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Rights and wrongs



By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times Jan 09, 2015


We can only fight terror by reconnecting the state with the citizen

Rights and wrongs

A policeman and a soldier go through books in a drive against hate literature in Quetta on January 3

As the parliament and the GHQ celebrate the passage of the 21st Amendment, they face pressing questions as to whether they will demonstrate a similar resolve in enforcing the rule of law.

Firstly, will this unprecedented anti-terror national consensus trigger the much-needed strategic rethink too? So far, most of the conversation in and outside the parliament has focused on terrorist forces operating across the country with the assumption that they are peddling their own narrow agenda. But is it really so, or is this brutal war on the people and interests of Pakistan a major consequence of the country’s faulty foreign policy?

Secondly, will the government and the military mobilize and deploy the same energy, with the support of the same two-thirds majority of parliament, for forcefully implementing counter-terror measures?

Thirdly, will the parliament rise above expedience and legislate for bringing all educational institutions including the madrassas under government regulation? Under Article 25A of the constitution, provision of education is a primary responsibility of the state. So should be the oversight of seminaries and their curricula.

Fourthly, will the 247 parliamentarians – hopefully joined by the PTI – also stand up to review the relics of the Gen Zia era, such as the Islamic Ideology Council (CII), headed by an orthodox Maulana Sherani who considers the council something supra-constitutional and thus above the parliament?

Although the CII was an essential element of the 1973 constitution, it is nothing irreversibly sacrosanct. The constitution is a dynamic document that democracies keep adapting to changing circumstances.

Can the government enforce the loudspeaker law to demonstrate its commitment?

Fifthly, since the key to an effective fight against anti-state forces lies in enforcement of law, why does the government not implement the West Pakistan Regulation and Control of Loudspeakers and Sound Amplifiers Ordinance of 1965, amended on February 19, 2011 for extending it to the Islamabad capital territory?

Encouragingly, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan vowed in his press conference on January 4 not to allow the use of loudspeakers for spreading hate and inciting violence. He said loudspeakers would be used only for Azan and for “promotion of Islam”.

But once again, the term “promotion” is open-ended, and the imams can use it their way. And they do. Even in Islamabad, many mosques have started conducting even the prayers on loudspeakers.

The way the Imams use the loudspeaker to poison young minds by cursing non-Muslim cultures and wishing them death during the prayers represents a massive challenge as well as a test of the government’s resolve.

The law specifically restricts the use of loudspeakers or sound amplifiers “in a manner so as to cause or to be likely to cause annoyance or injury to persons residing in any residential locality, hospital providing facilities for indoor patients at any time of the day or night… an educational institution, a court, a hospital not providing facilities for indoor patients or any other public institution, office or undertaking during their usual working hours at a volume or in a manner whereby the working or the use of such place of worship, hospital, educational institution, court, or other public institution, office or undertaking is likely to be disturbed.”

Under the act, the loudspeaker or sound amplifier is not supposed to be heard outside the immediate precincts of a mosque, church, temple or other place of worship. It is also not allowed to be used for sectarian speeches of a controversial nature likely to lead to public disorder.

Can the government strictly enforce this law in the first place, as a sign of its commitment to curbing and taming forces of sectarian disharmony and extremism?

Blackmail in the name of Islam, by religio-political parties and those running seminaries, must stop. The political leadership will have to stop appeasing the minority whose representatives stayed away from the voting for the 21st Amendment, and confront them with the rule of law. If trouble or street violence springs up from a madrassa, the political forces who opposed the 21st Amendment must be held accountable.

Sixthly, the fight against terrorism and crime requires legal tools that work beyond two years of military courts. For this, the entire parliament and the legal fraternity, including the judiciary, will have to unite for a comprehensive review of the Criminal Procedure Code – the foundation of Pakistan’s legal justice system – which is dated, and is glaringly exploited by lawyers and the police.

They have to reconnect the state with the citizen, restore the latter’s confidence in state institutions, and thereby induce voluntary ownership of the entire system.

In this regard, Pakistan’s parliamentarians can and should draw on what the Chinese President Xi Jinping prescribes for securing social peace and harmony in the society.

The fundamental rights and duties of citizens, in the words of the Chinese president, are the basis of the constitution, which in turn serves as the fundamental guarantee for every citizen to enjoy his rights and perform his duties.

“We should enforce (laws) strictly, administer justice impartially, and ensure that everyone abides by the law. We should strengthen the enforcement of the constitution and the law, and uphold the unity, dignity and authority of the legal system, so that people neither want, nor are able to, nor dare to break the law,” Xi Jinping told the National People’s Congress on February 23, 2013.

The two pivots of power — the parliament and the GHQ – must place fundamental rights at the core of their polices to pursue the ideals of the rule of law, equal citizenry, social peace and harmony — the prerequisites for internal stability.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk