Inner-dependence and Independence

The portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah is seen at at the India-Pakistan Wagah border post as a Pakistani Ranger (top) unfurls the Pakistani national flag during a ceremony to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day  on August 14, 2017. — AFP
The portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah is seen at at the India-Pakistan Wagah border post as a Pakistani Ranger (top) unfurls the Pakistani national flag during a ceremony to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14, 2017. — AFP

IN August 2023 when we mark the 76th milestone of Pakistan’s journey as an independent nation-state, conditions in past decades in general and since April 2022 in particular prompt a wide range of responses.

Among many citizens despair and disillusionment are regrettably rife. The collusion between some political parties and the military has caused extremely regressive results, including the imprisonment of the previous prime minister in continuation of the bizarre tendency to persecute former holders of high public office with contrived cases. Among other citizens there is the desire to depart for an overseas haven. Yet among some there is congenital faith in staying on, regardless.

Perhaps more than at any other time in our history, it is most pertinent, here and now, to recall our capacity for what can be termed “Inner-dependence” — to describe the phenomenal strength and determination our then-newborn nation displayed in the first two to three years of Independence. And even for some years later. Until we tumbled into the abyss of ambition, greed, corruption and incompetence through our own flaws, catastrophic missteps, and our deep plunge into foreign and domestic debt. Inner-dependence brought out the best in us, as also the worst.

A distinct quality

Inner-dependence is distinct from the more external, material aspects of Independence, as also of Inter-dependence. The latter condition of Inter-dependence, and the thrill of going into the future via the past were aspects addressed in two separate reflections by this writer published in Dawn in the past three years. Any brief repetition should be kindly seen only as reiteration! The inward realm being explored today in 2023 is primarily spiritual, even invisible, yet quite tangible in its diverse manifestations, both good and bad.

To overcome the multiple challenges that face the nation, the self-confidence and can-do spirit of the early years needs to be channelled

The formulation of Inner-dependence is an attempt to briefly state the experience of how a nation-state that was given not more than six months to survive (by Vallabbhai Patel, then-home minister of India) faced unprecedented difficulties and unrivalled dangers — to eventually and successfully overcome immense perils and challenges. Because it did so wholly by dint of its own unwavering self-confidence. A self-confidence that should be retrieved and extensively articulated, to be then re-invested in 2023, and in the years ahead. Notwithstanding the brazen inequities and crude engineering of the political scenario that we are witnessing as we approach the elections of 2023-24 which already indicate pre-rigging.

Name of infant-age

What made the self-assertion of 1947 and the first years most remarkable was the relatively infant age of our nation-state’s identity at that time. Unlike historical nations such as China, Greece, Egypt, Turkiye and Russia that became modern independent states with the advantage of hundreds, if not thousands of years of prior historic existence with the same name on more or less the same land, the same ethnic composition and language, to thus ensure confident transition from one condition to a new context, the word “Pakistan” was only 14 years old when the new nation-state was created.

Like wine (perhaps not the ideal analogy in an Islamic Republic), the age of a word, especially a name, becomes more resonant and fulsome with sheer time, imbuing the bearer of the name with self-confidence and awareness of a long, consistently-named, acknowledged heritage.

So new and not yet not clearly, consensually elaborated was the word “Pakistan” in 1940 that it does not appear even once in the Lahore Resolution of 23rd-24th March 1940 — seven years after its introduction by Chaudhri Rahmat Ali and just seven years before Independence. That resolution is recognised as the political turning point and gateway to eventual statehood in 1947.

Thus, the very first expression of Inner-dependence was the subsequent, extraordinary rapidity and intensity with which the name of the nation-state was internalised and adopted by tens of millions of people who had never before, in all of history, lived together under that name. This feature was made all the more incredible by the fact that the infant-age name brought together two parts of territory with approximately two equal halves of the total population distant from each other by about one thousand miles. With stark diversities between them in languages, scripts, cultural customs et al despite being mainly of the same Muslim faith. And having to live with a much larger, hostile neighbour in between. And another not-so-friendly fellow-Muslim neighbour to the northwest known as Afghanistan. It is unlikely that one can find instances in history where any other new nation-state had to deal with such inimical circumstances at birth.

Motivated by Memory

Memory was the root-source of the first formative phase of Inner-dependence to countenance the hostility to our Independence. There was the conscious memory of a shared, distinct Muslim identity existing in South Asia for over a thousand years. This was dominantly so in the areas that became part of the new state’s territory, yet also present among Muslims in the Hindu-majority areas. Living side by side with non-Muslims, yet consciously preserving beliefs and practices specific to Islam. While also absorbing some cultural influences from Hindus and from other faiths. And transferring some influences to them as well.

