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Whatever happened to Pakistan?

Published Aug 13, 2017 01:08pm

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Founding members of the All India Muslim League | White Star
Founding members of the All India Muslim League | White Star

On March 23, 1940, the Pakistan Resolution was passed by the All-India Muslim League's annual session in Lahore. Looking back over the fifty years that have elapsed since that day, one is left with a whole host of mixed feelings. Does the truncated Pakistan of today ­ with its unending cycle of ethnic animosities, it’s mortgaged economy, its opportunist politics and the perpetual shadow of dictatorship hovering over it ­ bear any resemblance at all to the ideals of the movement that gave birth to the country?

To understand the Pakistan Movement and its ideals, it is essential to place the upsurge of Muslim Nationalism at the time in its context.

The hot topic at the time was the place of the Muslims in Indian politics- a subject that provoked a great deal of passionate debate. This was the time when Mohammad Ali Jinnah -subsequently the Quaid-e-Azam -made his famous marathon address in the Strachey Hall of Aligarh University. Although the speech was only partly understood at the time, the effect it had on those present was profound.

This was, in fact, the first lecture -cum-speech delivered by Jinnah after t he passage of the Pakistan Resolution. In it he expounded the theoretical basis for demanding the division of India, a demand that later came to be known as Muslim Nationalism.

Curiously, while a tremendous amount of vacuous writing has been devoted to the Resolution and the strong reaction it provoked, very little work of any substance has been written about the content and quality of the controversies that rocked India in the early 1940s. In fact, the Pakistan Movement is perhaps unique among the great popular movements in its inability to generate even the smallest amount of positive, or even objective, literature. One is not obviously including in this literature the countless unthinking panegyrics by League propagandists or the sheer denunciations by a number of so-called nationalist journalists of the time.

What is important to remember is that there was a loud chorus of denunciation of the Pakistan idea from what Mr Jinnah was wont t o call the “Hindu press” which drew attention to all kinds of negative points in the partition scheme. However, at the time, most of the intelligentsia supporting the Muslim League, dismissed these accounts out of hand. Nevertheless, it is interesting to enumerate the major points raised in these denunciations, which amounted in many cases to outright derision.

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Miss Fatima Jinnah, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lady Edwina Mountbatten face jubilant crowds as they leave the Constituent Assembly
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Miss Fatima Jinnah, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lady Edwina Mountbatten face jubilant crowds as they leave the Constituent Assembly

Of course, some of the criticism was never fully communicated through the printed word, but was passed on by word-of-mouth alone. The basic argument against the partition scheme was that the Muslim separatists were motivated solely by negative feelings such as envy and fear of the Hindus. This motivation, most opponents would confide in private, was less than honourable and manly. Muslims were also constantly chided for being defeatists because they had convinced themselves they were more backward than the Hindus in terms of both education and economic performance. The argument was that this defeatist attitude was a major obstacle in the path of the Muslims ever being able to catch up with the Hindus.

There was a grain of truth in such a contention, at least as far as the Muslim students from the lower middle class of the time were concerned. It was commonly perceived among this section that the Hindus were far more industrious and single-minded, and that they were far more capable in mathematics and the sciences. In this view, it was expecting too much from Muslims to think they could beat the Hindus in these fields.

The other allegation of the anti-partition lobby was that the Muslims' real motivation was to get more plum jobs, which they could never stand a chance of securing in any open competition with the Hindus. Reserved seats and separate electorates, it was asserted, were in fact the lines of least resistance, where the less competent Muslims could get ahead of the better qualified and more industrious Hindus.

It should be remembered that the opponents of the Pakistan demand emphasised negative aspects of this nature mainly in discussions and face-to-face encounters rather than in print, although some of these arguments are reflected in the books written later. What was emphasised in print was the applicability of a secular and composite Indian nationalism, based mainly on the evolution of the Indo-Persian culture that was the common heritage of both Hindus and Muslims.

Needless to say, the best exponents of this view were Jawaharlal Nehru, Acharya Narendra Deo, Rabindranath Tagore, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, Professor Abid Hussain and others.

A movement supported by so many millions, acting instinctively and spontaneously, cannot be dismissed on the basis of abstract theories.

Remarkably, there is, to this day, no comparable book that attempts to refute the arguments of the ideologues of Indian nationalism, or explain and justify Muslim nationalism -that is, unless one is content with the work of journalists such as Z.A. Suleri on the subject.

The purpose of emphasising the paucity of positive literature on the Pakistan Movement and dwelling on the negative points raised by advocates of Indian nationalism is not to denigrate the Pakistan Movement. A movement supported by so many millions, acting instinctively and spontaneously, cannot be dismissed on the basis of abstract theories. Since the Muslim masses wanted to have a separate future for themselves and they voted for this both with their feet and through the ballot, the Pakistan Movement lacked nothing of substance except adequate articulation.

