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Pakistan: Virtues and Vices

Dr. Akmal Husain’s book delves into the reasons behind repeated violations of Pakistan’s Constitution

by Khaled Ahmed

Pakistan, Institutional Instability and Institutional Development by Dr. Akmal Husain postulates that state failures in the country are essentially a result of the Constitution’s formal rules failing to take hold in the consciousness of the people.

In his book, Dr. Husain notes that the epistemology of the Constitution, to the extent that it embodies certain universal principles of freedom and justice, needed to be translated by the country’s leadership into forms of language, metaphor and image that could resonate in the historical memory and consciousness of the people. It is only when the Constitution is located in the lived experience, metaphor and memory of the people do they stand ready to defend it, he adds. A readiness of the public to defend the Constitution would provide strength to the judiciary, allowing it to adjudicate without fear or favor. Its absence, the book states, lies at the heart of judicial fear and its frequent legal justification of unconstitutional interventions by the military establishment.

Several times in Pakistan’s history, the Supreme Court has shown partiality towards an unrepresentative central government dominated by senior military and civil service officers. This has bolstered instability, with governmental power flowing further toward the military-bureaucratic elite. The book aims to show that when the Supreme Court fails in its assigned function of a fulcrum of the balance between the executive and the legislature, institutional instability is exacerbated.

Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan

The book notes that from the 1930s till 1948, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had indicated the complexity of the intellectual and political task at hand: colonization of consciousness, nation-building and framing a Constitution based on the civilizational heritage of the nation. With respect to the polity, economy and society, Jinnah declared the universal principles of human civilization as the basis of Pakistan. This reflected the great ideals of human progress, of social justice, of equality and of fraternity, which on the one hand constitute the basic causes of the birth of Pakistan, and also the limitless possibilities of evolving an ideal social structure in the state.

Jinnah also highlighted how these foundational related to Islam. In a public address at Chittagong on March 26, 1948, he said the universal principles of modern democracy would be drawn from the roots of the civilization the new nation represented: brotherhood, equality, and fraternity of man, which are also the basic points of Islam, Pakistani culture and civilization. The Muslims of India fought for Pakistan, he said, because there was a danger of the denial of these human rights.

Citing history, Jinnah stressed on the points upon which Constitution of Pakistan would be based. In his radio broadcast to the people of the United States, on Feb. 26, 1948, he said the Constitution’s basic perspective was that Islam and its idealism had taught us democracy. It taught the equality of men, justice and fair play and as such the framers of the Constitution were aware of their responsibilities md obligations as inheritors of this cause. He also stressed that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state ruled by priests, noting it had many non- Muslims—Hindus, Christians, and Parsis—who were equal Pakistanis. “They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and play their rightful part,” he added.

Jinnah’s distinction between Islam and a theocratic state was based on Allama Iqbal’s perspective. In his indictment of the Mullah’s inception of Islam, Iqbal suggests the Mullah is restricted to ritual and is devoid of the awareness of the nation of man in the cosmos. He then points to the grandeur of human consciousness in spiritual contact with God and in that state the beauty of making choices in this world.

Allama Iqbal and Mullah of the Mosque

‘Is it not strange that the God you seek

From your gaze is hidden

He exalted space that Man doth reach.

In your worship there is neither passion nor beauty

Your call to prayer

Contains not the message of my dawn’

Iqbal suggests that at its roots, Islam has a universal message for all humankind: strive to achieve a consciousness, a knowledge of the concrete and the spiritual that actualizes the full human potential. In his lecture, the Spirit of Muslim Culture, Iqbal expounds this idea of man’s spiritual capacity to experience the transcendent combined with his capacity for reason based on systematic observation: “Inner experience is only one source of human knowledge. According to the Quran there are two other sources of knowledge—nature and history; and it is in tapping these sources that the spirit of Islam is seen at its best.” Iqbal argues that in understanding the concrete and finite, Islamic civilization introduced for the first time in human history the method of observation and experiment. It is on this basis of universality of the perspective of Islam and its spirit of free inquiry that Jinnah contrasts Islam to theocracy.

Iqbal and Rousseau’s Social Contract

In a profound insight into the nature of the state in the Islamic tradition, Iqbal refers to Rousseau’s concept of the Social Contract and suggests that long before Rousseau, Islam conceived of the state as a “contractual mechanism.” In his 1930 presidential address to a Session of the All India Muslim League, Iqbal observes: “The truth is that Islam is not a church. It is a state conceived as a contractual organism long before Rousseau ever thought of such a thing, and animated by an ethical ideal which regards man not as an earth-rooted creature defined by this or that portion of the earth, but as a spiritual being understood in terms of a social mechanism and possessing rights and duties as a living factor in that mechanism.”

The West began to own these ideas after the French Revolution in the 18th century. But Jinnah argues that they were actually taught by Islam. It can, thus, be suggested that these principles of human freedom, fraternity and justice were embodied in the institutional structure of the state of Medina in the time of Islam’s Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), over a thousand years before European states adopted them. In his preface to a collection of Iqbal’s letters to him, Jinnah writes: “His (Iqbal’s) views were substantially in consonance with my own and finally led me to the same conclusions as a result of careful examination and study of constitutional problems facing India and found expression in due course in the united will of Muslim India as adumbrated in the Lahore Resolution of the All India Muslim League.”

Jinnah, as the founding father of the new state of Pakistan, began the process of decolonization of consciousness and nation-building. At the same time, he identified the foundational principles for the construction of a Constitution. Tragically, he died before these crucial tasks could be completed, resulting in a failure of them taking root in the public’s consciousness.

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