Calling A Spade A Spade

VIEW: Parliamentary theocracy —Yasser Latif Hamdani

The 18th Amendment reintroduces the requirement for the prime minister of the country to be a Muslim. Pakistan’s slide down the slippery pole of religiosity is quite clear

Frederick Douglass — the
great 18th century American statesman and abolitionist — once described democracy as a way to take turns. He was a one-man resistance to the tyranny of the majority and its confusion about democracy. It did not occur, however, to the framers of the 18th Amendment that this was also the principle on which Pakistan was founded, i.e. a permanent majority shall not, by sheer force of numbers, dominate and oppress a permanent minority.

It is also forgotten, conveniently, what Jinnah told the legislators in very clear terms: “Even now there are some states in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. 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.”

Now consider the bars that have been put on people of every community other than Muslims in the country since Jinnah’s demise. When, in 1949, the Objectives Resolution was passed, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan reassured the minorities that under the constitutional dispensation so envisaged, a non-Muslim may become the constitutional head of state. The constitution thus framed several years after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination, however, closed the door to the President House on non-Muslims forever and it has been like this since 1956. Still, the 1956 Constitution was perhaps the most cognisant of Pakistan’s multicultural character and, while paying its due respect to the Islamic culture and civilisation, the constitution remained non-committal on a state religion and guaranteed complete equality. This is how Prince Aly Khan, Pakistan’s representative at the UN and the father of the current Agha Khan, described Pakistan’s unique status as an Islamic Republic and an inclusive democracy on May 27, 1958:

“Pakistan, with a personality of its own in the Muslim world, calls itself an Islamic Republic, in the sense that the overwhelming majority of its people, are of the Muslim faith and aspire to a social and political order based on justice and equality, in accordance with the spirit of the injunctions of Islam that I have quoted. The appellation ‘Islamic’, however, does not imply that Pakistan is a theocratic state, run by religious fanatics who seek to reduce the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan to the status of inferior citizens. The relevant provision of our constitution, under which Pakistan became a democratic Republic on the 23rd of March 1956, lays down: ‘Section 5 (1): All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law’.

“The constitution further nullifies as void, any law, custom, or usage, which is inconsistent with the fundamental right to equality under the law, which is an enforceable right under an independent judiciary, the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

“This means that non-Muslims are guaranteed equality with Muslims under the laws of Pakistan.

“While it is true that the president of Pakistan must be a Muslim, he is, in fact, the symbol of the state, and the executive powers are vested almost exclusively in the prime minister and his cabinet. Pakistan is not unique in basing its political institutions on fundamental religious concepts. For example, a number of European nations, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Greece and the UK restrict the office of the head of state to those who profess the predominant religious beliefs of their countries.

“The leaders of the government of Pakistan are liberal and enlightened men, responsible to a freely elected parliament in accordance with the popular will. They function entirely within the framework of the constitution and laws of Pakistan. I am well aware that the people of the US are deeply committed to the doctrine of separation of church and state. We, in Pakistan do not have an established church as such. Basically, the fundamental values and virtues which you cherish and try to practice in the US, are virtually identical with those we believe in and try to practice in Pakistan.”

The 18th Amendment reintroduces in Article 91(3) the requirement for the prime minister of the country to be a Muslim. Pakistan’s slide down the slippery pole of religiosity is quite clear. Having been inflicted a moth-eaten Pakistan against his wishes, Jinnah had envisaged an egalitarian democratic state that would not distinguish between its citizens on the basis of faith. That vision was buried when his lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan, sought to create distinctions of majority and minority through the Objectives Resolution but Liaquat Ali Khan was quick to dispel any notion of barring any office to the non-Muslims in Pakistan. Against Liaquat’s advice, the framers of Pakistan’s constitution created exclusion at the very top but left democracy unfettered by the symbolism of the Islamic Republic. Against that better judgement, a left-leaning secular minded prime minister made Islam the state religion of Pakistan, persecuted a sectarian minority and closed the door on non-Muslims for premiership as well. Then an ‘Islamist’ dictator — in a bid to reduce the office of prime minister in stature — opened it to non-Muslims again.

As the prime minister gets back his rightful position in a parliamentary constitution, our latest liberal democrats have once again created an exclusion, which is untenable in parliamentary democracy. A ‘democracy’ where the leader of the house is from a certain community is no democracy at all. It is a theocracy. Let us a call a spade a spade.

Courtesy Daily Times



Filed under Pakistan

30 responses to “Calling A Spade A Spade

  1. Appreciations on pointing out to such issues….its unfortunate that our political parties are unable to sustain pressure of the tiny, negligible religious groups and individuals…

  2. If we are heading towards real democracy…then why are we imposing such discriminatory laws…why a majority shows insecurity against minority groups by putting such bars….

  3. yasserlatifhamdani

    That is precisely the issue… if a dictator inadvertently opened the door… why did our liberal democrats have to close it.

    Still I am optimistic… with more democracy shall come more awareness… and in due course of time the process will ensure an inclusive state system.

  4. Hayyer

    The slide down the slippery slope as you put it began long before the recent amendment. I can understand your desire for the dressing of a secular constitution, even if it is only that of a fig leaf, but realistically, Pakistan has about as much chance of a Hindu Prime Minister as India has of a Muslim Prime Minister.
    Manmohan Singh maybe a Sikh but he could not win a seat to Parliament from New Delhi. The BJP’s VK Malhotra bested him, a man who could not lead the BJP to power in the state legislature of the capital in a later election. And this is after Manmohan Singh’s vaunted rescue of the Indian economy as Finance Minister from 1991 to 1996.
    Sonia Gandhi nominated a Sikh but I doubt she would have nominated an equally qualified Muslim.
    We should not be too concerned. Acceptance of minorities is a slow process. It took the US 150 years from the abolition of slavery to accepting a semi black. And he wouldn’t have succeeded except that his accent was white. Speech patterns matter.
    Perhaps in a 100 years from now, if India and Pakistan survive in their present form they will have minority heads of government, elected, not nominated by the Party Boss.

  5. Rabia

    excellent article, ylh. there was also one editorial by dawn and an article by asma jahangir that addressed this issue.

  6. Jan

    The US constitution allows only US born to be the President of the country. India has no such restriction but a non Indian born was prevented from becoming the Indian PM. A study of various constitutions around the world would disclose many similar anomalies.
    Pakistan does not have a unique problem. The problems that really need attention in Pakistan are more related to establishment of a liberal and democratic state.
    Before the Ahmedi issue surfaced in the 70s, there were no such restrictions in any Pakistani constitution. Some how the other one gets the feeling that this issue is also raised at different forums by the ahmedis even though there are more Hindus and Christians living in Pakistan. Would the articles of this nature appear in the media, if the ahmedis are declared Muslims back again? I highly doubt that.

  7. ylh

    Nonsense. Christians routinely raise these issues. You are just not listening.

    Your pathetic claim about this not being an issue before Ahmadis were declared non-muslim is a just stupid question. Prime Minister’s office was not closed to non-muslims before 1973. And president issue was widely discussed. Check your facts.

  8. Jan

    That is exactly my point. The PM or the President posts were not closed to the non muslims before the ahmedi amendment. Since that was done in the 70s, and the amendment in the constitution are Ahmedi specific, the issue is mostly raised by Ahmedis and there is no evidence that Ahmedi would care, if they are declared muslims back again.

  9. ylh

    Wrong again.

    The office of president was closed since 1956.

    And I am not sure what Ahmadis have to do with this article above.

    So what if they won’t care if they were considered Muslim? They can go to hell.

    The issue is of fairness.

  10. Jan

    Since the article is about an amendment which is ahmedi specific, this article has lot to do with the Ahmedis. I certainly do not favor discriminatory treatment to a minority but it remains a fact that the ahmedis never showed any interest in any movement for democratic rights for common folks in Pakistan. This group was always allied with the Pakistani establishment from the very beginning. The two most prominent ahmedi Sir Zafar and MM Ahmed were always close to the establishment besides others in the army and the civil Bureaucracy. The loss of the access to the establishment is their main gripe.

    If it is true that the President’s post was reserved for the Muslims only in 1956, the ahmedi never stood up in support of other minorities in Pakistan. That is why I think their protest is all about their own community and has nothing to do with other minorities in the country.
    I am sorry but there is not much sympathy for the ahmedi cause in other religious minorities in Pakistan.
    I am a non muslim Pakistani and I feel that ahmedi are not our allies in struggle for the religious minority rights in Pakistan.

  11. ylh

    Are you joking? How is it Ahmadi specific? Do you mean a Christian or a Hindu can become the president and prime minister of Pakistan? What are you smoking? Rather what are you mixing in your chars?

    The 1956 constitution said quite clearly that the head of the state would be a Muslim citizen of Pakistan of age 45 and above.

    As for your other argument… then PPP must be an establishment party because Ahmadi jamaat was actively involved in ticket selection for it as well.

    So you are basically unable to make sense. Most of the establishment is Sunni. Let us ban them altogether.

  12. ylh

    PS you are not a non-Muslim Pakistani. You are probably a Jamaat e Islami wallah crook.

