OVER A COFFEE: A bit of rationality, please! —Dr Haider Shah
A bad law is a bad law and should never be left on the statute book. The blasphemy law and certain faith-propelled insertions in the Constitution need rationalising
After registering embarrassingly grotesque episodes, some sanity seemed to have returned by the timely rebuke of the Lahore High Court to certain misguided decisions of the returning officers. Otherwise, it appeared as if the long shadow of Mangal Bagh of Khyber Agency was cast on the Pakistani courts as well.
Article 62 of Pakistan’s Constitution provides for a list of seven qualifications, categorised a-g. The first three comprise matters of fact such as citizenship, minimum age of 25 years for the National Assembly and 30 years for the Senate with enrolment as a voter. Fourth, one requires good character and observance of Islamic injunctions. This is a matter of opinion rather than a fact. For a member of the Taliban group, those who are associated with the vaccination campaign or population welfare schemes are people of doubtful character who do not observe the injunctions of Islam. For an average resident of Charsadda or Mardan, a woman of good character does not leave her house without proper purdah (burqa/veil). Members of various sectarian groups, for example Salafi Sunni Muslims, Barelvi and Shias, consider each other not following the proper injunctions of Islam. Who has given any individual the authority to decide on matters that remain highly controversial and divisive? The best solution, therefore, is to presume everyone has a good character unless he or she has been convicted by a court of law for a criminal offence. The fifth qualification refers to ‘adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings’, ‘practice of obligatory duties’ and ‘abstention from sins’. These are also matters of opinion, as for many jihad is an obligatory duty while others believe it is the prerogative of the state only to declare a war. What about observance of basic civic duties? Does it count as an obligatory Islamic duty or not and how many can qualify on this account? The sixth qualification requires the candidate to be sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen (honest). As these adjectives are highly value-loaded, the sub-clause itself provides a mechanism for operationalising the qualification requirement by implying that a person will be assumed to possess these qualities unless a court of law had ruled contrary to this presumption of innocence. The last qualification requires the person not to have worked against ‘the integrity of the country’ or ‘opposed the ideology of Pakistan’. What is the integrity of Pakistan and what is its ideology? Every country exists to provide a secure home to its residents and maximise their welfare. Isn’t this the ideology of Pakistan as well?
A bad law is a bad law and should never be left on the statute book. The blasphemy law and certain faith-propelled insertions in the Constitution need rationalising. There are two ways of rationalising Article 62 of the Constitution. One, the four sub-clauses that pertain to subjective opinions should be deleted. Second, a general proviso is added for these four qualifications whereby the power of ascertaining these subjective qualifications should be vested in the superior judiciary and/or voters. If a particular candidate has been convicted by a court of law in a criminal offence it would be deemed as evidence against the qualifications required under the four clauses. If no conviction from a court is in the field, we better let the voters decide on these qualifications.
We all know that every organisation, whether a small business firm or a multinational enterprise or any faith community, comprises three fundamental constituents. One, physical assets; second, humans who use those assets, and third, agreements among the humans how to use those assets so that various human needs are best satisfied. We can call those mutual agreements ‘systems’. With different systems, people with similar training background possessing similar assets can produce different results. In the business world one organisation quickly imitates another organisation’s better systems if it finds itself struggling. That’s why the term ‘isomorphism’ is used by institutional theory scholars to denote the trend of organisations becoming very similar in a short span of time. Societies and countries are also organisations. They also imitate good things from each other and, consequently, we see that advanced economies look so similar and developing economies also register very similar problems.
Imagination is a human faculty that has set us apart from the animal world but we also know that when our bodies overproduce any essential secretion, we get seriously ill. Similarly, when our imagination faculty is overworking and we populate our external world with the imaginary world created by our beliefs regarding how the world works and what is our place in the scheme of things, we begin deriving vicarious pleasure and, hence, do not feel the urge for improvement by learning from better performing societies. We must acknowledge that every human is a rational person. We all have, however, bounded rationalities dictated by our previous experiences and environmental constraints. Rationality should, therefore, mean three things. First, explaining one’s views without any threatening demands for acceptance. Second, being ready to listen to others’ point of view. Third, if some strength is seen in the opposing view, one should be ready to amend/change one’s own view accordingly and not feel any shame in doing this.
Pakistan is the sixth largest nation and 27th biggest economy in the world. It is neighbouring the two biggest economies of the near future — China and India. In order to be an international player we need to update our laws. We want Pakistan to be a major economic player in accordance with her true potential. That is only possible if we use rationality in our internal and external policies in place of sheer emotionalism or misguided patriotism.
[The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]