By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Politics is a cynical enterprise. You want to appoint a certain general as the Chief of Army Staff. First get someone from your party to say that he is an Ahmadi. Fascinating! It is Machiavellian to the core but brilliant politics nevertheless. Let us hope this little stunt does not come to bite us later.
This raises bigger questions, however. Pakistan is a nation state and Pakistan’s army is a national army. Why must the question of religion come up in the appointment of the army chief? The right wing disagrees. They say that Pakistan is an Islamic state and all main offices of the state must be held by Muslims, who fulfil the official definition of what a Muslim is. In a nod to this sentiment, Pakistan’s constitution of 1973 reserves the position of the president and the prime minister for Muslims. A similar provision does not exist for the Army chief, however, or for any of the other chiefs of military services and rightly so. Indeed I would argue, as I have done so repeatedly, that even discrimination for the offices of president and the prime minister is out of place in the 21st century as indeed it was in the 20th century.
Defending the Objectives Resolution on 12 March 1949, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan had this to say to allay the fears of a Hindu legislator: “Sir, my friend has said that these people told him that in an Islamic state — that means a state established in accordance with this Resolution — no non-Muslim can be the head of administration. This is absolutely wrong. A non-Muslim can be the head of administration under a constitutional government with limited authority that is given under the Constitution to a person or an institution in that particular state. So here again these people have misled him.”
He then went on to declare “I hope in the due course of time there will be non-Muslims in the services of Pakistan, because we are leaving the doors open for everyone, Muslim or non-Muslims, enter Pakistan services”.
Khan’s sanguine (albeit unrealistic) hopes for the future were dashed, slowly but surely. In 1956, the office of the president was barred to non-Muslims. In 1973 the office of the prime minister was also barred to non-Muslims. Then, there was General Ziaul Haq who made every effort to keep non-Muslims, including forced non-Muslims like Ahmadis, out of the key offices of the state. This discrimination even extended to the military and the judiciary. Even in civil services, the annual confidential reports had sections on Islamic knowledge added to them, thereby further disadvantaging non-Muslim officers. It seems that all fears that members of the minority communities had expressed on 12 March 1949, came true. They had predicted that the posterity would curse the movers of Objectives Resolution. Many today criticise Khan and other members of the first Constituent Assembly in precisely those terms.
When confronted with the idea that Pakistan should be an inclusive democratic state, the right wing’s refrain is that if Pakistan was going to be an inclusive democratic state, why did we have to separate from India? As if the motivation for making Pakistan was to create a new discrimination against minorities.
The underlying sentiment that fuelled the Pakistan movement was a desire for autonomy on the part of Muslim-majority provinces from a Hindu dominated centre. It was a desire for a share in the real sovereignty over India. Therefore, at no point was the demand for Pakistan inconsistent with the idea of an overall union of federations, both Muslim majority and Hindu majority.
Secondly, the Lahore Resolution, which is of greater importance than the Objectives Resolution, specifically spoke of “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards for minorities” obtained “in consultation with them” for the “protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests”. The principle of inclusion of minorities and effective safeguards for them was therefore embodied in the foundational document of Pakistan. These safeguards were not just limited to religious rights but cultural, economic, political, administrative rights and interests. In other words, the very demand for Pakistan has an inbuilt clause to ensure that minorities would live as equal citizens of Pakistan and their rights would be fully protected. It is these rights — promised to them by the Lahore Resolution — that minorities of Pakistan demand. Administrative and political rights include the right to hold the highest offices in the land. Economic rights include the right to be admitted into all services in the land without discrimination, including the armed forces.
Pakistan is a constitutional democracy. A key pillar of the Pakistani constitution is that all citizens of Pakistan are equal regardless of their religion. By barring non-Muslims from holding certain offices of the state, Pakistani constitution creates an ambiguity about the status of non-Muslim citizens. Whatever our historical baggage, it is the time that Pakistan revisited these discriminatory clauses and ensured that every citizen of Pakistan no matter what his religion, gender or background, can aspire to the highest offices in the land.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality