ON February 28, 2019, in Islamabad, one day after the Pakistan Air Force shot down Indian Air Force jets which had intruded into the country's air space and the capture of one Indian pilot, all civilian flights were suspended. At the end of a brief visit north, and obliged to be back in Karachi the next day, this writer decided to go home by road. That hectic trip in 23 hours taken just 23 days before March 23 became a journey into time, both past and present.
Seventy-nine years ago the Lahore Resolution used five different words to refer to the constituent parts of the territory being visualised for the re-structuring of Muslim majority areas under British colonial occupation into a condition of sovereign independence: units, regions, areas, zones and states.
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This multiplicity seems to have been deliberate strategy. Primarily, to keep the British and the Congress guessing about the precise intent of the Muslim League, and partly to allow ambiguity for some time which could encourage the evolution of a consensus within the League itself about the exact composition of the proposed new edifice (or edifices). The original term of plurality as in the words "independent states" in the text of the Resolution became a singularity about two years later when Mr Jinnah ascribed the "s" as a typographical error. Was that yet another master-stroke of strategic ambivalence or benevolent sleight-of-hand?!
Clarity through mobility
Almost eight decades later, the five distinct measurements have long fused into one single, seamless landscape of a uniquely-created nation-state. Surveyed at steady speed, during daylight, and in the darkness of the night fleetingly lit up by approaching headlights, streets and homes of towns and villages, the territory of Pakistan exudes subtle as well as explicit diversity.
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This range is bound together, metaphorically and literally, by motorways and a national highway. Like some large cities, this is a country that does not seem to sleep. Hundreds of trucks, trailers, trolleys, buses, coaches, cars, even motorbikes, stray bicycles, lumbering camel carts, bullock carts, donkey- carts, going in both directions, for long and short stretches help reinforce the continuity and under-lying unity of the country's terrain.
Although the migration was challenging, those who became Pakistanis by choice fell in love with both the soil and the soul of Pakistan.
The ceaseless movement on the road represents the close economic inter-dependence of numerous parts and the four provinces. As also the internal commerce between areas inside each province. Even though on this particular journey, the route did not take one into Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (which, in another context, was visited just two days earlier), the flow of traffic, the number-plates, the facial features of travellers and drivers, and other signs eloquently conveyed how highway hustle and bustle represents the quiet yet strong existence of an integrated political and commercial economy. Even though the Lahore Resolution did not include the name of Pakistan — already coined seven years earlier in 1933 by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali — the production, trade, transportation and consumption of goods and services embracing all four provinces, linking Lahore with Lyari , Gwadar with Gawalmandi portrays an inclusive, single Pakistan in 2019 .
One interpretation of the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010 which has brought overdue autonomy to the provinces is that it has also weakened the unifying dimension and authority of a shared state structure. Without paranoiac presumptions of an alleged conspiracy to undo the amendment, it is perhaps advisable to re-visit the scope of that change after a decade of living with it. Actual experience, not apprehensions, should determine an open-minded review. On the road, the federation flows fluently from one province into another. Only polite, friendly signs of demarcation and non-intimidatory police check-posts signal the transition from Punjab into Sindh. In October 1938, about 16 months before March 1940, the Sindh Muslim League's resolution demanding a separate Muslim federation and a Hindu federation was prescient – but was disallowed by Mr Jinnah as, in his view, the timing was not quite right, apart from other factors.
Tastes and identities
Cuisine and origins also serve as markers and convergers of regional and national identity. Though there is a delectable consistency across distances in "daal maash" and fresh, hot roti at all truckers' restaurants, at Lodhran in south Punjab nearing 11 pm, one discovered a delicious dish called "Shahi daal" which blends shredded chicken with pulses. Earlier, in Multan there was a change of both car and driver after seven hours and 542 kms from Islamabad: to prevent fatigue, and sustain passage through the night. Retiring chauffer Mohammad Khalid hails from the Nathiagali hills of Hazara, KPK. The new man at the steering wheel, Raja Bashir, originally from Kharian, Punjab drove impeccably most of the remaining 15 hours of the night, and up to journey's end at mid-day. This writer took the wheel for just less than hour. There were only brief stops for tea, breakfast and toilet needs. All of this to transport a fellow-Pakistani born elsewhere (Madras) to be brought back to his Kashmiri-Punjabi wife waiting in Karachi. That Resolution of 1940 was certainly far-sighted in visualising how diverse parts and people could be brought together.
