By M A Niazi
April 05, 2013
The nation is now hurtling towards the polls. Hardly have the caretaker governments come in place that they are preparing to move out. Though they are governing, attention is not so much on them as on the political parties, which are depending on manifestoes or performance to be elected.
Only those parties that have been in office have performances to show, but that covers the two main contenders; for while the PML-N was in opposition at the centre, it was ruling the country’s largest province, and the ANP was not only a junior partner in the Centre, but held the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief ministership.
It seems that only the Tehrik-i-Insaaf was in office nowhere, and thus depends on its manifesto to be elected. However, even the PPP has prepared a manifesto that is more a defence of its record, rather than a set of promises for another term. The PML-N manifesto consists of promises for re-election.
It is thus interesting that the Hizbut Tahrir has chosen this particular juncture to launch a series of public position papers. It is interesting because it is a banned organisation and thus unable to contest the election. But even if the ban was to be lifted, the Hizb would still not contest because it is one of those Muslim groups, which hold that taking part in the elections to a Parliament that can make laws and which is thus sovereign, is un Islamic because the only legislator is the Almighty himself.
But the Hizb does not oppose elections as such, only because the body for which it is being held does not acknowledge the sovereignty of the Almighty, and His legislative prerogative. It thus not only makes sense for it to issue a manifesto, but these public position papers, which consist of discussions of specific issues that are very relevant to what is happening in Pakistan today.
In fact, these are issues that the parties are supposed to address in their manifestoes, not out of any abstract reason, but because these are the issues around which the elections will be fought.
Another reason that is self-evident for the issuing of these papers is that the Hizb is banned. It has resisted this ban vigorously, and even now has a court case against it pending. However, these papers make it the only banned organisation to take a position on such issues as load shedding, Balochistan, Indian aggression and education.
The Hizb itself is evident that Islam is not a religion of violence. However, the ban is also evidence that Islam is seen as a threat to the government, and the original ban by President Pervez Musharraf was not rescinded by his successor. A good piece of evidence that the Shahbaz government can produce that it is not the supporter of terrorists, which it is alleged to be by its opponents, is that it has maintained the ban, and has not given the Hizb any relief.
However, there are strange things happening, as people feel the increasing pressure, and thus turn away from the existing political parties, or the existing political solutions, and turn to out-of-the-box ideas. Thus, the unthinkable is now being thought. Perhaps, military takeovers do not provide the solution. Perhaps, democracy is not the answer. Certainly, the outgoing government has failed to solve the problems of the common man, such as inflation, load shedding and a subservient foreign policy.
One of the imponderables has been the effect of the Arab Spring. Elections are heightened in importance, but it seems to have been ignored that Pakistan already has elections, and thus while democracy may be a solution in the Arab world, it cannot be in Pakistan. When this is put together with the need for an out-of-the-box solution, the success of the JUI-F rally at Minar-i-Pakistan is, perhaps, not as much of a surprise as it was for some.
Though the JUI-F is the quintessentially traditional religious party, unlike the Hizb, it does not have any objection taking part in the elections, and Maulana Fazl ur Rehman’s late father, Mufti Mahmud, was not just one of the signatories of the present constitution, but was leader of the opposition of the Assembly that passed it. Its attraction is not because of a sudden discovery of its ideology, but because it may well provide a different alternative to the PML-N, which is seen as the flipside of the same coin as has the PPP on one side.
It is noteworthy that all parties, and not just the PML-N, are burnishing their pro-religious and anti-American credentials. It should be noted that the electorate is disturbed by the pro-Indian tilt shown by the outgoing government, and does not seem hopeful that the PML-N will be particularly different.
Thus, the issue for alternatives will be foreign policy. The Hizb has issued two connected position papers, one on Indian aggression, and the other on military doctrine. In both, it discusses how the USA relies on Pakistan, particularly its armed forces, to pursue its aims in the region. It also discusses how the Caliphate will carry out the twin aims of Dawah wal Jihad as its foreign policy.
How is the Caliphate supposed to control the armed forces? Through control by civilians that is supposed to be how it is done now, though there is the interesting addition that the Caliph will make all appointments to the level of brigadier.
It should be noted that the Hizb is an Ummah-wide party with a presence in most Muslim countries. Thus, these policies are not just for Pakistan, but involve other Muslim countries. Therefore, an important element of both policies is the need for the Caliphate (or rather, Khilafah state) to unite all the Muslim lands. There is a copious quoting of the draft constitution, which implies that the Pakistan constitution (and any other Muslim countries’ constitutions) is to be replaced.
In this respect, the Hizb is, probably, the most radical of all the parties on the Pakistani political horizon. Perhaps, it can afford to be; indeed, is obliged to.
Any party that goes beyond one country has to call for the ending of at least one constitution, probably more. It is unfortunate that the shenanigans of the outgoing government have made the present constitution face, perhaps, its lowest ebb ever.
The Hizb sees this, and is offering solutions even while staying out of the poll. As it does not intend to use the poll to come to power, it could be accused to avoiding the commitment a manifesto is supposed to represent. However, worldwide, one of the problems with democracy is that parties winning office seem to ignore their manifestoes.
Another aspect that needs to be considered is whether Pakistanis can meet their aspirations, individual or collective, within the framework of their present country, or whether meeting them needs a bigger unit. There is also the alternative of revising those goals to conform with Pakistan’s size.
The Hizb clearly believes in having a bigger unit. Whether or not they are right, it should not be shut out of the debate any longer. It is in that exclusion from the national debate that the nation loses more, perhaps, than the members of the Hizb do.
M A Niazi is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.