It is a familiar motif in history that powerful nations seek to conquer and occupy lands governed by the weak and exploit their resources. We find that sometimes the occupation is accepted under duress and sometimes the occupied people put up a strong and persistent resistance until they get independence.
In some cases, new countries came into being as a result of the decline of an empire. When an imperial power lost its control over its far off provinces, their governors, taking advantage of the weakness of the centre, declared their independence. When Alexander died, his empire was divided among his generals. The same happened in case of the Roman Empire. In this case, occupied nations threw off the yoke of slavery and declared their independence.
With the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate, new ruling dynasties emerged in the eastern and western parts of the Caliphate. In the subcontinent, when the Mughal dynasty declined, successive independent states of Awadh, Deccan and Bengal emerged. These newly independent countries achieved their freedom not as a result of a struggle by the masses but under the leadership of some dynasty.
The concept of freedom movements or struggle for independence or war of liberation is a modern concept which emerged against European colonialism where the masses stepped up the struggle and fight for their independence. To achieve this objective, people launched protests by going on strikes, doing agitation and boycotting the colonial administration. In some cases there were bloody clashes in which thousands of people sacrificed their lives for freedom.
The participation of the people changed the character of these movements. Under the banner of nationalism, all classes of society were united for one cause and people became politically conscious. These movements were sometimes led by individuals who belonged to the elite class but often individuals from the masses assumed leadership.
Sometimes the colonial powers could be persuaded to leave the country after negotiation but mostly they departed only after bloody clashes. Those leaders who successfully led nations to independence were revered as great men after their goal was attained and people looked to them to fulfil their agenda and bulid the new country on the foundations of peace and prosperity.
One of the models against colonial resistance is the war for independence fought by the 13 American colonies against England. However, instead of calling it a war of independence, the Americans called it the American Revolution. In fact, in the truest sense it was not a revolution but a war of independence as it gained them independence from English colonialism.
After that, a new type of history came into being. Those leaders, who fought successfully against colonial powers, were given the status of ‘founding fathers’. With it emerged the concept of ‘birth of a nation’ and a new history was written for the state. Its founding fathers were given a high place and elevated to the status of heroes while the history of the colonial period was ignored because it was the history of defeat and shame. All those persons who collaborated with the colonial powers were condemned and those who resisted were remembered as heroes.
All newly independent countries, after the end of colonialism, used the phrase ‘birth of a nation’. It shows the desire of new nations to write their history from point zero. It is a denial of the colonial past but sometimes a resurrection of the pre-colonial past and its heritage.
Keeping in view this background, when we analyse the history of Pakistan, we find that it did not come into being as a result of the people’s struggle but through negotiations. Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said many times that Pakistan was created by him and his typewriter or his steno. Later on, the Muslim League took the credit for the creation of Pakistan and excluded the role of the people.
However, following the accepted tradition, we have our founding father or fathers, and the birth of a new nation. There is, however, no denial of the colonial past. On the contrary, there is a pride in inheriting its institutions such as the legal system and the bureaucracy. The older generation speaks nostalgically of the British rule when there was rule of law and peace and prosperity. However, we hesitate to recognise the pre-colonial Indian past as our own.
Every year we celebrate Independence Day as a joyous occasion without any real understanding of it. On the contrary, people are asking questions about the very concept of independence and the historical struggle. Some believe that after independence from colonial powers there is a need to struggle against the continuity of colonial institutions. Without decolonising the mind, there is no real freedom.