Freedom and sovereignty

Published: May 1, 2012
The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore

The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore [email protected]

At times, those who despair of Pakistan’s ability to extricate itself from its internal crises say, the only saving grace is that Pakistan is not sovereign and will be forced to listen to external advice. Iran, on the other hand, made sovereign by its oil-driven economy, enjoys more sovereignty and is, therefore, incapable of self-correction.

Insistence on sovereignty as avoidance of self-correction leads to isolation. In our day, isolation is another name for defeat.

Yet, sovereignty is the mantra of nationalism and other expressions of national pride, backed by the idea of the UN General Assembly where all member states are equal. However, it is at the UN Security Council where constraint is imposed through inequality.

When man attains consciousness he wants to be free as an individual. When men become a nation they want it to be sovereign. Later on, other things happen to curtail these concepts.

A man may not be free living inside a nation. A nation may not be sovereign living inside a comity of nations. All freedom comes with a condition of constraint.

Law gives freedom; law also imposes restraint by taking away absolute freedom. When there is no law, there is unhappiness because we don’t know where the line between freedom and obligation is drawn.

Freedom in English has a background feeling of pleasure. Human beings have equated freedom with their best sensations. Freedom is from the root ‘pri’ meaning ‘beloved’. It also exists in friend. This means that only a free man can be your friend.

In Arabic, freedom is ‘hurriyat’. We use it in Urdu quite a lot. The root ‘hrr’ means ‘warmth’. We use the word ‘hararat’ for temperature.

In many languages, affection is equated with temperature and warmth. When you want to express your liking you rely on the word warm. When you are unfriendly you are supposed to be cold.

The free man is ‘hurr’. The word is favoured in the Holy Quran and is applied to anything that is perfect in all aspects. The Holy Quran uses the word ‘tahrir’, when it orders us to free the slaves. Today, ‘tahrir’ is used in the sense of liberation. Hence, the Tahrir Square in Cairo.

But there is another very interesting association of the word. It also points to the importance of the written word. If you write something down, you achieve a kind of moral liberation. ‘Tahrir’, therefore, also means ‘writing’ or ‘script’.

In the Swahili-speaking Africa, a movement of liberation was called ‘uhuru’, which was a rather changed version of the original Arabic word. Swahili is dominated by Arabic vocabulary. Today, an international movement for the establishment of khilafat calls itself Hizbut Tahrir.

There is also the lower end of the usage. ‘Muharrar’ means ‘liberator’ as well as ‘writer’. But in our parts, ‘muharrar’ is simply a clerk in a thana who takes down your reports.

For sovereignty, we have the Persian-Arabic expression ‘khud-mukhtari’. ‘Mukhtar’ comes from the Arabic root ‘kher’. This root has given us the best expressions of good in life. ‘Khair/khairat’ is ‘welfare’. But the basic sense in the root is the right to choose.

In the Holy Quran, the chosen ones of God are called ‘khayaar’. The right to choose is ‘ikhtiaar’. The man who has the power to choose and make his own decisions is ‘mukhtaar’. At times it is taken as a ‘leader’ or a ‘ruler’.

The loudest slogan today is for ‘khud-mukhtari’, the freedom to choose one’s own policy. But in today’s interconnected world, no one is really completely sovereign, not even the United States. When it attacked Iraq outside the constraint of the UN, it was punished with isolation.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (14)

  • Ali Tanoli
    May 1, 2012 - 11:26PM

    so true khalid sahab thank u sir.


  • BlackJack
    May 1, 2012 - 11:45PM

    Sir – the assumption that Pakistan is not truly sovereign is correct; that it would be willing to recognize this and submit to western intervention is questionable. In reality, Pakistan places no great value on its sovereignty; large swathes of land have been outside the control of the state right from independence; today it faces an multiple insurgencies, which have now moved from the tribal badlands into the cities, causing over 30,000 deaths – still there is no outcry regarding the loss of sovereignty. Pakistanis are more pained over their lack of sovereignty over a mirage called Kashmir or the wastelands of Siachen than their own territory in K-P and Balochistan. Meanwhile the state machinery has created so much resentment against the 138 civilian deaths (over 10 years) in drone strikes that any further capitulation to US could be detrimental to the current democratic regime. If things get out of hand, there are too many non-state actors who are now mini-sovereigns in their own right in Pakistan – and the civilian govt is too weak to exercise its writ over them any more.


