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A discourse of the deaf

November 04, 2000

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OF late, there has been much discussion of the Two-Nation Theory in the national press. Politicians, especially those from the three smaller provinces, have made critical noises about this principle that was the basis for the partition of India.

Basically, the theory postulated that the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent constituted two distinct nations and therefore needed separate states to pursue their respective destinies. The problem with this vision was that it treated the people of South Asia as two homogeneous groups of Hindus and Muslims, making no allowances for the vast cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences that contribute to the colourful and vibrant mosaic that is the subcontinent.

This theory sought to bind a Muslim in Dhaka with one in Dharampura, and a Hindu in Sukkur with one in Simla. The reality was very different. A Muslim Bengali had far more in common with a Hindu from Calcutta than a Punjabi Muslim, while a Pushtun from Durra is much closer culturally and ethnically to his cousin in Jalalabad in Afghanistan than he is to a Muslim in Chittagong. These very real differences were glossed over by the over-simplifications on which the Two-National Theory is based.

And although millions of Muslims and Hindus migrated in both directions in 1947, millions of others chose to stay where they were. The fact that even after partition, India continued to have a significant Muslim population weakened the principle on which Pakistan had been created. This questionable premise was further eroded by the separation of East Pakistan in 1971. We now have three states in the subcontinent, each with roughly 150 million Muslims. Detractors of the Two-Nation Theory point out that had India not been partitioned, there would have been around 450 million Muslims living there. Such a large population can hardly be termed a persecuted minority.

However, these are the ifs and buts of history. The bottom line is that for good or bad, right or wrong, Pakistan came into being over half a century ago, and need no longer justify its existence to India, the rest of the world or to its own citizens. Over a period of time, a state acquires legitimacy and a certain momentum just by virtue of its existence. It does not have to explain time and again why it was created.

Unfortunately, our leaders and self-appointed ideologues have consistently taken upon themselves the impossible and exceedingly boring task of defending a defunct theory. To do so, they have gone through bizarre and tortuous intellectual contortions that might have been amusing were it not for the strains they have placed on the fabric of the Pakistani state. First and foremost, the defenders of the so-called ideology of Pakistan have tried to establish the geographically untenable position that we are part of the Mid-East and not South Asia. To sustain this fiction, they have done their wicked worst to purge our culture of subcontinental influences. Thus, classical dancing is under a virtual official ban while theatre and music exist on sufferance. Students are taught Arabic (badly) at an early age and indoctrinated to despise everything India.

The other fiction that underpins this official doctrine is that history began for Pakistan when Mohammad Bin Qasim landed on our shores and conquered and converted much of Sindh. The flowering of the Gandhara civilization and the magnificent earlier achievements of the Indus Valley civilization are largely glossed over except in the tawdry publications we produce for the benefit of the few foreign tourists who venture here. Unfortunately, many of these attitudes are mirrored across the border in India.

These contortions have resulted in a major identity crisis that has robbed at least two generations of their creativity: by cutting them off from their real roots, our ideologues have produced a nation that is unsure of its position in the region and the world. One reason why we are so full of doom and gloom is that we are constantly subjected to long-winded and fatuous explanations about why Pakistan came into being. It is almost as if we were being constantly asked to prove our legitimacy at every step.

Instead of getting on with life, much of our energy and vitality have been dissipated in this sterile and pointless debate: after all these years, what does it matter why Pakistan was created? What matters is that it was created, and we need to stop justifying its creation. Scores of nation-states have come into being after 1947, and most of them do not feel the compulsion to defend their existence. The world is not asking us to produce a certificate of legitimacy; it only wants us to join the rest of the human race and accept reality as it is.

Another distortion the Two-Nation Theory has produced is the compulsion to define ourselves in terms of India: we have tried to show how different we are from our neighbour at every turn. Inevitably, an Indian misfortune is seen as our good fortune, and every Indian gain as our loss. This zero-sum game is a debilitating exercise and has resulted in tunnel vision in which our large neighbour has become our only horizon. Our internal and external policies are largely aimed at somehow countering real and perceived Indian threats and hegemonic designs.Any theory that seeks to promote separateness denies our humanity and the ability of civilized people to live together despite differences in colour, caste or creed. As somebody said recently, "First we Muslims said we could not live with Hindus and created Pakistan; then we said we could no longer live with Bengalis, and Bangladesh was the result. Now Sunnis are saying they cannot live with Shias. Where will it all stop?" Where indeed?

There is considerable evidence to suggest that the demand for Pakistan was a bargaining position initially adopted by the Muslim League. Ultimately, it was Congress obduracy more than Muslim League insistence that resulted in the creation of Pakistan. Whatever the reality, it is certain that the bloodletting that accompanied partition shook the founder of the new state and probably caused the decades of suspicion and rancour that have marked Indo-Pakistani relations ever since.

There has been a demand to try Altaf Hussain of the MQM for criticizing the creation of Pakistan. This is the knee-jerk reaction of our ideologues who have already inflicted so much damage in the past. It would be far better to debate these issues openly, and if that is the consensus, lay to rest the Two-Nation Theory. We no longer need defunct theories to justify the creation and existence of Pakistan.