The Forever Shining Idea Of Pakistan

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah addresses a mammoth rally at Lahore’s University Stadium on October 30, 1947. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah addresses a mammoth rally at Lahore’s University Stadium on October 30, 1947. — Courtesy National Archives Islamabad

THE idea of Pakistan today is not the idea that was created in the 1930s, or 1940s, or even 1947 in British India. It has evolved over time. Today, as the country turns 75 years old, the first Pakistanis in independent Pakistan are lucky to still be alive. The average life expectancy of Pakistan today is barely above 67 years, compared with 70 in neighbouring India and 73 in Bangladesh, once part of Pakistan.

Many Pakistanis born in the first year of independence may well have passed on. Yet, Pakistan survives against all odds and, if it makes the right choices, it could survive beyond the fears and prognostications of many inside and outside the country and meet the challenges of the 21st century. Some would say Pakistan’s survival has been nothing short of a miracle, because the global map is forever changing.

As scholar Tanisha Fazal indicates in her seminal study entitled State Death, half the countries on the face of the earth in 1816 do not exist today. Nearer home, in the mid-1700s, just before the British incursions began in the area then loosely known as India, there were more than 20 independent and autonomous states and entities on the map of greater South Asia, encompassing portions of modern Afghanistan and Iran and geographic South Asia. Only a handful survive today. The rest have disappeared as a result of conquests or mergers.

This should serve as a warning to those in Pakistan who think that the state of Pakistan is immutable and not subject to the laws of change that confront every nation. It is not just because of invasion or occupation that countries disintegrate. The rot that weakens their structure starts within societies and polities. Disunity, indiscipline and selfish disregard for the common weal more often than not are the trigger for disintegration and disappearance of nations. There is no immunity, not even for God’s chosen Land of the Pure.

Shuja Nawaz asserts that repeated crises have led to a derailing of our constitutional order. Yet, a transformation driven by the youth may enable Pakistan to confront its formidable challenges.

Urge for freedom

How did we get to where the Islamic Republic of Pakistan finds itself today? Let us go down memory lane and pause at some key milestones, so we cannot be accused of selective amnesia, a disease that sometimes appears to be endemic in the homeland and its leaders.

The bubbling urge for independence from British rule combined with the creation of representative government in British India arose in the early 20th century with an all-India conference of political parties in 1928. That conference was a response to a challenge from the British in the face of the boycott by Indian parties of the Simon Commission, composed entirely of Britishers, that was to examine the Government of India Act of 1919. The British alleged that the natives were incapable of coming up with a constitution on their own. The major parties took up that challenge.

The all-parties conference included the All-India Liberal Federation, All-India Muslim League, Sikh Central League and others. The conference, on May 19, 1928, constituted a committee to draft the Constitution. Some of the notable members of this committee were Motilal Nehru (chairman), Sir Ali Imam, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Subhas Chandra Bose. M.R. Jayakar and Annie Besant joined the committee later. Jawaharlal Nehru, Motilal’s son, was appointed the secretary.

The committee was given the brief “to consider and determine the principles of the Constitution of India along with the problem of communalism and issue of dominion status.”

Their end-product, the Nehru Report, was a remarkably wide and deep document and indeed ended up serving as a template for the future 1950 Constitution of independent India. Among its notable features were: “a section on fundamental rights: the right to free expression and opinion, equality before the law, right to bear arms, freedom of conscience, free profession and propagation of religion. The most remarkable provision was the right to free and elementary education. The Report introduced a parliamentary system of government along with universal adult suffrage. On the communal question, the Report proposed reservation for Muslims in legislatures, however, these were restricted to only those constituencies where Muslims were in a minority. Also, there was no mention of separate electorates for Muslims.”

The last point reflected a division between the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress and upended their earlier agreement under the Lucknow Pact of 1916.

After declaring that all citizens were equal, the draft constitution stated boldly: “There shall be no state religion for the Commonwealth of India or for any province in the Commonwealth, nor shall the state either directly or indirectly endow any religion or give any preference or impose any disability on account of religious belief or religious status.”

The divide between the successor states of India, that is Bharat as per the Indian Constitution, and Pakistan, the increasingly Islamist state, was being defined even then, though contemporary India appears now to be increasingly elevating Bharat (one who carries a light while searching for knowledge) above the secular India (the Grecian name for the Land Beyond the Indus) that its founders envisaged.

Muslim views

The Nehru Report that emerged from those deliberations led to a sharpening of Muslim views on preserving their cultural and political separateness, both as a majority in some provinces and as a minority in others.

