Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFFEE: Writ of the state in settled areas, The Daily Times, 14 June, 2014

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Whether a politician makes an invitation or a media person pleads a case, if there is any suggestion of inciting military personnel to act against their allegiance, the state must establish its writ by putting that person behind bars

Dr Haider Shah
June 14, 2014

The writ of the state is one of the most recurring clichés in the political narrative of our country. After every terrorist incident, critics complain of the withering of this writ while the government announces its resolve to enforce the same. We also come across phrases like ‘anti-state elements’. Words get hackneyed with extensive use by users from various backgrounds and often lose their actual meaning. ‘State’ is a political concept composed of four elements: people, government, territory and sovereignty.

According to our Constitution, sovereignty belongs to Almighty Allah; however, it is defined and exercised by people. So the extent and contours of sovereignty have to be dictated neither by a body of clerics nor by men in uniform but only by the people of Pakistan through parliament. Therefore the writ of the state means enforcing the general will of the people, which they express through ballots in a well-defined territory.

When the phrase ‘writ of state’ is used we think of militants and their safe havens in various parts of the country. But the long arm of the law has to first show its efficacy in the general day to day affairs of the country. While in the case of FATA and Karachi, a full-fledged operation is needed to regain control from those who challenge the supremacy of the state, establishing the same in other walks of life is just a matter of will and clarity of purpose. Section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code makes abetting mutiny, or attempting to seduce a soldier, sailor or airman from allegiance to his duty a crime punishable with imprisonment for life or for 10 years. The Constitution bars the army from taking part in politics and every officer takes an oath of allegiance to that effect. If anyone incites the army to indulge in politics, he or she commits a crime under section 131 and the government should exhibit zero tolerance for all those who overtly or covertly make any suggestion of mutiny. Whether a politician makes an invitation or a media person pleads a case, if there is any suggestion of inciting military personnel to act against their allegiance, the state must establish its writ by putting that person behind bars. What I argued in my last column, Mr Mahmud Achakzai repeated in his speech in the National Assembly. What is so special about Tahirul Qadri that he should be spared if he is wilfully inciting the armed forces and coercing them to be disobedient to a lawfully constituted government? Similarly, many TV anchors openly preach treason and mutiny to army officers. While media personalities enjoy full freedom to expose the wrongdoings of governments, they need to be prosecuted if they abuse their freedom and challenge the writ of the state.

Ever since six bullets were fired upon Hamid Mir, we have seen gradual erosion of the writ of the state. If in the past its writ was challenged by militants, this time it was dishonoured by an organ of the government. The elected government led by the Prime Minister appeared spineless in establishing its legitimate authority. The manner in which the TV channel Geo was targeted with the help of smaller media channels reminded me of a fable by Aesop where a wolf comes upon a lamb and, in order to justify taking its life, accuses it of various misdemeanours. After all the accusations were proved false by the lamb, the hungry wolf pounces upon the lamb stating that the offences must have been committed by someone else in the family. A journalist has only the pen on his side. In a security state the sword is still stronger than the pen. He can only register his protest when people carrying guns encounter him. To what degree government will establish its writ we will see after expiry of the 15 day ban on Geo.

The daredevil attack on Karachi airport by Uzbek militants associated with terrorists from the tribal areas once again exposed the lack of preparedness of our security institutions and poor strategic level planning. Criticism is not on account of their inability to prevent the incident. If a student is seen working hard and devoting time and energy to an examination and then he gets low marks, we can be sympathetic to such a student and quite forgiving. But if a student does not listen to advice and is busy in time wasting pursuits and then fails, we tend to be less forgiving. The same is the case with our spymasters. If they had applied all their resources and energies on infiltrating the extremists and then cleaning them up, we would have been very forgiving if lapses like the Karachi airport attack happened. But when the agencies are seen round the clock busy in monitoring journalists and politicians, questions about the waste of national resources must be asked and adequately answered. The government may have given the green signal for a military operation in North Waziristan, but it must also launch a police operation against those who lecture military personnel on disobedience and disloyalty. It should also ensure that military commanders only perform their professional duties and not entangle themselves in any warfare with any group of journalists. The writ of the state needs to be established firmly in major cities of Pakistan before we turn our eyes towards the tribal areas.

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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