Drawing pride from the reality of minority Muslim rule for about 700 years over a vastly larger non-Muslim majority. Then, with the end of the Muslim Mughal dynastic rule — however titular, in 1857 — knowing that the formation of Pakistan 90 years later signalled the climax of the search for a new identity — as well as the start of a passage into the unknown in the form of a nation-state with a new, unhistoric name.

In addition to the conscious facet of Memory, the subconscious and the unconscious levels also contributed to shape self-assertion in a predominantly Muslim Pakistan. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “subconscious” as “…concerning the part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings.” As in “my subconscious fear”. The same tome defines the “unconscious” as a noun that is “…the part of the mind which is inaccessible to the conscious mind but which affects behaviour and emotions.”

Whether it was in the parts of the territory of Pakistan which were already predominantly Muslim or whether it was among the eight to 10 million Muslims who migrated from the Hindu-majority parts of South Asia just before, during and after August 1947, there was a common, subterranean conviction about the specificity and exclusivity of being Muslim, of holding certain elements of faith to be sacred, and beyond question. This conviction about particularity enabled transcendence over the bloodshed and carnage of the ill-planned, unjust partition of Punjab and Bengal.

Paradox of relations

Part of a paradox of connectedness with non-Muslims was the pervasive popularity of cinema film music, particularly songs, both largely Indian, but also Pakistani, which bound citizens of the two new nation-states between 1947 and 1965 (when the war sowed new schisms) into a uniquely shared experience of universally human yearnings. The knowledge that though Muslims had co-existed with non-Muslims for hundreds of years, the concept of Pakistan offered a tantalising prospect for a new autonomy, a new security for one’s Muslim identity.

At the two concealed levels below the conscious, the Muslim mind that chose Pakistan had subliminally absorbed subtle signs and inflections from non-Muslim neighbours that their irreducible Muslimness would never be fully accepted and respected. The explicit animus of the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and Arya Samaj and the subtle yet real reluctance of even the ostensibly secular Congress to accept the distinctness of Muslim identity combined to justify the choice for Pakistan.

Driven by Dreams and Hopes

The cumulative impact of the three levels of the mind and of Memory was so potent that millions abandoned their historic homes, lands, properties and assets to set out for the unknown, to risk death and injury, to suffer unspeakable horrors — because Dreams and Hopes became as powerful as Memory.

This triumvirate helped Pakistan triumph over harsh adversity, especially in the first few years. The violation of a pre-Independence agreement through the illicit, deliberate delay by India in transferring urgently-required assets — funds, materials, equipment, arms — to Pakistan. The paucity and severe inadequacy of physical infrastructure in Dacca, Chittagong, Karachi, Lahore, compared to New Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Madras. Influx of millions of migrants.

Critical shortages of food, shelter, medicines, transport, power supply. Lack of skilled human resources for governance and administration. The tremendous disparity between the West wing and the East wing inherited by Pakistan because of the calculated discrimination under British rule against Muslim-dominant East Bengal since the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the War of 1857. The desperate request to the US government in October 1947 for $2 billion — politely declined — to help meet basic needs for a population of about 70m. The invasion of Kashmir by Indian troops in October 1947 after the falsification of the instrument of accession by the non-Muslim ruler of a Muslim-majority state. The ensuing armed conflict with India. The cut-off of water flows from the Indian side of the rivers in March 1948, only reluctantly later restored. And several other impediments to normalcy.

Remarkable feats

Inner-dependence initially crystallised during the 13 months in which the Quaid-i-Azam lived after the advent of Independence. His sheer presence at the helm, despite his increasingly fragile health, making public pronouncements with assured calm, with singular force, reiterating the resolve to surmount hazards injected vibrancy and inspired multitudes to find solutions, address needs, sustain morale.

After his profound loss in September 1948, and even as we proceeded to stumble through the Objectives Resolution of March 1949 — opposed unsuccessfully by every non-Muslim member of the Constituent Assembly — we generated almost spectacular economic growth in the 1950s. New industries and enterprises established with fervent enthusiasm by Muslim entrepreneurs exploited new demand from overseas, agricultural commodities were exported to secure growth rates higher than India’s which enjoyed far greater advantages of infrastructure. All these material, measurable indicators were enabled by the virtually ethereal, immeasurable yet palpable determination to advance against all odds.

