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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

How a single religious ideology is impacting Pakistan

According to Amjed Jaaved, the rise of TLP is an example of how a country's ideology exerts a multi-faceted impact on the country. Apart from TLP, Pakistan's predicament is that a handful of chiefs and chieftains created by the British raj still dominate its parliament, and they are not in favor of pro-poor legislation.

Every country has an ideology, explicit or implicit. A country’s institutions get adapted to its ideology whether it accelerates or retards economic growth. Though Pakistan has to conform to an interest-based international economic system, it did take measures like redesigning “interest”, as “profit-loss sharing”, and introducing Modarba, Mosharika, etc.

Karl Marx abhorred “ideology” as a tool to perpetuate the domination of the proletariat by the classes. The US ideology legalized “slavery” until anti-slavery laws were enacted. George C . Lodge and Ezra F. Vogel (eds.) discuss the impact of ideology on nine countries (UK, USA, Japan, Germany, France, Taiwan, Korea, Brazil, and Mexico).

Read more: Modern Slavery still prevalent in England’s Textile Industry

We are concerned with Pakistan. The way a politico-religious party, Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan shook the formal law-and-order apparatus of the country has stark lessons for the impact of ideology in Pakistan.

A sit-in could paralyze a formal structure of government. It may have to give in to some demands willy- hilly. The legislature that makes laws for the country may become a pawn to the party that commands infinitesimal influence within the parliament but tremendous influence without.

Read more: Is TLP dictating the state?

What counts is not political power measure in terms of numerical strength in the parliament but the number of hooligans on the street. Our prevailing climate is well epitomized in Jean Bodin’s dictum majesta est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque salute potestas, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects unrestrained by law’.

Bodin explained power resides with whosoever has ‘power to coerce’. It does not reside with the electorate, parliament, judiciary, or even the constitution. In the past, our bureaucrats, judges, politicos, and even praetorian rulers fought tooth and nail to prove that le pouvoir belonged to them.

Read more: ‘Misuse of power’: NAB files reference against Syed Murad Ali Shah

Significance of `Street Power’

Decades ago, ZA Bhutto was hanged. His supporters still remember calling his hanging a judicial murder. He was hanged though his party enjoyed grassroot support. But it lacked the nerve to bring millions on the streets. Similarly, three-time prime minister Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif could not attract it either.

In stark contrast, it was not the law, but street power that got the doomed leader, Mujeebur Rehman acquitted. Roedad Khan, in his Pakistan: A Dream gone Sour writes `Agartala Conspiracy Case was withdrawn, not because the prosecution case against Mujeeb was weak, but because over a million people were out on the streets of Dhaka’.

Roedad says, ‘Bhutto was a doomed man, once it became clear that he continued to remain popular with masses even after the loss of office and that nothing could stop him from staging a comeback in the free fair and impartial elections which Zia had promised to the people of Pakistan’.

Read more: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: A Challenge to Status Quo

When leaders like Bhuttos and Sharifs become irreverent to the masses, non-political or non-elected entities ascend in the asymmetry to make them irrelevant. According to Asghar Khan’s We’ve Learnt Nothing from History: ‘Bhutto …told me that he was sure that if I joined hands with him…We can then rule together’. The people are stupid and I know how to fool them. I will have the danda (stick) in my hand and no one will be able to remove us for twenty years”.

Bhuttos are hanged and Sharifs ousted or exiled. Bhutto was a pseudo-democrat contemptuous of the vote. So, a million pseudo-supporters sat at home instead of coming on to the streets.

As such, it should not be surprising that a handful of TLP people could immobilize the government so easily.

Read more: TLP brings Pakistan to standstill as protests erupt across major cities

No ‘leaders’, just sand dunes

Aware of the selfishness of the Indian people, the British created a class of chiefs (chieftains) to suit their need for loyalists, war fundraisers, and recruiters in the post-Mutiny period and during the Second World War.

Peek into the pre-partition gazetteers and you would know the lineage of today’s Tiwanas, Nawabs, Pirs, Syed Faqirs, Qizilbash, Kharrals, Gakhars, and their ilk.

A gubernatorial gazetteer states, ‘I have for many years felt convinced that the time had arrived for the Government to try to introduce some distinction for those who can show hereditary services before the Hon’ble Company’s rule in India ceased. I have often said that I should be proud to wear a Copper Order, bearing merely the words ‘Teesri pusht Sirkar Company ka Naukar’.

Read more: Colonialism and Post-Colonial Coolness

Some pirs (shrine holders) and mashaikh (religious scholars) even quoted verses from Holy Quran to justify allegiance to Englishman (amir, ruler), after loyalty to Allah and the Messenger (Peace be upon him)).

They pointed out that Quran ordained that ihsan (favor) be returned with favor. The ihsan were British favors like titles (khan bahadur, sir, etc), office of honorary magistrate, assistant commissioner, etc.

Gandhi astutely perceived that Indians themselves allowed themselves to be colonized for their own material interests. He lamented that Indians had become sly sycophants and willing servants of the Empire thereby proving to the world that they were morally unfit to serve the country.

Read more: Have Muslims in India fallen prey to the caste system?

About 460 scions of the pre-partition chiefs along with industrial barons created in the Ayub era are returned again and again to assemblies. Like sand dunes, they keep changing their parties depending on the direction of the wind.

However, it is questionable whether they could amass people like the TLP can on the streets. The TLP draws its support from urban centers and the martial belt Jhelum onward.

Read more: Is TLP a political “Cryptocurrency”?

