Threats to Our Democracy

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Yasser Latif Hamdani[1]


(The definition of modernity expressed in political science terms is a system of state and society whereby social justice is aspired to, freedom of belief, ideology and conscience is fully protected and where rule of law reigns supreme.  As the Islamic World increasingly finds itself confronted with modernity in these terms, there are two responses that have been recorded as two opposing currents – the first response is to accept modernity without any discounting for Islamic principles or any attempt to reconcile the Islamic identity of the Muslims world -wide and the second response is to reject it so completely that the room for negotiation between this response and modernity ceases to exist.  Both these responses ignore one basic fundamental contention that most Muslims have, i.e. Islamic principles are universal in so much as that they can be adapted to the time and age through the internal process of Ijtehad. Therefore the standoff between Islam and modernity that seems to preoccupy the intelligentsia of the Islamic world need not be a zero-sum game. Indeed there is enough room to incorporate the fundamental perimeters of modernity within the Islamic culture without compromising either. However, the rigid legality of an Islamic Republic is – as I argue in this article- in complete contradiction to modern democratic principles on which one would like Pakistan to be based. – Author)

Pakistan’s democracy: A victim of exigencies of the Freedom Struggle

British Parliament passed its Regulating Act of 1773 to regulate the activities of the East India Company which had become all powerful in India.[i] The law itself spoke of election of directors, elevated the Governor of Bengal to the status of Governor General and introduced the “Supreme Court of Calcutta,” the forerunner of all superior judiciary in the subcontinent. Very early on the relationship between the Governor General-in-Council and the Supreme Court became a thorny issue for the constitutional jurists of the time, prompting the passage of an amending act in 1781 and then Pitt’s India Act of 1784. These sought to rectify the original problem of an overreaching judiciary on the executive (i.e. the Council of advisors to the Governor General). With time, through the various Charter Acts passed at 20 year intervals culminating in the dissolution of the East India Company in 1874, the British laid the foundations of a system of government which had some semblance of a parliamentary form of government, though it would be another few decades before the natives (i.e. us) would be involved in this government. The struggle that has been loosely termed the “independence movement” was, for a significant time in its history, aimed at achieving a responsible government, i.e. an executive that is answerable to the legislature. The British delayed constitutional advance, citing non-cooperation by Congress in 1930 as the reason, or else a responsible government for India would have been achieved then.

As a consequence of the failure to arrive at responsible government by award at a suitable stage, India had to be partitioned into two. Muslim League’s struggle for Pakistan was thus a subset of the freedom struggle and borne out of various exigencies, especially those which emerged out of the botched roundtable conferences in London. The tightrope that Muslim League leaders had to walk on to get to a set of ambiguous objectives meant that post-partition, the confusion around ideology reigned supreme even after Jinnah’s clear pronouncements.[ii] The failure of Pakistan to evolve a strong civilian government in the immediate aftermath of partition was exacerbated by the clash of geography. The freedom struggle’s biggest names on Pakistan’s side were not indigenous leaders of the areas that formed Pakistan.  This coupled with the weak organization atop a groundswell of enthusiastic support meant that Muslim League, which had seen great electoral success pre-partition, disintegrated soon after partition on account of confusion and chaos.[iii]This created an ideological vacuum in addition to a political one. The Islamic parties which had till then opposed the demand for Pakistan and the Muslim League, on the grounds that they saw both as irreligious, stepped up to fill the vacuum left by the hapless first post-independence generation of Muslim League stalwarts. Simultaneously, unscrupulous but shrewd politicians like MumtazDaultana of the League sought to utilize the street power of the Islamic parties in a most cynical way.[iv]

Another reason Pakistan was not able to deliver on its early promise of a civilian led democratic polity was because of the nature of the colonial rule in West Pakistan areas. Punjab (including modern day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) was the latest entrant to the British Indian Empire. It was thus ruled as a security state by the British which were involved in the great game in Afghanistan and Central Asia.[v] Old habits die hard. A variety of these factors ensured a centralized polity governed as a nation security state led by unelected civilian bureaucracy in cahoots with the military, starting with the premiership of Muhammad Ali Bogra and then direct military rule.

