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From unity to disunity

August 13, 2012


Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah meeting people. — Photo by White Star
Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah meeting people. — Photo by White Star

The people of Pakistan seldom claim to have realised the promises they had made to themselves while demanding a state of their own. Each independence day they mourn their state’s break-up barely 24 years after its birth, take alarm at the mounting threats to the post-1971 Pakistan and sigh over the common citizen’s continuous slide into despair.

The stark reality they face 65 years after independence is that while in 1947 they were united as never before, today they are more disunited than ever.

The Quaid-i-Azam described partition as the only solution to India’s constitutional problem (Aug 11, 1947). He had fought for Pakistan on the basis of the two-nation theory and expended all his oratorical skills on its exposition. Then why was he in a hurry to discard this theory when it had borne fruit?

The only explanation possible is that for Mohammad Ali Jinnah the two-nation theory was a strategic need, not an ideological compulsion, and that he possibly realised that once Pakistan was achieved this theory would become a divisive force.

While adopting the theory the Muslim League chose to give Muslims’ religious belief, just one of their several identities, the status of the dominant and decisive factor. They chose to overlook what was common between Muslims and non-Muslims and also what was not common among the various Muslim regional communities.

The League had been warned that in Pakistan the non-religious identities would come to the fore. Indeed, these ‘other’ identities were never wholly suppressed. Even in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 it was necessary to promise provincial units autonomous and sovereign status.

The first generation of Pakistan’s leaders did not share the Quaid-i-Azam’s view that after Aug 14, 1947 the religious marker could not be in command as this was no longer necessary and the people of Pakistan were a new nation held together by common citizenship. As a result the religious discourse has become divisive. That disunity caused by religious differences is deadlier than other forms is known.

Unity in 1947 meant convergence of political, social and individual interests. Successive rulers allowed this convergence to wither away. As the federation failed to deliver, the people shifted their loyalty to the next lower tier of the political structure — the provinces. The failure of the provinces led the people to fall back on ethnic platforms. After six decades of this process every Pakistani is for himself; even family bonds are under strain.

The failure of political institutions meant the people’s aspirations were not fulfilled. At the top of the list was the demand for provincial autonomy, which was aired first in West Pakistan. Instead of accommodating their demands these provinces were deprived of their identities and lumped together in One Unit. The three smaller provinces — Balochistan, Sindh and KP — were made to struggle for a one-point agenda for 15 years before the monstrous design was scrapped.

The classic example of denial of autonomy is that of Balochistan. The Muslim League demanded provincial status for it in the 1920s but it got this honour only in 1970. Its autonomy issue is still hanging fire, even after the 18th Amendment.

Found wanting in statecraft and administrative skills, rulers sought refuge in religion and paved the way for dictators. There is a direct link between the adoption of the Objectives Resolution, Ziaul Haq’s claim to be a divinely ordained chief and the rise of extremist militants.

Another cause of disunity is the state’s brazen abdication of its benevolent role, especially in relation to the poor. The landless tenants who had been promised land in 1946 are still waiting for a miracle. The state no longer guarantees security of life or employment, or the right to education (Article 25-A is still to be implemented) or health or social security, or respect for Pakistanis at home and abroad. Elections have perpetuated a privileged class whose members keep fighting among themselves and get together to deprive the people of power and its fruits. Politics no longer means competition within an agreed framework; it too has become a source of division.

Above all, society is disintegrating due to the rise of the theory that ends justify means. The objective of politics is to capture power, so let this be done by any means. If Pakistan can get nuclear weapons, the means are above scrutiny. Criminals ought to be punished, so they may be killed in ‘encounters’. Students need degrees, how they get them is nobody’s business. Muslims need a place for prayer (and a cleric needs a pulpit) and any piece of land can be grabbed. This is a rat race with the widest possible implications, and neither friend nor foe can be trusted.

The state of disunity can be seen in all walks of life. Not just wider political unities have been shattered, even social bonds have cracked. People are talking with one another less and less and relying more and more on the gun.

The dream of national integration or unity of the kind witnessed in 1947 will remain elusive so long as any group’s wish for autonomy remains unfulfilled, the march towards a theocracy is not arrested, the state’s treatment of the people is not based on honesty and transparency, means are justified along with ends, and peaceful discourse does not replace the clatter of bullets.

The writer is a rights activist and the former director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.