Lessons we have learnt in the last 70 years
Dr Ayesha Jalal
Published about 22 hours ago
Revellers celebrate Independence Day at the mazar of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 2014 | Mohammad Ali, White Star
Commemorative events like independence anniversaries are more than just occasions to revel and rejoice with symbolic displays of national pride and rhetorical fanfare. They are a time for mature reflection and informed discussion on what is happening around us, locally, regionally and globally, with a view to understanding how the past informs everyday life and practices.
So although sceptics may carp and complain about the tedium of officially orchestrated remembrances, staged ceremonials are potential catalysts for critical assessments of the present, seen and experienced through the revealing lens of the near and distant past.
A renewed sense of self-confidence in the foundational ideals of a nation can pave the way for more concerted collective efforts to achieve a better and more fulfilling future.
On August 14, 2017, Pakistanis will mark the 70th anniversary of freedom amid widespread political disillusionment, high security concerns and intense economic anxieties. There are continuous uncertainties about the impact of an ongoing war in neighbouring Afghanistan that has taken a deadly toll on the social and moral fabric of Pakistan for almost four decades. The sense of insecurity gripping their nuclear-armed country will be especially poignant for those Pakistanis who can recall the fateful summer of 1947 when the departing colonial masters stood aloof as their erstwhile subjects celebrated their newly-won sovereignty with an orgy of horrific bloodletting.
As I cited in my 2013 book, The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide: “Why have human beings become so thirsty for human blood these days?” Saadat Hasan Manto had asked in his essay Qatal-o-Khoon ki Lakirain(Lines of Murder and Blood). The pity of Partition was not that instead of one country there were now two, independent India and independent Pakistan, Manto bemoaned, but the fact that “human beings in both countries were slaves, slaves of bigotry ... slaves of religious passions, slaves of animal instincts and barbarity”.
Muslims were pitted against Hindus and Sikhs in a struggle for national survival then. In our own times, the killing of Muslim by Muslim has turned Pakistan into a virtual graveyard of Islam, leading some international commentators to smugly suggest that becoming the “epicentre of terror” is the inevitable fate of a country born in bloodshed and created in the name of religion. Inevitability overlooks the role of human agency and responsibility as well as the politically contingent nature of historical processes.
There was nothing inevitable about Pakistan’s descent into the murderous sectarian hatred that has engulfed it since the 1980s as a direct result of the support lent by the military regime of General Ziaul Haq to the American-led war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It is imperative to counter the presentist nature of most contemporary analyses of Pakistan with historical interpretations that are attentive to key shifts at the domestic, regional and international levels.
Fed on officially constructed ‘truths’ about history, Pakistanis have been hard-pressed to grasp the reasons for their current predicament, much less counter misperceptions about their country at the global level. Instead of critical thinking marked by cautious optimism that might be expected of a people who have weathered many storms in their short but eventful history, including the traumatic dismemberment of the country in 1971, Pakistanis across different sections of society are confused and pessimistic.
This has much to do with growing economic disparities and the sense of alienation in regions that have been denied their share of resources and political power during prolonged periods of depoliticisation under military and quasi-military rule. But the chronic state of national depression in Pakistan stems from a deeper psychological malaise.
Ayub Khan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Fatima Jinnah in Dhaka Cantonment on March 20, 1948 | White Star
There have been recurrent doubts about the country’s capacity to survive and considerable angst about the artificial nature of a state carved out of the predominantly Muslim extremities of the Subcontinent. In the brutally blunt metaphor of Britain’s last viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, “administratively it [wa]s the difference between putting up a permanent building, a nissen hut or a tent. As far as Pakistan is concerned we are putting up a tent. We can do no more”.
Mountbatten had fully expected this fragile tent to collapse. Pakistan has belied this wicked prophecy of the last viceroy. But instead of the tent being replaced with a permanent building, Pakistan has transformed itself metaphorically into a sprawling military barrack.