1971: Demise of the Two Nation Theory and the beginning ofIslamization

It may appear strange at first that the demise of a theory that ostensibly declared a prima facie religious group as a nation would mark the beginning of the Islamization process in Pakistan. However by defining the two nation theory in distinctly cultural terms i.e. names, diet, heroes, life style, the two nation theory was making the case for a Muslim political platform that was distinct from religious dogma and therefore was in a very real sense a secular political ideal i.e. a nation is defined by common history, cultural values and territorial homelands. It was also an overriding idea which sought to paper over doctrinal differences between various sectarian groups. More significantly, the two nation theory held Indian Muslims to be a nation – this was implied – and not all Muslims around the world.

This obviously is a contested statement with Indians especially looking at the two nation theory as the communal other of secularism.[vi] More astute thinkers from across the border have described the Two Nation Theory as “secular communalism”. In Pakistan, HamzaAlavi described the Pakistan Movement as a secular Muslim movement of the Muslim bourgeoisie.[vii] In some ways it is very similar to Zionism but unlike Zionism (which holds all Jews everywhere to part of the Jewish people) the Two Nation Theory did not lay a claim to all Muslims being part of the Muslim nation but specifically Muslims of India. Therefore it was “Indo-Muslim Nationalism” and not “Muslim Nationalism”.  The theory as put forward by Muslim League was a counterbalance to the claims of the one nation theory of the Indian National Congress that the leaders of the Muslim League thought would relegate Muslims to a permanent minority. Religion was just not the point. It was a group within a group, a nation within a nation and a territory within a territory, firmly rooted in the Indian subcontinent.

Pre-1971 Pakistan was a very different country. It saw itself as the Muslim homeland but was also a diverse and multicultural society. A large Hindu minority co-existed with the Muslim majority in the east wing.  The overarching idea of the two nation theory therefore counterbalanced the centrifugal tendencies of ethnic sub-national groups which together would form the basis of a federation. The separation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh was caused by a failure to sufficiently organize this federation on a democratic basis.  Once Bangladesh departed, the Two Nation Theory and the idea of a Muslim homeland fell apart entirely as there were now more South Asian Muslims outside Pakistan than inside it.  This is where the emphasis on Islamic ideology comes from with the additional stress factor. This coupled with the fact that there was no real opposition in the remaining Pakistan to the idea that religion should remain in the personal domain laid the foundations for an Islamic ideological rationale for Pakistan. The Constitution of 1973 reaffirmed this idea. For the first time Islam was introduced as the state religion and the office of the Prime Minister – the executive head of the republic- was closed to Non-Muslims. The two constitutions prior to 1971, i.e. 1956 and 1962, had made concessions to the Muslim identity of the state in a symbolic fashion. The head of the state, i.e. the President, had to be a Muslim. However for all practical purposes – despite lip service to Islamic principles- religion was largely a personal matter till then. Unfortunately, the way the 1973 Constitution, which is a theocratic and exclusivist constitution in its spirit, was drafted and adopted is where ideological confusion was given state sanction. The constitution was designed to protect and serve the crudest majoritarian Muslim interests and was thus bordering on fascism.

No serious attempt was made by Pakistanis to create a constituent assembly that was broad-based and representative of all positions in Pakistan. Statesmanship and equity demanded that minorities, no matter how small, should have been taken on board in any such constituent assembly especially after the departure of Bangladesh. The makeup of the residual National Assembly – post the 1971 debacle – was neither broad-based nor adequately representative of all opinion. This is because a constituent assembly has to operate on principles fundamentally different from a national legislature.

In 1973 Pakistan ceased to be a nominal Islamic Republic in the sense that the state had used the term till then- a benign recognition of the Muslim identity of the state- and set itself up as an ideological Islamic state. By introducing a state religion and creating the Council of Islamic Ideology, the 1973 constitution may have been intended to further elaborate the earliest compromise between secular Pakistani politicians and the Islamic conservatives i.e. the Objectives Resolution, but it provided the actual legal basis for Islamization that followed. General Zia’s 11 year rule that followed further consolidated that position by making substantial changes to the law and the constitution of the country.

