Syed Mansoor Hussain
Pakistan is the only purported parliamentary democracy that I know of where a sitting government has to resign and be replaced by an ‘impartial interim’ government before elections are held
Amidst all this load shedding the upcoming Pakistani elections are providing some badly needed comic relief. What is desperately needed is a compendium of all the questions being asked from candidates by ‘returning officers’ and all the objections being raised about their qualifications as well as the responses if any. Such a compendium will be of great benefit to future comedians, historians, social scientists and students of human evolution. Of the questions asked and of the objections raised that were recently reported two are worthy of immediate discussion. The question is about recitation of verses from the Quran. Of the objections the most piquant is the one raised against Mian Shahbaz Sharif that he does not have a beard and, therefore, under the constitution cannot be a good Muslim.
The objection about the beard is easy enough to figure out since both the Chief Election Commissioner as well as the Chief Justice of Pakistan do not have visible beards but then these two are not contesting for a seat in the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament). Personally, I strongly believe that this question is important enough to be eventually adjudicated by the Federal Shariat Court.
As far as reciting verses from the Holy Quran is concerned, if any candidate wishes to avoid it, I can suggest a way out. This is something I witnessed a few years ago as a member of a committee to interview candidates applying for a highly technical position in a major public hospital. The chair of the committee, a devout Muslim but rather bereft of requisite technical expertise kept asking the applicants to recite different verses from the Holy Quran. Some did, some could not; however, one applicant gave the best answer that can be used by all ‘candidates’ to avoid answering such questions. He said, I am not in a state of ‘ritual purity’ (wuzoo), therefore, I cannot recite from the Holy Quran. That left the chair of the committee speechless!
I do have some suggestions about the ‘training’ of ‘returning officers’. First the returning officers must go through intense courses that include the study of the Holy Quran with at least one good exegesis of a compendium of the Hadees Corpus, of a detailed history of the Muslims and a detailed history of Pakistan including in particular a course on the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’. And then they should go through a ‘transparent’ examination held by authorities in these fields and if they pass they may be allowed to act as returning officers.
Other suggestions are about the sort of questions candidates should be asked. Once candidates known to be convicted of serious crimes are excluded, the Election Commission of Pakistan should have a uniform questionnaire for all the others. In this connection, the Election Commission of Pakistan must prepare a booklet of acceptable questions and answers in the areas mentioned above as well as from the constitution of Pakistan and make it available to all candidates in advance. Then a random list of questions should be prepared from this booklet for the prospective candidates.
At the time of ‘filing’ their papers all candidates must be asked to read out aloud Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech preferably in the language it was delivered. Second, there should be about 10 questions, five about Muslim history and five about Pakistani history. A random selection from the above booklet could be: 1. Of the first four Caliphs, which ones were not related to the Prophet (PBUH) by marriage? 2. Name three Muslim Caliphates that existed at the same time. 3. Name the Muslim Physician who wrote ‘Qanoon fil Tib’ (The Canon of Medicine) that in translation was a standard text book in Europe until the 17th century. 4. What is the origin of the word Algebra? 5. Who won the Battle of Plassey?
In Pakistan history: 1. Name the second governor general and the second prime minister of Pakistan (past readers of this column might know the answer). 2. Who was the last governor general and who was the first president of Pakistan? 3.When and why was March 23 declared a holiday? 4. What is the difference between the ‘Two nation theory’ and the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’? 5. Name the two people that held the office of chief martial law administrator, president and prime minister of Pakistan.
As far as questions about Islamic ‘doctrine’ are concerned, that in my opinion is a nebulous area and I shall not even venture there. About the constitution, one question about the ‘15th’ amendment might be quite enough.
Finally some thoughts on ‘interim governments’. Pakistan is the only purported parliamentary democracy that I know of where a sitting government has to resign and be replaced by an ‘impartial interim’ government before elections are held. This is clearly a sign of rampant national paranoia institutionalised in our constitution. That said, I wonder how many of my readers can recall the name of the last interim prime minister of Pakistan or the interim chief minister of their province. I just looked it up five minutes ago and still cannot remember their names. But if Najam Sethi as the interim chief minister of the Punjab is able to reinstate Basant in Lahore, I will remember his name for as long as I live. Clean, fair and transparent elections? Meh!
Here are the answers for the questions above. Muslim history: 1- None, the first two were fathers-in-law and the second two were sons-in-law. 2. Ommayads in Spain, Fatimids in Egypt and Abbasids in Baghdad. 3. Ibn Sina (Avicenna). 4. From al Khwarizmi’s (Algorithm’s) book ‘Al jabr wal muqabila’’. 5. Robert Clive when he conquered Bengal. About Pakistan History: 1. Khawaja Nazimmuddin held both positions. 2. Major General Iskander Mirza held both positions. 3. March 23 was Republic day when in 1956 under the first constitution, Pakistan became a Republic instead of a Dominion. 4. No idea. 5. General Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Daily Times, 6 April 2013