Guest editorial: Ten years is a long time

Guest editorial:  Ten years is a long time


en years is a long time. It is an even longer time when a judgment penned by the then chief justice of Pakistan awaits enforcement. In a country obsessed by law—where everything from a stolen cow to the election date and the setting up of food prices ends up in the courts, the blatant disregard of a seminal judgment is an indicator of the deep rot in the state and society.

The 2014 judgment authored by Justice TassaduqHussainJillani was remarkable.Ideally, it should have been unremarkable. It was remarkable because it clearly articulated the right to freely practice, profess and propagate religion for all citizens of Pakistan. But in a country founded due to the fears of a Muslim minority of majoritarian Hindu domination, reiteration of the rights of minorities should have been unremarkable—a given, a self-evident truth, a lived reality. However, after more than seventy-five years of existence, Pakistan is failing to even recognise its founding principles, let alone cherish and uphold them. This shortcoming is the rot that is eating the country from within.

The failure to implement the 2014 judgment exhibits three important fissures in our state and society, which, unless they are fully addressed, will lead to the destruction of the country.

First, Muslims in Pakistan need to start acting and behaving like a majority. While the country was mainly imagined by Muslims in the Muslim minority provinces of British India, it was only realised in the provinces where Muslims were in a majority. The Muslims in minority provinces were fearful of a Hindu majority while in places where Muslims were a majority no such fear existed. This majority vs minority fear, however, translated to a religious fear after the creation of Pakistan, meaning that even when Muslims became a majority they feared the minority Hindus. This existential ‘minority complex’ fear then permeated the imagination of the country, where even in the constitution this became central. Thus, when non-Muslims were barely 15-18 per cent of the population, the 1956 constitution stipulated that the head of state must be a Muslim—as if there were chances of a non-Muslim being elected to that office with the country being over 80 per cent Muslim. Even more bizarre was the expanded provision in the 1973 constitution that, together with the president, now the prime minister had to be a Muslim too. This was when the non-Muslim population had contracted (due to the separation of East Pakistan) to a mere 3 per cent. This pathological fear of an ever-shrinking non-Muslim population is keeping the majority Muslims in the country hostage and stifling its development. Pakistan can only progress if this fear is dispelledthrough education and public campaigns and consistent long-term measures.

Secondly, the state needs to start considering any attacks on minorities as an attack on the state and its writ. As Max Weber clearly articulated in Politics as a Vocation, a state is a “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” In not enforcing the writ of the state in cases dealing with minorities, the state of Pakistan is undermining its existence. From Shantinagar in 1997 to the Sargodha murder in 2024, the culprits have not been adequately sentenced. The culprits are often caught, kept in a lockup or prison for a few weeksand then slowly and quietly released. Those presented in court are often acquitted due to shoddy evidence gathering and bad prosecution. Thus the perpetrators of these attacks acquire the confidence to repeat their offences and the cycle continues. These violent actors then successfully challenge the state in other ways too and often get their way, further weakening our fragile country. Until and unless these criminals are tackled with the full force of the law, nothing material will change—attacks will only increaseand minorities will only lose confidence in the state and flee the country.

Thirdly, the state must start dealing with minority-related issues as problems of Pakistani ‘citizens’ rather than some ‘others.’ The creation of toothless commissions, lip-service quotas, and meaningless cake-cutting ceremonies are cosmetic measures which that will not resolve anything. Only an integrated approach, which while being cognizant of specific non-Muslim minority issues, but deals with issues in a holistic manner, can be successful. Significantly, the Jillani judgment pointed to a fine balance between the rights of the individual and community. and sSuch an approach, which brings together the person and community, state and society, is the only way forward. Most of the issues of minority communities—access to education, clean drinking water, healthcare, employment, etc., are issues of all Pakistanis.and tTreating them separately will only provide piecemeal solutions which that will never work in the long run.

Ten years ago Justice Jillani showed the mirror to the majority Muslims in Pakistan. With rising discrimination against non-Hindus in India, the raison d’etre for the creation of Pakistan is even more patent now. But Pakistani Muslims - state and society -, have been consistently behaving like the majority they escaped since inception. The equal treatment of non-Muslims in Pakistan is not simply about the 3 per cent which that remain but about the 97 per cent whose face is reflected in their treatment.

After ten years, the Jillani judgment still remains significant— mainly in its non-enforcement. I await the day when it will it will become insignificant and its recommendations our lived reality. 

Guest editorial: Ten years is a long time