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Thursday March 31, 2005 — Safar 20, 1426 A.H.
Passport to bigotry
A passport is not a certificate of religious belief. It only certifies the nationality of the holder. Thus it is unfortunate that the cabinet has decided to restore the religion column in the machine-readable passport and to inscribe the words “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” on the passport’s cover. The decision is devoid of any logic, reason or civilised norms. It only shows that the government has once again buckled under pressure, belying its own claims of “enlightened moderation“. The greater tragedy is that this has been done under pressure from the orthodox, religious forces, only a day after their ‘million march’.
The religious parties’ discernible motive for this demand was to further discriminate against and victimise the religious minorities, in particular the Ahmadis. And the ruling elite has again reaffirmed its fundamental motto of “might is right“, being followed religiously for self-perpetuation. This further emboldens the extremist elements that are bent upon imposing their obscurantist ideas and norms on society. Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to appease these forces have proved futile and counter-productive, as the obscurantists continue with their anti-government protests. They conveniently ignore the Quaid-e-Azam’s historic speech of August 11, 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” He also stated that “Pakistan shall not be a theocratic state.“
Pakistan was never termed as “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” in any official document at the time of Pakistan’s creation — the Independence Act of 1947, other Constitutional Documents, or Law, or any statement or speech made by the Quaid-e-Azam. The official name was the “Dominion of Pakistan“, because the Quaid was conscious that a state, by any stretch of logic or reason, cannot have a religion.
It was the unholy alliance of the civil and military bureaucracy that perpetuated its undemocratic rule in the fifties which introduced the prefix of “Islamic” to the name of Pakistan while promulgating the 1956 Constitution. It did so to exploit the religious sentiments of the people.
Our brother Muslim country Bangladesh, which was part of Pakistan until 1971, chose to delete the religious prefix from its name. Similarly, most of the 57 or more countries that have Muslim majority populations, have not attached the prefix of “Islamic” to their names. Nor have they, including Saudi Arabia, prescribed the column of religion in their passports. Why should Pakistan be the exception?
Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues find it expedient “in the national interest” to surrender before extremist religious forces. The list of such surrenders is too long to detail here but some of their most illogical and capricious somersaults detrimental to the people’s rights and interests may be listed:
1. Immediately after his takeover the General expressed his appreciation for the great reformist of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. But to pacify the obscurantists a few months later, while addressing the journalists of SAARC countries at Islamabad, he denied having any such liking for Kemal Attaturk.
2. In April 2000, there was a national convention on human rights in Islamabad, attended mostly by non-governmental organisations and some leaders of public opinion. Most sections of the public welcomed the recommendations of this convention, in particular the one that called for amending the blasphemy law (Section 295-C of the PPC) with a view to preventing its misuse. However, when extremist religious forces started protesting, the Chief Executive capitulated and said that none of these laws would be amended.
3. On the demand of one religious party, the Chief Executive immediately inducted in his cabinet an orthodox professor, Mahmood Ahmed Ghazi. According to a report of The Los Angeles Times, “Mr. Ghazi graduated from a Madrassah that also produced several Taliban leaders, some of whom were his classmates.“
4. The government decided not only to abandon the survey of Deeni Madaris (The News August 19, 2000), but also lifted the ban on granting financial help to the Madaris out of the Zakat Funds (Jang, Karachi, Oct. 25, 2000). The government also decided to bring the Madaris in the main educational system of the country to enable the graduates from Madrassas to get jobs in other fields. (The Chief Executive’s interview to Newsweek, Feb. 19, 2001.) This decision only resulted in the further mushroom growth of Madrassas, promotion of bigotry and production of fanatical robots who are spreading all over the country and claiming appointments in private and public institutions on the basis of degrees of the Madaris.
5. When one religious party started its campaign against the signing of the CTBT and threatened to launch a movement, Gen. Musharraf decided not to sign this treaty, though otherwise for all possible considerations, it was very much in the interest of Pakistan to do so.
6. A religious organisation demanded the deletion of the name of Dr. Abdus Salam from the roll of scientists in Pakistani textbooks and sought a declaration that the Nobel Laureate should be described as an apostate. The Punjab Education Ministry obliged and issued instructions to the Punjab Textbook Board to ‘correct’ the textbooks accordingly.
7. The government had agreed to amend the relevant provisions of the Criminal Laws with a view to ensuring prosecution and award of exemplary punishments to culprits involved in “honour killing” cases. Three prominent NGOs (the HRCP, the Aurat Foundation and Shirkat Gah) after consulting with relevant sections of the public, prepared a balanced, comprehensive draft of the amendments required in the Pakistan Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code. A copy of the draft Bill was circulated to all the political parties in Parliament. It was hoped that this draft Bill would be passed with consensus. But under pressure from the extremists, the Treasury Benches chose to reject it, and instead made only cosmetic changes in the PPC that will not serve the objective for which the amendments were required.
8. In the same Bill to amend the PPC, ostensibly to tackle the issue of “honour killing“, the government surreptitiously added an amendment in Section 295-C (the Blasphemy Law) but again in a manner that would not ‘offend’ the sensitivities of the bigots.
9. In November 2003, under fear of the extremists, the Speakers of both the National Assembly and Sindh Assembly refused to allow any discussion on the resolution moved by some of the members to condemn “honour killing“. The member who had moved the resolution in the National Assembly was reprimanded and advised to withdraw it.
The government is thus obviously insincere in condemning reactionary demands, norms and trends, and is taking no real steps to eradicate or contain extremist militant forces. Consequently not only is Pakistan’s image being harmed, but the minorities as well as the liberal, moderate and progressive citizens who constitute more than 99 percent of the population, are being denied their right and opportunity to live honourably and freely without any discrimination, humiliation, victimization or suppression.
The writer is HRCP Secretary General, and a former Senator, Attorney General and Federal Minister for Law, Justice, Parliamentary Affairs and Human Rights