Spirit of ’74

Published February 26, 2024

FOR three days in 1974, starting Feb 22, Lahore witnessed an epochal meeting of 38 Muslim nations as it hosted the Second Islamic Summit Conference. Those were heady days, coming only a few months after the October 1973 war, when the Arabs had reversed some of the ignominious losses of the 1967 conflict. Moreover, the Arabs had flaunted their ‘oil weapon’, targeted at all states that openly supported Israel, and perhaps for the first time in the postcolonial period, there was a feeling that the world of Islam had agency of its own.

Giants of the Muslim world attended the moot. This included the summit’s host and architect Zulfikar Ali Bhutto along with other leaders, including Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, Faisal of Saudi Arabia and Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat. The credit for the success of the 1974 summit goes to Bhutto. Though he may have had many shortcomings, Bhutto — a democratically elected leader — was a committed internationalist and had the vision to make Pakistan a leader in the Muslim world. Our reputation today, both within the Muslim world and in the larger international community, is far from the dizzying heights reached in 1974. One lesson that can be drawn is that a leader elected by the people and aware of their aspirations is alone qualified to guide the nation on the world stage. Another of the summit’s successes was Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh, which closed the blood-stained chapter of the separation of East Pakistan, as Mujibur Rahman embraced Bhutto in Lahore.

Yet, 50 years after that momentous meeting, many of the issues that plagued the Muslim world remain. For example, Palestine’s children still cry out for an end to their slaughter. Moreover, the people of Kashmir remain unable to choose their own destiny, thanks to Indian intransigence. Elsewhere, the stateless Rohingya live in foetid refugee camps, victims of Myanmar’s ruling junta, while hundreds of millions of other Muslims the world over face disease, illiteracy and hunger, even as some of their richer brothers in faith live lives of unimaginable luxury. Sadly, in far too many Muslim states, strongmen are disconnected from the desires of their people. Perhaps the spirit of ’74 needs to be channelled to guide the Muslim world through these rough waters. Particularly, through unity and pursuing a minimum common agenda, the community of Muslim states can attempt to address multiple problems, and pursue the noble goals enunciated at the Lahore Summit. Education, with particular focus on science and technology, is required to improve the lot of Muslim populations. Furthermore, democracy within the Muslim world — developed through organic processes and not ‘imported’ from others — is needed to bring qualitative improvements to the lives of nearly 2bn people.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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