolute stand) that effectively stripped Musharraf of his ill-gained civil powers despite the politically accommodative NRO.

This reassuringly reminds that the force of public opinion is not held down even by the barrel of the gun and the carrots and sticks of party preferment. It does not ride on containers, nor does it adopt the rhetoric of populist demagoguery media thrives on. And so, despite the agony of appalling and inexcusable terrorism we are experiencing, it is hard to imagine the stale Taliban module or the state of the art IS becoming national writ in Pakistan, let alone staying so – People don’t like it.

But rejection of obscurantist and perverse political modules is not to be taken as meaning that the conservative sensibilities and traditional preferences of the majority of our population are not often offended; and that the voice of political liberalism media discourse familiarises us with is not often vapid, shallow and ventriloquist.

Actually the exercise of political power has never had a semantically secular mode here and probably never will for we are a religious people – including our deeply injured minority communities. The global market does not take precedence over the moral ethic with us whatever the name and the intensity of our religious faith. Yet, in another sense, we will always be as secular in our political mindset as anyone in the west who thinks democracy cannot survive when it puts expansion – be it in terms of power or profits – above the moralities of human rights and toleration of dissent and pluralities in modes and norms: For that is what the majority’s Islam enjoins and democracy too preaches.

India’s Muslims wanted to create a homeland for themselves, but certainly never any military marauder’s or religious bigot’s specifically coercive one. Pakistan’s Muslim majority holds dear its founders’ vision.