Islamic Republic’s Straitjacket Islamization

In the month of Ramzan in 1978, General Zia suggested that the “independence day” should be celebrated every year on 27 Ramzan instead of 14 August.[viii] This was a preposterous suggestion but one which underscored just how far Pakistan’s cynical establishment was ready to invoke religious sentiments in order to achieve legitimacy. Thankfully better sense prevailed and General Zia’s ridiculous proposition was shelved. Others were not. Zia’s handpicked “Majlis-e-Shura” passed a resolution essentially calling for punishment on those who dared to suggest that Jinnah had not wanted an Islamic state.[ix] In 1983 the Council of Islamic Ideology made two important suggestions:

  1. That a presidential system was “nearest to Islam”. [x] Zia also promptly discovered a long lost diary of the founding father which stated that he preferred the presidential system. That this diary was discredited as a lie soon thereafter is another matter.
  1. Political Parties were un-Islamic, prompting 1985 elections on a non-party basis.[xi]

Another consequence of this distortion was that separate electorates were introduced for Non-Muslims and their representation capped at 5. Historically the Muslim decision, as a minority, to opt for separate electorates as an interim measure was a voluntary one. As critics pointed out, Zia’s imposition of separate electorates in a most disdainful manner upon the minorities further alienated the minorities in the increasingly intolerant ideological Islamic Republic.

A number of similar sham attempts at distorting Pakistan’s history to make it more amenable to the Islamic ideology that has been adopted by the state have emerged since Zia’s time. More recently, attempts have been made by certain quarters to introduce a new lie. A recent development is the sudden discovery of Allama Muhammad Asad aka Leopold Weiss’ role in Pakistan’s ideology.[xii] Writers such as SafdarMahmood and OryaMaqbool Jan are undoubtedly behind this distortion of history. The truth is that Asad was a member of a small provincial department which was set up by the Nawab of Mamdot.   However this points to a disturbing trend which may be called the “Zia Constituency” or “Zia’s Children”. These were the emerging lower middle classes and industrial classes that took to Zia’s narrow Islamic vision as fish takes to water. This constituency has been stronger than ever. The good thing about this is that the contradictions of Pakistan’s attempt to fit its Islamic ideology square in the round hole of history have now come out in the open, raising hopes for a resolution at some future date.

The events of 15 August 2013 have shown why Pakistan’s status as an Islamic Republic itself has become an impediment to democratic discourse.  Malik Sikandar Hayat, the would be one man army ready to storm the citadel, put it very well when he said “After all we are an Islamic republic”. He is not the first one to do so. Sufi Muhammad of Swat had said that Pakistan’s parliamentary democracy was against Islam and therefore vitiated the Islamic spirit of the constitution. So long as we have this duality in the Pakistani constitution, more would be pious caliphs would continue to emerge from the unelected sections of our government, be it the judiciary or the armed forces.

The stress factor for our democratic parliamentary form of government has come from religious sentiment.  It has now become very easy for any gun-totting mad man to drive up to our presidency and demand the imposition of Shariat of his choice. In this respect the Constitution is itself flawed. The attempt to “blend in” Islamic provisions into the constitution has created a strange duality. Introduction of state religion and the existence of bodies such as the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Federal Shariat Court seem to indicate a sense of insecurity vis a vis religion. Overwhelmingly Muslim majority Pakistan has put a censure on itself by making all law making hostage to the clergy.  The repugnancy clause in the Pakistani constitution i.e. no law shall be made in contravention to the Quran and Sunnah, has led to the question of who would be best poised to determine what is and isn’t in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah. This necessitated both the Council of Islamic Ideology (which is advisory in nature) and the Federal Shariat Court. Thus the whole system has been confined to the narrow-mindedness of the clergy.  It has also given occasion to the Supreme Court raising such issues as whether they would have to act, if tomorrow the parliament abolishes state religion and makes Pakistan a secular state. Thus implicitly the idea of the fusion of religion and state has given rise to the logic that undermines the very existence of the state.

Islam and pluralism:

“An unIslamic authority can survive but an unjust authority cannot,” said Hazrat Ali (AS), the fourth rightly guided caliph of Islam.

