THE election 2018 slogan of creating a ‘Naya’ (new) Pakistan was clearly a sincerely meant theme to express the PTI’s perspective. Yet it is only the latest articulation of a vision that was originally born with the very emergence of Pakistan 72 years ago. But within weeks of the present government taking office, the slogan first became grist for light humour and then the butt of many a joke.
The derision attached to the word ‘Naya’ was only partly due to some initial stumbles by a party that came to federal office for the first time with a cabinet which included some competent but prominently ‘Purana’ (old, as in ‘familiar’!) faces. More fun was derived from the lack of swift, visible improvement in general conditions. The haste of converting an aspiration into a denunciation is unfair, given the complexity of the country’s conditions, and the learning curve of the ruling party.
The contrast between a prime minister on whom no major financial corruption charge has been levelled — a major step towards a new Pakistan — and the two most recent regimes conventionally associated with malpractices survives the change from mirth to mockery.
An assortment of elements
The 2018 concept of a ‘Naya Pakistan’ comprises a notable assortment of elements. Frequent references to the principles of Madina in the 7th century to a 21st century state with presumably adjustments made for vastly different conditions. A charismatic leader who has the capacity to exceed expectations by the manner in which he spoke and led during the February-March 2019 crisis with India . But who also spends too much time on the corruption of past governments. A grandiose plan to build five million houses for the poor and low-income families, power truly devolved to local governments. Major institutional re-structuring. Austerity. A corruption-free, fully transparent, accountable society. Expanding the number of income tax filers. Billions of saplings to be planted. Family planning and balanced population growth to be actively promoted. An integrated syllabus and a single education system. Free healthcare for the poor. And other plans.
While every party’s manifesto also lists broadly similar or familiar promises, the fact that the PTI is in office both at the Federal level and in Punjab and KPK for the first time imbues the ‘Naya Pakistan’ theme with fresh hope and possibilities.
New, like no other
Is the future more or at least as important as the past? There is always so much to learn from history — so full of mystery. Established as the most uniquely-created nation-state in the world, from its very inception in 1947, Pakistan was an entirely new entity in the global comity of nations. In this writer’s view, there are eight good reasons for this exclusivity. Perhaps a reference to only two of those reasons will suffice at this time.
This was the only state created with two wings containing approximately equal populations separated by about a thousand miles of hostile territory. An Indian leader wrongly predicted that ‘Pakistan will not last six months’. Even in a diminished size since 1971, we abide over seven eventful decades later. A second unique feature was that no other country absorbed about 10 million refugees within its first two years of existence. The influx is still considered the largest mass migration in contemporary history in so short a period.
Despite the fact that our history is replete with ‘fresh starts’, it is time to reform ourselves to gradually build a truly better, a more just and creative country of a vibrant, pulsating nation driven by purposeful action.
Phases of newness
The characteristic of newness, of novelty, runs through virtually our entire history. Every few years, a new phase begins without necessarily being called ‘new’ or ‘naya’ each time. Regardless of whether each such phase promising a pioneering path was under civil, political leadership or four times through military interventions into politics, there was a genuine desire to achieve a new, a better Pakistan. Which does not mean that each such attempt was well thought-through and implemented. Nor is it to suggest that every initiative was progressive.
The civil-led assault on political institutions by Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad between 1951 and 1955 rendered in the name of a better future actually opened the way to the first martial law of 1958. The ups and downs of the extended Ayub Khan regime and the short but tragic tenure of Yahya Khan were followed by the disintegration of the original structure of Pakistan on December 16, 1971, with considerable help from India.
The direly mixed nature of Z.A. Bhutto’s rule that promised ‘Roti, Kapra, Makan’ (food, shelter, clothing) was replaced by an adapted version of Nizam-i-Mustafa which actually became ‘Nizam-i-Ziaul Haq’. From December 1988 to October 1999, we swung pendulum extremes: from Benazir Bhutto’s two turbulent tenures to two equally volatile terms of Nawaz Sharif, with caretakers interspersed. And then a return to transient certainties of the fourth military phase led by General Musharraf, which, for the most part, was strikingly different from Ziaul Haq’s rule. The peaceful completion of the mandated terms of two elected governments from 2008 to 2018, accentuated by the transition to the start of a third elected government in 2018 represents the country’s ability to periodically produce dissimilar yet determined efforts to design new Pakistans: beautifully green and white on the flag … cruelly red with the blood of three prime ministers assassinated, in and out of office.