These ideas took shape in the All-Parties Muslim Conference designed to coalesce the views of the different Muslim groups. This 1929 conference in Delhi, presided by the then Aga Khan, leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Muslims, reflected the views of most of the Muslim groups, and presented their thoughts on what sort of a federal structure needed to emerge from the unitary colonial structure of British India. The key elements included: a federal system with total autonomy and residuary powers for the constituent states; Muslims representatives elected through separate electorates; Muslims would have proportional electoral weightage in the Hindu-majority provinces and would extend the same privilege to non-Muslim minorities in Sindh, the then North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and Balochistan; Muslims to have a proportionate share in the central and provincial cabinets; and Muslim majority would be maintained in all Muslim-majority provinces, especially in the then united Bengal and Punjab.

Iqbal’s proposal

The poet-philosopher Iqbal in a contemplative mood at his home in Lahore. (Courtesy: Iqbal Academy) - Photo: Umrao Sher-Gill
The poet-philosopher Iqbal in a contemplative mood at his home in Lahore. (Courtesy: Iqbal Academy) - Photo: Umrao Sher-Gill

A further cleavage between Congress and the Muslims of British India emerged with the active appearance of poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal who began to define the outlines of a federated state to succeed British India, in other words a Muslim state within a state.

In a rebuttal to the Nehru Report, he presented in his presidential address to the Muslim League meeting of 1930 the idea that “proper redistribution [of power] will make the question of joint and separate electorates automatically disappear from the constitutional controversy of India”.

He saw the pluralism and diversity of India as a plus and a foundation to build a viable confederation. “The units of Indian society are not territorial as in European countries. India is a continent of human groups belonging to different races, speaking different languages, and professing different religions. Their behaviour is not at all determined by a common race-consciousness. Even the Hindus do not form a homogeneous group.”

He supported the resolution of the 1929 All-Parties Muslim Conference at Delhi that demanded “the creation of a Muslim India within India” and spelt out his prescient proposal for a new Muslim state:

“I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Balochistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India.”

The Nehru Report had rejected this idea as being unwieldy so Iqbal proposed the possibility of sloughing off the Ambala Division of Punjab that did not have a majority Muslim population as well as some other districts that had a non-Muslim majority, to make the new entity less unwieldy.

He then went on to state forcefully: “India is the greatest Muslim country in the world. The life of Islam as a cultural force in the country very largely depends on its centralisation in a specified territory.”

Should we imagine what he might have thought of the Radcliffe dissection of the Punjab leading to the bloody partition that Lord Mountbatten unleashed upon the subcontinent?

Rahmat Ali’s idea

A riposte to the Iqbal proposals came from a Muslim student in the United Kingdom who put forward his idea in 1933 for a separate state called originally PAKSTAN (later spell-checked by others to become PAKISTAN). His pamphlet entitled Now or Never was written as “an appeal on behalf of the thirty million Muslims of PAKISTAN, who live in the five Northern Units of India — Punjab, North-West Frontier (Afghan) Province, Kashmir, Sindh and Balochistan. It embodies their demand for the recognition of their national status, as distinct from the other inhabitants of India, by the grant to Pakistan [not his original spelling] of a separate Federal Constitution on religious, social and historical grounds.”

Rahmat Ali, who is credited with being the first to come up with the name ‘Pakistan’, argued: “India, constituted as it is at the present moment, is not the name of one single country; nor the home of one single nation. It is, in fact, the designation of a State created by the British for the first time in history. It includes peoples who have never previously formed part of the Indian nation at any period of its history, but who have, on the contrary, from the dawn of history till the advent of the British, possessed and retained distinct nationalities of their own.

One of such peoples is our own nation. In the five Northern Provinces of India, out of a total population of about forty million, we, the Muslims, constitute about thirty millions.”

He then went on to enumerate the separation between Muslims and the majority Hindu population. “We do not inter-dine; we do not inter-marry. Our national customs and calendars, even our diet and dress are different.”

The evolution of the idea of Pakistan as a separate nation within India was taking root and giving a new platform for Mohammad Ali Jinnah the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity” as he acquired the leadership of the Muslim League and began to forge a coalition of support for a separate homeland for Muslims. First inside India and then, as a second-best option it seems, outside India after Nehru became intransigent in recognising Muslim demands.

Rahmat Ali demurred and raised the ante for Jinnah by seeking the creation of not one but three Muslim homelands out of British India, Pakistan in the northwest, Osmanistan in the south (the erstwhile Hyderabad state) and Bangistan in Bengal.

Jinnah may well have agreed to this idea had it been practicable in his view, but he feared that the British would end up giving Muslims what he called “a truncated or mutilated, moth-eaten Pakistan” [text of Jinnah’s statement in New Delhi of May 4, 1947]. That is what, in fact, transpired. He got a country of two wings that was separated by a thousand miles of hostile India.

On the way to independence, Jinnah had to contend with the fractious Round Table Conferences of 1930-32 in London that further strengthened the view among the Indians that they needed to seek an autonomous dominion status. Then came the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 that was a last-minute British attempt to continue to have some control and influence over the defence and foreign relations of India.

