Of patriots and traitors

People must stop calling political opponents traitors and anti-state

Of patriots and traitors


uestioning the patriotism of political opponents and branding them foreign agents is nothing new in Pakistan. The country’s history is replete with examples of accusing rivals of treason and labelling them as traitors. Interestingly, this is not limited to politicians.Social workers, political activists and journalists too have been accused of conspiring against the state. The tradition has been taken to anextreme level by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)by effectively declaring the entire opposition ‘traitors’ for removing formerprime ministerImran Khan through a no trust motion.

As a people, we have a habitof brandishing the word ‘traitor’ – indeed, a very strong word – far too freely. Generally speaking, it is used for those who either conspire or act against the country’s interests. Traitors are trialled. When they are convicted, their punishment is either life imprisonment or death. Owing to the gravity of the treason charge, several countries that have otherwise outlawed the death penalty have retained it for those found guilty of the crime and declared traitors. Almost every other nation, mainly those who got independence from the colonialists, have included articles or clauses in their constitutions to ensure loyalty to the state.

Pakistan is not an exception—Article 5 of the 1973 constitution deals with loyalty and treason. Its Clause 1 reads “Loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen.”By manipulating theclause, the former deputy speaker of the National Assembly, who was from the PTI, tried to brand the entire combined opposition as traitors. However, his ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan which not only upheld the constitution but also saved the opposition from the treason charge. The deputy speaker’s ruling was apparently aimed at blocking the motion for a vote of no-confidence and saving the PMfrom being de-seated.

The charges of treason are not new in Pakistan. Accusing all and sundry of treason has been a defining hallmark of Pakistani polity pretty much ever since its creation in August 1947. It is easy to be branded as a traitor.One may qualify if one advocates friendly and peaceful relations with India; favoursrecognising Israel; stands up for the protection and security of the Ahmadis; campaigns for an apologyto Bengalis for the events of 1971; supports the nationalists in Balochistan and Sindh; questions the Gulf countries’ funding for those promoting religious extremism; demands trial of those who abrogated the constitution; justifies American drone attacks against terrorists or questions the veracity of claims that Pakistan won all wars against India.

Of patriots and traitors

The tradition of labelling opponents as traitors in the country begins with HuseynShaheedSuhrawardy, the premier of the United Bengal before the Partition in 1947. He was instrumental in making East Bengal a part of Pakistan and pacifying the communal riots in the province in general and Calcutta in particular. He spent almost three months with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the provincial capital after the Partition and saved the province from the carnage and calamity thatthe Punjab experienced. Despite his loyalty and sacrifices for the country, he was declared a traitor for his dissent with the ruling elite of the Muslim League.

Second in this line is Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as the Frontier Gandhi. He was accused of being a traitor because of his affiliation with the Indian National Congress rather than the All India Muslim League in the United India and for having opposed the idea of a nation state based on religion only. He took the oath of loyalty toPakistan in February 1948, but could never secure the patriotism certificate. He was never deemed loyal—in fact, he was always treated like a traitor. That is why he had to spend most of his life in jail.

Fatima Jinnah – the younger sister and a close adviser of the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah – is another big name in this league. She was declared a foreign agent by supportersof GenAyub Khan. She was accused of working in collaboration with Khan AbdulGhaffar Khan for the cause of a Greater Pakhtoonistandue to her fearless resistance to the dictatorial rule of Ayub and her decision to contest the 1965 presidential election against him. Her speech was not allowed to be broadcastfrom Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television on Jinnah’s death anniversary.

GhulamMurtaza Shah Syed, a political stalwart of Sindh, was also maligned as anti-Pakistan despite his invaluable services for the creation of the country. To his credit, he had single handedly made the province a part of the proposed Muslim state, Pakistan, particularly by passing a resolution in the Sindh Assembly in 1943while serving as president of the provincial league.His forcible ouster from the League in 1946 brought misery to him in the newly created Muslim state and he was labelled as a traitor. That is why he had to spend almost 30 years of his life in imprisonment. He was still in police custody when he breathed his last in 1995 at Jinnah Hospital, Karachi.

There are a host of other characters who have been labelledas traitors or anti-Pakistan. Some of them are mentioned here: Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, GhousBakhshBizenjo, KhairBakhshMarri, AtaullahMengal,,Nawab Akbar Bugti, MahmoodAchakzai, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Saadat Hassan Manto, Ustad Daman, Habib Jalib, Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir, Hamid Mir, MaleehaLodhi, NajamSethi, Mama Qadeer,Ali Wazir and FarzanaBaloch. Their patriotism has been questioned and they have been accused of being in league with foreign enemies. Many of them have facedthe charges for daring to resist or dissent.

Instead of playing the dangerous game of accusing the dissenting voices of treason, the state and the ruling elite should listen to them and address their genuine grievances. Thus, there is a dire need for promoting a culture of tolerance and inclusivity rather than intolerance and exclusivity. The sooner we do that the better it will be.

The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University and is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad. He can be contacted at mazharabbasgondal87@gmail.com.  He tweets at @MazharGondal87

Of patriots and traitors