. . . . . .  


It began with Adam. John Milton blamed him for the world’s woes in this fiery opening to his epic poem Paradise Lost: ‘Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit/Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste/Brought Death into the World, and all our woe’.  

With woes, disobedience came some compensating virtues. The playwright Oscar Wilde contended that ‘Disobedience … is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made [,] and rebellion’.

A recent rebel - Edward Snowden of WikiLeaks fame - argued: ‘Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law [.] You have to make sure that what you're risking, what you're bringing onto yourself, does not serve as a detriment to anyone else’.

In Pakistan, disobedience is the fourth injunction, omitted from our national motto.  Disobedience has become the new norm - whether to the laws of God, to the Constitution, to man-made laws, Rules of Business, or to the orders of a superior.

In October 2021, the then Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa announced the transfer of General Faiz Hameed from the post of DG, ISI to Commander Peshawar Corps. The appointment was notified by the ISPR on 6 October (No PR-165/2021-ISPR). Prime minister Imran Khan (it is said at the transferee's behest) held the COAS’s order in abeyance. Six weeks later, on 22 November, General Hameed obeyed his chief’s orders and left the ISI. To some, such independence of action constituted disobedience to a higher institutional authority.      

More recently, the Principal Secretary to the President Waqar Ahmed questioned the orders signed by his employer for reversion to the Establishment Division. The dislodged PS retaliated with a confidential letter, which, though marked ‘For the Eyes of the President’, somehow leaked into the media. In it he complained: ‘The decision to surrender my services isn't based on justice.' He urged the president to ‘initiate an investigation into the matter through the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or any relevant agency to uncover any misconduct’, adding, with misplaced bravado, that he was ‘prepared to testify before the Supreme Court or any other court.’

As if that disobedience was not bitter enough for the beleaguered president, Ms Sumaira Ahmed, identified by the president as the replacement PS, declined his offer even before orders for her transfer had been processed.

President Arif Alvi will complete his five year term on 9 September 2023. All too conscious of the shelf life of his constitutional powers, he invited the Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to meet him for consultation on the next election date.  The CEC declined, fobbing him off with the humiliating rebuff that in his ‘considered view, participation in the meeting would be of scant consequence.’

However, the CEC did find the time the following day to meet the U.S. Ambassador Donald Blome to hear him pontificate on ‘the United States’ support for free and fair elections conducted in accordance with Pakistan’s laws and Constitution.’

Perhaps His Excellency detects a faint pulse in our Constitution and something still twitching in the laws of Pakistan that the Pakistani public no longer discerns. For them, the Constitution is no more than a perforated filigree of a once noble intent. Our laws, after 76 years of use, misuse, and abuse have become a discoloured Rubik’s cube, manipulated by legislators, politicians and lawyers alike to yield meanings of their choice.

Disobedience is now endemic in Pakistan. Traffic rules are disobeyed. Tax laws are disobeyed. Jail Manuals are disobeyed. Rules of Business are disobeyed. Orders in civilian ink and military khaki are disobeyed. Judicial orders even up to the eminence of the Supreme Court are disobeyed. And now, we see the travesty of our president - the constitutional symbol of 240 million Pakistanis – reduced to the level of an ineffective supplicant, like ‘an old Arab prematurely blind, whom the caravan has left behind’.  

Two hundred and fifty years ago, in April 1774, the British parliamentarian Edmund Burke warned his myopic colleagues in Westminster: ‘Reflect how you are to govern a people, who think they ought to be free [.] Your scheme…yields nothing but discontent, disorder, disobedience.’

In today’s stygian gloom where churches are desecrated, the homes of our Christian brethren torched and bibles burned, it might serve as a palliative to recall St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians in the New Testament: ‘Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.’

Those who arrogate to themselves control of the destiny of 240 million Pakistanis should not ignore these words. They do so - at our peril.  



[DAWN, 31 Aug. 2023]

31 August 2023
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