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Religion And Democracy In Pakistan – OpEd

Since 9/11, there has been a furious debate on the relationship between Islam and democracy. Many people have written on the issue. “To put it briefly, the significant democratic progress in countries such as Tunisia, Indonesia and others in Southeast Asia undermines the assertion that Islam and democracy are necessarily at odds with each other.” However, the case of Pakistan tells otherwise.

Since the beginning, religion has been entrenched into statecraft in Pakistan. The first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan passed the Objective Resolution on March 12, 1949. Since then, the Resolution has been the part of all the three constitutions of Pakistan namely the 1956, 1962 and 1973 Constitution. The Resolution weaved Islam into the polity and laid the foundations for future constitution-making in Pakistan. The original scheme of the relationship between the state and Islam under the Resolution was inclusive and egalitarian, and extended certain rights, liberties and safeguards to the minority in Pakistan. Furthermore, under the Resolution, Allah’s sovereignty has been accepted over the entire universe; and it was laid that Quran and Sunnah will guide the legislation and policy-making in Pakistan. Similarly, it recognized representative form of government and federal structure for Pakistan; it also recognized democracy to be introduced in Pakistan as enunciated by Islam.

Adoption of religion by state may lead to discrimination and persecution of religious minority and other sects within the same religion. For example, Zia’s Islamization programme was increasingly discriminatory against the religious minority and offended the Shia sect of Islam. In 1980, thousands of Shias gathered in front of the Parliament against several components of the Zia’s Islamization scheme. They ended their protest only when the government extended exemption to the Shias against such regulations as compulsory deduction of Zakat.

The genesis of the disruption of the democratic process and the consequent military rule in Pakistan could be traced to the religiosity of the Pakistani polity. In 1953, religiously motivated protests erupted against Ahmadis in Punjab. The protests went out of the control of the Punjab government and ultimately led to the imposition of martial law in Lahore. The martial law emboldened and opened the door for the military leadership to directly intervene in the civilian affairs. And since then, the military is intervening either directly or indirectly in the politics in Pakistan, which hinders the democratic development in Pakistan. Again in 1974, such protests erupted against Ahmadis throughout the country which ultimately led to the introduction of 2nd Amendment in the Constitution of 1973. Under the Amendment, Ahmadis were declared as a non-Muslim minority of Pakistan.

Similarly, Zial-Ul-Haq tried to legitimize his unconstitutional rule and elongate his stay in power through the introduction of his Islamization drive in Pakistan. In 2000s, under ‘Roshan Pakistan’ scheme General Pervaiz Musharraf tried to seek legitimacy for his military dictatorship by trying to reverse Zia’s Islamization program. However, he failed to reverse the process and instead generated an extremist response from the religious community. Even he failed to eradicate the religious and fundamentalist tendencies from his own institution. General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiani, who was appointed by Musharraf as COAS, declared that Islam and Pakistan could not be separated; and that Pakistan Army is bound to protect both the territorial and ideological boundaries of the state.

Any endeavor to change the existing relationship between Islam and Pakistan may pose a serious challenge to a democratic government in Pakistan. Such endeavors may lead to the erosion of public support, which is must for democratic development, to an incumbent government. This is evident from the events that unfolded in the aftermath of the Electoral Reforms Act, 2017 which brought changes into the Khatm-E-Nabuwat related clauses in the oath for public representatives. The sitting government faced serious backlash from the people and other institutions.

Religious parties and interest groups were successful in invoking religious sentiments of the people against the government. Many MPs of the ruling party resigned from assemblies and joined the protesting religious groups. Even the military responded to it and declared that Army could not compromise on the finality of Prophet-hood of Muhammad (PBUH). The military was called by the federal government for aid to the civilian administration after the police failed to bring an end to the protest. However, the military showed increasing reluctance to disperse the protesters through crackdown and instead preferred a negotiated settlement to bring an end to the protest. To put in the words of Dr. Ishtiaq Husain, a prominent historian, the protest turned Pakistan into a mobocracy-rule of the mob.

Another example of how the religion and democracy interact in Pakistan could be Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, which is considered by many as a blow to the democratic consolidation, from the office of Prime Minister. He was disqualified from the office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan under Article 62 f(1) which was introduced by General Zial-Ul-Haq under his Islamization drive. In 2010, under the 18th Amendment, the PPP suggested removal of all such conditions for qualification and disqualification of public representatives added by Zia-Ul-Haq to the Constitution of 1973. However, Nawaz Sharif allegedly opposed the initiative probably for a fear of losing the support of the religious constituency.

All these do not mean that Islam and democracy are necessarily incompatible with each other; rather it shows that how religion has been misused by the rulers and various interests groups for the promotion of their narrow political objectives without taking into consideration the harmful effects of their actions.

(Muslim prayer beads. Photo by Muhammad Rehan, Wikipedia Commons.)

Published Date: Monday, June 18th, 2018 | 08:46 PM

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