When religious extremists assassinated Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and Bashir Ahmed Bilour in December 2012, my mind kept going back to what some political thinkers had warned about decades ago. Men, whose warnings were not only ignored but labeled as being treacherous and ‘anti-Pakistan.’
For example, the following is what Sindhi nationalist leader and scholar, G M Syed, said about Pakistan’s future way back in 1953: “In the years to come, Pakistan will not only become a problem for itself, but it will pose a danger to the world.”
More than 50 years ago this man had somehow realised and predicted a future that is currently haunting not only Pakistan but also the world at large.
This was a man articulating a rather breathtaking insight that he had experienced long before Pakistan had become an anarchic dystopia where bread is promised and blood is shed in the name of faith.
But Syed was not the only one in those days casting a pessimistic shadow across the possible future of the newly-founded country. Those who agreed with Syed were various Bengali and Baloch nationalists, along with Pushtun nationalist icon, Bacha Khan.
Very early on these Sindhi, Pushtun, Baloch and Bengali nationalists and thinkers had started to raise an alarm about the cosmetic nature of what was beginning to be devised by the state as the ‘Pakistan ideology’ – even though this term was never used by the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah and would only come into play in the 1960s.
The trigger was the 1949 Objectives Resolution initiated by the government of Liaquat Ali Khan, and which, for the first time, described Islam to be the binding force of the young nation.
Men like Syed and other ethnic-nationalists correctly saw through the maneuver and explained it as the beginnings of a process that they feared the ruling elite would exploit in its attempt to suppress the country’s multicultural and multiethnic make-up.
They thought that with the Resolution the state was creating an illusion to counter a reality that it did not fancy.
The awkward reality was that Pakistan was not exactly a single nation with a single language. It was a diverse country with multiple ethnicities, religions, Muslim sects and sub-sects. Each one of these had their own literature, language, culture and interpretation of faith, society and history.
The illusion naturally went the other way by describing Pakistan to be homogenous nation-state with a monolithic strain of faith that would cut through the ethnic and sectarian diversities. These were described by the state as being dangerous cleavages that could tear the young country apart.
The ruling elite began seeing these diversities as divides and an existentialist and political threat to the country.
___________________________It is interesting to note that there is little or no evidence to suggest that there was ever a concrete plan to immediately turn Pakistan into an Islamic republic or state.
However, when agitation by Bengali nationalists in former East Pakistan over the issue of making Urdu the national language broke out, instead of democratically addressing the issue, this suddenly prompted the government to officially introduce certain theocratic declarations in the 1949 Objectives Resolution.
Even though these declarations were no more than an eye-wash and the Pakistani leadership and society remained largely secular in orientation, men like G M Syed and Bacha Khan were quick to sight a dangerous trend. To them the ruling elite was now willing to use religion to suppress centuries-old ethnic identities of the Sindhis, Pushtuns, Bengalis and the Baloch. They saw these identities being forcefully replaced with a cosmetic and monolithic ideology based on the state’s ‘elitist’ understanding of Islam and nationhood.
Over the decades, the governments and the ‘establishment’ of Pakistan painstakingly constructed this supposed ideology, so much so that (ever since the 1980s) it eventually started being used by intelligence agencies, politico-religious parties, and some media personnel to actually justify the folly of the Pakistan state and military patronising brutal Islamist outfits.
‘But wasn’t Pakistan made in the name of Islam?’ They would (and still) retort.
___________________________Until about the late 1960s it was fair to suggest that Pakistan as an idea was carved out as a country for the Muslims of the subcontinent who were largely seen (by Jinnah), as a distinct cultural set of Indians whose political and cultural distinctiveness might have been compromised in a post-colonial ‘Hindu-dominated’ India.
As Jinnah went about explaining his vision of what Pakistan was supposed to mean, there are no doubts about the historical validity of the notion that he imagined the new country as a cultural haven for the Muslims of the subcontinent where the state and religion would remain separate, but driven by a form of modern democracy that incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality and interfaith harmony.