By Yasser Latif Hamdani
October 01, 2012
No serious attempt was made by Pakistanis to create a constituent assembly that was broad-based and representative of all positions in Pakistan
The fire in Mardan’s Church had not been doused when Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, our senior federal minister and a member of the ‘secular’ and ‘non-violent’ Awami National Party (ANP), put a bounty on the head of the filmmaker and called upon al Qaeda and the Taliban to carry out the act. In return, he has been indemnified by the Taliban against all future attacks. The ANP is making a lot of noise trying to distance itself from Bilour’s statement but the truth is that you cannot fool all the people, all the time.
The ANP and before them the Khudai Khidmatgars have a history of such duplicitous politics dating back to the pre-partition days with Ghani Khan, the son of their most illustrious antecedent Khan Abdul Ghaffar ‘Bacha’ Khan. He visited and pledged moral support to the ‘president of Pakhtunistan’ Faqir of Ipi when the latter declared his jihad against the state of Pakistan for being un-Islamic. Faqir’s grandson Gul Bahadur Khan is a leading light of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The secular and non-violent ANP was also part of the Nizam-e-Mustafa campaign against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government in 1977. Their relations with General Zia were always cordial. Bacha Khan in his last days fervently corresponded with the dictator and apparently, General Zia held the grand old man of Pushtun nationalism in such high regard that he accompanied Rajiv Gandhi in his funeral. General Zia also rewarded Ghani Khan, who had abused Jinnah in his book on the Pathans, with the Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 1980. I can go on but the point of this article is not to bash the ANP and their brand of ‘secularism’ and ‘non-violence,’ which seems rather malleable to whatever situation they face at a given time.
Despite its unique history, the ANP’s politics is just another example in a long list of betrayals by Pakistan’s ‘left leaning and secular’ parties, playing their role in an uneven and unbalanced political system that caters to right wing rhetoric and political symbolism. These coalitions of feudal, tribal and capital interests are secular only in their rent-seeking policies that they use to establish themselves in Pakistan. Even the great Pakistan People’s Party is no exception. That great bastion of liberalism gave us a state religion and closed the doors to non-Muslims when the elected prime minister declared an entire sect to be non-Muslim. It is for this reason that Pakistan’s religious minorities ought now to look for alternatives to voting for these ‘majoritarian’ parties, whether on the so-called left or the so-called right of the spectrum. Their issues are inane and based on trivial concerns. Minorities do not feature prominently on their agenda because our majoritarian constitution does not even provide formal equality let alone substantial equality. Minorities are ghettoised and sidelined by the very document that purports to safeguard their rights. So long as the 1973 Constitution remains in force, there is absolutely no room for a just and equitable settlement for non-Muslims in Pakistan. A narrowly defined ideology of Pakistan, imagined and adopted post hoc, will continue to dangle as a sword on every minority’s head in this country. Parliament, when it comes to the minorities, has proved itself to be collectively irresponsible and without any conscience.
Unfortunately, the way the 1973 Constitution, which is, let us face it, a theocratic and exclusivist constitution in its spirit, was drafted and adopted is where the problem started. It was designed to protect and serve the crudest majoritarian interests. No serious attempt was made by Pakistanis to create a constituent assembly that was broad-based and representative of all positions in Pakistan. Statesmanship and equity demanded that minorities, no matter how small, should have been taken on board in any such constituent assembly. The makeup of the residual National Assembly post the 1971 debacle was neither broad-based nor adequately representative of all opinion. This is because a constituent assembly has to operate on principles fundamentally different from a national legislature. Given the general sense of insecurity that exists in the minds of Pakistan’s minorities as well as serious concerns about federalism in Pakistan, especially in the wake of its abject failure in Balochistan, it is high time to seek a fundamentally new basis for a national compact. How might this happen?
Well, one way would be to elect a constituent assembly simultaneously with the National Assembly. To do this the National Assembly should amend the existing constitution to provide for this new constituent assembly to frame a new constitution in x number of years. To make this assembly broad and truly federal, each province should be demarcated into 25 constituent districts. Each district should then elect four members, i.e. one Muslim man, one woman, one worker for urban constituencies or peasant for rural constituencies and one minority representative. This would give Pakistan a broad based constituent assembly to frame a new constitution for Pakistan. Such an assembly would have all interests adequately represented while giving minorities a fair deal through real affirmative action. It will give all provinces, big or small, an equal voice and through this means, submerged sub-national groups could actually find a share of the sovereignty denied to them for so long. This constituent assembly can then frame a new more suitable constitution, attuned to the needs and requirements of all the peoples of Pakistan.
The resulting constitution will have to be a pluralistic, egalitarian and truly federal document operating as constitutions ought to operate, i.e. as statutory safeguards for the most marginalised sections of society. It would take away the monopoly of vested interests playing their politics. Parties like the PPP and ANP would be forced to substantiate their extravagant claims in terms of secularism, liberalism and non-violence instead of persisting with their current politics of deceit.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practicing lawyer.