Why Is The State Considered A Sacred Entity?
Every day we hear government ministers, retired army generals and former bureaucrats say almost in a chorus that the state should be above politics and nobody should be allowed to question or challenge it. Opposition groups and politicians are accused of being disloyal to the state. They remind everybody that state takes precedence over everything else in the political scheme of things in Pakistan.
But what is this state? Why is it so important and so sacred? Do we have an abiding need and political requirement to remain loyal to it under all circumstances? How do people in other societies treat their states? Is the political act of being loyal to the state a sacred duty or religious axiom that must be unwaveringly observed at all cost and circumstances?
State has been defined variedly and countlessly in the academic discipline of political science. The most famous definition comes from English political scientist Thomas Hobbes who said that state is created when members of the society vest power in the hands of a sovereign out of fear of death at the hands of fellow members and loss of property. Karl Marx defined it as a tool in the hands of dominant or ruling classes to control the economic resources of the society and to define the social, political and religious ideology of the society. In Islam, state is considered a holy reality which the God bestowed on members of the society to govern the society according to dictates of the Shariah.
Pakistan is a post-colonial state. This would mean that the modern state in this part of the world was invented or introduced by our British Colonial masters. They created all the structures of the state, which we inherited after independence. We in fact inherited the structure, ideology and culture of the state’s relations with the society from our colonial masters.
The post-colonial state would also mean that more or less the state has not changed its basic character from its colonial past. The basic character of the colonial state was that it used to extract revenues and taxes from the colonial society and devoted its resources, which were left after sending major part of the proceeds to metropolis, to maintain law and order in the society.
Now let’s turn to the main theme of the article: Why has PTI government been accusing opposition groups and political leaders of being disloyal to the state? Opposition groups’ main allegation is that some of the institutions of the state have carried out political engineering by intervening in the parliamentary elections of July 2018. Some of them are also alleging that the state institutions have manipulated the judicial processes to get opposition leaders convicted. The main thrust of opposition criticism is directed towards the top brass of the establishment and its affiliated intelligence agencies. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif mentions the names of those military officials who, he thinks, have carried out this manipulation of the system to get him convicted by the judiciary.
All during its more than 70 years of existence, Pakistani politics has been dominated by centrist parties, which more or less, have remained loyal to the state and its machinery. The political forces on the periphery like Baloch or Pashtun nationalist, who challenged the dominance of the state machinery, have remained alienated from the state. These nationalist forces embraced ideologies which were politically radical and vowed the overthrow of the system to which post-colonial state machinery acted as a foundation.
Dissent, the very essence of parliamentary democracy in the modern times, has always been equated with challenge to the state or its machinery, whose character was defined by its post-colonial nature.
Just like their colonial masters the post-colonial bureaucratic bosses who inherited Pakistani state after independence adopted an ideology that disallowed dissent and curbed diversity. Therefore, separatist movements grew on the periphery demanding secession from Pakistani state. Thus Bengalis, Balochis and Pashtuns started movements that demanded separation from Pakistani state.
Now the countervailing force has started to develop in Punjab in the form of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif—the home of Pakistani bureaucratic and military establishment that came to dominated Pakistani state right after independence—and in the process Pakistan state and its machinery has started getting cold feet. Nawaz Sharif’s narrative has started challenging the dominance of the state machinery by one institution of the state and there is nothing anti-state in his speeches and statements. However the state itself has started behaving in accordance with its post-colonial nature—like equating dissent with disloyalty, accusing the dissenters of acting at the behest of the enemy state like India and by instituting sedition cases against the dissenters.
In Muslim political thought, a state is considered a sacred institution, but only if its serves the interests of implementation of Shariah in the society. Similarly in the old western political tradition the state was considered a sacred institution. The consensus on the holiness of state broke in western society in modern times.
Theoretically speaking, the institution of the state is a product of a contract between the citizens that they would live under its structures on the condition that their lives, property and honour is protected and they would be allowed certain political, social and religious rights. It’s true that a just state is based on the principle that its citizens should show loyalty towards it. But it is equally true the state should not expect any unwavering loyalty where it has violated the right of life, property and honor of its citizens. I mean does Pakistani state have the right to expect loyalty from the Baloch when their rights to life, property and honour are being violated?Similarly, if a state or its institutions become party in a political, social or religious conflict, does it still enjoy the right to unwavering loyalty in such a situation? The world history is full of incidences where the citizens just rose in revolts against their states when it violated their rights or curbed their freedom or became party against them in political, social and religious conflicts. We should try to learn lessons from our own history—don’t push political forces beyond a certain limit as it is likely that they would react against the state institutions. This is the lesson of history and Pakistani state would only ignore this lesson at its own peril.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.