Battle for Pakistan’s Soul

There are significant developments taking place in Pakistan that will have a deep and abiding impact. If the transition is done through the democratic liberal route and the rule of law underpins the new framework then one can rejoice. However, if the obscurantist right and the feudal-military forces combine in resisting, then we will face political turbulence and unrest.

There is a common string running through issues like the insurgency in FATA and Swat, executions and discovery of dead bodies in Baluchistan or Swat, petition for recovery of missing persons, prosecution of Christians under blasphemy laws, daily reports about violation of human rights, refusal of state institutions to be accountable to lawful authorities, phenomenon of the Red Mosque and myriad reports of mega corruption. One could argue that these are different matters. That may be so on the face of it, yet these are indicators of a fractured state, where rule of law and justice operates selectively.

Such situations may have been present at the formative phase of other countries. For instance reading Lord Durham’s Report on Canada presented in 1829, one gets the feeling that it has also happened in Pakistan. Lord Durham saw Canada as, two nations warring in the bosom of one. However while Canada had time on its side, Pakistan does not.

The raison dtre for existence of any modern state is to provide freedom and human development. They are not meant to be religious institutions propagating divisive beliefs amongst a national group. In Pakistan we short sightedly turned the Pakistan concept into a driver of beliefs. In 1977 Gen. Ziaul Haq changed the motto of the military to Iman (faith), Takwa (peity) and Jihad fe sabil Allah (Jihad in the name of Allah). From 1977 to 2010, the military ruled Pakistan for twenty years and changed its objective from the provision of freedom and development to international evangelicalism.

Political scientists understand that it is destructive for state institutions to challenge the judiciary. The current stand-off in the judiciary’s attempt to learn about disappearance of Pakistani citizens from Adiala jail is an explosive issue. The refusal of intelligence services to assist the Supreme Court in discovering the whereabouts of the missing, despite the allegation that they were charged for the attack on the GHQ, threatens the transformation of Pakistan into a civilized state.

Unfortunately, instead of prudence we are witnessing the drawing of battle lines. Clearly, the Supreme Court’s vision of reconstituting institutional balance and to hold persons accountable is being thwarted. During the regime of Gen. Musharraf’s a large number of Pakistanis disappeared; the estimates vary from eleven hundred to many more. The relatives of the disappeared naturally want to know; this issue will just not die.

It appears that before Pakistan becomes a people friendly state multiplying happiness and peace, it will need to clean its dirty linen that has gathered over the years. One method of achieving it is to create institutional balance and coherence; for that to happen it is necessary for all state organizations to be answerable to Parliament and to be accountable to the courts. In this context two reforms are essential. Firstly, disclosure and discussion of the defense budget in Parliament and secondly, passage of legislation that prohibits the arrest and detention of civilians by the military. Under India’s counter insurgency doctrine, military’s interaction with civilians can only occur under an authorization of a magistrate operating under the Criminal Procedure Code. The minimum that the Supreme Court must direct is to advise passage of similar legislation. It is the arbitrary, illegal and coercive handling of people in Baluchistan, Swat, and FATA that is causing conflict and instability in Pakistan.

 If for security reasons someone has to be detained then this must take place under the law and the welfare of the detainee must be ensured by having a system of independent verification by the HRCP or some other independent verifying body, so that the families of the arrested can meet their loved ones.

If Pakistan’s soul is to be saved, then let us begin our journey by implementing the reforms advocated above and provide relief to the many.

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