It suggested groupings according to their communal roots and preferences, allowing both provinces and princely states to form groups within the Indian Union, that would have a legislature and executive, and significant autonomy. Both Congress and the Muslim League initially accepted the idea, but then Nehru said he did not approve the idea of religious groupings. This was a big factor in Jinnah’s decision to seek a separate state for the Muslims of India.

Did Jinnah, who now carried the title of Quaid-i-Azam, wish his Pakistan to be a homeland for Muslims to order their lives while protecting the rights of all sects and religions to practise their religion as they saw fit? Yes, if you go by his oft-quoted speech to the Constituent Assembly. In a speech loaded with homilies on many topics, including corruption, black marketeering, nepotism etc., Jinnah was firm in giving directions to the new state and its citizens:

“If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste, or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.”

‘You are free …’

Saeed Haroon, a saalar (commander) of the All-India Muslim League National Guard, leads a celebratory National Guard procession towards Boulton Market in Karachi in August 1947.
(Courtesy: Seafield Collection) - Photo: Margaret Bourke-White
Saeed Haroon, a saalar (commander) of the All-India Muslim League National Guard, leads a celebratory National Guard procession towards Boulton Market in Karachi in August 1947. (Courtesy: Seafield Collection) - Photo: Margaret Bourke-White

He emphasised that over time “the differences between the Hindu community and the Muslim community — and even within both communities between Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus between Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, as well as regional identities such as Bengalees, Madrasis and so on — would vanish”.

He then issued his most quoted ruling for the fledgling state: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

But to other audiences on his campaign trail, his speeches had a narrower focus. He dropped hints of a state religion by emphasising the role of Islam in governance, eventually giving weight to the argument of the Islamists who began dismantling Jinnah’s Pakistan soon after his untimely demise barely a year after independence. (After supporting the idea of a global Muslim ummah and even emigration from Hindu-dominated India to the Muslim states to the West, the Jamaat-i-Islami leader Maulana Abul Ala Maududi had reluctantly begun to accept the concept of a Muslim nation-state.)

Jinnah was not to know that his new state would be transmogrified over time into a religious state and a security state. And his closest lieutenant Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan would banish the idealistic Rahmat Ali into exile and poverty in England, where even his initial burial expenses had to be borne by his alma mater, Cambridge University.

Jinnah definitely wanted to keep the military out of politics and cordoned off from Pakistani society, continuing the British model. Something that a couple of senior officers at the Staff College in Quetta said to him seems to have sparked his rebuke to those military men who wished to intrude into government.

He would have cringed to learn that those who ended up ruling Pakistan chose to ignore his ruling: “During my talks with one or two very high-ranking officers I discovered that they did not know the implications of the Oath taken by the troops of Pakistan. Of course, an oath is only a matter of form; what are more important are the true spirit and the heart.

But it is an important form, and I would like to take the opportunity of refreshing your memory by reading the prescribed oath to you. ‘I solemnly affirm, in the presence of Almighty God, that I owe allegiance to the Constitution and Dominion of Pakistan [mark the words Constitution and the Government of the Dominion of Pakistan] and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully serve in the Dominion of Pakistan Forces and go within the terms of my enrolment wherever I may be ordered by air, land or sea and that I will observe and obey all commands of any officer set over me …”

In brief, the Quaid-i-Azam established civilian supremacy in the fledgling democracy that he helped carve out of British India. But he had bequeathed to Pakistan a weak elite group of ‘outsiders’ from northern India and Bengal as well as local feudals. Some of them had hoped their patrons in the British Indian Union would remain. And then there were the bureaucrats, who made alliances over time with different power groups to retain control over the machinery of state.

Trend of military rule

One emerging power group in the days after Jinnah’s death in 1948 was in the army, as ambitious officers who felt, among other things, that their political leadership had failed to prosecute the Kashmir War effectively, a war that some of them had orchestrated and even managed for the civilian leaders. They conspired to take control of the young state. Their coup attempt in 1951 was foiled but it prepared the ground for the first military dictator of Pakistan, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, to take over from the president of Pakistan in 1958. This set the trend for more military rulers, as the Constitution was set aside as needed, often with the aid of a compliant judiciary.

Thus emerged the Doctrine of Necessity, a judicial artefact to disguise the suborning of the Constitution by giving political and legal cover to military usurpers seeking legitimacy for their extra-constitutional usurpation of power.

Pakistan and Nigeria competed with each other in using the fig leaf of the Doctrine of Necessity. The current Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan, aimed at deterring usurpation of power, has not been an effective prophylactic against the continuous intrusion of ambitious military leaders in acquiring additional powers or intruding into civilian space.

The 1958 coup of Gen Ayub, the illegal appointment of Gen Yahya Khan as his successor in 1969, the forcible removal in 1999 of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by a group of senior officer to prevent Sharif’s bizarre removal of Gen Pervez Musharraf as army chief while he was in the air on his way home from Sri Lanka; all these damaged the idea of Pakistan as a democracy.

‘Same page’ phenomenon

The absence of accountability in this regard has been glaring and has led to the creation of a parallel shadow government similar to that practised by the military Abri in Indonesia during the Suharto regime. The Dwi Fungsi approach that I wrote about in my book Crossed Swords and that Stanley Crouch has well covered in his writings is reflected in the often-cited explanation of civil-military unity of being ‘on the same page’. In fact, it remains a situation of being on the same page but in different books. The misalliance between the weak civil and the powerful military persists and continually weakens the state.

Parallel to the acquisition of greater power and stature by climbing up the ladder of the Warrant of Precedence (rank order of government officials), the military has taken or been gifted by weak-kneed civilian leaders a greater role in the economic and political life of Pakistan. An expanding culture of entitlement has facilitated wealth acquisition at the expense of the state, by both civil and military elites. UNDP estimates roughly $17.4 billion of such ‘elite capture’, equal to 6pc of its GDP that is draining Pakistan’s struggling economy.

When accusations abound of double dipping by senior military officers, in terms of salaries and perquisites, by virtue of their rank and holding of parallel positions in the civilian sector or in state enterprises and subsidised ‘welfare’ organisations, they weaken the compact between the people and their army in Pakistan.

Public sharing of information on such perks and benefits and accounting in the public domain and within parliament would dull such criticism. Unfortunately, successive civilian governments have assisted in broadening these benefits to placate and corrupt the military and its top-tier leadership. Military leaders have helped the rot by accepting such benefits as their due.

A new wrinkle was the use for political purposes of selective extensions of service for military leaders that created further tensions within the services. Ending such behaviour, characterised by Mancur Olson as the work of “stationary bandits”, would remove a widening stain on the state elites and the armed forces, and restore their professionalism.

Islamisation of state

Finally, ritualisation of religion, and the Islamisation of the army, presented in the early days via the Objectives Resolution of the Constituent Assembly and later solidified by Gen Ziaul Haq, has become an ingrained system. This has been bolstered by the Islamisation of the educational curricula and even the history of Pakistan in Pakistani schools. In short, the ethos is being changed over time.

Meanwhile the rump of the state of Pakistan that came into being in 1947 today remains a fractured and imbalanced federation of unequal provinces in terms of economic and political power and population. Interprovincial battles over dwindling resources, including water and power, and the emergence of disaffected youth in the periphery have created opportunities for hostile neighbours to attempt to weaken Pakistan.

The centrifugal forces seem to be edging out the centripetal forces that have held Pakistan together for 75 years. The unity, faith and discipline that Jinnah’s Pakistan was built upon will need to battle for survival against the forces of greed and division as represented in the kleptocracy and dynasticism in today’s Pakistan.

The misalliance between the civil and the military has been mirrored also in Pakistan’s external relations. Over time, Pakistan’s selfish leaders welded bonds with global powers in unequal agreements that allowed them to cede their national sovereignty in return for financial support and strengthening of their autocratic systems of rule. Political dynasties became the norm in religious and non-religious parties. Ironically, only the Jamaat-i-Islami appears to have some semblance of internal democracy.

Nationwide, democracy and economic development suffered, as a result. This has been the sad history of these first 75 years of Pakistan, a homeland built on the dreams and blood of millions who gave their all to move to the new state in 1947.

Yet, there are those that wish to take Pakistan into the competitive modern world before it reaches its first century. Among them are the youth of the country, especially the women of Pakistan, who have shown a resilience and a thirst for education that makes them world competitors.

Most of these cohorts were born in the last decade of the 20th century. If this youth cohort of 110 million and their elders together take a good hard look at the first 75 years of Pakistan, they may well strengthen its foundations as a modern and progressive state.

They face a host of challenges: elite capture, climate change and a rapidly deteriorating environment and depleting water resources, a weak educational system, hostile neighbours, and increasing global competition among superpowers, like China and the United States, that promises to engulf smaller countries.

Pakistan deserves to complete its first century of existence much higher on the global development scale and secure itself against all challenges from within and without. The counterfactual of a state further divided or erased from the atlases of the future is unimaginable and entirely unacceptable for everyone who knows the history of the freedom movement of Pakistan and wishes to make it a permanent monument to Iqbal, Rahmat Ali, Jinnah, and all the heroes who defined and defended the shining idea of Pakistan.

The writer was the first director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, January 2009 through October 2014. He is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Center. He is the author of The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood (Penguin Random House, and Liberty Books, Pakistan 2019 and Rowman & Littlefield 2020), and Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford University Press 2008 and 2017).



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