This simple observation has turned out to be true repeatedly all through Islamic history, most notably in the Mughal Empire. The heterodox Akbar[xiii] laid the real foundations of the empire on tolerance and justice for all communities in the realm, and his great grandson the pious and orthodox Aurangzeb Alamgir laid the foundations of its disintegration because of his discriminatory and unjust policy against Non-Sunnis and Non-Muslims. In Pakistan we have been guilty of abandoning the former for the latter; hence the myriad problems being contested in a public sphere[xiv]. The definition of modernity expressed in political science terms is a system of state and society whereby social justice is aspired to, freedom of belief, ideology and conscience is fully protected and where rule of law reigns supreme.  As the Islamic World increasingly finds itself confronted with modernity in these terms, there are two responses that have been recorded as two opposing currents – the first response is to accept modernity without any discounting for Islamic principles or any attempt to reconcile the Islamic identity of the Muslims world -wide and the second response is to reject it so completely that the room for negotiation between this response and modernity ceases to exist.  Both these responses ignore one basic fundamental contention that most Muslims have, i.e. Islamic principles are universal in so much as that they can be adapted to the time and age through the internal process of Ijtehad. Therefore the standoff between Islam and modernity that seems to preoccupy the intelligentsia of the Islamic world need not be a zero-sum game. Indeed there is enough room to incorporate the fundamental perimeters of modernity within the Islamic culture without compromising either. However, the rigid legality of an Islamic Republic is – as I argue in this article- in complete contradiction to modern democratic principles on which one would like Pakistan to be based.

The idea of practical co-existence of religious minorities in a predominantly Muslim polity is not without historical precedent. As successors of the Romans and Byzantines, the Ottomans were great administrators and empire builders. Though nominally Sunni Muslims as Turks, the Sultan-Caliphs of this great dynasty were mindful of the fact that their empire was populated by people of different faiths and outlooks. During this period, more than any other in Islamic history, the idea of a jus gentium (law of nations) governing the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims and Turks and non-Turks took root. The whole empire was organised around autonomous communities called millets.

Major millets of the Ottoman Empire were Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, Catholics and Jews. All of these were granted substantial autonomy to legislate and regulate their own affairs. Their neighbourhoods, places of worship, schools, courts and other places were protected areas under the empire with ample opportunities to develop their cultures according to their own lights and markers. Later as modern institutions took root, these millets were given a due constitutional role under the Tanzimat introduced by Midhat Pasha, the talented first minister of the Sultan in the 19th century.[xv]

The growing intolerance towards minorities, forced or otherwise, sectarian or religious, in Pakistan in recent times underscores on some level the need to revert to the Ottoman Millet System of religious pluralism. The constitution of 1973, flawed as it may be on several counts as mentioned above, does provide room for the institution of such a system. Under Article 2-A of the constitution, the Objectives Resolution, the text of which is provided in an annex to the constitution, reads: “Wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.”

Democracy v. Islamist theocratic claims

A case study of Egypt and the recent events there is instructive.  However to understand the exclusive claims of Islamists who may come to power through elections we must address the question: what is democracy? If democracy is the name of a system of government then one can safely conclude that democracy comes in many forms. Democracy is a process by which individual citizens are empowered to govern themselves independently. Thus within the definition of democracy the central plank is the idea of individual rights and freedoms as well as protection of marginalised communities. The process of democracy takes decades, even centuries, to fully develop. What is clear to my mind is that President Morsi’s rule in Egypt was neither democratic nor constitutional. How could a president who makes himself immune to judicial review be called democratic? If one concedes that mustering up a majority is democracy, then it must be remembered that even Adolf Hitler, the worst dictator in history, was elected through the German Federal Election of 1933.

By definition, democracy must not mean simple majority rule. Frederick Douglass, the great American philosopher and abolitionist, described democracy as the process of taking turns. Indeed in divided societies, such as Egypt, where a permanent majority, i.e. Sunni Muslims dominate permanent minorities, such as Nubians and Copts, any simple majority rule that imposes a certain way of life and marginalises permanent minorities is the antithesis of democracy. Even amongst the majority group there is no consensus on how one is to live and who is to determine what is a Muslim and what is not. The term Muslim is used in a variety of ways and Muslims live in a variety of ways. No one can dictate otherwise. Modern democratic states and societies cannot trample personal freedoms simply because the majority wills it. There are certain issues outside the framework of governance such as how one chooses to live one’s life or what one believes as the fundamental truth of life, which cannot be infringed upon even by the highest legislature. The sooner would-be moralists and good Muslims of Egypt and Pakistan learn this, the better. This is also the central plank of the monotheistic faith of Islam: every Muslim is his or her own priest bound by only his or her own relationship with God. There is no clergy or ecclesiastical state in Islam. Morsi’s rule was no democracy. It was a theocratic dispensation which needed to be dispensed with.