  13. Jan

    PPP or any other party are not part of the establishment. Establishment in Pakistan is the army and the civil bureaucracy. Ahmedi support of the PPP was for their own narrow political agenda. Ahemdis in Pakistan are certainly discriminated but have they ever made common cause with other minority groups, including the Christians and Hindus? You can’t quote a single statement from the ahmedi jamaat that talks about equal rights for Hindus or Christians in Pakistan.
    Ahmedi’s gripe is that they have been declared non muslims and they would like to be called Muslims again. That is a narrow and self-serving political approach. If at some point in time Ahmedis are declared Muslims again they would not have any problem with the discriminatory clauses in the constitution.

  14. ylh

    Once again… Let us assume that all of this is true…how does this justify the bar against Christians, Hindus etc from becoming president, prime minister etc?

    In your hatred for Ahmadis you’ve ceased to make sense.

  15. Majumdar

    Hayyer mian,

    Manmohan Singh maybe a Sikh but he could not win a seat to Parliament from New Delhi. The BJP’s VK Malhotra bested him, a man who could not lead the BJP to power in the state legislature of the capital in a later election.

    In 1996, almost every Delhi seat (at least 6/7) went to the BJP. So MMS’s being a Sikh or a non-Sikh was a non-issue. Sikh, Muslim and Christian MPs have been elected from seats which have very low non-Hindoo population. How many Christians live in Muzzafarpur or Nalanda from where George Fernandes got elected regularly?

    No need to take “same-same” to absurd levels.


  16. Hayyer

    MMS knows his voters in Delhi even if he is resident is Assam. Or why would he have been willing to be PM as an MP from the Upper House but not to stand for election from Delhi in 2009.
    There are Sikhs elsewhere in India who have been elected to Parliament on the Hindu vote; that was not my point. It was that even so highly regarded a technocrat who was widely believed to have saved India’s economy, and who is PM now for the second term could not muster voters in the heart of liberal New Delhi. If Delhi won’t do it who will.
    This ‘same to same’ mapping between India, and Pakistan or the US for that matter pertains to universally exhibited voter prejudices.
    It is only fit that the India should have Hindu PMs and Pakistan Muslim PMs. In democracies that is how it works. MMS is lucky in that he posed no political threat to anyone, especially not to Rahul. A Hindu nominee could have been dangerous-a Muslim not easily acceptable, even if available.

  17. ylh

    Hayyer I don’t have a problem with having a Muslim PM of Pakistan forever but I submit that the right to choose otherwise is not a symbolic window dressing.

    The bar on top creates bars all around. I think the 1956 constitution was something one could have worked with …with its president being a Muslim …but extending it to the PM is just plain wrong.

    Frankly the window dressing of constitutional equality is very necessary.

    Btw 18th Amendment just became law. I am not happy with all of it but I am happy that it is a step in the right direction.

  18. Majumdar

    Hayyer mian,

    I dont know why MMS chose not to contest the LS elections from Delhi but I am sure fear was not the reason. In any case, there are many safe INC seats from where he cud have won hands down.

    Besides, in 1996 it was by no means clear that MMS was a saviour- it is now known that MMS (and PVNR) was. Btw, speaking about Hindoo PMs, I am sure it is quite well known that Indira was the wife and Rajiv the son of a Parsi.

    And the most votecatching Andhra leader who led INC to two straight victories (and perhaps the only recent INC regional satrap who had an independent existence in that party) – the late YSR was not a Hindoo. But maybe it is same same- I am sure there is some X-tian or Hindoo or Mirzaee leader who can win a Punjab or Sindh CM election on his own merit.


  19. Hayyer

    Who was to know that YSR was not a Hindu, I didn’t. And if you believed that the Rahul and his BJP cousin are Hindus who would blame you.
    Unlike in the US where Presidents are directly elected our PM is the product of the party system. This system works on considerations other than personal merit.

  20. AZW


    I doubt it if you are a non Muslim as you make it out to be. Your single minded focus on Ahmadis belies your antipathy quite clearly.

    This thread is not Ahmadi specific. And though I sense the 18th Amendment is a step in the right direction, it is extremely unfortunate that the state keeps differentiating based on religion when it comes to its citizens as well as government functionaries.

    The amendment to exclude minorities from the senior most offices is wrong. The concept of minorities in a democratic plural state is an oxymoron. But for the discussion purposes, let’s stick to the ones that the state shamefully defines. I believe the competence and ability of a person to govern a country will never derive from the faith he follows in his personal life. Any Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, Ahmadi should be eligible to run for President and the office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

    I don’t see it happening anytime soon. That’s because as one commentator here wryly commented a year ago “Pakistanis liberalism is a token liberalism. It stops to a dead stop at the Ahmadi issue”.