Democracies turning into oligarchies

Demokratia (power of the people) could never equalize citizens. However, all democracies envisioned ‘opportunities for political participation to larger proportions of the population and across-the-board accountability. Democracy is a progressive effort to equalize citizens before the law, rather than legalizing mafias.

During the Aristotelian age, the city-states participated well in decision-making. But, as the population grew, they left participation jobs to their representative. American political dissident Noam Chomsky calls even the American people ‘a bewildered herd’.

Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchies mentions an inherent flaw of present-day democracy. The Law states that all complex organizations, including `democracies’,  regardless of how democratic they are in the beginning, eventually develop into oligarchies.

Read more: Soul searching must to revive the essence of democracy

Michels observed that since no sufficiently large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy, power within an organization will always get delegated to individuals within that group; elected or otherwise.

The American founding father James Maddison presented the idea of a senate as a bulwark against vulgarities of the Aristotelian unicameral legislature, a house of the common men (akin to House of Commons, a Lok Sabha, or a National Assembly).

Read more: Vandalism on the Capitol Hill: Food for thought for Pakistan’s democracy

The injustice in Pakistan

What a pity that demokratia (power of the people) never succeeded in equalizing citizens in Pakistan. Most nominees, even those of the Naya Pakistan party, are filthy rich. Even our lower house has no place for paupers. Then who would do pro-poor legislation? Evolve a national healthcare and education system? Ensure basic facilities and justice at the doorstep?

Media as the tertiary wing of the parliament is docile. Since the creation of Pakistan, there has been little pro-poor representation. Political order and culture, dominated by feudal, industrial robber barons, tribal dynasties or their extended clans, and mullahs, fostered clienteles’ politics.

Read more: Pakistan media: is it destroying youth potential?

Taxes become regressive, throttling the poor, and sparing the rich (owners of plazas, car fleets, ‘farm’ houses, posh idyllic mansions including those at politicians, Clifton, Sea View, and elsewhere at home and abroad).

There is abhorrence to taxing the network of supporters. A tendency to rely on or blame Uncle Sam for the country’s problems, leverage Pakistan’s geographic location to attract foreign funds instead of tapping its own resources, including its rich tax base, creating divisions in society by popularising extremist versions of the role of Islam, justifying persecution of minorities.

Read more: 10% of tax filers in Pakistan pay 45% of total tax: report

According to the United Nations’ Development Programme 2020, the feudal aristocracy and industrial robber barons together enjoy privileges of whopping Rs. 1094 billion. The feudal enjoyed Rs. 370 billion while the business tycoons  Rs. 724 billion. Being perched in the parliament, they remain the holy `untouchable’.

Obstacles to land/capital reforms

Pakistan’s constitution gives paramountcy to Islam. Islam is itself the most progressive religion. But, the problem is that, unlike Iran, Pakistan has no supra-constitutional authority to overturn such Islamic legislation which proves to be practically against the broader public interest (maslaha mursala). A case in point is Qazalbash Waqf v. Chief Land Commissioner, Punjab. Judgment in the case was pronounced on August 10, 1989 (made effective from March 23, 1990).

Read more: Is parliamentary system of governance in Pakistan a salient feature of the Constitution?

A 3-2 vote judgment of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan blocked land reforms in Pakistan. It uncannily strengthened feudal aristocracy. Pakistan can’t do away with all jagirs as did India way back in 1948 because of the afore-quoted judgment.

Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani writes in his lead judgment: “ 1. … Everything in the world actually belongs to Allah and he has granted humans the right to utilize them within the limits of divine laws…”

Read more: Pakistan Towards 2030 – Desperate need for legal and judicial reforms

He says, “There are certain obligations on the person who uses the land. The right to property in Islam is absolute, and not even the state can interfere with this right. 2. Islam has imposed no quantitative limit (ceiling) on land or any other commodity that can be owned by a person.”

“3. If the state imposes a permanent limit on the amount of land which can be owned by its citizen, and legally prohibits them from acquiring any property beyond that prescribed limit, then such an imposition of limit is completely prohibited by the Shariah,” he concluded.

The two dissenting judges, Nasim Hassan Shah and Shafiur Rahman argued that a limit on landholdings was necessary to reform society and alleviate poverty.

Read more: The diversity of opinion in Islamic thought

Need for a “social movement”

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the UNDP assistant secretary-general lamented that Pakistan’s power structure is so deep-rooted that only a “social movement”, euphemism for revolution, could change the status quo.

The bulwark against reforms is the aforementioned judgment in the Qizilbash Trust case. Could our parliament reopen the case to align it with its dream of a Medina welfare state? Medina state, like Singapore, owned all land. Are jagirs a divine or a British gift? How did the filthy rich, the feudal lords, and the industrial robber barons come into being?

Read more: Op-ed: Pakistan’s economic malaise, is there any will to tackle it?

If accumulated wealth in a few hands is rooted in wrongdoing, a considerable chunk of it should be mopped up. Peek into the pre-partition gazetteers and you would know the patrilineage of many of today’s Tiwanas, Nawabs, Pirs, Syed, Faqirs, Qizilbashs, Kharrals, Gakkhars, and their ilk.

Taqi Usmani perhaps overlooked that a feudal aristocracy was created whose generations ruled post-independence governments. Read Zahid Hussain’s article, `House of feudals’, in the April 1985 issue of the defunct Herald.

Is it anathema to look into the origin of land grants or wealth? It is eerie that the government could not stop Grand Mufti Taqi Usmani from supporting the TLP.  

Read more: Was PML-N secretly supporting TLP?

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been writing freelance for over five decades. He has served the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan for 39 years. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka et. al.). He is the author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.