Politics is known for coining new slogans and creating visions of the future. This becomes more common near election time when different political leaders and parties offer new and catchy slogans for the betterment of the people. We often hear the narratives and slogans of “New Pakistan” and “Jinnah’s Pakistan” as the frameworks for articulating the present and the future of Pakistan. These are two visions of the nature and dynamics of the Pakistani state and society.
There are several competing visions of Pakistan. The advocates of different narratives of Pakistan are passionate about their vision and slogans and make a selective use of historical evidence to support their contention and reject the competing visions.
Why multiple narratives and slogans?
Sixty-six years after independence, Pakistan’s political and societal elite have not been able to develop an enduring consensus on the nature and direction of Pakistani state and society. Different slogans are raised to protect and advance each partisan societal narrative. There are several reasons for the proliferations of the visions of Pakistan and the attendant slogans.
The early demise of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in September1948 did not enable him to transfer his charisma to the institutions and processes of the new state of Pakistan. Had he lived longer to evolve a constitutional framework for Pakistan, we would have enjoyed greater legitimacy because of his blessings, establishing a grand narrative of the present and the future of Pakistan.
Quaid-i-Azam’s death created a serious crisis of leadership inside and outside the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Liaquat Ali Khan, prime minister (August 1947-October 1951), offered a narrative of Pakistan in his speeches on the objectives of the resolutions in the first Constituent Assembly, 1949. But, competing narratives, especially by orthodox and fundamentalist Islamic leaders, contested the constitutional democratic and modernist Islamic perspective as advocated by Liaquat Ali Khan and others.
The delay in constitution-making and the lack of political continuity also adversely affected the efforts to create a broad-based understanding on the features of the state system and societal arrangements. The political governments changed frequently during 1951-58 which weakened the political forces. This made it possible for the military to step directly into the political domain and assume power in October 1958 and three other occasions.
The political order created by the military regimes in Pakistan reflected military ethos of control and management. It could not accommodate the pressures for political participation and socio-economic justice. Their efforts to create a selective consensus provided a temporary solution to the problems of national identity and the future of the state and society. This selective consensus unravelled when military rule came to an end for one reason or another.
Another reason for emergence of multiple narratives of Pakistan and the slogans associated with each narrative is the inability of the political leaders to evolve an acceptable framework for the relationship between the federal government and the provinces. They could not adequately address the issues of representation of the provinces in federal institutions, distribution of administrative and political powers and financial resources. The initial framework of federal-provincial relationship was based on monolithic nationalism to the exclusion of other ethnic, linguistic and regional identities.
This approach to federal-provincial relations caused much bitterness in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and smaller provinces and administrative units in Western Pakistan (the present-day Pakistan). The region-based political and societal elite challenged the hegemonic federal model and underlined the need of recognizing provincial rights and interests in the constitutional and political arrangements. The first major attempt to accommodate provincial concerns was made in the original 1973 Constitution which included many new institutional arrangements and procedures to upgrade the status and role of provinces.
Two major strides in 2009 and 2010 made unprecedented efforts to strengthen the position and role of provinces. In 2009, the criterion for allocation of resources from federal divisible revenue was changed in the 7th National Finance Commission Award from single criterion on population, to multiple bases for distribution of resources between the federal government and provinces. This decision accommodated the demands of the provinces with lesser population and more problems of under-development and poverty.
In 2010, the 18th Constitutional Amendment brought about drastic changes in the nature of the Pakistan federation by tilting the balance of power in favour of provinces. The concurrent list of subjects in the constitution has been done away with and about 20 departments have been shifted to provinces that now enjoy greater autonomy than was the case in the past. The formula for ownership of natural resources and sharing of electricity and gas profits is a step forward in creating participatory federation.
Selective use of history
While building the narrative for the future and inventing slogans, the political leaders and intellectuals make a selective use of history and often engage in re-writing history in order to justify their projected notions of the present and the future. They selectively pick up historical events and statements of the leaders for justifying what they want to achieve today.
The advocates of a loose federation or a confederation for Pakistan adopt a literalist approach towards the text of the Lahore Resolution and refuse to take into account the changes that took place in the demands of the All India Muslim League during 1940-47. Though this resolution did not provide any formula for distribution of state power in the proposed Pakistan state, many people insist on making the constitution of Pakistan on the basis of the text of the resolution. It is an example of selective use of history and rewriting it to meet the requirements of the present.