Journey to a different place

August 13, 2012


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

At this ripe age of 65 years of independent existence, both India and Pakistan ought to reflect on the epochal journey from 1947 to 2012 — from the then to the now.

If 20 years is the yardstick indicating generational change, then at least three generations have, by now, lived through the post-independence period. Do we ever — or can we even now — take stock of our situation in the currency of human suffering? The incalculable loss that we have all endured has perpetuated only poverty and death.

Margaret Bourke-White’s graphic first-hand account of then in Halfway to Freedom is as arresting her photographs. “Pakistan was one month old. Karachi was its mushrooming capital. On the sandy fringes of the city an enormous tent colony had grown up to house the influx of minor government officials. There was only one major government official, Mohammad Ali Jinnah … The Quaid-i-Azam … governor general … [president] of the Muslim League … president of the country’s lawmaking body, the constituent assembly.”

Bourke-White recalls Fatima Jinnah saying: “‘We never expected to get it so soon … We never expected to get it in our lifetimes.’” And “Jinnah’s deep-sunk eyes were pinpoints of excitement. His whole manner indicated that an almost overwhelming exaltation was racing through his veins. I had murmured some words of congratulation on his achievement in creating the world’s largest Islamic nation.

“‘Oh, it’s not just the largest Islamic nation. Pakistan is the fifth-largest nation in the world!’

The note of personal triumph was so unmistakable that I wondered how much thought he gave to the human cost: more Muslim lives had been sacrificed to create the new Muslim homeland than America, for example, had lost during the entire Second World War,” writes Bourke-White.

When asked about the country’s constitution, Jinnah added, “‘Of course it will be a democratic constitution; Islam is a democratic religion.… Our Islamic ideas have been based on democracy and social justice since the 13th century.”’ The constitution would be democratic because “‘the soil is perfectly fertile for democracy.’”

Alas, not so.

On foreign policy, Jinnah had said: “‘America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America … Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed’ — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — ‘[on] the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.’”

In Jinnah’s view, Bourke-White continues, “this brave new nation had no other claim on American friendship than this — that across a wild tumble of roadless mountain ranges lay the land of the Bolsheviks…. I was to hear the Quaid-i-Azam’s thesis echoed by government officials throughout Pakistan. ‘Surely America will build up our army,’ they would say to me. ‘Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in.’”

This hope of tapping the US Treasury remains a constant till today, as does dependence on the US.

What then of the ‘fundamentalists’? “At one huge rally, when Pakistan was new and [Jinnah and Fatima] were at the height of their popularity,” writes Bourke-White, “they sat enthroned on a dais receiving the thundering tributes of the crowd. Welcoming address was delivered by a bearded maulana … in Urdu…. Throughout the scholarly address, the Quaid-i-Azam and his sister sat bowing and smiling, mercifully unconscious of the blistering attack the holy man was making on unveiled women.”

In Bourke-White’s view, Jinnah, “Analytical, brilliant and no bigot … knew what he had done…. he had made a bargain from which he could never be free. During the heat of the struggle he had been willing to call on all the … forces … and now that his new nation had been achieved, the bigots were in the position of authority.” What was then but a seed, has it not now grown into a thorny jungle?

This, in brief, was the then, prescient but purposeful.

And now?

Here, what Stephen P. Cohen says in The Future of Pakistan (2011) is relevant: “Pakistan has become a state in crisis, while its actions have created crises for other states. A short list of Pakistan’s new, crisis-defined identity would include … a violent state, with attacks on its core institutions … and assassinations” of prominent politicians.

Moreover, the author argues, Pakistan is a state armed with nuclear weapons and a poor record of proliferation with “lingering questions about the security of its growing nuclear arsenal…. Pakistan has, as a matter of state policy, actively supported jihadis and militants in Afghanistan and India. Its policies hamper international attempts to stabilise Afghanistan and have contributed to several crises — some of them with nuclear overtones — with India. Pakistan’s tolerance of or inability to control home-grown terrorists and those who come to Pakistan for terrorist training has worsened its relations with China and several European states, even as Pakistan continues to cooperate in identifying these groups….

“From being one of America’s most ‘allied of allies’ — a cliché invoked for decades by frustrated Pakistani diplomats as well as conservative US politicians — it has become a major foreign policy headache for the United States.” In others words, as Madeleine Albright has commented, an “international migraine”.

To all this, as a very concerned neighbour, I add a plea for the restoration of that peace and tranquillity which abandoned us in South Asia in 1947 and is yet to return. Other than us, none can re-attain it. Pakistan’s then was filled with great exaltation; now, sadly, overspills with gnawing despondency. Change this mood before it devours all.

The writer is a former foreign minister of India and author of Jinnah: India, Partition and Independence.