A reference to the ideals of the freedom movement has now become almost a regular feature of writings done on the occasion of the anniversary of our Independence. This perhaps now needs some justification particularly when a number of states have drifted away from their founders’ vision in the past few decades. So much so that today very few in the US would recall the Declaration of Independence and the debates of The Federalist Papers of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. Who would be bothering today in the UK about the ideals of Thomas Paine, or even the Fabian socialists? The Fifth Republic, built on Charles de Gaulle’s constitution, is no more a Guallist France. Kemal Ataturk has been given a second burial in Erdogan’s Turkey. States change and so does their character. But in the case of Pakistan, two facts stand. In the first place, the actual realpolitik behind the creation of the country was never appreciated, let alone accepted for realisation, once independence was achieved. Secondly, this realpolitik was so integrated with the future of the country that without its being implemented the country could never think of emerging as a strong and viable state.
What was this realpolitik and why was it forsaken, therefore, needs to be understood. Pakistan movement is generally explained away with reference to Jinnah’s and Muslim League’s assertion of the Two Nation Theory. The Two Nation Theory, apart from the aforementioned realpolitik, was the second and an important plank of the Freedom Movement. But the significance of the Two Nation Theory had its basis in the united Indian political milieu, where the Muslims were in minority and the Quaid-i-Azam’s effort to secure a fair deal for this minority was frustrated every time he proposed a way out for it.
Towards the end of 1930s, he lost hope in the idea of evolving a united nationhood in India and claimed India to be an international issue rather than a national one. This line of argument gave him space for further consolidating his case for the Indian Muslims, who, as he now said, were not a minority, but a nation in themselves. However, he did not close the doors for compromise, and thought that two or more than two nations could live in one country as they do in some other countries of the world.
Once this option of compromise was also rejected by the Indian National Congress, Jinnah’s idea of Two Nation Theory could only be satisfied through the partition of India. Once this happened, the theory came to outlive itself and the invoking of cultural identity of the Muslims, too, paved the way for the creation of a new identity in the new country where there was a sizable non-Muslim population, and the continuity of the Two Nation Theory in the new situation would have kept the doors open for another disintegration, now in the new country.
Who else but Jinnah could have best realised the change of situation? He quite readily shared his views on this even when the country had not yet officially come into being. In his famous August 11, 1947, speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, he very clearly projected the vision he thought Pakistan needed to base itself on. It was a vision of a progressive, democratic and modern state based on the basic principles of the equality of citizens and the neutrality of the state with respect to the religious affiliations of its citizens. In his speech Jinnah described the Constituent Assembly as the sovereign body of the people of Pakistan.
Pakistan is not alone as a country drifting away from the vision of its founding fathers.
Unfortunately, the ruling elite and the institutions who grabbed power soon after independence did not wait to put this vision aside and profess a contrary and opposite view, which allowed them to use religion every now and then whenever they felt the need of it. Why did this happen and why is it that since independence the country is facing an existential crisis and tried to anchor its identity, first, in the Arab world, then, Central Asia, and now in these days, in the Turkish history? Why is it that a national identity on the basis of components of Pakistani society, its culture and history are not accepted to build an identity upon? Here we are supposed to look into the other, and very important foundational idea of Pakistan described earlier as the ‘realpolitik’.
Jinnah and the Muslim League were pursuing their case before independence not in abstraction. There was a socio-political context in which the rights of the Indian Muslims were being projected and pursued. Under the colonial system of control, political and administrative regions were demarcated and the project of political and constitutional reforms was grafted on this regional administrative and political scheme.
Once this happened, the human content of these regions and the respective identities translated into political idioms. Communalism, thus, even if it was not imposed on purpose, became a part of the subsequent politics. Jinnah very carefully charted out his course. He asked for an affirmative action for the Muslims so that they were not relegated to the status of a minority, and could become a part of Indian politics on sound grounds. He was thus avoiding a communal path and was trying to ensure a civilised and democratic political course for India. His efforts in this regard were spread from his joining the Muslim League in 1913 till 1946. To provide testimony to this very fact he did develop his argument, made it more forceful, and continuously hardened his position but never fell short of a compromised solution.
Given the political matrix of the 20th century colonial India, Jinnah built his case on the basis of regional and provincial autonomy. He thought that improvement in the number of the Muslim majority provinces would be a big source for the collective voice of the Indian Muslims neutralising, their minority position in the overall Indian population.
Jinnah asked, in the 1920s and early 1930s, not just for provincial status for North West Frontier, Sind(h), and Balochistan, but equal quantum of autonomy for the would be new provinces. His stance of provincial rights was closely embedded in his demand for Pakistan once that demand became a political way-out from the constitutional-cum-communal imbroglio of united India.
The March 23, 1940, resolution was a landmark in this journey for the realisation of regional rights. The 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan’s approval by the League endorsed this stance, which though proved futile when Congress frustrated it. The ultimate decision to have partition was again endorsed by the Muslim-majority provinces in one way or the other, suggesting in political and constitutional terms, that Pakistan was made a federation by its constituent units rather than the other way round.
It was this particular constitutional and political development leading to the creation of the country that was the actual realpolitik behind the emergence of the country. It was this essential foundational concept that needed to be made the basis of Pakistan’s future statecraft, constitution and political development.
