Liberalism in Crisis in Pakistan

Source: Awami Workers Party facebook page (The slogan on banner reads: Progressives Unite!)

With the death of Asma Jahangir, you can find a sense of panic amid the circles of liberals in Pakistan. In a state of social conservatives, where we see the religious fundamentalists with more impunity than ever, liberals seem to be on the retreat.

This probably happens on the death of every prominent Pakistani liberal figure. And there is a good reason for that.

Liberals in Pakistan are in such small numbers that even the departure of a single person can create such a massive blackhole which might not even be filled in a generation. Though it depends on the liberal that has passed. And sadly in the case of Asma Jahangir, it is unusually massive.

Some of my friends such as @BenignDirector are beginning to worry about the future of liberalism in Pakistan and call on all liberals to come together. This, of course, led him to explain the troubling definition of liberalism in Pakistan. He also reflected on the meaning of the word in Pakistan, including the “lifestyle liberals” who would otherwise remain distant from political activism and disapproved of interference from religious social conservatives. It is complicated but I agree with his larger point.

The trouble is that in countries with medieval tribal societies such as Pakistan, just about anyone who thinks about something for themselves can possibly qualify. Now that is a good thing. But considering the conventions of the orthodoxy among nationalist social conservatives, this trait is a dangerous adventure. It is not really as rare as you would like to believe, but considering the conservative “masses,” this small minority becomes a precious perversion to celebrate and one which obviously needs better protection. Outspoken folks like Raza Rumi should remain miles away from the borders of this country.

But liberalism is truly in crisis in Pakistan, no matter the rays of hope would like to identify themselves as liberals or not. To my mind, it has been on a constant decline since the creation of Pakistan among the society that had been manufactured in the new nation state. A great deal of this decline can be attributed to the enlightened higher-ups in the ruling class who preferred separate rules for their echelons and different for the peasants, laborers, and especially those vulnerable at the hands of clerics. These criminals allowed the country to become a constitutional theocracy and eliminated any chance of a functioning electorate.

The 1971 civil war was the only and first major battle for the soul of a liberal democracy in Pakistan. It resulted in the loss of the then larger chunk of the country’s population with the humiliation of our countrymen allying with archenemies India against the immaculately great cause of the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims. Well, wouldn’t you say Pakistan would have been a logical consequence of that? As much as people would like to make it a Bengali-Punjabi-Pashtun-Hindustani war, it was more about secular democracy against a morally bankrupt theocratic authoritarian oligarchy.

Ever since the Pakistani liberals have been cornered, let’s hope not forever, so that another uprising like Mujeeb’s does not show its face. The Rawalpindi conspiracy case being another instance when they could have come close. But the leftists that had emerged in 1950s, perhaps as a reaction to the pro-American autocratic elite, had been completely displaced from their original form. Especially with the ban on the Communist party. Probably a blessing in disguise for liberal scum like myself who have always been dumbfounded by the extreme political choices between the reds and the Jamaatiye (members of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami or Pakistani affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) but no such option is acceptable when Jamaat-e-Islami roams free. How can they contest elections in a democracy? Then what is the choice but to be a leftist?

Or you could be a “liberal” like the intellectual bureaucracy of Pakistan that fashioned its lifestyle in the manner of Jinnah but asked everybody else to follow Maududi, a Jamaat-e-Islami cleric who was behind the worst Islamic clauses of the atrocious 1973 constitution. These enlightened ones, as mentioned before, would raise toasts in private parties and will ask women of their countries to cover their heads. They fed the elaborate visions of Quranic Apocalypse in Ghazwa-e-Hind to prepare an entire generation of Jehadi soldiers which they had no intention to recruit among their ranks to keep and expand the influence of the state. There really is no end to this disaster which carries on in just like evolution and natural selection.

The crisis in liberalism in Pakistan is that we consider the Jamaat-e-Islami as the solution to offer Islamists an opportunity to participate in mainstream politics so they don’t start blowing themselves and others up. The crisis is that we think that Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah contesting the elections is an improvement from their ridiculous antics in the sit-in protest. The crisis is that raging mullahs can set cities on fire to get what they want but the liberals, whether leaning conservative or progressive, can’t even imagine doing that. The crisis is that we keep confusing Bahria Town with free market capitalism. The crisis is that we think a separate nation state for a single community was a good idea.

So in these state of affairs, yes, I really don’t care about the various political and economic positions as long as they stand for secularism. I will attend the February 24 tribute to Asma Jahangir by the leftist Awami Workers Party, a party that you will find standing for the right issues more often than not, just like I have joined them to protest the killing of Sabeen and Mashaal Khan. I will stand by their side and endure slogans targeted at me for being a traitor-friend of the United States of America. I will still not join it but will cheer for their passionate volunteers and wonder about our dark future and pointless, wasted lives in that surreal moment and what toilets in Pakistani jails would look like.

Anybody who is for secularism is an ally. In Pakistan, you could argue all of them are liberals. Sorry, if you don’t like the label.

Bureaucratic Excesses and the National Language Question

Today is Pakistan’s 68th independence day and we still have a lot of unresolved issues in our backyard.

Recently, Marvi Memon, a PML-N MP from a Punjab reserved seat, introduced a Constitutional Amendment bill into the National Assembly. The bill was about proposing to declare Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Hindko, Shina and Barahvi among others to be national languages as opposed to their current regional status.

It was rejected by the multipartisan National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice, 4-1. The bill sought to amend the Article 251 which declares Urdu the only national language.

A lot of people have a problem with this, but since it was voted out under due process, I do not. However, I do think such underdog bills deserve a chance for a broader voting in the House instead of the scrutiny from the Standing Committee.

Another disturbing aspect here was the interference from the bureaucracy during the debate on the bill. The Special Secretary of the Law Ministry, Justice (R) Muhammad Raza Khan, opposed the bill because as per him the bill was pointless under the light of Article 28, which guarantees the fundamental right of preserving a language and a script.

But perhaps, this bill is not about preserving these languages as Marvi Memon explained. Her point is to honor the languages by declaring their status as national. 

Source: Express Tribune

Marvi Memon – Source: Express Tribune

It just sounds like another piece of political correctness, unnecessary to some, but our constitution gets so much wrong in the textbook after all. So maybe it is important. Article 1 anyone?

He also opposed it because declaring another language, Bangla, as the national language, apparently caused the separation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Well, first of all, people should get their 1971 history right. But let’s not get into that.

What the honorable Secretary forgot is that the UN International Mother Language Day is inspired by killings in a protest against neglecting Bangla as the national language. And he also seems to ignore other constitutional and political differences that led to the 1971 war.

The argument about more than one national language threatening the union of the federation is also beyond me, since English and Urdu will remain to be the official languages and those who use Urdu to communicate to those with a different mother tongue would still continue to do so.

Not sure if there is any evidence to suggest that more than one languages weaken a federation. South Africa seems to have 11 official languages.

However, since the purpose is symbolism for people on both sides of the debate, the arguments from other side may or may not make any sense.

In any case, underdog bills should be given a chance of voting in the House and bureaucracy should stay away from the process of legislation and leave it to elected MPs. That’s the only way to see where the representatives of the people stand on this issue and to overcome federal authoritarianism. 

Some of the arguments against more than one national languages are really strange. But as long as the proposals are voted out democratically, I have no problems at all.

 Happy Independence Day.