The rise of the military to a position of dominance within Pakistan’s state structure took place within the very first decade of independence. A combination of domestic, regional and international factors tilted the balance firmly in favour of the non-elected rather than elected institutions of the state.
Occurring within the context of the British-American rivalry, as much as the Cold War divide between the Soviet bloc and the West, military dominance had been established as early as 1951, well before the first military coup of 1958. Looking to raise a viable defence against India, senior civil and military officials like Iskander Mirza and General Ayub Khan reached out to the centres of the capitalist world system, especially the United States, which after the outbreak of the Korean War were looking for allies to contain the threat of communism.
An alliance with Pakistan would give the Americans military bases in the Indian Ocean, a crucial strategic move at a juncture when British prestige in West Asia was at an all-time low. But Washington was unwilling to pay the price demanded by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan — a territorial guarantee and assistance in pressing India to give way on Kashmir. The Americans had a better chance of swaying military and civil officials who, in an effort to gain some leverage, intimated to their American interlocutors that the prime minister was toying with the idea of declaring Pakistan’s neutrality in the Cold War unless Western powers helped resolve the Kashmir issue.
On October 16, 1951, Liaquat was shot dead while addressing a public rally. The murder of Pakistan’s first prime minister heralded the imminent derailment of the political process and the onset of a brutal political culture of assassinations, sustained by the state’s direct or indirect complicity. His assassination cleared the way for Pakistan to join an American-backed security arrangement in the Middle East.
Without consulting either the central cabinet or parliament, Ayub, the commander-in-chief, told politicians – as cited in my book, The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics – to “make up their mind to go whole-heartedly with the West”; the Pakistan army would “take no nonsense”, nor allow them or “the public to ruin the country”. In the event of attempts to destabilise the government, Ayub warned, he would “immediately declare martial law and take charge of the situation” and the “army will do what I tell it to do”.
After Liaquat’s eviction from the national scene, a select combination of senior bureaucrats and military officials took steps to manipulate the administrative machinery, instituting a culture of state patronage that was detrimental to centre-province relations. These moves laid the foundations of what was to become a thriving political economy of defence. After formally aligning itself with the United States in 1954, Pakistan joined two American-sponsored security pacts — the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization in 1954 and the Baghdad Pact in 1955.
The alliance was unpopular in Pakistan, raising the spectre of American military assistance being put at risk by impending general elections. So the ruling coterie of senior civil and military officials, working within the constraints of constructing and consolidating a state in an adverse regional and international environment, set about trying to control the political process and, failing that, suspending it altogether.
Pakistan’s inability to match India’s success in establishing a parliamentary democracy and avoiding military rule is generally attributed to an inept and corrupt political leadership. But the failure to create a functioning parliamentary system was not due to a ‘power vacuum’ created by a fractious and corrupt provincial leadership at the helm of political parties, with no real bases of popular support.
The very fact of a military takeover suggests that, in spite of the dominance of the civil bureaucracy and the army, the internal structures of the state were still fluid enough to be threatened by political forces, however disparate and divided. A clear distinction between phases of dominance and actual intervention by the military explains why weaknesses of political parties offer such an inadequate explanation for the army high command’s decision, in 1958, to directly wield state authority.
The military and its allies in the civil bureaucracy felt compelled to abort the incipient political processes before Pakistan could slip into an era of mass mobilisation. It proved to be a momentous decision whose legacy is alive and well to this day.
General Ziaul Haq administers the oath of office of Federal Shariat Court chairman to Justice Sallahuddin Ahmed on May 20, 1980 | White Star
The supremacy of non-elected over elected institutions not only survived the tentative experiment in parliamentary democracy during the first decade after independence, and the military dispensation after 1958, but also persisted following the separation of East Pakistan in 1971. A judiciary forced into subservience by an all-powerful executive gave constitutional legitimacy to the emerging structural imbalance within the state in the first decade.
The result was a centralised state structure, federal in form and unitary in substance, whose military authoritarian character went against the grain of politics in its constituent regions. These structural asymmetries have been singularly responsible for the failings and distortions of the Pakistani political system — a lack of democratic institutions, inadequate mechanisms for public accountability, a compromised media, inequitable distribution of resources and a chronic tussle between the centre and the provinces.
The dominance of the military has continued through various phases of Pakistan’s political history and is likely to persist into the future so long as extra-constitutional methods continue to be seen by some quarters as an effective means to disrupt the political process. There is a world of difference between holding elected officials accountable and discrediting the democratic political process altogether over acts of omission and commission by politicians.
Accountability requires legal norms and procedures as well as public vigilance and is undermined the instance it is used selectively for political ends. Since the country has been ruled by the military for extended periods of time, expectations of democracy in Pakistan often verge on the unrealistic. Democracy is not a magic wand waved at election time. Democracy is a process. Democracy is conflict and requires institutions to mediate workable resolutions. The difference between a successful democracy and a struggling democracy is the existence of robust elected institutions in the former and infirm or non-existent ones in the latter.
Pakistan’s survival has come at the cost of weakening democratic processes that are intrinsic to maintaining a fragile federal equation. Instead of learning from the tragic experience of dismemberment in 1971, the postcolonial Pakistani state has retained much of its centralised character, notwithstanding recent moves towards greater autonomy for the provinces.
There are, however, some key elements of change that could signal a move away from cycles of military authoritarianism punctuated by short-lived elected governments. The Cold War is over, even if its legacies have endured in Pakistan. In the post-Cold War era, Pakistan is facing a more complex interface between domestic, regional and international factors, presenting opportunities and challenges alike. It took Pakistan 23 years to hold its first general election based on universal adult franchise and it was only in 2013 that the jinx of failed constitutional transfer of power from one civilian government to another was finally broken.
In the past, the judiciary typically toed the line laid down by the military and the civilian bureaucracy and state-controlled media were invariably cowed into submission. For the first time in Pakistan’s 70-year history, the third non-elective institution of the state and the fourth estate are showing some signs of wanting to side with popular political forces.
One of the more significant shifts in Pakistan’s international profile since the height of the Cold War, and one with vast consequences for domestic politics, is the relative decline of American influence. As America strengthens its economic and strategic partnership with India, Pakistan has acted swiftly to improve relations with Russia while further cementing ties with China.
General Pervez Musharraf | White Star
The role of the United States as Pakistan’s patron par excellence has given way to belief in a potentially dramatic turnaround with the help of China blowing the tantalising bugle of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy. Pakistanis would do well to avoid the temptation of seeing China as their new benefactor. Unlike Pakistan’s past dependence on the United States, the relationship with China has to be a partnership for the mutual benefit of both countries.
The extent to which the boons of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are distributed equally among the constituent units or, conversely, become another means for private accumulation of wealth at public expense will in large part determine this country’s future. An open and informed public debate on new policy directions can go a long way towards smoothening out anxieties in the smaller constituent units about the implications of Pakistan’s CPEC policy. While it is still too early to predict the likely outcome of the CPEC initiative, it provides Pakistan with a real incentive to recast itself internally, regionally and globally.
At a time of dynamic change and an uncharted course for the future, there is an urgent need for the citizens of Pakistan to take the lead in making their voices heard in the highest offices of the state. The need for citizen engagement cannot be overemphasised. Pakistanis might consider taking a lead from their American counterparts who, in the aftermath of the divisive 2016 elections, have shown that democracy is more than just the rite of voting, by actively lobbying their representatives to ensure that their interests are safeguarded in pieces of legislation emanating from Washington. Where politics divide, other concerns can unite.
Pakistani citizens could try and come together in defence of their consumer rights. A civic consumerism that is attentive to quality controls, rising prices of daily necessities and environmental degradation in the name of development can lend substance to the social and economic rights of citizenship and generate popular momentum for putting an end to a kleptocratic political culture.
Admittedly, civil society in Pakistan is still relatively unorganised even though new Internet-based technologies are facilitating novel forms of information dissemination and articulation of social protest. The political party system remains weakly established and, with the constitution repeatedly trampled under the praetorian jackboot, the rule of law continues to be flouted by the very elements expected to uphold it.
Another vital element of detrimental change has been the gathering strength of religious extremism that can be traced back to the military regime of General Ziaul Haq between 1977 and 1988. His rule ushered in qualitative changes in the political and ideological profile of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The confluence of international factors that came into play two years after his military takeover gave his regime greater longevity than the decade long reign of Pakistan’s first Cold War coup-maker Ayub Khan.
Until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 brought a reversal of fortunes, Zia faced international ostracism and domestic opprobrium for hanging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and ignoring calls for clemency. American-backed international support for the Pakistan-based Afghan resistance movement gave a new lease of life to the sagging political fortunes of his regime but never came close to giving it popular legitimacy.
While resistance to him assumed multiple forms, both at home and among diasporic communities abroad, urban and middle-class women led street protests against Zia’s so-called Islamisation policies. As enraged women organised the Women’s Action Forum and took on the baton-wielding arms of the state, they were beaten and hurled into jail.
Opposition to Zia’s dictatorship also assumed the form of artistic and intellectual expression more readily than of either symbolic or violent political protests. Ahmad Faraz wrote one of the most celebrated poems of resistance against military dictatorship in Pakistan during this era, called Mahasara (Siege), in which he vowed to wield his pen against deceit and oppression, regardless of the risks. Subjected to public floggings for exercising their fundamental right of expression and thrown out of their jobs, journalists, civil rights activists, labour leaders and intellectuals met in underground coffee houses and the privacy of homes to vent their anger at Zia, his Punjabi-Sunni prejudices and his hypocritical ‘Islamisation’ policies.
Creative writers and visual and dramatic artists used political allegories to register their disdain at the whole gamut of his regime’s self-projections — whether it was the premium placed on an Arabised form of piety or attempts to reverse the few gains women had made during the preceding decades. With women’s rights under attack, there was poetic irony in the fact of Benazir Bhutto leading the opposition charge against Zia’s military rule.
Basking in the glory of his newfound importance to the United States, Zia could afford to alienate Pakistan’s leading political parties as well as forego the support of a relatively small but resilient intelligentsia and dynamic community of artists and musicians. Flush with American largesse that was matched dollar for dollar by Saudi Arabia, he presided over Pakistan’s transformation into a front-line state for an American orchestrated ‘jihad’ against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is welcomed at Gilgit Airport on August 23, 1972 | White Star
Deployed for strategic rather than religious purposes, the uses of a jihadist ideology by the military regime created the space for a transnational congregation of radicalised individuals espousing different variants of Islam but united in their opposition to godless communists. Once this same configuration of forces turned against their erstwhile backers with unbounded hate and violence, Pakistan was left reaping the whirlwind of Zia’s dabbling in the geopolitics of global jihadism.
The ethical meaning of jihad as striving for a noble endeavour has been completely lost sight of in the temporal maelstroms of Pakistan’s politics. Departing from Islamic tradition, today’s would-be jihadis have no qualms about jihad being declared and waged by non-state actors. The eagerness to become a martyr (shaheed) is seen by contemporary militant organisations as a sufficient condition to sanctify armed warfare against perceived injustices perpetrated by enemies of Islam. But in exemplifying a widespread desire among militants to become shaheeds and not just ghazis, warriors of the faith, this raises a troubling question about the erosion of an ethics of humanity amidst the brutalisation of war.
What Pakistan has needed the most ever since its inception is an educational system that can keep pace with the expanding frontiers of knowledge in the rest of the world and inculcate genuine critical thinking. This had been one of the primary objectives of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his bevy of acolytes at Aligarh – the intellectual forerunners of All-India Muslim League’s movement for Pakistan – who in the late 19th century exhorted their co-religionists to take to new forms of education as a means for both individual self-improvement and collective advancement.
It is one of the crueler paradoxes of Pakistani history that the breadth and openness of thinking so valued by Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his Aligarh associates stands in striking contrast to the narrow and hidebound world view of those who today claim to have inherited their intellectual mantle. Instead of a wide-ranging outlook capable of adopting and adapting to new ideas, the knowledge gap has assumed staggering proportions, notably in the humanities and the social sciences. The teaching of history has been severely impaired by its replacement with self-serving national dogmas to the extent that critical thinking has become the scarcest of all commodities in Pakistan. This is not to imply that Pakistanis are uncritical as a people.
In fact, it may be that they are a little too critical about everything and, therefore, incapable of the kind of well-considered and measured creative activity that can channel national energies into constructive debate and productive enterprise. It is the deficit in analytically coherent critical thought, more than anything else, which has allowed successive managers of the post-independence Pakistani state to frame the narratives of the nation into implausible moulds without being unduly concerned about facing a coherent intellectual challenge, far less a sustained political one.
In this disconcerting scenario, the burgeoning of a popular culture in the face of decades of state-sponsored Islamisation and terrorism is a remarkable feat for Pakistan. It draws upon rich and vibrant poetic, musical and artistic traditions that are well manifested in the country’s diverse regional and sub-regional settings.
Decades of authoritarianism and state-sponsored nationalism have only strengthened the appeal of regional counter-narratives in artistic productions. Creative engagements with the regional and transnational realms of cultural and intellectual production, facilitated by new technologies, are producing rich and innovative forms of artistic expression. These are being showcased in the literary festivals that have mushroomed across Pakistan in recent years.
Equally impressive are the extensively telecast Coke Studio sessions where talented Pakistani musicians are sponsored by an American multinational to render scintillating new fusions of some of Pakistan’s greatest folk and popular songs. There is a rich tradition of musical and artistic creativity in Pakistan that has actively engaged with transnational trends, resulting in innovative blending and fresh departures.
The transnational reach of the creative arts has paralleled the globalisation of Pakistani music. Building on the works of those who pioneered the modernist phase in Pakistani painting in the earlier decades, a younger generation of painters is making creative uses of new ideas and technologies to engage with a dynamic transnational artistic scene.
Nawaz Sharif speaks at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal on June 18, 2009 | White Star
New directions in contemporary art, literature and music underline the ongoing tensions between an officially constructed ideology of nationalism and relatively autonomous social and cultural processes in the construction of a “national culture”. Unable to compete with the financial resources of India’s performing arts and film industry, there are many gifted Pakistanis who are nevertheless making their presence felt as independent artists, musicians, writers and film-makers in the Subcontinent as a whole.
Individual success in swamps of collective failure is not uncommon in an authoritarian state. Pakistanis’ cultural achievements, amply evident in the musical, artistic, literary and dramatic productions coming out of the country, reflect the politicisation of the personal sphere that comes with the depoliticisation of the public arena under authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes. If military dictatorships have failed to stunt creative impulses, waves of terror and counter-terror are being resisted through imaginative recourse to local, regional, as well as transnational idioms of a cosmopolitan humanism that celebrates, rather than eliminates, the fact of difference.
Despite these signs of cultural renewal based on individual creativity, Pakistan has not been able to shake off the stigma of being seen as the epicentre of global terror and the price of losing control of international narratives about Pakistan has been hefty. While Pakistanis must take part of the blame, much depends on the willingness of the international community to recognise their creative accomplishments.
Their efforts to promote peace and accommodation may appear inconsequential, given the aggressive and exclusionary narratives on jihad and Muslim identity that have enjoyed state support for nearly four decades. But the costs of external wars on Pakistani soil have been a potent influence in the rising popular interest in the rich cultural repertoire of the mystical traditions of the country. These conflicting dynamics of moderation versus extremism, openness and engagement with the world versus a narrow and inward-looking closing of the mind, signify the battle for the soul of Pakistan that is being waged on several fronts, most perceptibly in Pakistan’s literature, music and the arts.
This is not to deny that the magnitude and range of problems besieging Pakistan are so vast that even a competent elected government cannot expect to deliver on all its promises. Learning to live with the shortcomings of their chosen representatives without losing faith in the democratic process is difficult for a people who, under years of military rule, have internalised negative narratives about politics and politicians.
If there is one thing Pakistanis need to take from their own history, it is that there is a world of difference between an ineffective government that can at least be voted out of office and the abject failure of democratic processes that military interventions signify. This subtle but crucial distinction holds the key to Pakistan’s release from interminable cycles of military authoritarianism.
It can help trigger the beginnings of a long but arduous journey towards a functioning democracy based on checks and balances between different institutions of the state. Institution building is a long and painful process and Pakistanis have not dignified themselves in this crucial realm. If they can overcome this crippling handicap, they may yet lay the basis for a new and robust federal union based on mutual respect and accommodation among the different constituent units.
Pakistanis can engage fruitfully with the current nexus of political factors only by getting their bearings right. If they are to renegotiate the complex contours of the contested spaces and competing narratives of their collective identity to establish a mutually beneficial federalism, they have to face up to some hard truths about their history and muster the courage to learn from its lessons.
The biggest challenge for them is to reject the received wisdoms about the past in order to deal more realistically with the present as a first step towards planning for a better future. What they cannot afford is to continue to allow official idioms of state-sponsored nationalism to gloss over the multiple and conflicting aspirations in different regions that fueled the dream of Pakistan, a denial that constitutes the single biggest obstacle to fashioning a coherent, if not necessarily unanimous, nation. Forced unanimity is no unanimity at all while restrained conflict, respectful of the human rights of all contenders, is the very stuff of democracy.
Insofar as visions of the founding fathers are meant to signpost a nation’s historical trajectory, it may be tempting to attribute the failure of democracy in Pakistan to their flawed political and intellectual legacies. Seen this way, the very notion of a Muslim nation distinct from the Subcontinent’s Hindu-majority community smacked of an inherently undemocratic conception of politics.
Asif Ali Zardari at Benazir Bhutto’s funeral in 2007 | White Star
Even among those who otherwise hail Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s contribution to the creation of a separate homeland for India’s Muslims, measured scepticism about the appropriateness of democracy in Pakistan has been part and parcel of a self-serving agenda in which the convenience of continued access to state patronage is better than the uncertainties of dealing with an elected government.
As for those given to making sweeping judgments with little understanding of history or context, the absence of democracy in Pakistan is attributed to authoritarian strains in its Muslim culture. Those of the technocratic ilk are known to scoff at the prospect of democracy in a country with a woefully low literacy rate, conveniently overlooking social indicators in neighbouring India, billed as the largest democracy in the world.
One might disagree with the reasons why democracy went off the rails in Pakistan so early in its history. But it is palpably incorrect to locate the failure in Islam, socio-economic determinism or in the founding father’s political legacy.
An examination of Jinnah’s long and distinguished public career should disabuse anyone of doubts about his commitment to democracy and human rights. He was the most eloquent proponent of minority rights before feeling the need to claim national status for India’s Muslims.
Firmly grounded in the democratic tradition, he was at the forefront of advocacy when it came to universal education, women’s rights, equal rights of citizenship irrespective of differentiations along lines of caste, class or religious community.
A moderate constitutionalist, he looked disdainfully upon professional rabble-rousers who made cynical uses of religion. “I know of no religion apart from human activity,” he once told Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, since it “provides a moral basis for all other activities”. Religion for him was meaningless if it did not mean identifying with the whole of mankind. Wary of all forms of exclusivity and an uncompromising opponent of bigotry, whether cultural or religious, Jinnah faulted the Indian National Congress’s methods but never once took his sights off the ultimate goal of independence from British colonial rule.
After March 1940, his insistence on national status for Indian Muslims was unshakeable. But the demand for a wholly separate and sovereign state, with no relationship whatsoever with a Hindustan containing almost as many Muslims, remained open to negotiation until the late summer of 1946. The claim that Muslims constituted a ‘nation’ was not necessarily incompatible with a federal or confederal state structure covering the whole of India.
This left open the possibility of an all-India entity reconstituted on the basis of multiple levels of sovereignty. In keeping with the better part of India’s history, an overture to shared sovereignty seemed the best way of tackling the dilemma posed by the absence of any neat equation between Muslim identity and territory. With ‘nations’ straddling states, the boundaries between them had to be permeable and flexible, not impenetrable and absolute.
This is why Jinnah remained implacably opposed to a partition of Punjab and Bengal along religious lines, even while furthering the cause of a political division of India between ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Hindustan’. It was the Indian National Congress’ unwillingness to accept an equitable power-sharing arrangement with the All-India Muslim League that resulted in the creation of a sovereign Pakistan based on the partition of Punjab and Bengal along ostensibly religious lines.
Benazir Bhutto at a press conference in 2007 | White Star
Cast against its will in the role of a state seceding from a hostile Indian union, Pakistan has tried securing its independent existence by espousing an ideology of Muslim ‘nationhood’ that has entailed trampling on the provincial rights promised in the Lahore Resolution and dispensing with democracy for the better part of its history. It is no wonder that the claims of Muslim nationhood have been so poorly served by the achievement of territorial statehood.
These insights have been lost on those who unquestioningly parrot the official idioms of nationalism. Charting a linear course to the winning of statehood, these idioms paper over the vexed problems that a geographically dispersed and heterogeneous community such as the Muslims of India faced in its bid to be considered a ‘nation’. Nor can the sacred tomes of official nationalism explain why there are more subcontinental Muslims living in India and Bangladesh than in Pakistan, the much vaunted Muslim homeland.
As if these confusions were not sufficient to plunge the Pakistani state into a serious identity crisis, its creation in the name of religion has heaped confusion upon confusion. Diehard secularists see in it the kind of anachronism that only Muslims are capable of conjuring. Self-styled representatives of religion, for their part, have seen in it an opportunity to realise the goal of an Islamic state in which they call the shots. Few have ventured to probe what religion as faith had to do with the politics of difference in late colonial India. It was mainly religion as a social demarcator – and for some also concerns about religion as faith – not the dream of an Islamic theocracy which prompted the demand for Pakistan.
Jinnah certainly envisaged Pakistan as a modern, progressive and democratic state and said as much in his speeches: “We ... have a State in which we c[an] live and breathe as free men and which we c[an] develop according to our own lights and culture and where principles of Islamic social justice c[an] find free play.”
This vision resonated with Muhammad Iqbal’s evocation of individual freedom, which was in complete contrast to the theological centralisation advocated by Jamaat-e-Islami’s founder Maulana Abul A’la Maududi. The political architect and poet-philosopher of a Muslim homeland espoused a conception that acknowledged the continued salience of some sort of a state of temporal and spiritual union presiding over regions with shares of sovereignty and citizens with multiple identities — an idea of freedom where Pakistanis in all their diversities and differences could live the lives they valued with dignity, responsibility and a sense of security.
The citizens of the Muslim homeland created by Jinnah, whose federalist vision played such a formative role in the creation of Pakistan, have both a self-interest and moral responsibility to reject the old and tired methods of coercion and neglect of constituent units. It is equally imperative to uphold his singular belief in the rule of law. Pakistan’s future historical trajectory will be what the citizens of Jinnah’s Muslim homeland want it to be. Speaking in Karachi before the Bar Association on January 25, 1948 – as cited in my book The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics – he had urged: “What reason is there for anyone to fear democracy, equality, freedom ... [as] the highest standard of integrity and on the basis of fair play and justice for everybody?”
It remains an aspiration worth striving for, seven decades after the creation of Pakistan.
This was originally published in the Herald's August 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.
The writer is a noted historian and the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University and is also the director of the University's Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies.