Fact of the matter

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The ongoing saga between Jang Group and the ISI, in which the entire nation – from the Mullahs, to the media anchors, to the politicians, to the judiciary, and even the mango people – is now engulfed, is more than simply about Hamid Mir’s allegations regarding the assassination attempt. The tentacles of this drama of epic proportions, extends far beyond the skirmishes in the Kamran Khan Show, or the ridiculousness of Shaista Lodhi’s Show, or the banter of Mubashar Luqman, or the demonstrations outside local press clubs, or the pressures on PEMRA, or the registration of a blasphemy case, or even the Imran Khan jalsa. At the heart of the matter, how our law and the society treats the Jang Group, and how Jang Group responds to such treatment, is effectively a question of where we, as a Constitutional democracy, draw that elusive line between ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘national interest’.

Sifting through the myriad of noise and an ongoing turf war, the issue throws up numerous questions that strike at the heart of our democratic ethos: Is the functioning of institutions subject to the contours of law, or is the implementation of law subject to the power of institutions? Are there voids in our democratic structure to which the empire of our Constitutional freedom does not extend, or have certain neoliberals misconstrued the law to undermine the very foundations of our State? Should law come to rescue the ever-extending doctrine of national security, or would national security instead be strengthened through criticism and open debate? Has a ‘free media’, which has been hailed as a national hero by our apex Court during the traumatic years of Iftikhar Chaudhary, become too big for its own shoes, or is it still continuing to perform a national service, only this time the birth pangs of freedom are stronger than the past? Is Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman’s band of hooligans really a group of double agents bent upon destroying our national character and integrity? Or have we, as a society of saviors, become hyper sensitive to anything that questions our khaki soul or celestial morality?

How we – each one of us, individually as well as collectively – answer these questions, shall determine not only who we are as a people today, but more importantly who we want to become as a nation tomorrow. And whoever that turns out to be, will be our legacy as well as our inheritance, to the unborn generations of Pakistanis who, through no fault of theirs, will have to suffer the consequences of the decisions we make today.

Let us start by stating a few uncomfortable truths: In the left corner, wearing the blue and orange trunks, and holding the flag of ‘freedom of speech’, Jang Group is no bastion of moral superiority. In the past, this very group has run nefarious campaigns against journalists and politicians who they have disagreed with. With the help of its large mouthpiece, Jang Group has been able to drown-out the voices of their opponents, extinguishing the very freedom of speech that the group is clamoring for today. It has lynched prime ministers, glorified the prodigal son of a favored judge, and single-handedly declared the election victory of a political party halfway through the counting of ballots.

In the right corner, wearing green trunks (with begrudging white spots), and holding the mantle of religio-national security, is the military-mullah alliance. This formidable opponent is the self-declared savior of our national integrity, and Islamic glory. Cloaked in these esteemed ideas, in the past, this enterprise has sponsored jihad, championed ‘strategic depth’, created political parties, toppled democratic governments, and even (allegedly) assassinated journalistic voices of dissent. In the face of successive weak civilian governments, this alliance has claimed absolute dominion over defining and evolving the idea of national security as well as Islamic supremacy. And by wielding these irresistible forces, they have been able to successfully harness street power to quell all signs of opposition. In this regard, instruments of law, Constitutional forces, and inviolable fundamental rights, have meant nothing more than minor inconveniences in the path of national and Islamic interests. Freedom, for them, means only the illusion of those limited liberties that do not raise their head to the unchallenged fiefdom of the saviors.

And pitted between these two forces, the hapless people of Pakistan, the spirit of our jurisprudence, and the reach of our fundamental rights, are struggling for breath. Regardless of who wins the instant battle between these foes, it would have little consequence for the losing side. Should the religio-military enterprise prevail, Hamid Mir will still remain a journalist, and Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman will still be a force to reckon with. On the other hand, should the unthinkable happen, and Jang Group wins the day, it would do little to diminish the might of our military, or the venom of our mullahs.

But in the process, Pakistan as a nation state, will either decide that the contours of free speech extend to the hidden places within GHQ, or alternatively, that the glean of national security can banish the tethered construct of fundamental rights.

As a result, the confrontation between Jang Group and our military establishment is effectively a battle within each one of us, to choose between competing values. And the summation of our individual decisions, in this regard, will eventually form the composite national ethos of Pakistan. The issue, therefore, is not restricted to Hamid Mir, Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, Mubashar Luqman, or the DG ISI. All of us hold a casting vote towards the final outcome.

This particular moment in history, this particular tussle between two supra-state structures, is an opportunity that comes along infrequently in the span of a generation. And, it needs to be seen as such. The paradigm that results in the wake of this collision will become the norm, up until the next such confrontation occurs, which may not happen for several decades. Therefore, in order to shape its narrative, we must all actively participate in the ongoing discourse.

This is not just our legal and civic duty. It is, in fact, our national obligation.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. Email:saad@post.harvard.edu, Tweetsa at:@Ch_SaadRasool

The Nation

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