Making windows into men’s souls

Beena Sarwar

Karachi, December 25, 2009: Writing this on Christmas day, two words come to mind: 'morality' and 'terrorism'.

Flashback to the first Al Qaeda arrest, February, 1995: Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) picks up Ramzi Yousaf, the Kuwaiti-Pakistani accused of being behind the 1993 World Trade Centre car bomb that killed six people (the target was thousands). His arrest is credited among others to then FIA additional director Rehman Malik (currently, minister for the interior in the Pakistani government).

June 1997: Then opposition leader Benazir Bhutto mentions Malik in her diary series for Slate, writing about a prison visit to Wajid Shamsul Hasan (currently Pakistan's high commissioner in London).

"Three of (Wajid's) arteries are blocked. He suffers from diabetes and kidney trouble. On June 3, he nearly passed away. His prison cellmate, the former additional director of FIA, Malik, tended him all night. Miraculously, Wajid survived... Months have passed and no formal charges have been pressed...

"I am surprised the Americans have not raised a hue and cry over the arrest of Malik. Malik was part of the team that responded to the US request for Pakistan to extradite the notorious terrorist Ramzi Yousaf wanted in the New York World Trade Centre bombing. The American negligence of Malik will hardly embolden others to risk their lives for global values in the future...

"Malik has been charged with stealing a car. He has the receipt for it. But, 'justice delayed is justice denied'. (http://www.slate.com/id/3731/entry/24706/)

December 2009: The Supreme Court strikes down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), introduced in 2007 by then president Gen Pervez Musharraf that waived off charges against Bhutto and others. Malik and Hasan are again in the dock.

The NRO can only be defended if you accept it as essential to set aside charges that were mala fide and politically motivated in order to allow the transition from military rule to electoral politics. Bhutto chose this path rather than allow Musharraf to pardon her in his capacity as president, and gained immunity for others. Most NRO beneficiaries are bureaucrats (not politicians), and most are from Sindh.

Nearly two years later, the apex court was only required to strike down the NRO as a bad law in conflict with the Constitution. The bench did so, but went beyond this, invoking Islamic injunctions and religious morality. Its short order "sanctified the constitutional provisions of a dictator that placed a sword over the heads of the parliamentarians," as advocate Asma Jahangir commented. "Moreover, it has used the principle of 'closed and past transactions' selectively."

The ruling stressed Article 2A (the controversial Objectives Resolution of 1948 which enshrined Islam as the 'State religion'), and struck down a law that countered Article 62(f) which requires parliamentarians to be, "sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and amen" (pious). These standards were introduced by the notorious Zia-ul-Haq regime, considered "undemocratic and a tool to keep (parliamentarians) insecure", as Asma Jahangir put it.

Corruption cannot be condoned. But neither can self-righteous morality or terrorism. There are other important battles being fought, like the elected government's attempt to gain supremacy over the armed forces. This is also the first time a Pakistani government has sought to not only halt the jehadi train unleashed during the Afghan war of 1979 (or earlier), but to steer it away from its traditional anti-India focus. These attempts are different from Musharraf's famous 'U-turn' after 9/11, when, under American pressure, he ditched the Afghan Taliban but ignored the 'home grown militants' indispensible to needling India, primarily in the 'disputed' territory of Kashmir.

Alas, a jehadi is a jehadi is a jehadi. Banning one set of jehadis while allowing others to function doesn't work. They share the same ideology: imposing their morality and dress codes on society, bullying women into seclusion, attacking any form of fun, girls' education and schools, and those they consider non-Muslim - criminal actions that have gone unpunished. After the Soviets withdrew, the jehadis (trained and equipped by America, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia), turned to Shi'ite individuals, gatherings, and places of worship. Between 1989-2000, over 1,500 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan claimed about a thousand lives, and injured and maimed over 2,500 (figures extrapolated from the South Asia Terrorism Portal).

It was a wise queen who refused to judge the morality and intentions of others. Elizabeth I declared she would not "make windows into men's souls".

Opening such windows opens a can of worms that is difficult to contain.

The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker -www.beenasarwar.wordpress.com

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2010