AT a time when democracy and constitutionalism are struggling to take root and the country is facing the twin menaces of religious extremism and ethnic strife, a pertinent question on the eve of the Independence Day is what kind of Pakistan its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah had in mind.

India was bifurcated on the basis of religion and Muslim nationalism lay at the bottom of the demand for Pakistan. But what was meant to be the relationship between the state and religion? Was the state to be an instrument of religion? Or were the state and religion meant to be independent of each other?

The struggle for Pakistan may be divided into two phases. In the initial phase, before the Pakistan resolution (at that time it was called the Lahore resolution) was passed on March 23, 1940, Mr Jinnah and the party he headed, the All India Muslim League, sought to protect the interests of Indian Muslims through the mechanism of separate electorates. Under that system, seats were reserved for Muslims for elections to legislative assemblies. Though in the beginning of his political career, Jinnah was opposed to separate electorates, subsequent political developments made him change his mind.

The Congress ministries that came into being in different provinces in the wake of 1937 elections made Jinnah realise that even separate electorates were not sufficient to safeguard the interests of Muslims as they would invariably bring to power Hindus being the dominant community or nation. Hence, the Pakistan resolution of 1940 went beyond separate electorates to demand an independent homeland for the Muslims of India.

Various statements of Jinnah suggest that though Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, the purpose was not to create a theocratic, monolithic state but to safeguard the social, economic and political rights of Indian Muslims. And once Pakistan was created, the rights of even non-Muslims were to be protected as equal citizens. In his historic address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, Jinnah said “You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state....Now, I think that we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time. Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

In February 1948, he said “In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims — Hindus, Christians and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizen and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan."

The vision of Pakistan as outlined by its founder in the above excerpts was that of a pluralistic society in which full religious freedom would be granted to all communities, where the state would not discriminate on the basis of caste or creed and where cultural diversity would be reconciled with national unity. Being a statesman, Mr Jinnah knew well that in a multicultural society like Pakistan discrimination on the basis of religion could prove disastrous as it would play havoc with the very fabric of society.

Unfortunately, his message has not been heeded to and people have been discriminated against on the basis of faith or culture, giving rise to the twin scourges of ethnicism and religious intolerance. The state of Pakistan which came into being in 1947 consisted of two wings the eastern wing and the western wing. In the interest of the integrity of the federation, it was imperative that its federating units were given adequate representation in the state apparatus and shared in economic development, and that its various ethnic nationalities were welded together.

To ensure adequate representation to the units, it was necessary to hold elections and transfer power to the elected representatives of the people and grant sufficient autonomy to the provinces. As for integrating various ethnic groups, the country needed a strong and stable political party with an across-the-nation base, which could represent various nationalities. However, both these requirements remained unfulfilled.

The ensuing sense of deprivation and discontent gradually built up as successive regimes denied East Pakistanis due share in political and economic power. This eventually crystallised into the famous six-points of the Awami League, the premier political force in East Pakistan. These points, inter alia, called for separate military and currency for both the wings and a very weak centre in a federal form of government — obviously a reaction to a very strong centre that had existed. It was on the basis of these six points that the Awami League contested Pakistan's first general elections held in 1970, and won all but two seats in the eastern wing.

The essential message of the elections was ethnic. No party from the western wing could secure a single seat in the eastern wing; no party from the eastern wing won a single seat in the western wing. Ethnicism could have been dampened by transferring power to the majority party, which happened to be the Awami League. But since our democracy had not come of age, monopolising, rather than sharing, power was emphasised and power was not transferred to the largest party. In other words, pluralism was disregarded. The result was nothing short of a catastrophe — dismemberment of Pakistan.

The ethnic problem did not die with the separation of East Pakistan and has persisted to date in one form or another — Baloch nationalism, Pukhtunistan, Sindhi nationalism and Mohajir nationalism. Underlying these ethnic problems is the perception of political, economic and cultural deprivation and exploitation.

The best way to deal with ethnicism is to ensure equitable share to all ethnic groups in political power, which will also protect their economic and cultural rights. This of course requires smooth functioning of parliamentary democracy as well as full provincial autonomy

The pluralistic vision of Pakistan also meant that religion should not be used for political purposes, because it invariably promotes one community at the expense of the rest, with the result that the communities discriminated against feel increasingly alienated from the mainstream. However, the pitfall of religionising politics has not been avoided. Religion has been used as an instrument of capturing, perpetuating and legitimising power. It is such an erroneous view of Islam that lies behind religious extremism in Pakistan, which has expressed itself in sectarian violence, suicide blasts, burning of schools and video shops, and recently the killings of Christians in Gojra. No doubt, growing injustices in society, poverty and illiteracy have also contributed to terrorism. But one needs to be mindful of the fact that terrorism also has an ideological basis and in case of Pakistan the ideological basis is provided by the monolithic-cum-militant view of Islam.

hussainhzaidi@gmail.com

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