  • American Desi
    May 2, 2012 - 12:26AM

    Khaled Saab, it’s always pleasure and enlightening to read your writings. You are an asset to the sub continent, not just Pakistan! Thank you.


  • irfan
    May 2, 2012 - 1:04AM

    assalamo alaikum Khaled Sahab,

    Every time you give an example from the Holy Quran, you win my heart!


  • Haroon Bux
    May 2, 2012 - 4:36AM

    Interesting article. I wanted to share few points in relation to your following paragraph, if you allow me.

    “Law gives freedom; law also imposes restraint by taking away absolute freedom. When there is no law, there is unhappiness because we don’t know where the line between freedom and obligation is drawn.”

    Law indeed gives freedom, however in our context its the shariah-law which gives us freedom from all other man-made laws. Allah(swt) demands that we implement and live by HIS laws only and as a result we will worship HIM and become free from the shirk which is committed in the parliment(Qanoon-saazi based upon their whims and desires).


  • gp65
    May 2, 2012 - 6:02AM

    Well thought through. You beigin with the acknowledgement that Pakistan is not sovereign. In doing so, you have shown courage that neither the PM, President or COAS have been able to show in negotiating through this impasse with the US


  • Cautious
    May 2, 2012 - 6:10AM

    What percentage of Pakistan does Islamabad actually control – the number has to be significant and perhaps it’s over 50% – that alone tells me that Pakistan doesn’t care about sovereignty it’s just am overused term usually associated with anti American blather.


  • ayesha_khan
    May 2, 2012 - 8:44AM

    Pak sovereignty has been tested repeatedly just in the last 1 year and with what results? It was tested in Abotabad, in Mehran Base, Salala, In Bannu, In Hazara, Gilgit, Bannu and most recently in Karachi where 2000 police battling over 5 days are unable to establish writ over one Karachi suburb. Enough said!


  • Ali Wali
    May 2, 2012 - 10:16AM

    After hundreds of years of narrations written by different kings of yores, paid court officials, do we still think pop version of Islam is for the freedom of individuals! perhaps not, thankfully most Muslims do not bother to read history objectively, otherwise they will be hugely disappointed.


  • Lala Gee
    May 2, 2012 - 2:51PM


    You are very right, these days there is no absolute sovereignty of inter-dependent comity of nations. But is there any other country where some foreign agent like Raymond Davis openly kills 2 citizens of the host country – third one by the Consulate staff – and gets off the hook with impunity. Can USA kill 24 soldiers of any other country and then refuse to apologize.


  • MQ
    May 2, 2012 - 4:03PM

    Interesting that the Sanskrit “priya” is cognate with the English “free”.

    In actual usage however the Sanskrit word used for freedom is often “Mukti”. It is from the root “muk-“, meaning “to let go”. In the spiritual context it denotes a release from desires and mental bondage – a personal goal advocated by all six schools of Hindu philosophy and also by Buddhist philosophy. In this sense “mukti” resonates with the “Spiritual Jihad” mentioned in the Holy Quran. “Moksha” is also from the same root.

    A Sanskrit word for “Sovereignty” could probably be “Swatantrata” – which literally, is self dependence or free will.

    As usual, Khaled Sahib, thanks for continuing to stimulate us by shining the light of knowledge and history!


  • Ali Tanoli
    May 2, 2012 - 5:12PM

    @Arijit sharma,
    so what he lived in pakistan he was great hero of war against Russian terrorism in afghan war
    in the name of great game and he was brought by beloved CIA who dont do any crimes in the
    world. and every criminals get assylem in EuropeRecommend

  • Cynical
    May 2, 2012 - 10:29PM

    There is always something new to learn from this author.
    Thank you sir.May your tribe increase.


  • politicaly incorrect
    May 3, 2012 - 6:41PM

    @Ali Wali

    Very well put, particularly the last line about ‘not reading history’.
    For those people ‘Ignorance is (really) bliss’


More in Opinion