LAHORE - Top government officials in Punjab are perturbed over a legal move by the Freemasons that can ultimately result in the loss of prime property currently under the possession of the Punjab government, Pakistan Today learnt on Friday.
The Freemasons, one of the most mysterious and controversial societies across the world, were banned in Pakistan by former president Ziaul Haq under the Martial Law Regulation (MLR) 56 in 1983, charging them of “anti-state” and “anti-Islam” activities and handing over their moveable and immoveable assets to provincial governments with immediate effect. In Punjab alone they possessed three prime properties: 90-The Mall (Lahore), 307 (Multan) and 1307 (Rawalpindi). At the time of partition, the estimated number of properties they possessed across Pakistan was around 30.
However, what happened during Ziaul Haq’s regime was the epitome of a long going controversy starting in 1973 when the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution against Freemasons declaring their activities “anti-state” and “anti-Islam”. The federal government also took Punjab’s lead while Khan Abdul Qayum Khan, the interior minister at the time, declared them innocent.
However, in 1973, the deputy commissioner of Lahore requisitioned 90-The Mall for the Islamic Summit for two months and the deputy inspector general (DIG) office was set up there as a makeshift arrangement, but the building was never returned even though the Lahore High Court (LHC) single and double bench decided in the Freemasons’ favour.
The government then moved the Supreme Court against the LHC verdict in 1978. Finally, Ziaul Haq took over and imposed a ban on the Freemasons, while in 1986 the Supreme Court decided that the issue was no more as the MLR 56 had been given legal cover under the 8th Amendment in 1985 and told the Freemasons to appeal at a “proper forum” in case of any grievances. Since the term “proper forum” has not been defined in any law, the Freemasons wrote to various high offices such as successive presidents and prime ministers, including both Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto, but did not receive any reply.
Finally in 1995, Freemason Kabir A Sheikh and five others filed a writ petition (8907/95) challenging the MLR 56, pleading that they were a philanthropist organisation while building their argument around the history and legal status of 90-The Mall, at the time under the use of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
According to court records, Freemasons, all residents of the provincial capital, filed the writ petition through their counsel Dr Khalid Ranjha against the Punjab government, which was represented by the additional advocate general. During the course of the case, the Interior Ministry had also filed its comments on the issue saying that the available material showed the Freemasons were involved in “anti-state” and “anti-Islam” activities, to which Freemasons submitted an affidavit declaring that they practiced Islam as a religion and their beliefs were similar to common Muslims.
Interestingly, however, the revenue records dating back to the 1950s and 1960s show the building now named 90-The Mall mentioned as “Kothi Jadugar” (Sorcerer’s House). The Freemasons had also won a case under the Corporation Act claiming the building in question had been declared a “temple”.
Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have also banned the organisation because of its controversial nature. Worldwide, Freemasons are famous for their secret rituals and for constructing buildings which supposedly have secret symbols inscribed into their architecture. Few other international organisations are surrounded by as much controversy as the Freemasons.
There are 33 degrees of Freemasonry, while the ones who have filed the writ petition are ‘Masters’ and ‘Past Masters’, Freemasons of the 4th and 5th degree respectively.
This has created a lot of anxiety among top government officials in the Punjab Civil Secretariat owing to the gravity of the situation as well as the mystery surrounding Freemasons, especially given that the next date of the hearing in the LHC is December 30.
Many top officials have ordered books on Freemasonry from abroad to study their history and symbols and what they stand for, while a lot of rumours are making rounds in the corridors of power regarding the probable future of the prime offices under the possession of the Punjab government because if the court gives a verdict against the MLR 56, it would ultimately result in the Punjab government having to hand over all property back to the Freemasons.