Rescinding the concordat
Lessons from the French History
The famous `Concordat` was the agreement between Napoleon and the Pope of the Catholic Church by the virtue of which the state religion of France was declared to be `Roman Catholicism`. Even after Napoleon`s eventual exile and abdication, France was unable to shake off this part of Napoleon`s legacy. Clerics continued to be strong, and all spheres of public life in France were invaded by the Roman Catholic Church. Life became miserable for the minorities including the protestants and the jews. However it was under the leadership of two visionary leaders, Jules Ferry and later on Emile Combes that France finally threw off the cloak of religion that had blinded it for over a hundred years. Through an act of parliament in 1905 France separated church and state irrevocably, thus finding its true place as a modern nation state.
Though Pakistan has had many Bonapartist Generals, it had only one Napoleon i.e. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Constitution of 1973 which declares Islam as the state religion and the amendment declaring Ahmadis Kafir are part of his `concordat` with the religious right and obviously the pope of Islam i.e. Saudi Arabia. Like Napoleon, Bhutto has a dubious legacy. While he will be remembered for his heroism, his global vision and his genuine ambition to transform Pakistan into a world power under his leadership, he will be condemned for making the deal with the devil and agreeing to a state religion in Pakistan. No doubt it was Zia who took the issue to a whole new level, but the seed was put there by Bhutto.
States, no matter what their raison d etre, can never be run as theocracies. History has proved it abundantly, and the Muslim League leadership, which was behind the creation of Pakistan, understood it too well. Therefore even in his most communal phase, Jinnah firmly ruled out the idea of a sharia based exclusive Islamic theocracy, declaring very clearly that Pakistan would be a modern democratic state. Nothing in the Pakistan movement or the theory of `Muslim Nationalism` for that matter necessitates the creation of an Islamic theocracy in Pakistan. The issue was one of political and economic sovereignty and was never about religious theology. The rot set in with the Objectives resolution and reached its conclusion in 1973 and 1974.
Today, after Bhutto`s concordat, Ahmadis in Pakistan are discriminated in a very similar fashion to the way the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany before the war. The draconian Anti-Ahmadi laws listed in PPC 298 a b c make it a crime punishable by 3 years, if an Ahmadi was to claim that he was a muslim, or refer to his place of worship as a `Masjid`. Mercifuly the PPC claims that if an Ahmadi was to wear a badge saying the Islamic kalima it is not necessarily punishable. In the last general elections the Ahmadis were put on a different electoral roll despite all the hue and cry about `joint electorates`. Obviously the Ahmadis boycotted the polls after that which meant a loss of about 3 million voters. There are ofcourse other consequences of Pakistan’s ideological pretences than simply the discrimination against minority sects and religions of Pakistan. No doubt this ideological lens has blurred our vision be it in Economy or Foreign policy. With Islam as the cornerstone of all our policies we have sacrificed many a legitimate self interest.
The way out of this theocratic abyss, that we seem to have fallen into, is to rescind the concordat that has occured between the secular politicians and the religious right of Pakistan. This entails a new constitution which is modern and secular. But to arrive at that constitution, we need a populace which is not confused about its identity. For the last 20 years we have lied about our history. The truth is that Pakistan was not founded on some incoherent ideological demand, but was rather a consequence of history namely a breakdown of negotiations between the Muslim League and Congress Party. We need to set the record straight on this. The people of the country should not be fed religious rhetoric when explaining the foundations of Pakistan. However in order to do that one should be very clear on the facts of history. ( I for one would not leave this important task of nation building to the military men of Pakistan, who are prone to applying the Occam’s Razor to everything. In fact this is exactly why we are where we are today. You won’t even find a Napoleon in the ranks of our brave generals, air marshals and admirals.)
What Pakistan needs is a global vision of its position within the comity of nation states. No nation or state can exist in a vacuum. From 1950s onwards Pakistan saw itself in a narrow role as a frontline state against communism. Hence the religious ideology was underscored to counter a global threat. The complications which resulted from that landed us in the middle of the Pan-Islamic Afghan Jihad and then the Kashmir Jihad. Both these jihads have radicalized our society. We were forced onto the back foot by September 11th and now undoubtedly the time has come to take a complete about turn. Undoubtedly as a Muslim majority country Pakistan can play an important role in the Islamic world, but that role can be positive as well as negative. So far our contribution can not be termed as positive. If we were a functioning secular democracy, we could lead the way for other Muslim countries as well. Given our unique geographical and cultural coordinates, Pakistan as a modern secular democracy can be, along with India and Bangladesh, a bridge builder between three great civilizations of the world, Western, Islamic and South Asian. This undoubtedly was Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan and its position in the comity of nations.
I am often criticized for harking back to Jinnah. It is because as Stephen Cohen said ‘He was the first and last world class statesman produced by Pakistan’. He gave us a modern, democratic and pluralist vision for Pakistan. He spoke of an egalitarian and progressive Pakistan where all Pakistanis regardless of religion, caste, creed or gender would be live as equal citizens and he was Pakistan’s last politician who spoke of peace within and peace without. As we move into an increasingly polarized world, his enlightened vision becomes even more relevant atleast we in Pakistan can reject the concordats and all forms of discrimination that have plagued our nation for so long.