By Yasser Latif Hamdani
A slightly edited version of this article was first published in the Daily Times.
The tool of manipulation every ultra right wing fascist in our country prefers is this so called “national sovereignty” or as our shrieking anchors call it sauv-raay-nitty .
First of all this term is entirely misapplied and used by people who are clueless as to what it means. When a people are sovereign, it refers in main to their ability to make their decisions on their own through a democratic process. On a purely legal plane Pakistan’s constitution vests sovereignty over the entire universe in Allah almighty. Therefore the question of national sovereignty becomes redundant constitutionally in Pakistan’s context. Since people – ie people of Pakistan who form the Pakistani nation- are not sovereign, surely they must then be subject to the will of the almighty who according to our constitution is sovereign. After all this may soon be the cornerstone of our theo ummm democracy after the Supreme Court gets done with the 18th Amendment.
This issue is however is only incidental. Our anchors do not tire quoting as an example of a “proud sovereign nation” the Islamic Republic of Iran which has stood on its feet (forget that it is one of the largest oil producers in the world) and told Americans to go to hell. That last bit tickles the fancy of not just our right wingers and Zaidonists but also our leftists and socialists who still dream of a great red revolution tranforming Pakistan into the vanguard of the global anti imperialist movement.
We must however consider what kind of country the Islamic Republic of Iran is and whether it can be considered, by any stretch of imagination, a model for Pakistan or any Muslim majority country. Iran has on its statute books a law that calls for the stoning of death fornicators through rocks that are neither big enough to kill the sinner immediately nor small enough to qualify as stones and pebbles. What is more is that Iran routinely carries out such punishments.
This is its expression of national sovereignty.
Pakistan too has – during dictator Zia’s time- put this punishment on the statute books. Zia did so against the better advice of council of Islamic ideology and Federal Shariat Court which claimed quite rightly that no such punishment was prescribed by the Holy Quran and the practice of rijm was a borrowed practice. In any event the standard of evidence is so stringent that hardly anyone can attract the punishment of rijm under law. Therefore no one has been stoned to death by law in Pakistan. There is also another reason. Pakistan by virtue of being part of the United Nations is signatory to various treaties and conventions that call for respect of human life and freedom. As a major aid recipient from the United States, Pakistan has to tread pragmatically and carefully. It has to check elements who want to wage war against our neighbours and kill off minorities. This is the new reality or atleast one would hope so. It also means that Pakistan has to tax its landed class. Agricultural tax is the easiest route to land reforms in Pakistan. In a proud and sovereign Pakistan agricultural tax would remain a distant dream.
God forbid that Pakistan was sovereign like Iran! Our sovereign nation would have a wild wild time bringing back lynching and witchburning in fashion. In the process we would disparage Islam even more than we have done. I suppose in such a Pakistan Afia Siddiqui would be much safer because women would be denied a right to education in the name of national sovereignty. As they like to say in our part of the world “no flute when there is no bamboo”.
As a patriot I for one believe such “sovereignty” would be a curse. It is a question of priorities. The Pakistan I want is a tolerant, egalitarian and progressive nation that is respected in the comity of nations and not feared. This business of chest thumping is the exclusive preserve of pauper nations and it is time we realised that we owe our poor much more than some fake and fleeting sense of “national sovereignty”. The rich and privileged have a responsibility to their less privileged compatriots to secure for them those irreducible minimums that have been promised to them in the name of a social welfare state, which incidentally is a constitutional obligation, though one which is subject to the provision of requisite funds.
The alternative is not as attractive as our national sovereignty mongers tell us. Those who are familiar with Monty Python series will appreciate that a proud and sovereign Pakistan would be much like the Black Knight. Then again our nation has perfected masochism into a national passion and pastime albeit unwittingly so may be this is what they want. In that case please ignore this scribe’s ramblings with the contempt they deserve.