Updated January 26, 2020


Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

Over the years, much has been written about the many dubious claims and myths which became part of Pakistani textbooks and nationalist narratives. Most of these claims, peddled as ‘facts’, often emerged from political-religious groups and/or from the conservative nationalist intelligentsia.

These include far-fetched assertions such as that the Muslim nationalism which gave birth to Pakistan was present during Muslim rule in medieval India and absurd declarations such as that Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisioned a country that was to be run on Sharia laws.

The space in this context is cluttered with claims that have nothing to do with history. These pronouncements were largely constructed with half-truths and concoctions that were then unabashedly presented as historical actualities to justify certain political and ideological positions and acts.

Thankfully, from the mid-1980s onward, such fabrications have been systematically and convincingly debunked by numerous historians in a scholarly endeavour initiated by independent historians some 30 years ago.

Ironically, similar endeavours by certain Indian historians are being repressed by Modi’s ‘democratic India.’ His lieutenants are silencing and isolating historians who are attempting to dismantle Hindu nationalist revisionism which is penning a ‘history’ in exactly the manner in which the conservative intelligentsia of Pakistan did decades ago.

Half-truths and political concoctions are often created and presented as historical facts only to justify political and ideological motivation

But as historical fabrications cons­t­­r­ucted by the conservative intelligentsia in Pakistan have on many occasions been flattened, there is also a set of some concoctions that have seeped in from the left. At least this is what scholars who have examined them suggest, and they are not necessarily historians from the right.

Take for instance the claim that Jinnah’s All India Muslim League (AIML) was a party formed to protect feudal interests. This is often aired by left and liberal circles. In his 1979 book State and Society in Pakistan, economist and author Shahid Javed Burki demonstrates that, indeed, the AIML was formed in 1906 to safeguard Muslim feudal interests. But by the time Jinnah took over the reins of the party in the 1930s, the party had begun to be dominated by the urban middle-classes.

Burki writes that the land administration system (the mahalwari), introduced in the late 19th century by the British, favoured the traditional Muslim landed elite and it was this elite which formed the AIML.

But Burki then demonstrates that, from 1937 onwards, social and economic groups associated with the Muslim urban middle-classes took control of the party under Jinnah.

These groups, Burki writes, had nothing in common with the economic interests of the landed elites in rural areas and, in the cities, they were politically alienated by the Indian National Congress.

According to Burki, it was thus the urban middle-classes who dominated the AIML from 1937 till 1951 and, as a policy, sidelined the landed elite as a political constituency during the early years of Pakistan. The League reverted to its feudal orientation when Ghulam Muhammad became Governor-General in 1951 and turned to the landed aristocracy for support, adds Burki.

There is then the issue of the 1949 Objectives Resolution passed by the country’s first Constituent Assembly headed by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Many on the left and liberal sides have for long lamented that it was this resolution which went on to institutionalise the idea of ‘political Islam’ in Pakistan. Some historians believe this to be an exaggerated claim.

Using the documented debates that took place in the Assembly during the passage of the resolution, historian and author Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash argues in his essay for the June 5, 2016 issue of Political Economy, that latter-day ‘leftists’ who censure the resolution are largely unfamiliar with the idea of Islam held by the founders of Pakistan.

He writes that this idea was radically different from the one held by ‘Islamists’ from the 1970s onward. He gave the example of how Mian Iftikharuddin, a staunch secularist and socialist, defended the Objectives Resolution when it came under attack in the assembly by non-Muslim members.

Like Jinnah, Iftikharuddin described Islam as a ‘progressive and democratic faith’ which, when applied politically, would benefit Pakistan’s ‘Muslim and Hindu have-nots.’

Secondly, the parliamentary comm­ittee formed by the PM to draft the resolution was headed by Pakistan’s influential foreign minister Zafarullah Khan, a prominent member of the Ahmadiyya community (Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan, June 2019). Even though this perturbed the ulema, Zafarullah Khan proceeded to vote for the resolution which was eventually prepared with the input from the ulema.

Most ulema welcomed the move and thought that the Objectives Resolution had made space for them in the political discourse of the country. However, historian Ali Usman Qasmi writes in his 2014 book The Ahmadis and The Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan that when PM Liaquat Ali Khan insisted that the resolution was opposed to theocratic rule and was greatly mindful of minority rights, Islamic scholar Abul Ala Maududi was not amused.

The Objectives Resolution was a preamble of Pakistan’s first constitution passed in 1956 and then again of the 1973 constitution. But Burki points out that the 1956 constitution was not even half as ‘Islamic’ as the 1973 one. This is because, as some commentators have noted, the meaning of Islam in the political context began to dramatically mutate from the mid-1970s, becoming more populist and then stringent (compared to what it was in the 1950s and 1960s).

Talking about the constitution, the left has often accused the reactionary military dictatorship of Gen Zia of perforating it with certain extreme laws. It is a fact that the Zia dictatorship’s Hudood Ordinances, issued in 1979, were particularly severe. But the fact is, the two most controversial Amendments/Articles in the 1973 Constitution — the Second Amendment and Article 295-C — were both acts of parliament.

The Second Amendment — which asserted that Ahmedis were non-Muslims — was entirely the creation of elected civilians, and so was the 1986 introduction of Article 295-C. In fact, as Asad Ahmad points out in in his in-depth essay for the October 2018 issue of the Herald, the passage of this article was hindered by the Muhammad Khan Junejo regime which was hand-picked by Zia, until some members of the assembly lamented that “God will not forgive the government” (for stopping the article’s passage).

In contrast, two ‘liberal’ laws, the 1961 Family Law Ordinance which restricted polygamy and regulated marriage and divorce, giving women more equal treatment, and the 2002 reinstatement of joint electorates, which restored the right of non-Muslims to stand for election from general seats, were both issued during military dictatorships — of Ayub and Musharraf respectively.

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 26th, 2020