Why does one advocate unfettered constitutional and democratic rule in Pakistan while condoning what is prima facie a military coup in Egypt? Pakistan completed the transition when General Pervez Musharraf was forced to doff his uniform and then resign from office some months later. A strong judiciary, a civil society and a strong media ensure that the social and material conditions sustain a democracy. It goes without saying that in 1999 one supported Musharraf’s coup at a time when the current prime minister was moving towards becoming an Ameer-ul-Momineen. It was precisely the failure of Musharraf to deliver on his promises that has added that final argument to the repository of collective wisdom that suggests that while politicians may make a mess of things, our uniformed saviours often leave the country in a far greater mess than when they took it over. This is true of Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, ZiaulHaq and Musharraf. So by deductive reasoning, following the democratic path is the most pragmatic and reasonable thing for Pakistan to do.

Marginalization of Religious Minorities in our Islamic Republic:

When, in 1949, the Objectives Resolution was passed, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan reassured the minorities that under the constitutional dispensation so envisaged, a non-Muslim may become the constitutional head of state. The constitution thus framed several years after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination, however, closed the door to the President House on non-Muslims forever and it has been like this since 1956. Still, the 1956 Constitution was perhaps the most cognisant of Pakistan’s multicultural character and, while paying its due respect to Islamic culture and civilisation, the constitution remained non-committal on a state religion and guaranteed complete equality. This is how Prince Aly Khan, Pakistan’s representative at the UN and the father of the current Agha Khan, described Pakistan’s unique status as an Islamic Republic and an inclusive democracy on May 27, 1958[xvi]:

“Pakistan, with a personality of its own in the Muslim world, calls itself an Islamic Republic, in the sense that the overwhelming majority of its people, are of the Muslim faith and aspire to a social and political order based on justice and equality, in accordance with the spirit of the injunctions of Islam that I have quoted. The appellation ‘Islamic’, however, does not imply that Pakistan is a theocratic state, run by religious fanatics who seek to reduce the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan to the status of inferior citizens. The relevant provision of our constitution, under which Pakistan became a democratic Republic on the 23rd of March 1956, lays down: ‘Section 5 (1): All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law’.

“The constitution further nullifies as void, any law, custom, or usage, which is inconsistent with the fundamental right to equality under the law, which is an enforceable right under an independent judiciary, the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

“This means that non-Muslims are guaranteed equality with Muslims under the laws of Pakistan.

“While it is true that the president of Pakistan must be a Muslim, he is, in fact, the symbol of the state, and the executive powers are vested almost exclusively in the prime minister and his cabinet. Pakistan is not unique in basing its political institutions on fundamental religious concepts. For example, a number of European nations, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Greece and the UK restrict the office of the head of state to those who profess the predominant religious beliefs of their countries.

“The leaders of the government of Pakistan are liberal and enlightened men, responsible to a freely elected parliament in accordance with the popular will. They function entirely within the framework of the constitution and laws of Pakistan. I am well aware that the people of the US are deeply committed to the doctrine of separation of church and state. We, in Pakistan do not have an established church as such. Basically, the fundamental values and virtues which you cherish and try to practice in the US, are virtually identical with those we believe in and try to practice in Pakistan.”

