In the past week, ‘liberals’ in Pakistan have gone from being ‘bloody liberals’ to ‘blood thirsty’ liberals thanks to the liberality of Imran Khan and his views. Initially I thought that I should let it go, since if one begins to comment every time on the absurd statements he comes up with, one would have little time to do anything else, but this time round I stopped to consider why he had made such an appellation.
Listening to his speech as well as of his party members, over the last few days, made it clear that it was a reference to the ‘Pakistani liberals’ who were uneasy with how the Islamabad sit-in ended, with an agreement in which the government almost surrendered to the protesting extremist group. As Abrarul Haq, once a Pakistan Studies teacher at Aitchison College (Aitchison really did have some bad days!), thundered, “these liberals, with their English, simply could not tolerate a peaceful end to the dharna. They wanted blood.”
So what did the liberals actually want? But before I go on to what the liberals want, let me also make it clear that I am still unsure who Imran Khan termed as liberals. There is no ‘liberal party’ in Pakistan, nor do any party wants itself to be called ‘liberal,’ (except perhaps some sections of the PPP), and there are very few vocal civil society organisations which vow to fight for liberal rights in the country. So this dangerous monolith, which Khan seems to howl against, is actually non-existent. They are simply a few, very few, voices which espouse some liberal ideals, which Khan is blasting. So why is Imran Khan and his followers afraid of these handful of ‘liberals’?
Khan and his supporters dislike the ‘liberals’ because these liberals call for the sanctity of the single most important institution in the country. And no, its not the army, it is the constitution of Pakistan. The constitution of a country is the supreme national institution, as it is actually the framework upon which the country is built. Take away the constitution and the country falls apart; disregard the constitution and there is civil strife and war, abrogate the constitution and people become slaves. That is how critical and basic the constitution of the country is. Therefore, for a liberal, rights, privileges and duties assigned in the constitution are the single most important consideration, beyond everything else, as upon it depends the existence and survival of the country. Take away the constitution and there is no country. Period.
Now I know that following the constitution is anathema to most of Khan’s supporters — after all, wasn’t his achievement of winning the cricket world cup enough for becoming the PM? Why waste time winning seats and cobbling up a majority in parliament? But as long as the constitution remains, its precepts need to be followed. Article 5 of the constitution makes its amply clear that “loyalty to the state is the basic duty of every citizen”, and that “obedience to the constitution and law is the inviolable obligation of every citizen.” Furthermore, Article 6 calls ‘subverting’ the constitution ‘high treason.’ Hence, whoever by whatever means undermines or subverts the constitution needs to be tried for high treason by the courts.
What happened in Faizabad and then the manner in which an ‘agreement’ was signed between a political party and the government of Pakistan (a rather bizarre precedent) was not within the ambit of the constitution of Pakistan. Both the honourable judges of the Islamabad Court (IHC) and the Supreme Court have questioned the agreement and the need to bow down before the protesters. Therefore, there is no doubt that extra-constitutional authorities were used and outside pressures put upon the government to surrender before the demands of the protesters.
So if Imran Khan thinks that the ‘liberals’ were baiting for blood for their insistence and that the constitution of Pakistan should remain paramount and that constitutional and legal means be followed to address grievances, then be it. I would rather be a blood thirsty liberal and side with the supreme national institution i.e. the constitution, than join foul mouthed protesters who only wish to undermine it. Pakistan will never progress unless its so-called leaders learn to respect its constitution, its supremacy and its application.