    Be assured that Ahmadis are not the sole focus here. But they are included in the discussion. Also be assured that PTH is not a token liberal website purporting to defend equality and then failing to breach the so-called liberal boundaries that regular Pakistanis refuse to cross.

    Judging from Nusrat Pasha, Bin Ismail and many of PTH regulars, I feel encouraged that there is a segment in our society that refuses to accept the unfair status quo that Pakistan has imposed upon itself. And we won’t stay silent when everyday our society discriminates against the very own members of our society based on their faiths and religious beliefs.

    Another note: how about you stop masking yourself as a non Muslim now. YLH is probably correct in the diagnosis that we have another religious right winger who is incensed at Pakistanis calling for the religious state charade to end. Pakistan is rapidly unwinding the confused religious baggage that its clueless right wing sympathizers have loaded up with. These religious bigots frustratingly watch as the society discards the religious state bogey one by one. There will be a time when the second amendment and its offshoots religious clauses will thankfully leave the pages of our constitution. Yet we realize that we did not get into that mess overnight, and we will not get to a plural democratic Pakistan overnight as well. But PTH and other liberal voices will be here, keeping our voices raised, looking for the democratic process to strengthen and work its way out of the religious morass. Too bad for you and your colleagues who regularly grace this website.

  21. Jan

    I admire your ideals and support them too but I live in Pakistan and have never met a Jamaat Islami person who would, even for the sake the argument, call himself a non mulsim. That would be against his entire training so I am confused as to why you two keep insisting that I am from Jamaat Islami. Is this a way to stifle the legitimate questions that I raised?

    My contention, if it is not clear to you yet, is very simple. Ahmedis never supported minority rights in Pakistan before they were declared a minority themselves. Still they refuse to make an alliance with Hindu and Christians in the country, that to me have been victimized since since 1947.
    I have a legitimate concern that once the ahmedis are declared Muslims again, they would go back to finding acceptance in the Pakistani establishment and ignore the other non muslim groups that have suffered more due to discriminatory laws in the Pakistani constitution.

    I looked at some articles on this web site and hardly find anything in support of women’s rights, against hadood and sharia laws and and clauses in the Pakistani constitution that define good muslims and their eligibility to be the member of the assembly. There is nothing that suggest to me that you are a liberal site except for a few article favoring Mr. Zardari and half-baked analysis of the Pakistani establishment and its role in the country. You barely refer to the plight of the religious minorities in Pakistan.

    Can you define what do you exactly mean by liberalism and why this site is a liberal site?

  22. ylh

    Are you kidding me? We have written more about these issues than anyone else.our website is routinely condemned for opposing islamists and hudood and for speaking out for women’s rights.

    You are a crook and nothing else. Stop posing as something you are not! Why don’t you tell us why you don’t agree with the idea that a Christian or a Hindu be allowed to become the president and/or prime minister.

  23. yasserlatifhamdani

    How is your question – idiotic as it is – relevant to the article above?

    We have written more about women’s rights, minorities rights and separation of church and state than most blogzines.

    We have a search engine … why don’t you search instead of lying like a Jamaat-e-Islami crook that you are.

  24. yasserlatifhamdani

    Search “Women’s Rights”

    (More than 200 results)

    Search “Minorities’ Rights”

    (More than 150 results)

    Search “Secularism”

    (More than 200 results)

    Search “Gay Rights”

    (More than 30 results)

    Search “Separation of Church and State”

    (More than 100 results)

    Search “Feminism”

    (More than 100 results)

    Anything else you can think of…

    I mean you Jamaat-e-Islami wallahs love to be slapped in the face don’t you. Now I know you want to make it an Ahmadi issue here…. but no one has mentioned Ahmadis above per se… the issue is whether any citizen of Pakistan can become president or prime minister and has nothing to do with Ahmadis… Whether Ahmadis were part of the establishment or not is irrelevant.

  25. Jan


    (Na sirf tum jamaat-e-Islami kay paaltoo ho pur tumhari angraizi bhee kamzor hai. Is liye dobara post karnay ki zehmat na karna)

  26. yasserlatifhamdani

    Instead of trying to derail the discussion why don’t you tell us why you feel the ban on Non-Muslims is justified ?

  27. Jan

    Some liberal site! You first delete my responses and then expect me to respond. You are really liberal! It seems that you learnt English at some punjabi medium school, even a third grade student can write better English than you do.

  28. ylh

    I don’t expect you to respond my friend.

    Like I said – quite unambiguously- you are not welcome on this website.

    Whatever inferiority complex you have about your alma mater, diction etc you may take to – where you may find Angraizi more keeping with your high standards ;).