Turkish democracy comes of age
By cleverly using the discourse of EU's human rights, Turkish political party system seems to have put a lid on the interfering influence of the military
By Dr Arif Azad
On September 12, 2010, something unthinkable happened in Turkey. The long-awaited referendum to determine the role of military was endorsed by 58 percent of the electorate, paving way for far-reaching constitutional changes. The referendum was called by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the last full-blown military coup which resulted in the rewriting of the constitution to buttress the hegemonic position of the military.

Seeing children off
How do parents, especially mothers, cope with the situation when their children leave home for studies or work
By Farah Zahidi Moazzam
We have grown up seeing dramatic clips in movies where the mere thought of a daughter leaving home after marriage makes an otherwise brave mom sniffle, and a father turn away to hide his moist eyes. Today, there is something other than marriage that takes them away from us and way too soon. What's more, it is us as parents who facilitate this separation. That, of course, is our children leaving home for better education - abroad or to another city.

issue
Collision courts
The row between the bench and bar led to violence and extreme politicisation before it saw a retreat of sorts
By Waqar Gillani
Black coats crowded the small president room of the Lahore Bar Association last Tuesday. The room, filled with cigarette smoke, roared with sounds of private tv channels airing details on the bar-bench controversy. Many more waited outside the room; laughing, celebrating the transfer of the 'most-disliked' District and Sessions Judge, Lahore Mr Zawar A. Sheikh.

From power to politics
Pervez Musharraf will have to learn the ropes of politics to acquire some space
By Adnan Adil
Amidst growing political uncertainty in the country, self-exiled General Pervez Musharraf (retd) announced his All Pakistan Muslim League in London on October 1, fuelling speculations that he might have a role whenever a political change comes into effect.
Before going into the dynamics of Musharraf politics, let us have a look at his rhetoric. As usual, while announcing his party, Musharraf sounded confident taking swipes at his opponents: nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan is a man with a bad character and Nawaz Sharif is an empty-headed man. At the same time, he wished to bring about new political culture in the country. With Musharraf's photo clutching two puppies in his arms during the early days of his rule still splashed all over the cyberspace, he announced Quran and Sunnah (the tradition of Prophet (PBUH)) as the guiding principle of his politics.

Neither black nor white
The much-decried judgement of the Allahabad High Court is welcome even though the exact shape the solution takes depends on a host of political, legal and other factors
By Aniket Alam
The verdict of the Allahabad High Court on the title dispute over the 2.77 acres of land where stood the Babri Masjid has led to much debate and controversy. While some have suggested that it provides an opportunity to find a compromise and reach closure on this divisive issue, Hindu fundamentalists claim victory in the terms of the Court order. Mirroring the congratulatory tone of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party response, a large number of left and anti-communal forces have condemned the verdict and critiqued it for denying justice. Muslim opinion, though almost universally expressing some level of disappointment with the verdict, has been split among those who consider it unacceptable and plan to appeal to the Supreme Court and those who think that despite all the shortcomings, this judgement should be used to close the matter right now and not continue with this conflict-ridden litigation.

 

 

Disorder of identity

Secularism is an idea we approach with trepidation, even though it has no links with religiosity. This cannot change quickly. For Pakistan, the struggle to find its real identity continues

By Kamila Hyat

Since it was born, Pakistan has suffered a rather severe identity disorder.

Unfortunately its guardians have lacked the wisdom and rationality necessary to treat such conditions aggressively and at least prevent deterioration even if a cure is not possible. As a result, today we find a nation in a state of acute ill-health, struggling to stay alive even as the 'hakims' gathered around the bedside murmur words such as 'extremism', 'radicalism' or 'secularism'.

The crisis should not really be a cause of much surprise. Pakistan was, after all, forged by a man who -- in his personal life -- made little association with the religion to which he was born. In his political life, he used Islam to serve a purpose that right into early 1947 many in the subcontinent believed would be impossible, painfully carving out a new nation from within the Indian whole. Pakistan would emerge on the world's map as the only country other than Israel, established a year later, to be founded on the basis of religion. But then, just to make things more confusing, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, during his short stint at the helm of affairs in the country he had played a key role in creating, did all he could to establish within it the secularism he himself ardently believed in. He did so, of course, most famously in his August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly -- but also on other occasions. As a leader he quite clearly believed a State could not; should not; have a religion.