One of this writer’s favourite examples of the speed and efficiency with which Pakistan met crucial challenges is the dexterity and dash with which Lt General Azam Khan led the construction and completion within months of thousands of new housing units in Korangi in 1959 for post-1947 migrants who clung to existence in Karachi shanties. One can never forget the squalid conditions of the slums in 1958 surrounding the Quaid’s mazar when my father took me there as a schoolboy to pay homage to the great man’s last resting place.

The hard fact that the terrible mistake had already been made by President Iskander Mirza and General Ayub Khan to abrogate the 1956 Constitution in October 1958 did not detract from the later, laudable services rendered by Azam Khan, first in West Pakistan, and then, alas too briefly by him in East Pakistan. Where he, a West Pakistani general, became a kind of folk hero for East Pakistani Bengalis due to his compassionate, dynamic, tireless public services for them.

But this narrative goes beyond the commendable services rendered by individuals. Be they civilians or military officials — the latter already developing an appetite for intrusion into the civil domain, thanks to the weakness of civil, political leaders — a single-minded focus on wanting to make Pakistan survive and thrive was a broad, deeply shared precept. This occurred even as we were alienating many in East Pakistan, with the misplaced arrogance and insensitivity of numerically few but important civil and military officials from West Pakistan who were the opposite of Azam Khan.

Alive and well — Muslim nationalism

The desire for inner affirmation to sustain Pakistan was also found in the fact that the majority of voters in East Pakistan in December 1970 either did not vote for the quasi-weakening of a singular Pakistani state as evident in the Six-Point manifesto of the Awami League or just did not care to vote at all. Voter turnout in East Pakistan in December 1970 was lower than in Punjab and Sindh. It was only after March 1, 1971 and March 26, 1971 that mass sentiment in East Pakistan rejected the state structure of the original 1947 Pakistan — but NOT the authenticity of Muslim nationalism. In 2023, Bangladesh remains proudly predominantly Muslim, and separate from Indian Hindu-majority West Bengal, and from India.

Back to 1947 and the first two decades: A form of Willed Affinity also grew from Inner-dependence to enthuse all residents of this crazily-constructed yet sublimely inspirational new nation-state. Recovering from the ill-judged early decision of 1948 on the language issue and in 1954 recognising the right of Bengali to be one of the two state languages along with Urdu, there was a mass-level adoption of the signs, songs and symbols of a new shared national identity. The flag and the national anthem, the uniforms of armed forces personnel, currency notes, stamps and passports: all together became expressions of a spontaneous yet also planned and promoted aura in which commonalities and convergences celebrated the new identity of both nation and state — as they continue to do in 2023.

The desperate, dismayed migration — legal or illegal — of many to overseas countries certainly distresses. But it is also true that though the body may emigrate, the heart remains embedded in Pakistan. An inimitable sense of ‘Pakistaniat’ infused with love for the soil and soul of our tormented yet irreplaceable country has become an indelible part of our persona in 76 years.

The abominable, unavoidable deterrent

Inner-dependence survived the trauma of 1971. The secret, single-minded, successful development of nuclear weapons after India’s introduction of this blight and threat to South Asia in 1974 was a conclusive expression of how our inner resolve endured even after disintegration. With brilliant indigenous human resources nurtured in the 1950s and 1960s for peaceful uses of nuclear energy, catalysed in the second half of the 1970s and onwards by Dr A.Q. Khan and others for weapons’ manufacture, using benevolently “borrowed” technical drawings (states freely steal and borrow from each other; eg German scientists “helped” Americans build rockets!), Pakistan became the only country in South Asia with the will and the power — demonstrated in 1998, again only in response to India’s provocative tests — to resist and prevent Indian hegemony. To possess an abominable yet unavoidable deterrent that should never be used by any state.

To boost our abysmally low levels and quality of primary education, to reduce our imbalanced high population growth rate, to restructure and reform our civil-military relationship and bloated bureaucracies in both domains, to prevent disappearances of persons and covert as well as overt pressures on the media, to curb excesses of all kinds and wasteful, self-indulgent expenditure from the public exchequer on perks for the privileged elites, to harness the tremendous energy of our youth bulge, to narrow the gap between, on one side, our huge, humming parallel economy, and the new gig economy (in which our country ranks among the top globally) while, on the other side, our official economy struggles in the lower depths, to discard our widespread bad societal practices and women-repressive customs, to guarantee religious minorities safety, respect and equity, to make justice truly blind and prompt, Inner-dependence of a radical, revolutionary kind is now required to secure future stability and progress.

(The writer is a former senator, federal minister and author.)



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