Are the liberals in Pakistan pseudo? | Pakistan Today

Are the liberals in Pakistan pseudo?

  • The space for liberals has not shrunk

The concept of liberalism bases itself on a few key points. Though liberals believe in individual liberty, they agree that a government must be in place to safeguard the individual interests of all. Liberalism also recognises that the government itself may harm the individuals’ liberty and this threat must be guarded against.

“Two Treatises on Government” in 1689 by John Locke laid down the basic principles of liberal thought process. His book discusses the intellectual liberty (including freedom of conscience) and the economic liberty (meaning the right to have property and use of the same). He propounds that individuals have intrinsic right to participate in governance and by so doing be a part of public decision-making. He did not subscribe to the concept of democracy. He felt it would mean giving power to a group of people who may strip the people of their right to hold property. His definition of these natural rights was the basis of the French and American revolutions that further fine-tuned the concept of liberalism.

John Staurt Mill in his well-known “On Liberty” later offered a utilitarian use of liberalism. He explains this as the purpose of awarding greatest happiness to greatest number of people. Liberalism therefore is means to an end not an end in itself. The utilitarian concept stems from “utility” in economics. The utility of goods add value and happiness to the user. Liberalism too must have a utilitarian side offering happiness and value.

Over decades, the liberal democracy grew and gained strength in the west. This structure is based on a multiparty system, pluralistic in nature. Over time, nearing the end of 19th century, differences grew about the degree a government should intervene in economy. In 20th century with increasing growth of inequality of wealth we saw the induction of New Liberalism, allowing greater interference in the economy in order to protect liberty of its’ people while steering clear of socialism.

A question that rears its head in the parliamentary form of democracy is about rule of law and separation of powers. Parliament in a democracy may lead to political pressures on the judiciary leading to comprise with the Executive. This is then in direct conflict with the principle of the rule of law. (This compromise is well detailed in the judgment of Lord Bingham in A v Secretary of State)

There is a clear cut section of the Pakistani society who completely oppose the extremist mindset, people whose lives have been badly been effected by it, these people also shy away from associating with those who call themselves liberals

The concept of liberalism is a series of ideas growing, evolving and changing over time. Toleration is a bench mark of a liberal society. Different ethnicities, different religions and sects live together in a given society giving space to each other. The element of consent is essential to the concept of liberalism. Every individual must consent to the action determined upon in larger interest of the people. The liberals argue that when the people give their vote to an individual, his or her representation in Parliament shall be construed as their consent. This is not essentially true in a system where these elected people take decisions based on reasons other than the greater happiness to the greatest number of people and contributing towards their greater welfare in terms of outcome of their decision. As a matter of fact, this brings to life, the fear John Locke had: of giving power to a group of people who may take away the natural rights from the people.

Giving power to a group of people to govern can through elections determine who will rule. It does not determine the morality of the resulting government.

Liberalism is an ideology. It is subscription to certain principles and their applications on systems. A liberal cannot jump from supporting a party with certain sets of liberal principles, not all, to another party not subscribing to any set of liberal principles and both drenched in dynastic politics. Third being a one man party lacking in proper hierarchal structure.

Coming to Pakistan, the pseudo-ism reaches phenomenal heights. Merely having a better knowledge of the English language and adopting Americanised ways does not make one a liberal. In the aftermath of Panama Leaks expose and subsequent investigations, the hue and cry that ‘democracy was at stake’ and ‘let the people decide in the next elections’ and further statements to the effect….are diametrically opposed to the very concept of liberalism. Supporting innumerable years of rule by a ruler, followed by making those disqualified by Supreme Court relevant again by change of law via the Parliament in flagrant disregard of the highest court in the land, is not supporting liberalism. This does not subscribe to existence of rule of law, one of the touch stones of liberalism. It’s called supporting nepotism. This is only one example amongst many.

One thing must be clarified here. The refusal of these pseudos not to support the extremist mindset, the narrow interpretation of Islam and killings does not make them a liberal. Neither does some favourite chants. These have become boring and stale. For that one must subscribe to a given thinking. Not without.

There is a clear cut section of the Pakistani society who completely oppose the extremist mindset, people whose lives have been badly been effected by it, these people also shy away from associating with those who call themselves liberals. Merely because this educated, professional lot does not see them subscribing to anything in their opinion that is even close to the pillars of liberalism. They are the true liberals.

The space for liberals has not shrunk. The space for pseudo-liberals certainly has.

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: [email protected] and tweets at @yasmeen_9.



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