Is it any wonder then that we, as a nation, are rather confused? The confusion through the years has hardly been helped by politicians such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who spoke of Islam as the nation's religion, democracy as its politics and socialism as its economy. Some would question if such an order can actually co-exist. And, like Jinnah, Bhutto too was not averse to using religion to serve political purposes when it suited him to do so -- with disastrous consequences as laws he put in place to appease the right paved the way for a headlong descent into orthodoxy.

The real damage to any hope Pakistan may have had of stumbling along in the hazy, but at least essentially liberal, umbrella held up by men like Bhutto was inflicted by a non-political parliament hand-picked by General Ziaul Haq. As part of his 'Islamization' measures -- which of course served essentially to bolster his own power -- the Objectives Resolution of 1949, till then only a preamble to the constitution, was included in the text as an operative part. It now appears, oddly enough, in two places in that much mangled document. The 8thAmendment gave protection to this move -- and created the dichotomy we have lived with since then, struggling with the mayhem created by attempting to place two codes side by side within a text intended to spell out the essential law of the land.

Phrases such as those which delegate 'Allah's sovereignty' to the people of Pakistan or state that democracy, equality and other basic principles are to be practiced as 'enunciated by Islam' make the task of deciphering the constitution a fearfully difficult one. Provisions that all laws conform to Islam are a cause of much debate given differences over interpretation and leading lawyers have been known to tear out their hair while studying a code that many believe now makes only limited sense. Sadly, much like the case of the proverbial new clothes donned by the Emperor, few have the courage to say this in so many words. The existence of the Federal Shariah Court since 1980 has created a parallel judicial system which adds to the chaos swirling through a country which does not know itself.

Mangled laws lead to mangled thoughts. Ours are certainly very twisted indeed. The issue of removing the Objectives Resolution from the body of the constitution has not been discussed even as the parliament has worked out the18th Amendment Bill. Yet it is crucial to salvaging the constitution, removing ambiguity and converting it once more into a document that can serve the purpose for which it was intended. In the presence of the Objectives Resolution as a part of the constitution, any notion of secularism is impossible. At forums outside parliament, the issue has rarely been taken up. One reason for this is that secularism, and indeed many issues than link up with religion, scare us. Like children frightened by a thunder-storm, we cover our ears or cower under the bed whenever they are mentioned.

The fear has some rationale. The extremist groups -- backed by the hard-line schools of Islamic thinking imported into the country by Zia -- intimidate many of us. Their influence has grown, though it is still possible that empowerment for people who most of all yearn food, education, shelter and healthcare could lead to some layers of fundamentalist thinking being brushed aside. These factors matter more to most people than the nature of State.

We do however need far more debate on the matter. It is discussion, open, uninhibited talk that opens up minds and brings neurons in brains into motion. Secularism is an idea we approach with trepidation, even though it has no links with religiosity. This cannot change quickly. The past ensures this. But as we saw when Pakistan was created, Bhutto elected or East Pakistan torn away history brings many surprises. For Pakistan, the struggle to find its real identity continues. It will succeed only if it examines the contents of its Supreme Law and also its society that has changed drastically over the decades, virtually beyond recognition as strife created by religious differences continues to grow, exerting a huge strain on harmony within a deeply schizophrenic State.

 

Turkish democracy comes of age

By cleverly using the discourse of EU's human rights, Turkish political party system seems to have put a lid on the interfering influence of the military

By Dr Arif Azad

On September 12, 2010, something unthinkable happened in Turkey. The long-awaited referendum to determine the role of military was endorsed by 58 percent of the electorate, paving way for far-reaching constitutional changes. The referendum was called by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the last full-blown military coup which resulted in the rewriting of the constitution to buttress the hegemonic position of the military.

Even though the referendum was on the cards since Prime Minister Erdogan rode to power in 2002, he did not feel confident enough to challenge the state [read military] until he settled down to his job. The slow process of constitutional changes began with drafting of a bill which led it to be put before the people of Turkey to do away with the "shame of coups" as Erdogan put it (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, with a knack for coining phrases, called it a culture of coupgemony). As predicted, the referendum proved to be extremely divisive, splitting the country down the middle. As a result the referendum campaign became a straight fight between the ruling party and the opposition composed of nationalists and secular parties, with Kurdish parties choosing to boycott the referendum.

Both camps read different things into the referendum. While the ruling party saw the referendum as a chance to recast the political equation in favour of democracy and civilian control over the military, the opposition parties -- both secular and nationalists -- viewed it as AKP's attempt to erode the secular basis of Turkish state and to continue the creeping authoritarian agenda of the ruling party. The divisions ran so deep that the result was predicted to be a close run thing.

Against this backdrop, most observers saw it as a referendum on AKP's record in office. In any event Prime Minister Erdogan emerged out of this contest strongly with 58 percent of voters from a 77 percent turnout backing him. The result is a ringing endorsement of Erdogan's popularity and a deep-seated desire of the electorate to put behind the culture of coups and join in the European Union.

The pattern of votes cast also confirmed deep regional divisions, with "Yes" vote largely concentrated in Anatolian rim and "No" vote spread over the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. AKP deserves full credit for taking on the military which has so far considered itself to be the guardian of Turkey. This has not come easy to AKP though. Ever since coming to power in 2002, the AKP administration had set for itself the goal of reducing the influence of military and joining the EU which requires Turkey to update its human rights and democratic credentials. The EU discourse on human rights was the only available route to gradually hack away at the so far unchallengeable dominant position of the military in Turkish life.

Until now, military has determined the course of politics, making and unmaking of civilian governments, pretty much like Pakistan. The clash between AKP-led administration and the powerful military is rooted, on one hand, in the reconcilable tension between the larger interests of democracy and the narrow interests of Turkish army. On the other hand, this clash is rooted in opposing ideologies of military-secular mind-set and AKP's conservative religious power base. There is also economic angle to this clash -- as AKP represents the conservative Anatolian business class which is resentful of military-secular elite's hold over state-directed capitalism from which Anatolian class has been shut out.

Together these inherent incompatibilities have led to a series of political skirmishes which eventuated in calling the September 12 referendum to refer the matter to the electorate for their final say. In the event, people of Turkey spoke and backed the constitutional package seeking to run things on the civilian-dominant political model.

The amendments put before the electorate covered a gamut of areas which go to the heart of reforming current political arrangements. These amendments seek to lift immunity from coup-plotters of the past to bring military officers to trial in civilian courts and bar military court from trying civilians and to give parliament a final say over the appointment of judges (why there is so much judicial uproar over this issue in Pakistan) and to give ordinary citizens the right to form unions and initiate complaints to higher courts. More importantly, the rights of minorities, women, children and elderly have been ensured in line with EU legislation. Now that these amendments have been ratified by the electorate, rights groups are already gearing up for initiating legal proceedings against the military officers for human rights abuses.

With this bold referendum, Turkish democracy has come of age. The move has come in for praise from all countries, including the EU and the US. AKP seems to have achieved a big victory which augurs well for the future of Turkey. By cleverly using the discourse of EU's human rights, Turkish political party system seems to have put a lid on the interfering influence of the army and its unaccountable ways. There is little chance of the military resisting these changes as EU's influence on the military shenanigans is a potent and deterrent factor.

That these long overdue changes have been put into motion is a moment of deep reflection for our conservative religious parties who often act as a B team of military regimes. More significantly, the soft peddling of political parties, historically opposed to military's rule, on Altaf Hussain statements is deeply puzzling in the context of Turkish developments.

The writer is chief executive of the Network for Consumer Protection. Email [email protected]

 

Seeing children off

How do parents, especially mothers, cope with the situation when their children leave home for studies or work

By Farah Zahidi Moazzam

We have grown up seeing dramatic clips in movies where the mere thought of a daughter leaving home after marriage makes an otherwise brave mom sniffle, and a father turn away to hide his moist eyes. Today, there is something other than marriage that takes them away from us and way too soon. What's more, it is us as parents who facilitate this separation. That, of course, is our children leaving home for better education - abroad or to another city.

The mass exodus of youth phenomenon that our country is witnessing today has its plus points no doubt. Exposure, confidence, better education, promise of better lives for our children than we had - we know it's worth it for the good of our children. But everything comes with a price. It is not easy for a parent to let go.

Saima Rauf, an artist and a mother of two, recently experienced this as her son left home for higher education. "It is very tough," says Rauf, obviously grappling with the sense of missing her son. "You feel empty inside knowing that now they have left home and would only come for a few days as guests. But you have to let them go for their own good and have to deal with the emptiness. For that you must remain busy, like I have again started giving my drawing more time."

The first time is the worst, as are the initial days and months, shares Tazeen Ahmed, home-maker and mother. "When they go for the first time you feel lonely, depressed and stressed out because you are not sure whether they will achieve the goal or the purpose they are being sent for, but then with the lapse of time you get used to it," says Ahmed's voice of experience.

It is not just emotionally difficult, but parents have very real fears about their children once they are away. Sadia Agha, a philanthropist, describes how she felt when her children left home for greener pastures. "As a mother, I am scared everyday of so many things. What if the kids get on to a bad track; I trust them and have taught them the basic values, but it's a big bad world out there. Youth is a time when emotions are running high; girls and boys being together unattended, western influence, the threat of alcohol, them all alone out there," says Agha, sharing her fears - fears which every parent faces but does not always voice.

This is doubly difficult as, today, many of us are prone to over-parenting. We have become "helicopter parents" hovering closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether our children need us or not. Parents try to resolve their child's problems, and try to stop them from coming to harm by keeping them out of dangerous situations.

Hina Ansari, mother of three boys, is a self-proclaimed "reformed helicopter parent". "Now if my son is unable to call for a week or two, I do not have the urge to die like I used to! It is a matter of adjusting to a new lifestyle. And the earlier you let go of the apron string the better for both. It is easier said than done though. But you have to accept that you have trained them well, and you have to leave them in God's care. If you don't have faith in your children, how will they have faith in themselves?" Ansari is now using the time she has on hand well by going back to school and pursuing a degree.

Thus, even after they have left home, many parents know of every activity of their child, or think they do. Dr Tarannum Ahmed, mother of two, has both her children studying abroad. Thanks to information technology and phone packages, Ahmed talks to her children several times a day. They still have to ask her when they decide to go to a friend's for a day-spend. But this constant long-distance monitoring has taken its toll on her. She has to go and live with her children every time they move to a new dormitory, and shuttles between home and the US. Her son recently had a minor car accident. "It was the worst day for me; sitting thousands of miles away, helpless, not being able to be there. It's not easy…That is all I can say," says Ahmed, moved to tears by simply re-living that day.

Re-thinking, this monitoring is worth it, as the kids may have left the nest but the sense of belonging continues. And so it goes….their rooms remain intact, as they left them. The parents are always there for them in times of dire need. They come home for vacations and homes, once again albeit temporarily, are filled with laughter and chaos. Moms busily cook their children's favourite meals. Dads come home early from work. Children have the best of both worlds - they get a taste of independent living and gain confidence needed to face the world, but always have a place to come back to.

 

 

 

issue

Collision courts

The row between the bench and bar led to violence and extreme politicisation before it saw a retreat of sorts

By Waqar Gillani

Black coats crowded the small president room of the Lahore Bar Association last Tuesday. The room, filled with cigarette smoke, roared with sounds of private tv channels airing details on the bar-bench controversy. Many more waited outside the room; laughing, celebrating the transfer of the 'most-disliked' District and Sessions Judge, Lahore Mr Zawar A. Sheikh.

The issue, that went out of hand administratively, started with the demand of Lahore Bar Association (LBA) to Zawar A. Sheikh over his alleged mistreatment of lawyers. The judge, administrative head of the district-level judiciary, was appointed district and session judge in January this year.

The lawyers' demand for his transfer reached its peak in the last three months. "The issue started in January 2010 with the appointment of Mr. Sheikh. We met chief justice Lahore High Court and requested him to take notice of the issue. He set May 31 as the deadline, which he failed to meet," says President LBA Sajid Bashir while talking to TNS. "In July, he again misbehaved with some lawyers and the bar took up the issue. On July 12, some lawyers blocked Sheikh's way and pelted shoes on his car."

He acknowledges the lawyers' demand has finally been met. "There would have been no problem if our demand had been heeded to three months ago." He condemns the alleged attack on the chief justice's office. "We had no choice but to protest. The LBA strongly condemned the incident. We want the CJ to take the culprits to task. The available video footage will explain a lot about that day's attack," Bashir adds, hinting at the possibility of agencies' involvement in the incident.

Bashir does not view the recent transfer of Zawar Sheikh as 'victory'. "Certain elements tried to create a rift between the bar and the bench. Otherwise there is no clash. We do not believe in confrontation with institutions and want to resolve issues through dialogue," he adds, while puffing at his cigarette.

The bar-bench row gained media attention when on September 30, LBA members staged a protest to assert their demand outside the courtroom of Lahore High Court CJ, Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, the administrative head of the judiciary in the province.

During the protest, the lawyers burnt Zawar Sheikh's effigy in front of the CJ's courtroom. The protestors turned violent. And the security forces in retaliation baton-charged the lawyers.

Following the protest, criminal cases were lodged against the LBA lawyers, apparently on the orders of the chief justice Lahore High Court. Police clamped down the LBA office bearers and members when they were holding a press conference in the premises of district courts. There were clashes between the police and lawyers and both blame each other for starting the violence.

The incident in Lahore charged lawyers across the country. The politicians meanwhile gained mileage out of this unfortunate incident, terming it a "conspiracy" against the unity of the bar and bench.

The blame game started between the bar and the affiliated political circles. PPP was blamed for creating a rift between the bar and the bench. There have also been reports circulating among the lawyers' circles that the LBA authorities had allegedly been pressing the disliked-judge for recruiting their recommended persons on some vacancies of low-grade non judicial slots in the district judiciary. Analysts like Najam Sethi have viewed this as a "legitimate" demand of the lawyers in lower courts -- like the leaders of Lawyers' Movement, they too want to get some benefits. However, LBA President refutes the allegation.

There came a time when the issue of transfer of Zawar Sheikh became secondary and police torture or violence became a key point of debate; the lawyers blame the authorities who ordered this action and asked the police to lodge anti-terrorism cases against the lawyers.

Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Lahore, Aslam Tareen, says while talking to TNS that when some lawyers broke the window panes of LHC CJ office, the protestors also beat some police officials standing there for security. He says the cases were lodged on the orders of "higher authorities."

A total of 18 cases have been lodged against lawyers, out of which 12 were on court's instructions and six by the police," Tareen adds. He says the lawyers pelted stones on police and other buildings and this act falls under one section of Anti terrorism Act. That is why we included ATA in the police report. The CCPO says, "the police performed its duty and remained peaceful till its men were tortured by the lawyers."

Senior lawyers, however, have a different take. Ali Ahmed Kurd, former Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President, says the demand of LBA should have been heard on time so that the situation did not get out of control. Kurd, who is also one of the three-member inquiry team formed by Chief Justice of Pakistan, says he will look into the issue in detail.

Tariq Mehmood, former judge of high court and ex-president of SCBA, blames the lawyers' leadership for the crisis. "The biggest mistake, after the Lawyers' Movement was over with the restoration of judges, was that we did not end the ownership of this movement. Also, the judges should have tried to nip the evil in the bud. Now the lawyers have sidelined the judiciary, and do not accept any other point of view. Such issues must be resolved administratively."

He cited the case of Falak Sher, the then Chief Justice of Lahore High Court, who took a principled stand on the demand of a bar for transferring a judge and did not transfer him. "The chief justice should examine the case on its merits and then assert his authority. This time it was mishandled indeed and given into the hands of the police." He also urged that all judges from civil judges to Supreme Court judges be respected and violence should not be condoned in any case.

Despite the change of command of the district judiciary in Lahore, the LBA says it would continue its protests. "We will continue to protest till the hands behind the cases against lawyers and their torture are not exposed," says Sajid Bashir. "When we used to take out rallies for the restoration of judges by violating the law, we were declared heroes. Now when we are protesting for our rights, we have been termed terrorists."

[email protected]


From power to politics

Pervez Musharraf will have to learn the ropes of politics to acquire some space

By Adnan Adil

Amidst growing political uncertainty in the country, self-exiled General Pervez Musharraf (retd) announced his All Pakistan Muslim League in London on October 1, fuelling speculations that he might have a role whenever a political change comes into effect.

Before going into the dynamics of Musharraf politics, let us have a look at his rhetoric. As usual, while announcing his party, Musharraf sounded confident taking swipes at his opponents: nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan is a man with a bad character and Nawaz Sharif is an empty-headed man. At the same time, he wished to bring about new political culture in the country. With Musharraf's photo clutching two puppies in his arms during the early days of his rule still splashed all over the cyberspace, he announced Quran and Sunnah (the tradition of Prophet (PBUH)) as the guiding principle of his politics.

In his party manifesto, like all Pakistani opposition politics, he promised moon for the masses and vowed to 'bring Pakistan out of darkness'. However, he was aware of the fact that he would be assassinated if he returned home and thus for the time being he would steer his party from London a la Altaf Bhai. He boasted about his popularity as he has nearly 300,000 fans on the Facebook page and could generate pledges of 'millions of rupees' in donation for the flood relief in a few hours at a television show. In a latest interview, he also claimed that the Pakistan state trained Kashmiri militants to fight in Indian-held Kashmir.

At the time of launching the umpteenth faction of the Muslim League, the people surrounding Musharraf were luminaries like television host Naeem Bukhari, two barristers, Muhammad Ali Saif and Chaudhry Fawwad and former district nazim from Jhelum Shehbaz Hussain. His supporters from Pakistan were provided a two-way fare and boarding and lodging in London. Little is known about the source of money flowing around. However, recently, it was reported in the press, and that was not denied by any party, that during the Musharraf regime and just before the 2008 general elections, more than five billion rupees were transferred from the coffers of the Federal Finance Ministry to the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Obviously, this huge amount went unaudited as all the intelligence operations remain.

Conspicuous by their absence were the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the chief beneficiaries of the Musharraf regime. Just a few weeks prior to the Musharraf's show in London, the Chaudhrys merged their faction of the PML into the Pakistan Muslim League (Functional), headed by Pir Pagaro. The Chaudhrys, who have always sided with the establishment since the days of Gen Ayub Khan's martial law, have suddenly gone into a low profile. For the time being, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed has also opted to stay away from the Mush bash.

Incidentally, Musharraf announced his party shortly after the murder of MQM leader, Imran Farooq in London. According to reliable sources, the London Police called in and questioned MQM Chief Altaf Hussain for four long hours as part of the murder investigation. Altaf Bhai's stranglehold on Karachi seems to be shaky. Amidst reports that the MQM sponsors have a change of heart, Altaf Bhai claims the international establishment is trying to eliminate him.

In these circumstances, Pervez Musharraf has a role to play in Karachi. Being the illustrious son of Urdu-speaking community who rose to the rank of army chief and ruled the country over eight years, Musharraf is quite popular in urban Sindh's Mohajir community. If Musharraf has some solid political base in the country, it lies in Karachi. He is also popular among the Shia community for they see him as their benefactor who fought against the anti-Shia Taliban and their sectarian allies. Big businessmen of Karachi, and elsewhere in the country, too, have a liking for Musharraf as they thrived during his tenure. Thus, if Altaf Bhai's MQM disappears from the scene, Musharraf can head the Mohajir crowd.

Above all, Musharraf is the darling of the West. He delivered them in the so-called war against terror. In a recent interview, former Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali said Musharraf had pledged with the US to send Pakistani military contingent to join the Iraq invasion, but being the premier at that time he had refused to oblige. Jamali also said he had brought Dr Aafia's abduction from Karachi to Musharraf's notice, but the latter had advised him to stay silent on this issue.

For the Americans, Musharraf retains his value as a potential player in Pakistan. He has credentials as a loyal ally of America. He has a support base in the country's biggest industrial and trade hub of Karachi. He has deep connections in the all-powerful establishment and pro-US segments of the society. Assuming the US has long-term strategic interests in the region, as evidenced by a huge permanent American base in Kabul, each friend in the region counts, be it a retired general like Musharraf. Herein lies Musharraf's strength.

On the other side, Musharraf has formidable enemies in Pakistan in the form of militant organisations against whom he launched operations. The attacks against the Red Mosque and the transfer of the suspected men wanted by America to Guantanamo Bay are fresh in memories. He is also remembered for the overthrow of the judiciary and the persecution of the judges of the superior courts. The Punjabi middle class dislikes him for his coup against Nawaz Sharif. The Sindhis look at him as a representative of the rival Mohajir interests. The Baloch want his head for the murder of Akbar Bugti. The right-wing Pakhtuns, sympathetic to Taliban, are after him. The space is narrow for his moving around and he can survive only in a citadel, provided that too is insulated from rocket and suicide attacks.

 

 

Neither black nor white

The much-decried judgement of the Allahabad High Court is welcome even though the exact shape the solution takes depends on a host of political, legal and other factors

By Aniket Alam

The verdict of the Allahabad High Court on the title dispute over the 2.77 acres of land where stood the Babri Masjid has led to much debate and controversy. While some have suggested that it provides an opportunity to find a compromise and reach closure on this divisive issue, Hindu fundamentalists claim victory in the terms of the Court order. Mirroring the congratulatory tone of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party response, a large number of left and anti-communal forces have condemned the verdict and critiqued it for denying justice. Muslim opinion, though almost universally expressing some level of disappointment with the verdict, has been split among those who consider it unacceptable and plan to appeal to the Supreme Court and those who think that despite all the shortcomings, this judgement should be used to close the matter right now and not continue with this conflict-ridden litigation.

The points which have been used to celebrate the verdict (by the Hindu fundamentalists) and to condemn it (by the secular and left forces) are similar: They both point to the High Court's acceptance of the "faith and belief" of the Hindus that Ram was born at the very spot where stood the central dome of the demolished Babri Masjid. The former see a vindication of their Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, while the latter find this to be a surrender of secular law to theological claims.

There is much merit in the argument that the judgement erred in accepting the claim that a Hindu temple had been demolished to build the Babri Masjid in the early years of the 16th century. It is strange, to say the least, that the court pronounced judgement on a supposed demolition 500 years ago, while keeping silent about the deliberate, criminal demolition of the mosque 18 years back. Further, the judgement appears to give an indirect approval to the demolition of the Babri Masjid by allowing the continuance of the idols which were placed, even by the Court's own admission, surreptitiously and illegally, inside the mosque and allowing the temple to come up at that spot. There are other similar aspects in the individual judgements of three judges which have caused much consternation among both academicians and activists, as well as among India's largest minority.

However, the judgement is hardly a black or white one. Despite the obvious shortcomings, there are certain positive aspects in the judgement which should not be ignored. It also helps open possibilities for working towards a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute. To understand this one needs to remember where we are coming from and the context in which this judgement was delivered.

There is ample evidence, starting from 1608, that the site of the Babri Masjid was used by both the Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya for religious purposes. The Ram Chabutra and Sita ki Rasoi are located adjacent to the mosque building and there is ample evidence to suggest that both religious communities had common use of the area for prayer. It was in the 19th century that exclusive claims started being made for control over this property by both the Muslims and the Hindus and the Nawabs of Awadh tried to mediate these claims, rather than decide the ownership one way or the other. However such mediation was unsuccessful and violent disputes emerged over its control from 1855 onwards and litigations started from 1885. It was in 1949 that the local Hindu groups managed to usurp exclusive control of the site, thanks to the unsettled conditions and the political vulnerabilities of the Muslims in north India after Partition. Since then, six decades, the place has been barred for Muslim worshippers, making it, de-facto, an exclusive Hindu shrine (whatever the legal position).

It is in this context that the judgement of the Court to divide the property "equally" between the three claimants has to be seen. It would have been wrong on the part of the court to give sole possession to either the Hindu or the Muslim claimants and what the Court has tried to do, and for which it should have been congratulated and not pilloried, is to attempt a restoration of the ecumenical status of that benighted plot of land. To have given exclusive control and ownership to either of the claimants would have been the really regressive step.

It is for the first time that Muslims have been given access to, and ownership of, the place, even if this is less than they had asked for. But the demand for sole possession and ownership of the entire land has been a maximalist demand from both sides which should not be supported, given the history of common worship at the site. It would be bizarre to ignore the significance of the Sunni Wakf Board of Uttar Pradesh getting land at the site to build a mosque. For the past 25 years Hindu fundamentalists have been asserting that they will not allow any mosque to be built in the entire town of Ayodhya, far less on the 2.77 acres of the Babri Masjid site. Today the Hindu fundamentalists have been forced to accept this and have to now negotiate and reach a compromise with "the other party" if they want to build a mosque. The aggressors have been forced to climb a few notches down and do what democratic and secular opinion India had been asking of them, unsuccessfully it should be underlined, for the past 25 years.

This opens up various possibilities for the resolution of the conflict and what exact shape this solution takes depends on a host of political, legal and other factors. However, by providing ownership to the Sunni Wakf Board, the Allahabad High Court has ensured that any resolution has to factor in the demands and rights of all the claimants and has forced the Hindutva forces to climb down from their maximalist positions, which seemed undefeatable even half a decade back. In the light of this, the much-decried judgement of the Allahabad High Court cannot but be welcomed, warts and all.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor with the Economic and Political Weekly, India. He has a PhD in modern Indian history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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