Lost in translation

‘Secularism’ is the most mistranslated word in Pakistan’s history. It is thus unfortunate that not only do the right-wingers define it wrongly to further their own agendas, even the Supreme Court (SC) seems to be afraid of secularism for some odd reason. Our respected lordships were quite vocal in voicing their doubts about secularism this week while hearing the 18th Amendment petitions. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry questioned the sovereignty of parliament and asked if it is acceptable “if tomorrow parliament declares secularism, and not Islam, as the state polity”. This question, coming from the highest adjudicator, should certainly ring alarm bells for those who wish to see Pakistan progress into a secular, democratic country based on the principles laid down by its founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Our misfortunes started when Muslim nationalism entered the independence struggle and slogans like ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya? La ilaha ilallah!’ (What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no deity except Allah) were used to tilt the masses in favour of a separate Muslim state. In his August 11, 1947 speech, Jinnah attempted to take the religious tinge out of the struggle, but perhaps it was too little, too late. It was not an accident then that in 1949, Liaquat Ali Khan made a devil’s pact with the religious forces and introduced the Objectives Resolution, which opened the doors to redefining the state as an Islamic Republic. The moment this was done, the whole edifice on which Jinnah fought for the rights of minorities fell flat on its face. But the argument by the SC that if parliament ever decides to turn our constitution into a secular one, this is somehow wrong, means that we are in conflict with the intent of our founding father.

As for the petitions challenging the 18th Amendment, Article 239(5) of our constitution clearly says, “No amendment of the Constitution shall be called in question in any court on any ground whatsoever.” Thus it makes no sense to waste the time of the nation by hearing arguments for or against it. These petitions should be dispensed with as soon as possible so that everyone can focus on other, more immediate, greater tasks at hand. The anomalies that have emerged vis-à-vis the judges’ appointment procedure have room for improvement. The chief justice should send his recommendations to parliament and let it correct any such anomalies and be done with it.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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