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Old Monday, October 16, 2006
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Default Liaquat & the Objectives Resolution

Liaquat & the Objectives Resolution


By Sharif al Mujahid


JINNAH’s “right hand man” and heir apparent — that’s how Liaquat Ali Khan is often referred to, and rightly too. For one thing, Liaquat had headed the team of lieutenants which had so successfully put Jinnah’s plans through during the momentous 1937-47 decade, which made Pakistan possible. For another, his role in filling in the vacuum created by Jinnah’s death was decisive in tackling critical problems during Pakistan’s fledgling years and in devising measures for the consolidation of Pakistan.

No wonder, he had elicited high praise from both contemporary observers and historians. “No one played the role of Cawour to his leader’s Mazzini”, wrote The Times of India (Bombay) on his death. “He guided the fortunes of his country with a certainty which amounted to genius”, remarked the The Statesmen (Calcutta).

However, one crucial role that has somehow been ignored or missed relates to his contribution in preventing the rise of theocracy in Pakistan. Against the backdrop of developments in terms of religious parties’ credo and aspirations, the proliferation of religious militancy and sectarian violence, especially during the past 26 years, this contribution was critical.

This Liaquat did through the Objectives Resolution (1949). That initiative had attempted a progressive interpretation of Islam as emphasised by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Iqbal, although some of our latter-day intellectuals find the references to Islam in the Resolution a little problematic, especially cavilling at the sovereignty clause. But had the Resolution been retrogressive in any way, it would surely not have elicited the sort of defence and support as it did from the foremost spokesman of the left in Pakistan’s formative years — Mian Muhammad Iftikaruddin.

Besides felicitating Liaquat for having brought in the Resolution “at long last” and for having had it “couched in beautiful words”, Mian Sahib said, “The objections that have been raised by the members of the Congress Party on this Resolution relate to the statement that power is derived from God. It has been said that it gives the constitution a theocratic approach. Sir, I assure the members of the Congress Party that the wording of the Preamble does not in any way make this Objectives Resolution any more theocratic, any the more religious than the Resolution or the statement of fundamental principles of some of the modern countries of the world. “We know, Sir, that the constitutions of many countries start, if not with exactly the same, at least by somewhat similar words. Ireland is not the only country that I know of, the constitution of which starts with somewhat similar words about God. Practically every country of British Empire derives its authority through the agency of the King from God. It is always mentioned, the King Emperor, by the Grace of God, and, so on. The members of the Congress Party need to feel no more nervous than do the subjects of British Empire or the citizens of the Irish Free State on the wording of the Resolution.

“... Sir, the authority, whether we say it or not, is derived from that (higher) Power. It does not lie within our power to change the laws of nature or to add to, or detract from, the power of Nature’s God. Therefore, in having stated that, we have not done anything very extraordinary, and the members of the Congress Party may rest assured that since the God of the Muslims, the conception of Allah in the Muslim religion, is in no way less merciful than the conception of the Almighty in other religions, the objection from the Party opposite is not an important objection at all.”

On his part, Liaquat was emphatic that the sovereignty clause did not in any way compromise the democratic nature of the state visualised for Pakistan, arguing that “...all authority is a sacred trust, entrusted to us by God for the purpose of being exercised in the service of man, so that it does not become an agency for tyranny or selfishness. I would, however, point out that this is not a resuscitation of the dead theory of Divine Right of Kings or rulers, because, in accordance with the spirit of Islam, the preamble fully recognises the truth that authority has been delegated to the people, and to none else, and that it is for the people to decide who exercise that authority.

“For this reason it has been made clear in the Resolution that the state shall exercise all its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people. This is the very essence of democracy, because the people have been recognised as the recipients of all authority and it is in them that the power to wield it has been vested.”

Whether or not the members of the Constituent Assembly were clear on some issues, they were quite explicit in resolving that if Pakistan were to become an “Islamic democracy”, it should be by the choice of its citizens. This explains why the Resolution recognises the peoples — all “the people, irrespective of whatever faith they may follow”, as emphasised by Kamini Kumar Dutta, during the Objectives Resolution debate — as the vehicle of “the authority” delegated by God to the sate of Pakistan.

It is also significant that the Resolution speaks of or refers to “the people” in four other clauses and lays emphasis on the rights of the people, the representation of the people, the prosperity of the people, their place in the comity of nations, and the exercise of power and authority by the chosen representatives of the people. Thus, the Resolution tends to be people-oriented. Inexplexicably though, this salient feature has generally been ignored in most recent discussions on the Resolution.

Equally significant, almost all the Muslim participants in the debate on the Resolution emphatically rejected theocracy as a system and denied any sort of nexus between the Resolution and the theocratic concept. Liaquat himself set the tone, saying, “Sir, I just now said that the people are the real recipients of power. This naturally eliminates any danger of the establishment of a theocracy. ...in a technical sense, theocracy has come to mean a government by ordained priests, who wield authority as being specifically appointed by those who claim to derive their rights from their sacerdotal position....

“Such an idea is absolutely foreign to Islam. Islam does not recognise either priesthood or any sacerdotal authority, and, therefore, the question of a theocracy simply does not arise in Islam. If there are any who still use the word theocracy in the same breath as the polity of Pakistan, they are either labouring under a grave misapprehension, or indulging in mischievous propaganda.”

What makes this version all the more credible and authentic besides being logical is that Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, the doyen of the ulema at the time, had lent his weight to Liaquat’s interpretation. During his address on the Resolution, he asserted that “an Islamic state does not mean the ‘government of the ordained priests’”, adding, “how could Islam countenance the false idea which the Quran so emphatically repudiated in the following words... (x, Tauba, 5)?”

In his address, Mian Iftikharuddin emphasised repeatedly the “authority” of the people saying, “you must remember that we have no ordained priests, we have no licensed ulema. In other words, we cannot go and appeal to a final authority as can the people of Roman Catholic countries to the Pope or to the priesthood. We, the Muslims, can appeal to no other authority on earth than the people.”

Indeed, till the end of his premiership, Liaquat missed no opportunity to emphasise the authority of the people and the democratic ethos, and indeed theocracy as a system of government. Thus, during his US tour (May-June 1950), he assured, “We have pledged that the state shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people. In this we have kept steadily before us the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam. There is no room here for theocracy, for Islam stands for freedom of conscience, condemns coercion, has no priesthood and abhors the caste system. It believes in the equality of all men and in the right of each individual to enjoy the fruit of his or her efforts, enterprise, capacity and skill — provided these be honestly employed.”

Of course, the Resolution enabled “Muslims... to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accord with the teachings and requirements as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah”, but in the same breath made “adequate provision... for the minorities freely to profess and practise their religion and develop their culture”.

Above all, what Liaquat did, inter alia, was to establish the principle that should Pakistan opt for a sort of “Islamic democracy”, it should be through the will of the people as expressed through their chosen representatives. It was a tremendous step forward in terms of a progressive and enlightened interpretation of Islam does this principle or paradigm represent can be assessed with a reference to the Saudi, Sudanese or Iranian models in which the fiat, rather than the peoples’ will, serves as the critical variable.

Thus, for the past fiftyseven years, the Objectives Resolution has served as a bulwark against the rise of theocracy in Pakistan. Since there is little chance of the so-called religious parties ever gaining power through electoral politics, it would continue to serve as a bulwark in the future as well. The Resolution was, above all, the handiwork of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.

The writer was Founder-Director, Quaid-i-Azam Academy (1976-89) and authored “Jinnah: Studies in Interpretation” (198).
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