Masud Mufti’s Do Minaar: Reportage [Two Minarets: Reportage] is a beautifully written book in the best literary Urdu, about the ugly historical faultlines and the fundamental problem areas of Pakistan. The two minarets represent octogenarian Mufti’s personal life juxtaposed with the seven “floors” of Pakistan’s life, and he accomplishes this undertaking through painstaking research of documents, events and personalities, as well as his own personal experience.

 “I have seen three eras in this region: slavery of the British rulers; the best and superior era of Quaid-i-Azam’s liberated, free Pakistan; and the worst era of Pakistan as a hostage,” writes the award-winning author of a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction.

In this treatise, Mufti’s focus is on the causes that prevented good governance of the country. Equating the construction of Pakistan with the leaning tower of Pisa, he discusses historical, administrative, political, social and religious factors thoroughly and with blunt honesty. He mainly addresses Pakistan’s younger generation, who he believes have been fed a distorted version of history. The youth need to recognise the spirit of Pakistan, the strong basis on which it emerged and understand how it has been abducted. It is for them to liberate this hostage. 

After combined India’s humiliating defeat by the British in the 1857 War of Independence, the yarn of Indian Muslim identity begun to be woven, beginning with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, then the founders of the Muslim League, and then the refugees who crossed “rivers of blood” in 1947. So many dedicated hands lovingly wove the vision that created Pakistan. The inherited, well-trained Pakistani bureaucracy reinforced this fabric and the golden era arrived. The 1956 Constitution completed this process of 99 years.

A beautifully written Urdu memoir is part personal history of a former bureaucrat and part analysis of Pakistan’s faultlines from independence onwards

“Then fate struck.” From Oct 8, 1958 to Apr 21, 1972, the work of the preceding century was undone and a decline of over 13 years ensued. This included martial laws imposed by Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Yahya Khan, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s civilian martial law. Through “reforms” from 1958 onwards, the loyalty of the bureaucracy was snatched from the state and given to the reigning government.

 Writing that he witnessed the Raj, the formative years of Pakistan and Quaid-i-Azam “from 50 feet”, Mufti completed his matriculation at the time of independence and joined the civil service in 1958. He was deputy commissioner of Larkana, commissioner of Lahore, a prisoner of war for two years and observed multiple changes in government until his retirement in 1994.

For a century until Partition, the British ruled the Indian subcontinent through a “steel framework” of approximately 1,500 competent officials of the Indian Civil Service (ICS). According to references quoted by Mufti, the first 11-year period (1947-1958) was a turning point for Pakistan, when the foundation for the country’s economic development was laid. This feat was spearheaded by the capable, former ICS bureaucracy, which had been professionally groomed by the British rulers — albeit for their own motives. The path set then, despite the frequent change of governments, was so dynamic and vibrant that it provided the main impetus that led to the succeeding famous decade-of-prosperity associated with Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s rule.

In support of his argument, Mufti names the formation, before 1958’s martial law, of several of the country’s most important institutions for public and national development. Without the pre-existence of such an infrastructure base, “President Ayub’s lauded industrial development could not have been possible.”

Besides the bureaucracy, the public who backed the creation of a new homeland made a significant contribution. Their single-minded nationalistic fervour, spirit of sacrifice and cooperation, as well as the relatively simpler lifestyle and better morals played a role, too. Bribery and corruption existed, but were contained, condemned and remained a taboo. They were an exception rather than a rule. 

Mufti gives major credit for that praiseworthy culture to the character of leaders such as Quaid-i-Azam and to the Khaksar Movement. Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, a foreign-educated mathematician and intellectual, founded the Khaksar Tehreek in 1931. Starting with 90 members, this uniformed, highly disciplined force of volunteers, with a shovel as their only multipurpose tool, had four million members by 1942. The movement stood for the expulsion of the foreign rulers, equal rights and justice for all ethnicities in India, self-help and high moral character. Members were strictly forbidden to accept money or food from anyone, including their colleagues; if two Khaksars had tea at a public stall, they were forbidden to accept free hospitality, and each had to pay for himself! The Movement’s focus was on building character of the people through personal example; it succeeded until it was crushed by British authorities a decade later. Mufti laments the exclusion of this great peoples’ movement from our curricula.

