That Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan given to play to the gallery is not a new phenomenon. But of course, being a politician, he is entitled to play this well-worn, trite tune no matter how much out of synch. In fact his harangues at his weekly press conferences reserved only for his favourites start with a hyperbolic ‘I’ and end with even a more hyperbolic ‘I’.
By the time he ends these press conferences his audience is seen to be willingly led into a ‘make-believe’ world in which except for him no one is without a blemish. He promotes himself as the only ‘straight talker’ in this God-given country, the only politician who cannot be bought and who is milky white as far as corruption is concerned. A human being without a single human fault. God-fearing people are known to bend backwards to avoid such God-like self-images.
That is why it is with lot of trepidation that I venture to disagree strongly with his attempt to equate ‘secular’ with ‘non-believer’. He did this while addressing a gathering of his supporters in Saroba, Punjab on Saturday last (May 13). I believe it is this very fixation of our self-styled and half-baked intellectuals with an undergraduate understanding of this complex world and life’s various dimensions that has caused Pakistan to suffer most of its sociological and political ills the way it has over the last 70 years.
“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”
The word ‘secular’ connotes a worldly person and certainly not an atheist or an irreligious person. And anybody who had read Meesaq-i-Madina (Mankind’s First Written Constitution) would not have come up with such a prejudiced and biased definition of the term ‘secular.’
This charter — Charter of Madina — developed by our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) after moving to Yathrib from Makkha in 622 contains 47 clauses, which laid the foundations of a sovereign nation-state comprising of Muslims, Jews and Pagans, having equal rights and responsibilities under a common citizenship.
Nearer home, anybody who knows the history of the struggle for Pakistan and has read the Nehru Report of 1928 and then Quaid’s response in 1929 with his 14-points would think twice before castigating the secularists. More to the point, a close reading of the Quaid’s August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly makes it even clearer why one should not confuse secularism with atheism.
Here is the pertinent part of what Quaid had said on the occasion: “I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. 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. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. “
As is his wont, he issued another one of those undergraduate orders the very next day. Those orders instructed the FIA to take action against the elements involved in criticism on Army on social media. He quoted the relevant Constitutional clause forbidding such criticism as well.
I am not sure there is a single Pakistani worth his salt who does not honour the great sacrifices rendered by the rank and file of our Army, Air force and Navy over the last 70 years to safeguard and protect the geographical sovereignty of our country. The nation to one man has always honoured those soldiers who have sacrificed their life, limb and blood defending our borders so that millions of their countrymen could live in peace.
No one could belittle their sacrifices. But no one can escape accountability by hiding behind their sacrifices. One is bound to abide by the relevant Constitutional clauses that forbid criticism of the armed forces. But one is constrained as well to ask: have the armed forces abided by the clauses relevant to the scope and limitation of their Constitutional obligations ever?
And of course, it should not be taken as criticism of the entire armed forces when some of their leaders are made accountable for the past debacles — the first Kashmir war, the 1965 war, the war that led to dismemberment of the country, the Kargil misadventure, the attempts to create strategic depth in Afghanistan, the decisions to join the first and then the second Afghan wars which were certainly not ours.
Also, those Generals who extorted money from banks and bribed politicians to join hands to steal elections from the deserving ones need also to be made accountable.
Of course, those politicians who have looted this country should also be made accountable and forced to cough up the national wealth that they have gobbled up. But let us at the same time if not prior to it bring to justice the last military usurper and simultaneously make the Abbottabad Commission Report public.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor of Express Tribune until 2014