How the Pakistani state used Orwellian tactics to twist and turn historical events to construct a mythical socio-political narrative is now in the open. Using the media and school textbooks, the state went on a rampage, especially after the loss of the former East Pakistan in 1971. Highly paranoid, xenophobic and aggressive narratives about Pakistan’s ideology, history and society were streamlined that eventually mutated into a warped worldview.
Because of this myopic worldview many Pakistanis see themselves at the centre of the known universe, surrounded by enemies and vicious conspiracies. It suggests that these enemies can only be vanquished through wars or blocked out through self-imposed isolation. To justify such war-mongering and isolationism, various mythical and largely distorted theological concepts have been used, as if it is Islam that insists that Pakistanis continue to live in their permanent state of denial and delusion.
One can rightly blame men like Z. A. Bhutto and more specifically, General Zia, for such a state of affairs. Both of these ironically opposite personalities proudly oversaw the methodical construction of a worldview that was more suited to the whims of fringy cranks, but was made a mainstream narrative. It is true that Bhutto and Zia nourished the growth of militaristic and xenophobic fantasies of mythical glories (of both past and present) in our collective psyches, but those who came before these two weren’t all that truthful either.
Religion has always been a handy tool for the ruling elite to continue justifying its undemocratic and exploitative presence. That’s why the said narrative uses gaudy Islamic symbolism and rhetoric to validate what is actually a glorification of institutions associated with the military, the clergy, the bureaucracy and big businesses. This tool was first used to exercise political control, especially over ‘treacherous’ and ‘unpatriotic’ nationalist forces first in Bengal, and later in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Gradually, by the time Zia took over, this became a tool of social control as well. If the ‘One Unit’ and the 1956 Constitution which, without any concrete definition, declared Pakistan an ‘Islamic Republic,’ were political moves to ward off calls for provincial autonomy and democracy, then Zia’s hotchpotch of Islamic laws and the filling of secular social spaces by garish symbols, lingo and related paraphernalia was a social move to remind society of its manufactured theological roots. Zia was only enhancing (with much gusto) an old Pakistani tradition, one of social and political control by using religion.
This tradition’s earliest roots lie in one of the first insistences of Orwellian manipulation of faith and nationalism way back in 1948. The late journalist, Zameer Niazi (in his book Press in Chains), noted that historian Dr Mubarak Ali (in In Search of Pakistan Identity) and Ahmed Ali (in Culture of Pakistan) have discussed this event in detail. Soon after the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah gave his famous speech to the Constituent Assembly in which he insisted that in Pakistan minorities were free to follow their religions whichever way they wanted and that the Pakistani state had nothing to do with religion. This speech did not go down very well with that section of the Muslim League elite which had tasted the power of using religion as a political tool during the Pakistan Movement.
Some of these men would go on to fan the anti-Ahmadiyya riots in Lahore (1953) by using parties like the Jamat-i-Islami and Majlis-i-Ahrar, the two Islamist outfits that had actually opposed the creation of Pakistan. Soon after Jinnah’s speech, an attempt was made by a number of Muslim League leaders (some believe, these also included Liaquat Ali Khan), to censor the draft of the speech that was to be published in the newspapers. It was only when the then editor, Dawn, Altaf Hussain, threatened to take the issue directly to Jinnah that the League leaders relented, and the media was allowed to print the uncensored, now historic speech.
No wonder then, soon after Jinnah’s death in 1948, the League’s top leadership at once departed from the secular contents of Jinnah’s speech and, in fact, flipped it on its head by drafting the 1949 Objectives Resolution that in the future became the basis of Bhutto’s populist Islamic experiments and Zia’s Machiavellian Islamist demagoguery. After that resolution was passed in 1949, some journalists questioned just how the secular contents of Jinnah’s speech could fit in the resolution’s theological proclamations.
Various senior League members responded by suggesting that the speech was an anomaly, delivered at a time when Jinnah was very sick. Were they implying that towards the end Jinnah was losing his mind? The famous Justice Muneer is on record as saying that he overheard some League leaders say that the speech was ‘inspired by the devil.’
In 1970s Z.A. Bhutto claimed that attempts were even made to burn that speech, while in the 1980s Zia used the director of the Quaid-i-Azam Academy to refute the contents of the speech by apologetically suggesting that Jinnah had no idea what an Islamic state meant, and/or if he had known he would not have made those comments.