Feisal Naqvi

Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Khalifas from the hills

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2009 at 3:02 am

People who oppose the ongoing operation in Swat normally make two types of arguments.

The first argument is practical, that military force should only be utilised as a last resort and that this is not the time.

The second argument is philosophical. As one news anchor put it to me, how can we oppose the imposition of sharia law in Swat when Jinnah founded Pakistan in the name of Islam?

The essence of the first argument is that using the army to crush militants is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. So while it may be effective, military action also comes with a massive cost. Innocent people get killed, families get displaced and entire towns get destroyed.

The answer to this argument is provided, however, by the military action itself. Operation Rah-e-Rast has been underway for almost four weeks. Sixty soldiers have died in the fighting while, according to ISPR, more than 1,100 militants have been killed. And yet, the operation is far from over. As I write these words, soldiers of the Pakistan Army are going door to door in Mingora, trying to blast out the militants who have been using 20,000 Swatis as human shields. And as for the financial cost, who knows?

The ongoing military operation is therefore self-evidently not excessive. Had that been the case, the operation would already have been over.

Opponents of military action can respond in one of three ways. The first is to argue that the army is incompetent. The second is to argue that the entire operation is a sham, the product of a giant conspiracy between Mossad, the CIA and RAW to break up the country and steal Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. And the third is to say that the army was sent in too soon.

I hold no brief for the Army and I know very little about its competence. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you fight with the army you have, not with the army you want. Since we have no other army, accusing the army of incompetence is neither here nor there. Logically, the only other alternative would have been to invite American forces over from Afghanistan to invade Swat for us. In the absence of any support for that option, we have no option but to stick with General Kayani and his men.

So far as the grand conspiracies are concerned, I have no doubt that the CIA, Mossad and RAW would all breathe easier at night if we did not have nuclear weapons. But the fact that they do not want us to have nuclear weapons does not mean that they want to break up Pakistan. An exploded Pakistan would be exponentially more problematic for the international community than Pakistan in its current state.

If anything, the heads of CIA, Mossad and RAW are all praying to their respective deities to keep Pakistan solvent and stable because that is the only way our weapons will stay in sane hands as opposed to being in the hands of those who think that a nuclear exchange is a good idea because all the Muslims who die in the resulting holocaust will go straight to Paradise.

The final contention is that we should have waited longer. My question is: why? Is it not serious enough when a group of armed men rejects our Constitution, attacks our army and kills our citizens? And if that is not the issue, what would extra time have bought us? If anything, extra time would have given greater opportunity to the militants to entrench their positions.

I come now to the question of morality: how do I justify making war on those who are supposedly seeking only to fulfil Pakistan’s destiny?

Simply put, Pakistan’s destiny was not — and is not — to serve as the handmaiden for morons. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not just a lawyer but one of the finest lawyers produced in the entire history of British India. His vision for Pakistan was not one in which self-proclaimed khalifas descended from the hills to unilaterally impose a vision of Islam in which the worship of God was reduced to beards of stipulated lengths and blowing up women’s schools.

At the same time, I freely concede that it is the prerogative of a sovereign nation to decide how it wants to govern itself. And if the majority of the people in this country decide through some democratic process that they actually want to be governed by Sufi Muhammad and his ilk, so be it. But they have not done so. Instead, whenever they have been given the option, the people of this country have resoundingly rejected religious parties. Pakistanis have drafted three constitutions for themselves: not one of them has set up a theocratic state.

So, Mr Anchorman, here is my answer: these people deserve to have war waged on them because they reject our Constitution, because they reject the values which Pakistan was founded upon, and because they are trying to stuff a different legal system down the throats of unwilling citizens.

Good enough for you?


What Islam Means for Pakistan

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2009 at 2:48 am

Lahore, Pakistan — In an attempt to restore peace in the restive Swat valley, the Pakistani government signed a controversial peace deal in March with the Taliban-backed group Movement for the Enforcement of Shari’a (TNSM). In the following month, the Taliban extended its grasp beyond Swat to within 60 miles of Islamabad, the nation’s capital, forcing the army to restart military operations.

This move brought fresh international attention to Pakistan’s economic and social problems. But within Pakistan, the rise of the Taliban has focused attention on a different question: What does Islam mean for Pakistan?

Talk to Pakistani Muslims about their faith and the most common statement you will hear is: “Islam is a complete code of life.” If pressed further, they may elaborate that Islam – unlike Christianity – does not distinguish between church and state, and that from an Islamic perspective there is no such thing as purely secular legislation. Push even further and you are likely to hear that the solution to all of Pakistan’s problems is to make all laws consistent with Islam.

This seeming consensus is misleading though because there is, in reality, very little agreement on what Islam actually entails in terms of legal, enforceable rules. While each school of thought within Islam – four major schools within Sunni Islam and one among Shi’a Muslims – has its own clear and detailed laws relating to inheritance, marriage and divorce, everything beyond that limited arena of “personal laws” is open to debate. For some people, Islamic law means imposing veils on women and beards on men. For more left-leaning Pakistanis, Islamic law means common ownership of property. For those inspired by Sufi tradition, Islamic law means a respect for the overarching principles of love, kindness and charity.

The real problem then is not that Pakistanis want Islamic laws, but the manner in which those laws are determined. In this regard, Pakistan has struggled from the very beginning with two distinct legal identities. The first identity was the secular administrative identity inherited from the British in 1947. The second was the Islamic identity espoused by most its citizens.

Pakistan’s constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 were based on a secular, Westminster-style political model in which the parliament was sovereign. Thus, it was the job of parliament not only to make laws but also to ensure that all laws were in conformity with the principles of Islam, or shari’a.

This model was then radically undermined by General Zia ul Haq following his military takeover in 1979. Zia’s first attempt to justify his rule was to argue that he had – quite literally – been directed by God to impose Islamic law upon Pakistan. When his attempts to claim divine inspiration ran thin, Zia was forced to restore democratic rule, but not before he had tinkered with the constitution, creating a Federal Shariat Court charged with ensuring that all legislation was in conformity with Islamic laws. The actual effect of his attempted Islamisation of most laws was minimal, except for laws relating to women’s rights.

This change raised the question of who could decide whether a law was in conformity with Islam.

Zia’s austere and rigid model of Islam was largely imported from Saudi Arabia and deferred to religious extremists who, bolstered by massive amounts of Middle Eastern funding, consistently argued that law was to be decided by people like them, and not by the parliament. These conservative figures became public spokespersons for Islam, even though their beliefs had limited public support. Given the instinctive veneration most Pakistanis have for Islamic law, the end result was a paralysis in which people rejected doctrines of hate at a personal level but lacked the intellectual and institutional leadership to articulate a strong, unified response.

General Pervez Musharraf’s military takeover in 1999 led to the collapse of parliamentary democracy that had been in place since 1987 after Zia’s death. This created a political vacuum in which the ability to define what was Islamic was ceded – almost by default – to well-funded religious extremists.

This political collapse was accompanied by a continuing failure of all democratic governments in Pakistan to provide basic necessities like education, health, energy and clean water for all its citizens, which in turn have allowed fundamentalists to expand their zone of influence. For example, extremist-oriented madrassas (religious schools) provide free education for children while government-run schools are routinely fraught with administrative and financial setbacks. Not surprisingly, the areas in which the Taliban are now ascendant are also the least developed.

The first step toward regaining security in Pakistan is certainly for the army to take control of the areas which have been ceded to the militants. But in the long run, Pakistan will not regain the “middle way” of Islam for its people until it can show that a parliamentary democracy can deliver the basic needs of its citizens, and a more articulate Islamic leadership recovers its indigenous voice.

Feisal Naqvi is a lawyer based in Lahore, Pakistan. The article is written for the Common Ground News Service.

Learned Helplessness

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2009 at 9:29 am

Take a rat and hold it in your hand until it stops struggling. Now throw it into deep water. According to researchers, the rat will drown after an average of about 30 minutes.

Why does this matter?

It matters because if you take a rat and simply chuck it into the deep end, it lasts a lot longer, swimming for almost 60 hours before giving up and drowning.

The difference between the two rats is not physiology but mentality. The rat that has learnt that struggling is useless makes no real effort to protect itself. The one that has not learnt to give up fights and fights until it physically collapses.

What goes for rats apparently goes for people too. The description of the rats comes from studies done by Martin Seligman, a famous professor of psychology. According to Seligman, human beings who have grown accustomed to a lack of control over their surroundings respond to new situations with apathy and depression, even when they are no longer helpless. Seligman termed this behaviour, “learned helplessness”.

So, what kind of rats are we? Actually, I am not too sure.

Much of the discourse in the liberal media over the last week has been taken up by a prolonged session of chest-beating and shirt-rending over our national apathy. If one wanted to refine the position, the clinical argument would be that we have become so accustomed to being pushed around by various dictators that we are now entirely without hope: we are like the rats who have learned helplessness and are now content to drown.

I may well be stupidly optimistic but I just do not buy that argument. Yes, we are a nation that has always welcomed its dictators but there is a huge difference between the embrace of an unpleasant alternative and an indifferent resignation to a malevolent fate.

Other than this bon mot, what evidence could one point to?

The first point of analysis for me is that we have already been through an attempted Islamisation. General Zia-ul Haq’s full frontal assault on our liberties and institutions was backed by the entire might of the state for a period of 11 years. That was a time when the head of the state actually did argue that he had been sent by God to bring about a revolution. And he failed.

Zia’s failure is significant because while it left our legal landscape scarred with numerous eyesores (the various Hudood Ordinances, for one) it also failed to change the essential contours of that landscape.

My former dean, Guido Calabresi, used to explain the failure of legal radicalism to take hold at Yale in the 1980s with reference to the fact that New Haven had actually pioneered legal realism back in the 1930s. Or in his words, “because we had the chicken-pox, we did not get the small-pox.”

Similarly, the body politic of Pakistan carries within it the institutional memory of what happened the last time the mullahs went on a power grab. And that institutional memory remains intensely suspicious of anything bearded that wants to operate outside its appropriate zone of influence (that is, circumcisions and funerals).

A more recent — and more substantial — point of analysis emerges from the recent lawyers’ movement. Let me freely confess that I was an extremely sceptical supporter of the movement. In other words, while I agreed with the movement’s aims, I was considerably doubtful as to whether the movement had more than a snowball’s chance in hell of actually succeeding. I was proved wrong repeatedly because not only did Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry get restored once as Chief Justice of Pakistan, he got restored twice!

All of that matters because while the first restoration (call it CJP 1) was driven by a hardcore group of lawyers, CJP 2 came about because of a genuine popular uprising in which people took to the street in support of a cause.

Armchair conspiracy theorists may disagree with my last statement, but the point here is not whether Nawaz Sharif emerged on the streets as the result of a secret agreement or because he had discovered his manhood. Instead, the point here is that the people now believe (reality be damned) that they are the ones who got Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry restored.

And just as helplessness can be learned, so can it be unlearnt.

I do not know whether we are a nation of drowning rats or a nation of fighting rats. But we are about to find out.