Search for beginnings
Yet one is tempted to speculate about the precise origins of the idea of a Pakistan established on specific territory. Until about January 1947 and the failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan, the Muslim League was willing to accept a confederal arrangement that would have soon subsumed the aspiration for an entirely separate Pakistan. That Plan's failure disguised a blessing. Or did the idea begin to crystallise post-1857 when, after over 800 years of being the minority ruling force over a non-Muslim majority, Muslims began the search for a new paradigm for a distinct nationality, and not just for a religious minority? Or further back, all the way to the 8th century when the first Muslim must have stepped on to the soil of South Asia?
But wait. The doors of history are like a hall of mirrors that offers myriad images and possibilities. What about the thesis advanced by certain reputed scholars, both western and some South Asian, to the effect that the area which came to constitute (West) Pakistan had, for the overwhelming part of the past 9000 years (since Mehergarh), for 5000 years (since Moenjodaro) and eras thereafter, been de facto, autonomous, free of direct control by most empires located in the northern parts of what is today's India, centred around Agra, Delhi and environs? One calculation, as enumerated by the late Ahmed Abdulla (whose nephew this writer is privileged to be) in his writings, such as "Historical foundations of Pakistan and its people", identifies only about 700 years out of 7000 years in which northern-centred kingdoms of South Asia directly ruled the area that is now the territory of Pakistan. As one moved from the province that contains Harappa to the province that bears Moenjodaro, the common thread of the Indus Valley civilisation lit up the morning sky as clouds reluctantly yielded to the irresistible sun.
The riddle of geography
If history remains an enigma, geography also vies to be a riddle in the rationale of the Lahore Resolution. For those fortunate to be already present, by ancestry and by prior settlement in the in the Muslim-majority areas that became part of a sovereign new state, the move-over into a new citizenship required no physical displacement. For those who, like this writer's family, resided in those parts of South Asia where Muslims were in a minority, the shift to a new citizenship was physical, cerebral, psychological and even spiritual. In each of these respects, new hopes, dreams and ideals meshed and clashed and merged with pain, loss and nostalgia. The breaking of old bonds with land long lived upon and the search for new roots in new terrain required consideration and acceptance of the irony that territory was actually secondary to the first choice of a new nationality. Yet so captivating is the beauty of our country's land, from rolling plains to surging mountains, from arid regions to lush orchards that migrants who became Pakistanis by conscious choice have fallen into eternal love with both the soil and the soul of Pakistan.
The unprecedented distance between East and West Pakistan sublimely expressed the irrelevance of territorial contiguity as a pre-condition for the creation of a new nation-state. In this sense, the structure of the original Pakistan from 1947 to 1971 was a contradiction of the singularity (and implied territorial contiguity) visualised in the amended version of the Lahore Resolution that called for a single new state, instead of multiple states. Yet vision transcends pedestrian logic. The original form of Pakistan, with two wings separated by about 1000 miles of hostile territory, bringing together peoples with diverse languages, cultures, histories, pre-dominantly sharing a single faith was like a dream-country, an ideal worth striving for in which broad, deep humanist values could have constrained narrow parochialism.
Alas, due to our own follies and flaws, compounded by covert subversion, and then overt Indian military invasion, the result of the amended version of the Lahore Resolution was torn asunder. Which only made residual Pakistan the more priceless and invaluable, the more unique and irreplaceable — just as endearing and cherished as one's own home always is, but specially so at the end of a 1482 kilometre road journey — of re-discovery and renewal.
The writer is a former Senator and Federal Minister. His most recent book, 2019, is titled "What is Pakistaniat?".