By Humayun Gauhar 

When we cannot even hold elections for our ceremonial president without controversy, how can we run such a complex country rived with problems and contradictions? The People’s Party and its allies have boycotted the coming presidential election because of a Supreme Court order bringing forward the polling date by a week. This, says the PPP, violates the constitution. That the ruling PML-N’s candidate’s victory was a certainty is neither here nor there, rule of law is. This election too has lost credibility.

Contrarily, Imran Khan’s retired judge candidate Wajihuddin’s contention is that the Election Commission and not the Supreme Court violated the constitution by accepting the Supreme Court’s order. This is pure genius. A violation comes first; those who obey it come second as co-violators, aiders and abettors. I thought Articles 5 and 6 made it clear. When will it dawn upon us that judges are limited people and not ‘Men who know everything’ – or generals, bureaucrats and journalists for that matter, least of all retired ambassadors? The country can ill-afford this confusion at such a dicey stage in its political evolution.

The 18th Amendment increased our confusion because it left Pakistan in limbo between a federation and a confederation. The federal executive is left incapacitated because the provinces were devolved greater financial and administrative powers than they had evolved enough to handle. They are still incapable of filling the vacant capacity thus created. Inept and confused, incapable of understanding devolution, the federal executive now makes a greater hash of things not knowing where its powers begin and where they end. Meanwhile the populace holds the federal government responsible for anything and everything even if it is now a provincial preserve. With provinces incapable of performing and the executive disabled other branches of government perforce fill the vacuums that are created in governance because power doesn’t tolerate a vacuum. Pakistan was the first victim of the 18th Amendment. The genius who was its lead author, the same Raza Rabbani, has become its second. The wheel does come full circle, doesn’t it? 

While devolution is an imperative, it is an imperative too that it is done realistically and sequentially and not before those who get responsibility are capable of discharging it. There cannot be true devolution without local governments anyway. They are are missing. Fearing that his devolution was coming awry, Rabbani charged that the delay might be a move towards “one unit” – “we see it as part of moves to impose the Centre’s rule again.” He should learn that extreme action causes extreme reaction. Then came Rabbani’s usual gibberish: the boycott was part of his party’s struggle against military and civilian dictatorship. Having realized that there is such a thing as civilian dictatorship, he should also realize that military dictatorship is born of civilian dictatorship and that his party’s founder was Pakistan’s first civilian dictator and military dictator too for a while.

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When I heard my friend in ‘dogdom’ and other realms Aitizaz Ahsan criticize the Supreme Court’s order I asked him why as the elections would still be held between 60 and 30 days of the end of the current president’s term as required by the constitution, he replied in pure Cantab style, “Not so fast, my dear old chap. There are things between heaven and earth that are also required by the constitution.” I took Aitizaz’s permission before relating our conversation.

1.      The order was passed on a petition filed by a member of the ruling party without hearing the candidates of other parties, which is their inalienable right under due process guaranteed by the constitution.

2.      It is not in the province of the Supreme Court to give an election schedule.

3.      The religious reasons given in the petition and accepted by the Supreme Court for bringing the date forward are not obligatory but are ritualistic.

4.      Not enough time is left for candidates to canvass while the voters of the Electoral College comprising both houses of parliament and the four provincial assemblies are in far flung places.

Aitizaz has a point. Giving a hearing to all concerned parties is obligatory in law. Only the Election Commission can make an election schedule. As to the reasons given in the order, they do pertain to ritual and tradition, not to obligatory duties towards God. To go into ‘Aitekaf’ (seclusion for prayer) or performing ‘Umrah’ (the small pilgrimage to Mecca) in the last 10 days of Ramadan are not obligatory upon Muslims as fasting or the five daily prayers are, for instance, or Haj is. Nor is it obligatory to be in Mecca on the night of Lailatul Qadr (the Night of Power) that most Muslims regard as falling on the 27th day of Ramadan. You can pray wherever you are.

“Pakistan was made on Lailatul Qadr,” continued Aitizaz rhetorically, “but Mr. Jinnah didn’t ask the British to postpone independence till after Eid because he would be in Aitekaf or would be performing Umrah in Mecca. His ship passed by Jeddah 22 times and Allama Iqbal’s eight times going to and from London, but they didn’t break journey once to perform Umrah because it isn’t obligatory. Were they worse Muslims than our parliamentarians?”

It seems that we have deviated from our mandatory obligations towards God to the ‘religiosity’ of the mullah where ritual and symbolism are more important. Quantum of piety is the personal concern of the individual as long as it doesn’t detract from the duties he or she is under oath to discharge. Work is a very high form of worship. Why should the Supreme Court give such importance to ritual and tradition?

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Aitizaz says that this betrays a compact between the ruling PML-N, the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. Nothing new: many have suspected it for long. While there is no incontrovertible proof, it is certainly very suspicious. We should respect the legal process but not become hostage to it to such an extent that when something stares us in the face we still look for proof, like scientists look for ‘proof’ of God.

God has given us a mind but we don’t use it properly. Instead, we have turned our national mind into a mound of hypocrisy and abdicated it to clerics and propagandandists and set ourselves up as easy prey for perception managers. We don’t think for ourselves and think things through. We take the easy route by letting others think for us. Our worldview and view about ourselves is based on stories dished out by strategic communicators – a lie told long enough and often enough becomes the truth. We believe the superficial and the supercilious.

God has given us free will but we don’t exercise it as freeborn, within the law and God’s law. Instead we have become automatons following not God’s Word in the Quran but preachers of all kinds, religious and secular, and cling to organized religion, dogma and ritual that are the lifeblood of masquerading clerics and secular mindbenders. We indulge in hypocrisy without realizing it.

We use our free will to make bad choices. Judged by our choices, actions and the people we admire we worship the Golden Calf – the pursuit of power and wealth by fair means or foul. The Quran’s first chapter is named after the incident when Moses returned from the mountain to discover that the Israelites had made a calf of gold and were worshiping it and intended to present it to the Pharaoh and be graciously accepted back into his slavery. We are like those Israelites. We too worship the Golden Calf. We too bow to Pharaohs. We have fallen in love with our chains thinking they are made of gold. The wrath of God came down upon the Israelites. 

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Our Pharaoh is the hegemon; our Golden Calf wealth in property, bank accounts, and barrels of oil, stock markets, devilish bank products and derivatives. We officially and willfully indulge in usury calling it ‘interest’ and ‘markup’ in devilish sophistry.

We marry girls from rich families thinking that we will be ‘made’ forgetting that a husband has no right over his wife’s wealth or income. In Islam a husband’s duty is to look after his wife, raise their children and run his house from his own income. The wife doesn’t even have to bring a dower or her family bears the wedding expenses. It is the groom’s family that has to pay for her dower and the festivities. 

We don’t know our Faith because we are Muslims by accident of birth, not by understanding. We follow not the God’s Islam in the Quran but alien laws many of which are contradictory to Islam. We observe customs and rituals many of which pre-date Islam and think that they are part of the Faith. Perhaps the wrath of God has come down upon us already, thus our pitiable condition, the most pathetic of which is that we practice not what God enjoins but what clerics preach. We respect and admire those who have acquired wealth and power illegally. We follow third-raters and their progeny who are neither leaders nor statesmen, mindlessly violating the first pillar of Faith not to put anyone besides God.  Our values are based solely in search of the Golden Calf.

Is there still time to come to the correct path?