Unfortunately, the political elite and the institutions which later came to be called the civil-military nexus, and, lately designated as the establishment, who grabbed the state power in the beginning, did not accept it. The internal dynamics of the power-holders did alter in the later years with one institution dominating not only the country but also the power structure, but the perception and policies continued since independence. These policies emanate from the basic philosophy that the country could be governed though centralised mechanism, autonomy of the provinces would weaken the country, cultural identities of the regions should be discouraged, local initiatives should not be allowed space to affect the overall scheme of things, and the national priorities should be determined at the establishment’s level.
In short, Pakistan was tried to be built solely on the premise of security, which dictates a particular political economy, foreign policy and limited room for civilian institutions and a circumscribed provincial scope. This whole scheme of things has been a total anathema of the vision that was there before the founding fathers, who envisaged Pakistan as a social welfare, democratic, federal and modern nation-state.
This vision is so inevitable for the country’s survival and development that a compromise on it would entail threats of high proportions to our existence. If there is any doubt in this respect today, one could just look back at what happened 24 years after the creation of the country. Our denial of the foundational political philosophy of country resulted in its break-up and the creation of Bangladesh.
Pakistan’s experience of the last 73 years suggests that most of our crises have flowed from the flawed philosophy of keeping this country united through overly centralised mechanisms. A genuine political settlement between the state and the society, among the citizens, and between the federating units and the Centre was hardly allowed. If at times, moves in that direction were made, they were soon frustrated. The country saw four military regimes which either demolished the constitutional edifice altogether or manoeuvred to sideline it without proclaiming in clear words their abrogation.
These regimes together constitute 33-34 years of the total life of the country. When the men on horseback were not personally placed in the highest constitutional offices of the state, they ruled from behind. Pakistan has had a good series of hybrid regimes, which apparently were civilian in look, but did not command necessary powers.
The country was subjected to this vicious circle of extra-constitutional regimes and behind-the-scene power control in the name of religion, suggesting that over-centralisation, apolitical perceptions, denial of regional autonomy, and silencing of the civil society, all had pristine sanctions.
Instead of coping with challenges of economic development and political participation, the country was engulfed in a culture of religious romanticism without learning the lesson from the fate of such approach in the case of East Pakistan. Jinnah in a very visionary statement said, while speaking to the Muslim Legislators’ Convention held in Delhi, April 7-9, 1946: “What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy, not for a theocratic state. Religion is there and religion is dear to us. All the worldly good are nothing to us when we talk of religion; but there are other things which are very vital — our social life, our economic life.”
But Jinnah’s statements, particularly those which highlight his political views and constitutional dictums, never become a part of our official discourse; his statements about Islam as the guiding principle of the country are chosen to give credence to the particular perceptions of the ruling elite and institutions. The religion-political class itself makes use of these statements for its specific political project.
Despite the culmination of the political utility of the Two Nation Theory on the inception of the country, Jinnah continued to refer to Islam, but he took Islam as a set of guiding principles, and not as an engineering manual which would have determined a particular form of government or a blueprint of statecraft. To Jinnah, Islam’s core values of egalitarianism, justice and tolerance could be implemented through modern institutional frameworks, like parliamentary democracy, federal arrangement and the culture of constitutionalism, for while he talked regularly in terms of Islam, he also never hesitated in citing his preference for a constitution made on the Canadian, American and the Australian models.
The real danger faced by Pakistan in the past had been the drifting away from the foundational principles of the country. The same dangers still loom after the break-up of the country in 1971. Retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s words haunt us: “We have learnt nothing from history.” In the past half-a-century, despite making a constitution in 1973 and a great deal of improvement in it through the 18th Amendment in 2010, neither the character of our state nor its policies and perceptions have changed towards improvement. It has been a history of crises.
The irony is this that every now and then, we find ourselves in the same whirlpool, experimenting with the same old ideological recipes.
The current dispensation is no exception on this count. In the past, heroes were tried to be found in Arabian monarchies and Central Asian history. Now there is an anchorage in the Turkish history. Learning from history is one thing, and the urge to repeat it is another. Those who are bent upon demolishing Ataturk altogether in the eyes of the Pakistani people would do wellto bring to people’s knowledge what our founder father had said about him. On Ataturk’s demise on November 10, 1938, Jinnah did not issue a routine condolence message. Rather, he said this: “He was the greatest Musalman in the modern Islamic world and I am sure that the entire Muslaman world would deeply mourn his passing away… The remarkable way in which he rescued and built up his people against all odds had no parallel in the history of the world … In him, not only the Musalmans have lost, but the whole world has lost one of the greatest men that ever lived.” Jinnah appealed to League’s provincial and district bodies across India to observe ‘Kemal Day’ on November 18 to express sympathy for the Turkish nation on the loss of “one of the greatest sons of Islam”.
It is time, as it has always been, for our rulers to revisit their policies of subjugation of a nation through political and extra-political means, and to restrain their temptation to cover up their ill-advised policies by appealing to the primordial sentiments which may still be there in the people, given their socio-political underdevelopment. Pakistan’s social emancipation, political integration and national consolidation, are all interrelated and can be realised once the foundational principles of our country — egalitarianism, justice and federal democracy — are given weight and translated into true practice.
The author is Director, Institute of Historical and Social Research (IHSR), Karachi.