The first attempt?
Thus, there were several turning points spread over 72 years when concepts and energy were invested, for better or, as some proved to be, for worse, to build a new Pakistan. Due to limits of space, this writer will focus only on what was perhaps the first and possibly the most important effort to draw an ideological portrait for a new country. This came with the presentation of the Objectives Resolution in March 1949 by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.
Comprising only nine fairly brief paragraphs, this text was an attempt to balance quite divergent views about what Pakistan should become in the years to come. The divergence came from several factors. These included varying perceptions about regional rights arising from the curious, far-flung territorial structure, the differing interpretations by modernists and orthodox elements of the role of religion in matters of State, the insecurity felt by religious minorities, especially Hindus, the question of whether the Constitution being sought could be framed on the basis of the Resolution with a sheer two-third majority (of Muslims) or if it should be adopted by unanimity, including religious minorities.
By commencing the text with the grandiloquent yet, in practical terms, ambiguous declaration that “Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Almighty God alone, ...” the Resolution initiated a conflicting process for almost diametrically opposite views about how such divine, supreme sovereignty was to be given practical form through mortal human beings. The ambiguity was deepened when the text also stated that “… the principles of democracy... as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed.” Neither in the Ummah nor outside the Ummah, then or now, has there ever been unanimity about exactly how such ‘Islamic democracy’ becomes acceptable for all. That the Resolution was opposed by all non-Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly became indicative of the troubled future that unfolded over the next seven decades.
The Resolution became incrementally embedded into Constitutional concepts until Ziaul Haq made it into an operative part in his tenure. The text contained some enlightened values and ideals. Subsequently, for a few years up to 1958, the parliamentary system prevailed except for the dismissals and dissolution enacted by Ghulam Mohammad and the 1958-69 Ayub indirectly elected Presidential period. Religious orthodoxy, despite never winning the popular majority vote, became disproportionately and enduringly influential in insisting on Constitutional provisions of its choice. For instance, even in the laudable 18th Amendment of 2010, a new exclusionary clause was added to prevent a non-Muslim from becoming the Prime Minister. Previously, this discrimination applied only to the Presidency.
An initial failure to respect dissent
There was also an unfortunate personal facet to the lack of precision and clarity in the Objectives Resolution concerning the plurality which is intrinsic to a parliamentary system. This facet existed in the mind of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. He possessed sterling qualities of integrity and upright character. But his views about multi-party democracy and a future Pakistan were, arguably, and sadly, flawed. As Dawn reported his words on October 9, 1950: “I have always considered myself as the Prime Minister of the (Muslim) League. I never regarded myself as the Prime Minister chosen by the members of the Constituent Assembly”. This refusal to accept the legitimacy of dissent may have been a reaction to the fact that, by the end of 1949, over 20 new political parties obtained registration. This profusion so soon after independence signified growing unease about the monopolist creed of the Muslim League. With unhealthy stamina, this narrow, partisan mindset has remained alive and kicking in all party heads that acquired power.
But without being acknowledged so explicitly in public by almost all successive prime ministers and presidents, in some basic respects, the new Pakistan envisaged by the Objectives Resolution contained serious ambiguities within its lines, as also between the lines.
At some point in the near future, while learning and retaining the best from ‘Purana Pakistan’, and shunning potentially damaging ambivalence, we need to adopt a bold explicitness whenever required. ‘Naya Pakistan’ should reconcile the bitter schisms of partisan democracy with the imperative for national cohesion. Easier said than done. Yet the struggle must continue. We are not alone. Old, veteran democracies are passing through destabilising crises. Extremist militarism influences excesses by elected governments in major countries.
Comparatively, in Pakistan, even allowing for the unduly dominant role of the military in aspects of domestic and foreign policy, and certain blots of bigotry and violence, Pakistan remains a mostly moderate, balanced, pluralist society earnestly striving for stability and security. The outrageous, destructive Indian actions in Kashmir on August 5, 2019, will hopefully motivate and empower us to reform ourselves, to gradually build a truly better, a more just and creative Naya Pakistan: not as a slogan of one particular party or even a wishful mirage, but the motto for a vibrant, pulsating nation driven by purposeful action.
The writer is a former senator and federal minister, and member of the Neemrana Initiative, the oldest Pakistan-India track II initiative.