Where did we go wrong? Exploring the background in search for the answer to this question, Mufti singles out “ego” in its various forms as a root cause.

The first instance was in 1857, when a handful of people betrayed the reeling Mughal empire and helped the British usurpers bury it. For helping to establish the British Raj, this small segment was generously rewarded with wealth and the power to ruthlessly exploit and rule over their hapless compatriots for a century, under the umbrella of the Raj. “A complete detailed record of this self-serving lot (district-wise), exists in the official British archives.” The heirs of these families have been part of all governments in Pakistan since its inception. Up to 1945, most were members of the All India Congress Party. When Congress decided to abolish feudalism, the feudals turned to the Muslim League. Initially, the Quaid welcomed them, so as to achieve a majority in the coming elections and enable the League to emerge as a single majority party. However, he did not live long enough after independence to contain and reform the feudal power centre. Consequently, these feudal lords remained as instrumental in the governance of the new country as they had been in the preceding century under the British. According to Mufti, this was the first of five major inherent faultlines in the creation of Pakistan.

The second was expressed by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. As Mufti writes, departing Hindus created vacancies in the military that had to be filled urgently through rapid promotions. This act of premature promotions sowed the seeds of arrogance and powerlust among the newly created senior cadre of the military.

The third was the excessive delay in adopting the first constitution of the new state in 1956, because of the resistance of the feudal-mullah nexus. The self-styled religious scholars opposed all new changes so they could keep their hold on their followers. Most religious outfits initially opposed the creation of Pakistan.

The fourth factor contributing to Pakistan’s current dire situation, particularly in the sphere of social cohesion, was adopting Urdu as the national language, which created resentment among speakers of other languages and eventually “began to be eclipsed by the regional languages.” First, it created a rift between the Eastern and Western wings. This was resolved by adopting Bangla as a national language, too. A section of the newly created state politicised the issue by claiming Urdu as the language of those who created Pakistan and, therefore, meriting a superior status as Pakistanis. “It is worth mentioning that a few years ago during an Urdu conference in Islamabad, the term ‘Urdu Culture’ was repeatedly mentioned. Later, the Urdu poet Ahmed Faraz, while talking to the media, protested that his attachment with the Urdu language ‘should not be construed as a license to impose a foreign culture on my regional identity’.”

While it had been the most popular language in the entire subcontinent, bracketing it with ‘Urdu culture’ for Pakistan not only damaged the development of Urdu as a nationally unifying language, but created resentment among other regional entities for being perceived as being less cultured. It also led to bloody politics consequently. Mufti elaborates in detail how more migration took place in Punjab and more lives were lost there.

The fifth “manufacturing defect” — last-mentioned by Mufti, but certainly “not the least” — was the lack of the freedom of expression. He writes that freedom of expression was greater in East Pakistan than in the West. It was gradually muffled in remaining Pakistan and allowed the forces of exploitation and corruption to strengthen, at the cost of peoples’ wellbeing.

 In conclusion, Mufti underlines the need to replace the ‘ego’ of the elite with the ego of the common people of Pakistan, as it was in the beginning. It would do well to mention that Do Minaar comes across as a book likely to supplement the all-time bestseller, Shahabnama, by famous former ICS officer Qudratullah Shahab. Shahabnama was published more than 30 years ago and covered the pre-Partition period; Do Minaar adds in the details from post-Partition till today.

The reviewer is a freelance writer and translator of Freedom of the Press: The War on Words 1977-1978 and Mr and Mrs Jinnah:

The Marriage that Shook India, in English and Urdu respectively

Do Minaar: Reportage
By Masud Mufti
Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN: 978-0199409105

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, September 27th, 2020