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Sha'baan 26, 1438





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Liaquat's democratic credentials:
Today is Liaquat Ali Khan's 53rd death anniversary



By Professor Sharif al Mujahid - October 16, 2004


While moving a resolution for approval by the Constituent Assembly on the design of Pakistan's national flag on August 11, 1947, Liaquat declared, "as I visualize the future Constitution of Pakistan, it will stand for freedom, liberty and equality of all the citizens of the Pakistan state"

Indeed, he visualized Pakistan as "a state where there will be no special privileges, no special rights for any one particular interest. It will be a state where every citizen will have equal rights and equal opportunities. It will be a state where people will have equal privileges..."

Such complete unanimity of views on the basics of a polity between the leader and his chief lieutenant is a phenomenon that seldom happens. For instance, it did not in the case of Gandhi and Nehru, Soekarno and Natsir, Naguib and Nasser, Ben Bella and Boumedienne. But it did in the case of Jinnah and Liaquat.

Liaquat stood by these principles to the end of his all-too-brief tenure. For instance, during the debate on the Objectives Resolution (1949), when Srish Chandra Chattopadihya, the leader of the Congress Party in the (first) Constituent Assembly, remarked that Pakistani nationals were only Hindus or Muslims, Liaquat interrupted him, saying, "I say we are both."

I do not see any contradiction in this statement. You can be the nationals of a state, with equal rights, equal privileges and equal responsibilities and yet remain Muslims and Hindus."

Despite mounting pressure from the religious extremists, Liaquat opted for a progressive interpretation of Islam, an interpretation which was acceptable even to the foremost spokesman of the left in Pakistan's formative years - Mian Iftikharuddin.

Those who cavil at the sovereignty clause in the Objectives Resolution would do well to have a look at the actual wording and the context. It says, "Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to God Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the state of Pakistan through the people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust..."

Whether or not the members of the Constituent Assembly were clear on some issues, they were quite explicit in resolving that if Pakistan were to became an "Islamic democracy", it should be by the choice of its citizens.

This explains why the resolution recognizes the people - all the people, and not the followers of any particular faith - as the vehicle of the authority delegated by God to the state of Pakistan.

No wonder, the resolution speaks of or refers to "the people" in four other clauses and lays emphasis on the rights of the people, the representation of the people, the prosperity of the people, their place in the comity of nations, and the exercise of power and authority by the chosen representatives of the people.

Thus, the resolution tends to be people-oriented. But this salient feature has generally remained ignored in most recent discussions on the Objectives resolution. As in latter day discussions, the main objection to the resolution raised by the Congress Party members related to the statement "that power is derived from God", which they characterized as a "theocratic" approach.

Now which religion and which people in the world do not affirm the sovereignty of God Almighty/Ultimate Reality over the entire universe, as some of the participants in the debate on the Objectives Resolution had asked.

What, however, is more important is that, as Liaquat argued, "all authority is a trust (delegated) to us by God for the purpose of being exercised in the service of man, so that it does not become an agency for tyranny and selfishness". Moreover, "that authority has been delegated to the people and none else, and it is for the people to decide who will exercise that authority."

Furthermore, the resolution affirms that "the state shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people". "This," argued Liaquat, "is the very essence of democracy, because the people have been recognized as the recipients of all authority and it is in them that the power to wield it has been vested."

When all power and authority are vested in the people, the question of establishing a theocracy in Pakistan does not arise. For, as Liaquat argued, "... in a technical sense, theocracy has come to mean a government by ordained priests, who wield authority as being specifically appointed by those who claim to derive their rights from their sacerdotal position.... such an idea is absolutely foreign to Islam. Islam does not recognize either priesthood or any sacerdotal authority, and, therefore, the question of a theocracy simply does not arise in Islam...."

On this issue, Liaquat was stolidity supported by Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, the doyen of the ulema at the time. "... An Islamic state," he asserted, "does not mean the government of the ordained priests.

How could Islam countenance the false idea which the Quran so emphatically repudiated in the following words, "They, the Jews and the Christians, took their priests and their authorities to be their Lords in derogation to God." (Surah Tauba X:5).

In this context, a perusal of what Mian Iftikharuddin said on the occasion is both enlightening and rewarding. He said, "Sir, I assure the members of the Congress Party that the wording of the preamble does not in any way make this Objectives Resolution any the more theocratic, any the more religious than the resolution or the statement of fundamental principles of some of the modern countries of the world.

We know, sir, that the constitutions of many countries start, if not with exactly the same, at least by somewhat similar words. Ireland is not the only country that I know of, the constitution of which starts with somewhat similar words about God.

Practically every country of the British empire derives its authority through the agency of the king from God. It is always mentioned, the king emperor, by the grace of God, and, so on.

The members of the Congress Party need feel no more nervous than do the subjects of the British empire or the citizens of the Irish free state on the wording of the resolution."

The more important thing, however, is that in the ideological controversy engulfing the new state, Liaquat opted for a sane, balanced and constructive approach, an approach that induced a broad consensus. And much to the consternation of the extremists, he opted for democracy as against theocracy.

To quote Professor Grunebaum, "on the theoretical level at least, as good an integration of traditional and western ideas has been reached in this document as one might reasonably expect".

To him, "the attempted bridging of the gap between the Muslim tradition and the western idea of the nation-state deserves the greatest attention" (Modern Islam). Likewise, the renowned Professor Wilfred Canwell Smith has commented favourably and extensively on the Objectives Resolution in his Islam in Modern History (1957).

Those who indulge in an outpouring of wild rhetoric on the Islamic state issue without rhyme or reason, day in and day out, may as well study closely the Objectives Resolution and the entire debate on it, to see for themselves the parameters of the "Islamic democracy" that had been sought to be delineated in the resolution by the leaders of independence and the wisdom and the foresight they had brought to its formulation.

It does not call for the establishment of an Islamic democracy from above, through a fiat, as has happened in some Muslim countries. Instead, it chooses the democratic path of building the sort of state Pakistanis desire.

Indeed, it opts for the evolutionary approach and makes the establishment of an "Islamic democracy" contingent upon the people's choice. That's why Professor Smith calls Pakistan a singular case of being Islamic via the democratic route.

Finally, what Liaquat aspired to accomplish was succinctly spelled out in his address: "... we want to build up a truly liberal government where the greatest amount of freedom will be given to all its members. Everyone will be equal before the law, but this does not mean that his personal law will not be protected.

We believe in the equality of status and justice...." And it was because of the ethos of liberal Islam promoted by Liaquat's policies and the timely thwarting of the rise of a theocratic streak in Pakistan's body politic that enabled even the religious-oriented Khwaja Nazimuddin to withstand the mounting pressure of the religious extremist fringe to dismiss Sir Zafarullah Khan from the cabinet in 1953, despite the backing of a heavy weight from Punjab.

The writer is an eminent author and former director of the Quaid-i-Azam Academy.

DISCLAIMER: The public material presented here is taken from various sources as it becomes available. It is presented without any bias to, or interpretation of, the contents whatsoever. We would be grateful for any help anyone can provide in obtaining other such public material of national importance to Pakistan in order to aid intellectual discourse and debate.

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