Another point that must be emphasised is that despite the lack of articulate writings, the Pakistan Movement did contain a positive moral content. This point has a special relevance today. Despite the fact that there was a grain of truth in what detractors had to say about the Muslim mind, the moral content of the Pakistan demand was deeply felt ­ especially by the younger generation.

The Pakistan Resolution
The Pakistan Resolution

Enthusiasts of the Pakistan demand, especially students, were conscious of the noble objectives underpinning the Pakistan Idea. Indeed, that was precisely what motivated and moved them. In their eyes, that the Congress demand for the independence of India amounted to was the establishment, under Congress leadership, of a modern, secular and more or less democratic state. But this state, in the eyes of most supporters of Pakistan, was also inevitably going to be largely capitalistic in its outlook, as the Congress was indisputably identified with the Hindu capitalists who were financing it .

It is also important to keep in mind the climate of that particular time: capitalism was a dirty word for most intellectuals, and its depredations had been highlighted by contemporary socialists of all kinds. Given this background, the essentially conservative nature of the Congress was underlined by the victory of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad over a committed socialist like M.N.Roy at about the same time as the Pakistan Resolution was passed.

In contrast ,Pakistan was seen by its supporters as an ideal state, one that was certainly not expected to establish a paradise for capitalists, or even less so, for feudals. Jinnah had repeatedly stressed this point: Pakistan, in his view, would be free from the ills of both feudalism and capitalism. On the positive side, the new utopia would combine the verities of Islam with the virtues and benefits of socialism. It would be a land where there would be no exploitation of the poor and the down-trodden, where democratic values were to be combined with the profound simplicity and piety of the Islamic tradition. This was the vision the young idealists of the movement were striving for.


Fifty years after the Pakistan Resolution was passed, how do those early hopes compare with the realities of Pakistan today? For anyone living in Karachi, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the 42 years of Pakistan have confirmed one hypothesis originally put forward by Altaf Gauhar: the Muslims have no clue about how to come terms with the modern age which has forced upon them its own categories- the nation-state, modern communications, technology, modern science and a constantly growing awareness about distinctive ethnic identities among the once-dormant or unaware groups throughout the world.

While the Islamic concept of ummah or Muslim brotherhood has not adequately accommodated ethnic identity on the basis of different formulas of the co-­existence of the two, Muslim nationalism in Pakistan has distinctly not worked. The most dramatic example of this failure was seen in the 1971 civil war and the dismemberment of Pakistan, even if one ignores the larger expression of the same failure represented by recurrent martial laws.

Indeed, in the subsequent 20 years, the Pakistani incapacity to understand the requirements of social engineering manifested itself in numerous ways: the military action of 1973 in Balochistan, the 1975 Hyderabad Conspiracy Case, the upheavals of 1977 and the growth in the 1980s of both the Jeay Sindh movement and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement. It is true that there are many brave souls who claim that they can reconcile Muslim nationalism with the growing assertions or ethnic-based nationalities through a genuinely broad minded federalism. While one recognises the adequacy and elasticity of this largely verbal formula, can the drives and assumptions of the two be really combined in the hearts and minds of the masses? And does not this simple, theoretical formulation in the constitution fail to work on the ground, where it has to pass the true test? Do the events leading up to the February 7, 1990 denouncement in Karachi, and subsequent developments, for example, point to a harmonious mental adjustment in the minds of the people of Sindh in general and of Karachi in particular to the ideas of human equality and fraternity, Islamic solidarity, Pakistani or Muslim nationalism (supposing these two are the same) and Sindhi and mohajir nationalisms?

The contrast between the aspirations and hopes of the early 1940s and the sombre realities and bleak outlook of the early 1990s calls for some thought. Have we not effectively repudiated all that Jinnah -sometimes symbolically and vaguely and sometimes clearly -stood for? Mr Jinnah may not have been a particularly accomplished social scientist who propounded clear-cut theories, but he certainly represented a definite trend of thought that was both liberal and democratic. His concern for, and determination to accommodate, Islamic values -one says values and not specific superstructures was certainly unmistakable. But he was also clear that he did not want Pakistan to be lorded over by capitalists and large landholders. He wished the common Musalman to have all the benefits that the application of modern science and technology to productive operations can yield. And these benefits were not to be restricted to Muslims alone; the non-Muslim Pakistanis were to have exactly the same rights, benefits, privileges and obligations. Indeed, Jinnah was a thorough-going secularist in this respect: he would not let the state discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims.

But where are those indubitably noble objectives, based on the ideals of human progress today? Our economy has all but been handed over to the receivers: the IMF, World Bank and the main donors of the Aid-to­ Pakistan Consortium. Today, the Pakistan government seems as if it were only a minor executing agency carrying out instructions from abroad. As far as politics are concerned, where does Pakistan stand today? Again, the shape of the country's government was determined abroad. It is true that there were consultations with local influentials, but who rules the country today? If we cut down polite political fictions and verbiage, we arrive at a troika: the USA, the Pakistan Army and the locally elected notables. However, to be functionally exact, the ones that really matter form a quartet: Viceroy Robert Oakley , General Mirza Aslam Beg, President Ghulam lshaq Khan and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto- in that particular order.

True, a representative government has been brought into being through a combination of political expediencies and accidents and has been labelled democratic. Without seeming to look a gift horse in the mouth, it is, nevertheless, difficult to get rid of the nagging suspicion that the democratic part of the experiment contains an unusually large element of ersatz, and that it is not something that we Pakistanis have created totally for ourselves. In fact, it looks uncommonly like someone else's expediency.

Indeed, Jinnah was a thorough-going secularist in this respect: he would not let the state discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Meanwhile, Sindh continues to bleed, bewildered and distracted by unrelenting destructive and murderous urges. What precisely can one's MQM compatriots hope to gain by forever confronting Sindh's authentic representatives- and obliging Hussain Haqqani's bosses? And what do the PPP and Sindhi nationalists mean by refusing to deal honestly with the undisputed delegates of a large portion of Sindh’s urban population initially, and later descending to the same level and tactics as those employed by the MQM? Finally, why does the PPP persist in pushing all mohajirs into the arms of the MQM by not having a positive policy of their own for such a large ethnic minority as the mohajirs?

And Sindh is not alone in its agony. Take the other provinces. Where is the Punjab heading today? The confrontation between the PPP and IJI seems to be of a nature where nothing else matters and there are no common interests between the combatants. Look at the NWFP and try and find any vestiges of either morality or principles. Does anyone concerned with Balochistan have any vision, and do those who have to deal with it have any thought of reconciliation and the healing of old wounds? In the current frantic politicking in Islamabad, a link with the ideas and purposes that can be traced back to ­ or harmonised with- the Pakistan Movement, is hard to make.

But can we ignore the persistent failure of all of us to make democracy or a federation work? It is easy to grasp the notion that anyone who cannot run democracy can also not run a federation. It does not require too great an understanding or prescience to know that we are unable to harmonise and accommodate all the various elements of our national being that seek to be recognised and respected: the Islamic part of our common personality; the fact of belonging to a modern nation state called Pakistan with specific boundaries on the ground in the subcontinent and the plural character of the Pakistani population in terms of ethnic-based nationalities, religious sects, religious minorities, distinctive cultural and linguistic subdivisions and areas of overlapping characteristics.

No single theory actually helps us to combine these elements into a workable formula of social and political engineering other than (mostly verbally) simple western-style democracy -founded on liberal philosophy. This combined with an (enlightened) federal principle that emphasises the required spirit, rather than any insistance upon a rigid literalism of a constitutional formula, seems the only practical answer. An essential prerequisite would then be the tolerance taught by a strict secularism -one that need not be a copy of India's largely misconceived version. But how do we harmonise this foundation-stone of the modern age- secular politics-with the romantic claims of Islamic universalism?

In a way, there is no difficulty, as the concepts of nation-state as well as the separation of church and state do not belie the values of human equality and fraternity. Why should secular politics prejudice people's penchant for Islamic universalism? For eight or nine hundred years, Islamic scholars found no difficulty in harmonising Islamic universalism with the demands of the loyalty to specific Muslim rulers and their kingdoms spread out throughout the Islamic world, each being in practice a law unto itself. In fact, the politics in all Muslim kingdoms and states was essentially secular. Why should it be difficult for us now to recreate a policy of that nature, and one that Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisaged?

The 1990s are a time when most familiar intellectual contours are in the process of disappearing before our eyes. The ideals of human equality and fraternity have recently received several knocks. With the collapse of communism throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union threatened with a radical kind of collapse and possible disintegration, it is difficult to talk of socialist objectives with any conviction. And yet, the so-called victory of the West and capitalism do not foreclose the necessity of experimenting with and founding more compassionate and caring economic systems . Democratic and liberal norms have to inform the quest for political formulas that would enable a nation like ourselves not merely to survive, but actually to progress in a free milieu. That is the challenge before Pakistan and that is what it owes to the memory of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Pakistan Resolution.


This was originally published in the Herald's March 1990 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.