The 18th Amendment reintroduced in Article 91(3) the requirement for the prime minister of the country to be a Muslim. Pakistan’s slide down the slippery slope of religiosity is quite clear. The inclusive vision for Pakistan was abandoned when Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, sought to create distinctions of majority and minority through the Objectives Resolution but Liaquat Ali Khan was quick to dispel any notion of barring any office to non-Muslims in Pakistan. Against Liaquat’s advice, the framers of Pakistan’s constitution created exclusion at the very top but left democracy unfettered by the symbolism of the Islamic Republic. Against that better judgement, a left-leaning secular minded prime minister made Islam the state religion of Pakistan, persecuted a sectarian minority and closed the door on non-Muslims for premiership as well. Then an ‘Islamist’ dictator — in a bid to reduce the office of prime minister in stature — opened it to non-Muslims again.  The 18th Amendment closed this door again. Thus marginalization of minorities in Pakistan has been imposed top down.

Sectarianism and Extremism

Though the 1973 Constitution had laid the foundations for Islamization, the hardening of the narrative came in the form of the Afghan War.  There is no doubt whatsoever that the concept of an Islamic Republic- especially if it is to mean something more than a mere assertion of cultural identity which it almost always eventually does- is completely irreconcilable with democracy in Pakistan. There are now many self-created monsters in our society. We are dealing with a sectarian monster in the form of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. It must be remembered that none of these groups have emerged organically. On the contrary, these militant sectarian organisations have thrived due to the patronage accorded to them by General ZiaulHaq in the 1980s. General Zia got the legitimacy for his actions in the name of Islam because the Constitution of 1973 that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave Pakistan has placed religion above all, which in the wrong hands (General Zia) means spawning of the hydra-headed monster that we are now faced with.

The main sectarian divide in Pakistan is the Shia-Sunni divide. Pakistani Shias are the second largest Shia community in the world. Historically they have remained cautious in their approach to politics, never over-committing and generally allying themselves with liberal forces.[xvii] General Zia’s regime changed all that.  Anti-Shia violence has accelerated and last year was the bloodiest year prompting cries of Shia Genocide.

The Shia-Sunni conflict is likely to plague democratic institutions and their operation for some time to come.  The recent elections saw candidates in certain areas making sectarian promises such as the promise to ethnically cleanse Shias in their areas.  The most notable case in this regard was that of Farid Khan, an independent MPA from Hangu who had joined PTI.  He was later assassinated.[xviii] Similarly human development and capacity building projects in certain areas have often faced Shia-Sunni trouble.[xix]

The Peripheral Challenge:

War on terror along with the deep rooted issue of tribal belts in Pakistan’s western frontiers form another stress on the democratic system. We saw the impact of the war on terror most clearly in the May 11 elections when TTP warned members of PPP, MQM and ANP against campaigning. In other words while right of center parties like PTI and PML(N) as well as the religious right were allowed a free hand, the campaigns of the three main secular centrist and left of center parties were greatly subdued in the buildup to the elections which affected their performance greatly.[xx] Often overlooked, however, are the social inequities that people on the periphery of the center face, be they along ethnic lines or religious sectarian ones.

By reframing the issue in terms of centre and the periphery in his book Thistle and the Drone, Dr Ahmed, who brings to the table his rich experience in the tribal territories of Pakistan, has shown that far from being a clash of civilisations, the whole issue is a modern problem i.e. of the modern nation state coming to terms with its various kinds of nationals. Pakistan’s problems with the frontier of course predate the formation of the new state in 1947.[xxi]One example of the cruel and discriminatory treatment meted out to the tribes is the continuing existence of the colonial Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901 in some form and the special status of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan under the constitution under which the president alone may extend a law or laws to the region. The limited application of constitutional fundamental rights and existence of discriminatory laws such as the FCR has only confounded the problems of the ‘other’, in this case, our periphery, the tribes on our northwest.

Dr Ahmed argues that the issue of the centrevs periphery is not necessarily confined to Muslim societies (he gives the example of India vis-à-vis the Nagas) but because a clash of civilisations narrative has been superimposed, the conflict within Muslim societies has been highlighted. US’ involvement in Afghanistan has only served to highlight it further. He goes on to explain that if a Muslim majority treats the Muslim periphery cruelly or unjustly, it is likely to treat non-Muslim groups, or perceived non-Muslim groups, with equal cruelty. To this end, he cites the example of Ahmadis in Pakistan who have been a victim of open discrimination sanctioned by the state, with desecration of graves like that of DrAbdus Salam, who is Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate as well as outright attacks as in May of 2010. The issue of the mistreatment of Ahmadis in Pakistan should serve as a clear indication that the narrative of the clash of civilisations is flawed. This law-abiding and non-violent community considers itself Muslim, and it has been on the forefront of the interaction of civilisations. Yet this community is very much a periphery of the Muslim centre and is treated with a contempt that is reminiscent of the Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany. One can add the Hazara Shia community to that list which, because of its specific ethnic makeup and features, is an easy target for extremists and terrorists. The clash is, therefore, very much intra-Islam.

Dr. Ahmed’s view holds water when he suggests that the center v. periphery divide would have to be resolved in all its forms for there to be a successful conclusion not just of war on terror but also the survival of Pakistan as an inclusive democratic state.

Institutional Imbalances:

An imaginatively over-active judiciary

It is tragic that many Pakistanis today question the logic behind a responsible participatory democratic government in the country. The British may have been mercantile opportunists but they did form a structure, even if to facilitate their own rule, that laid the foundations of an effective representative government. It was painstakingly constructed and forwarded through the decades, with politicians in the legislature wresting their due slowly but steadily from the iron frame of bureaucracy. This system of government is now under stress from various factors. The leading factor in recent times has been our Supreme Court, with all due respect to the apex court. How will history remember the Chaudhry Era of our Supreme Court? With all the promise that a reinvigorated judiciary had shown early on after the Lawyers’ Movement, the report card is not much to write home about. Justice is still not delivered in the country. Pakistan has not become the bastion of justice and fair play. The Supreme Court has however taken up non-justiciable political questions which has meant a disproportionate level of media attention to it.

Even otherwise Pakistan’s judiciary, with very few exceptions, has been a reactionary institution with very little to show by way of advancement of civil rights of the citizens of Pakistan. On the contrary it has legitimized military coups, dismissed and hanged Prime Ministers, overturned religious freedom, hindered redistribution of income and land and has been at the forefront of persecution of minorities in Pakistan.

Civil Military Balance:

In order to bring about a balance in civilian-military relations, Pakistan needs an immediate correction of its national narrative on military affairs. Following are a few key corrections:

1. Pakistan is a national, democratic and not an ideological state.

2. Pakistan’s armed forces are not the forces of Islam. They are part of a nation state’s security apparatus.

3. Pakistan’s armed forces are required by the constitution to defend Pakistan’s civil government against all threats, even if such threats emanate from within the armed forces.

4. A member of the armed forces of Pakistan is a Pakistani first, and then a member of the armed forces. His religion or world view is irrelevant to his duty as an officer or soldier in the Pakistani military.

5. Having been founded through the ballot and not the bullet, democracy is the lifeblood of Pakistan. There is no escape from constitutional civilian rule no matter how slow, incompetent or frustrating it is deemed to be.

6. Like all institutions in Pakistan, the armed forces – paid employees of the people of Pakistan – ought to be accountable before the people’s elected representatives in the parliament.

Is the new elected government up to the challenge?

Mr Sharif will have to make hard choices. Peace with India and regional engagement will be essential for Pakistan’s economic and political turnaround. What the Prime Minister-elect must also realize is that the soft underbelly for Pakistan and its economy is and will always be religious extremism, especially when religious extremism is aimed at persecution of minorities and dissenting points of view. A conservative government need not make Pakistan a medievalist dystopia. Had Pakistanis who voted for PML-N truly desired a medievalist dystopia, they would have given majorities to Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam-Fazl instead. The religious parties have been trounced in popular vote. Mr Sharif should guarantee — as per the manifesto of his party — full security, protection and equality to all Pakistanis regardless of their religion, ethnicity or gender.

If anyone can withstand the tide of religious extremism, it is Mr Sharif but he must take immediate steps to allay fears of religious and sectarian minorities about the various unsavory and sectarian characters which have been elected on a PML-N platform. There should be no attempt to do it alone by the PML-N. In a divided and fractured society real democracy lies in consensus building. In this the PML-N would do well to read up on the aftermath of the 1937 elections, when the Congress, having scored a complete victory through Hindu majority vote, decided to snub its allies in the UP such as the All India Muslim League. The PML-N in all possible ways represents the religious and ethnic majorities in Pakistan. It is a Punjabi-dominated party led by Punjabi Sunni Muslims, which is the dominant cultural group in Pakistan. This places an enormous responsibility on their shoulders i.e. to balance the requirements over their constituents against the legitimate demands and aspirations of smaller ethnicities, provinces, sectarian and religious minorities. As the representative of the majority in Pakistan, the PML-N should take all minority points of view along. One cannot emphasize enough that this is necessary because the only way we can end these angularities of majority and minority communities is by achieving a national compact based on justice, equity and fair play. We need a national narrative and the primary responsibility for this narrative lies with the dominant force in the country.

I do not buy the argument that Pakistan’s crisis of democracy was ordained because allegedly we founded a state in the name of religion. Pakistan was a by-product of the freedom struggle and not really a state founded on religion. The fact that it was not inevitable even as late as 1946 shows that Pakistan was not the result of millennial theocratic ambition. It is true that the weaknesses and confusion surrounding the event of its founding have been exploited by a cynical establishment for its goals but that does not mean we have to be a hostage to history.

Increasingly the contradictions between our Islamic Republic status and our aspirations for a modern democracy will come to fore, we will see that we will be forced to make a choice. Increasingly the notion of the Islamic Republic itself will become untenable for Pakistanis to hold on to because ultimately the existence of a democratic and progressive Pakistan is mutually exclusive to an Islamic Republic.

The author is a practicing lawyer based in Lahore.  He is also the author of the upcoming book “Jinnah; Myth and Reality.” He can be contacted at (0300) 555 2232 or at

[i] For a detailed account of British constitutional development under the Company Raj read K Ali’s “Modern History of Indo-Pakistan Since 1526”. See chapter on “Constitutional foundations”.

[ii] Here I refer to his 11 August speech in particular and around 30 other occasions that he expressed this vision in clear unambiguous terms.

[iii] To investigate the impact of Muslim League’s annihilation after partition on Pakistan’s nascent democratic system, read Ian Talbot’s “Pakistan: A Modern History”, Hurst and Company London 2009,

[iv]Munir Report AKA Report on Punjab Disturbances of 1953 would be an excellent bird’s eye view of this phenomenon.

[v] Ian Talbot, “Pakistan a Modern History”, Hurst and Company London 2009, see pages 53 to 65

[vi] Part of this has to do with how Indians define secularism. They do not define secularism as a separation of church and state but rather multicultural plurality to be expressed in constitutional consociationalism, a paradox in terms of history because the Two Nation Theory was itself a consociationalist scheme for power sharing.

[vii] See H. Alavi’s “Pakistan and Islam; Ethnicity and Ideology”.

[viii] Ian Talbot, Pakistan a Modern History, HURST & Company London 2009, Page 248

[ix] Ibid Page 256.

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

[xii] See for example this article on Express Tribune website: – the article is completely a-historical and a figment of its author, Osama Sajid, a student at LUMS, who was self-admittedly inspired by the incoherent ramblings of OryaMaqbool Jan, a right wing TV polemicist in the tradition of Bill O’ Reilly of Fox News.

[xiii]For a work on Akbar’s life see: Habib, Irfan (1997).Akbar and His India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press

[xiv]This despite the fact that Akbar the Great had been cited by early leaders of Muslims and the Pakistan Movement had cited Akbar as a glowing example of Muslim tolerance. See for instance Jinnah’s speech on 14 August 1947. It may also be remembered that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the ostensible father of the two nation theory, had dedicated an entire work to Akbar’s achievements.  In the 1997 edition of the Great Divide, H V Hodson claims that Pakistan was supposed to be a modernized and democratized version of Akbar’s North Indian Empire.

[xv] For an illuminating overview of Midhat Pasha’s great work read: MEHMET ÇELİK, TANZIMAT IN THE BALKANS:



[xvii] See Hassan Abbas’s “Shiism and Sectarian Conflict in Pakistan” , West Point 2010.


[xix] The author’s interview with the coordinator of the ongoing UNDP’s “Adl-o-Insaf” project reveals that in Kohat for example, majority lawyers refused to cooperate because the female lawyer in charge was a Shia.


[xxi]Dr. A.S.Ahmed, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, Brookings Institution Press (March 11, 2013)