Stars and Crescents

In South Asia on 23. September 2012 at 00:11

Also published at The Express Tribune Blogs

Each time China is mentioned in Pakistani media, the notion ‘all weather friend’ comes up. We look on China with respect, their economic growth and political might with awe and their investments with huge gratitude. Yet we refuse to implement the system of governance which has secured it its strength.

When the current Prime Minister Pervaiz Ashraf recently paid a visit to Saudi Arabia he repeated the old mantra that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are two countries but one nation. His predecessor Yousuf Raza Gillani said Turkey was a guiding star for Pakistan when his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Islamabad.

Yes, gratitude and respect is a part of diplomatic tradition. It is surely evident that a better living standard in these countries compared to that of Pakistan becomes the dream to reach for, but how out of touch can our political leaders be? At one side wishing for the same kind of institutions which has given Singapore, Malaysia or Turkey a economically strong middle class while on other side promoting policies which oppose the same development.

Turkey has just managed to rid itself from a politicized military in a process to strengthen democratic institutions. Even though there is a religious-conservative political party in power it agrees to a secular constitution and even advice ‘Arab Spring’ countries not to be afraid of secularism in constitution making process. Its civil law is based on that of Switzerland and penal code borrowed from France. In Pakistan the word secular is shunned and is put together with la-deeniyat i.e. being anti-religion.

Let it be made clear: secular state comes in many forms, China for example suppress religion and has a secular outlook, but it is not democratic. A secular state which in addition is democratic ensures that it does not suppress or promote one set of belief over the other. Secular state is hence not anti-religion, it is religiously neutral. Another quality is that society can remain religious or cultural in its right sense, state will not intervene. Social revolutionary, reform or revival movements comes from society not from state administration

In practical purposes secular state will be influenced from a majority religion and culture but only in normative sense, for example virtues and values to promote progression or identity, or name institutions after domestic understanding. That is the reason why in Europe Christian holidays are public due to a Christian majority population and history. That is why Eid will continue to be national holiday, as will Mawlid, Ramazan or Ashura. Pakistan used to have public holiday for other religions as well in the 60s.

Some argue that God almighty is sovereign and thereby a secular state transforms sovereignty from God to human. This notion is too refutable as sovereignty of God is untouchable, it cannot be revoked. But God has given human being free will. That means we have the right to choose from right or wrong and the right to rule earth in according to human constructed systems. For that is exactly what an administration of a geographically separated territory is; it is a system which is created by human. Involving faith which is God given, into a human created system will surely create an ugly output. History tells how such utopian systems failed when prophets were no more present to be omnipotent and guided by divine will.

Pakistan has fragile institutions which need to be strengthened. The overall mechanics used in these institutions are, a Westminster-style of democratic elected parliament, Montesques separation of powers, Islam’s heavy emphasis on equality and justice and to gather strength from diversity. The latter two are the least in effect.

Turkey follows a strict Turk-nationalistic ideology. One flag, one people, one nation is chanted. That is effective to form a strong connection in between people and state, but is also challenging because in reality the country has tons of different ethnic and sectarian groupings, and Turk-centricism has only succeeded because of until recently military presence in politics. Pakistan is also diverse, and cannot continue to treat its people as being subject to established parameters of nationalism. State ideology is linked with one set of militaristic nationalism combined with Sunni Puritanism. Majority of citizens do not adhere to such a description, they follow a centuries old understanding of tolerating differences.

Indonesia on its side has adopted the indigenous developed state ideology dubbed Pancasila. It consists of five points; Belief in one God, Just and civilized humanity, unity of state, Democracy and Social Justice for all. It has worked to a certain degree especially when all of these principles are in place. Pakistan covers many of these parts in its constitution of 1973, but the amendments and exceptions removes the same given rights and guidelines.

Singapore has a flag with amongst other five stars which symbolize democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality. Ours crescent and star symbolize progress and light – would be vice to replace the definition of star with the mentioned five values. These five combined will function as description of the diffuse understanding of ‘light’.

Pakistan is rich on diversity. One can write pages upon pages about the different types of people, culture, religion and sects its inhabitants have. Learning from history – especially the tragic Bangladesh debacle – we should use more energy on finding strength in diversity than forcing one artificial identity.

Hopefully a more enlightened and prosperous Pakistan will emerge when state institutions are strengthened and tools as democracy and secularism are adopted, with the inclusion of equality and justice in the very spirit of constitution and legislation. But for that political mobilization is needed. It is up to our masses, youth especially to encourage their respective political parties to lay emphasis on this point. One messiah will never come – a slow but important change in direction is needed. And remember, politicians will come to front these demands when they become huge enough to form sizeable votes.


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