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Clear and present danger from the Taliban  


Thursday, April 30, 2009

By Ikram Sehgal


The nine years' delay in agreeing upon a Constitution for Pakistan was because of ambiguity about what role Islam would play in governance, and how this role could be incorporated into the Constitution. Deciding this in a Muslim-majority state was unprecedented, complicated by 79 members forming the Constituent Assembly coming from different walks of life. Their understanding about what Islam was and how it should be practiced differed substantially.


Detailed discussions resulted in the "Objectives Resolution" being agreed to in 1949. This resolution never attracted criticism or rejection because its understanding of Islam is very broad and inclusive. It was later incorporated into successive Constitutions. It reads: "Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and authority which he has delegated to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust; This Constitution Assembly representing the people of Pakistan resolves to frame a Constitution wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people; Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed; Wherein the Muslims shall be fully enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah."


Unfortunately, the content and meaning of the resolution and its importance thereof was never explained to the people. If Maulana Sufi Mohammad had been educated about the spirit of that resolution in his younger years he probably would have avoided making insulting and false remarks about the Constitution of Pakistan, and about democracy and its institutions.


Composed of people with different ethnic, cultural, religious and social backgrounds, Pakistan is not a country in the European or Western sense. Among Sindhis, Baloch, Pashtuns and Punjabis are urban dwellers, rural and tribal populations, there are also Christians, Parsis and Hindus. Our lawmakers in 1949 obviously understood that fact much better than many of us do today.


The Holy Quran tells us we are not responsible for the beliefs and worship of others, all communities having been created by the same God differently for a reason: so that we may know each other and may recognise that underlying all our differences – religious, ethic and otherwise – we all have something in common which unites us: we are all children of the same Creator. Those who follow a wrong path, who deny the truth will be made responsible for their deeds individually when Judgement Day comes. But in this world God has ordained no compulsion in religion; not even if I think I am right and I know much better than everybody else what is right and what is wrong.


Mullah Sufi Muhammad thinks he alone is right and wants to impose his version of the Truth on everybody. That is wrong, it is un-Islamic, a sure recipe for disaster in a diverse society as the Pakistani one. With corruption a blight on their lives, bereft of inexpensive justice at their doorstep that the Wali of Swat gave them before 1969, worn out by conflict and missing protection from the Pakistani State, the people of Swat welcomed Sufi Muhammad's promise of honesty, elusive peace and justice.


Outside the valley, outside the Pashtun areas and outside the Taliban way of thinking there are millions of other Pakistanis, Muslim and non-Muslims, educated, uneducated, urban dwellers and rural population, rich and poor. They do disagree with the mullah's ideas and understanding. The Holy Quran and the Constitution of Pakistan gave them a right to be different, to think differently, and to live differently. While the Quran and our Constitution are inclusive documents of a diversified but united Islamic civilisation, Sufi Mohammad wants to be exclusive, that all others are wrong and need to be corrected, that he knows much better than all those who disagree. It is Sufi Mohammad who is acting against the spirit of the Quran and the spirit of our Constitution, it is time to tell him this in no uncertain terms.


By attempting the peace agreement in Swat, the ANP government showed real Islamic spirit by conceding that different interpretations of the Sharia have a right to be exercised. They gave Sufi Muhammad the opportunity to demonstrate his version of Islam in Swat, the condition being it should be a peaceful exercise, not a violent one. We are seeing the exact opposite. It exposed Sufi Muhammad camouflaged as a man of peace when he really is a convenient mouthpiece for his brutal son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah. The Taliban kept their guns, have attacked the FC, looted and destroyed offices of the state and of NGOs, violating not only the peace agreement but also the spirit of the Pakistani Constitution and of Islam. We cannot and should not tolerate this.


The well–intentioned but ill-advised game plan for peace put the Army into a no-win Catch-22 situation, damned for not doing enough when they were in fact on the verge of success, damned as such by some for doing too much. The Army has to wake up as to who is badmouthing them, why, and more crucially, where? A national government can restore the credibility of the state with respect to governance, a democratic "doctrine of necessity" measuring those who govern to be symbols of honesty and integrity. Otherwise, we are playing hypocrisy with the destiny of the nation. Terrorism may be the present focus of our prime attention, priority must eliminate the root causes thereof, corruption and injustice. Anyone who says otherwise does so with ulterior motives.


The concept of a "clear and present danger" enunciated by US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes involved the "freedom of spesech" and licence thereof. A man starts yelling "fire, fire" in a movie theatre, the stampede towards the exits results in injuries (even deaths) among the cinemagoers. Restraining the man or punishing him would technically violate his freedom of speech, allowing such "freedom" would result in injuries and deaths to innocent bystanders, what should be the logical course of justice? When any individual misuses any freedom (in this case of speech), endangering others in any manner, Judge Holmes maintained that the concept of application of justice must recognise the situation as a "clear and present danger" and the individual must be restrained, relying more on the tenets of logic rather than the pure letter of the law.


The Taliban in Swat constitute a "clear and present danger" to the state of Pakistan. That danger needs to be eliminated. (Acknowledging with gratitude research by Dr Bettina Robotka (IBA), Karachi.)




The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:

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