65 and still not sure of its identity (The News)

By Babar Ayaz

Pakistan turned 65 last Tuesday and is still not sure of its identity. The good thing is that the debate about its identity continues. But both, the people of Pakistan and its leaders are confused whether Pakistan is an ‘Islamic State’, or it should be a secular democratic state. And there is a third equally strong strand which tries to synthesise the irreconcilable two: Islamic state with Islamic laws and a democratic state with the laws and values of the 21st century polity.

Why Pakistan is still trying to find its identity like a young child entering adolescence?  For this we will have to rewind and see the making of Pakistan. Going through the history of Muslim League movement it is apparent that the struggle was for achieving maximum autonomy for the elite of the Muslim majority provinces.

What had initially started as a struggle for power between the Muslim Salariats and feudal class on one side and Hindu rising bourgeoisie, on the other, within the frame work of India, eventually evolved in the division of India on a communal basis.

The turning point was the 1937 elections in which All India Muslim League (AIML) suffered humiliating defeat. To rally the support of the Muslim masses of India the emotive religious propaganda was used as a ‘Means’ to achieve an ‘End’ i.e. right to rule the Muslim majority areas.  Consequently, the ‘Means’ have become stronger and are now consuming Pakistan slowly and painfully. Today’s Pakistan is caught in its own religious propaganda web.

All historical evidence shows that the Muslims of India were living in the sub-continent for over a thousand years and were practicing their religious rights according to their religion. The issue of having autonomous Muslim majority states within the federation of India emerged in the early 20th century, only when it was realized that the British were willing to give some powers to the people of India.

Consequently, AIML was formed, with emphasis on the political rights of the Muslims in India and not to impose Islamic laws. This is also evident from Nawab Salimullah’s scheme. There was no mention of Islam and its value system in the charter presented by him to the British. Next take a look at 1929 – Jinnah’s 14 points, which laid down the demands of the Muslims. Again the only reference to Muslim laws was down in point 12; the rest was about political rights.

 Islam and Sharia was not the main issue even when the Government of India 1935 Act was promulgated. It was only after the dismal defeat in the 1937 elections that Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah changed his tactics and started identifying himself with the Muslim symbolism–wearing the Sherwani and Karakuli cap instead of his usual Savoy suits. And the Muslim League turned to solicit the support of the ulemas and the pirs.

 David Gilmartin (1989) has documented the important role that some leading pirs in Punjab played, in popularising the idea of Pakistan. The fact that the central Deoband leadership was allied to the Congress meant that the Muslim League was rendered attractive, to their much bigger and more influential rivals, the Barelvis, who entertained their own ambitions of establishing an Islamic state. The tables were turned when the Barelvi ulema and pirs of Punjab, NWFP and Sindh joined the Muslim League.

 Trouble of the contemporary discourse is that it is mostly within the framework of the ‘Two-Nation Theory,’ Islamic ideology and at best within the parameters set by Quaid-e-Azam and his colleagues. Many liberals in search of ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ are heavily relying on his speech of August 11, 1947 and his interviews to the foreign media in which he said that Pakistan will not be a theocratic state or that the state has nothing to do with religion. But at times Jinnah gave out different contradictory messages to different audiences. To the foreign press a clear message that Pakistan will not be a ‘theocratic state’ which implicitly meant not based on religious tradition. To the ulema that Pakistan would be a country where Islam and Shari’a laws will apply.

 His 11th August speech does talk about equal rights for citizens of Pakistan irrespective of their religion which is quintessential to establish a secular democracy. Reference to the British history of sectarianism alludes to the secular solution. Indeed this speech was delivered from the position of power and from an important platform only three days before Pakistan’s independence. He did not need the support of the pirs and ulemas at that stage as their role to provide people’s support ended with the achievement of the ‘End’ that was Pakistan. This was contrary to Allama Iqbal’s philosophy that politics and Islam (Din) when separated barbarity rules.

 But Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in his speech in 1951 elaborated the Islamist agenda: “Pakistan came into being as a result of an urge felt by the Muslims of this subcontinent to secure territory, however limited, where the Islamic ideology and way of life could be practiced and demonstrated to the world. A cardinal feature of this ideology is to make Muslim brotherhood a living reality.”He gave in to the clerics’ pressure and accepted the Objectives Resolution.

 The founding leaders were not aware of the fact, that it is not easy to go back to secular rationale after inciting people in the name of Islam. It was a clear evidence of the short-sightedness or lack of understanding of the political and social processes in a society. What the secularists overlook is that one speech of Mr. Jinnah on 11th August 1947 cannot turn off the religious fervour created in 10 years 1937- 47 by the statements in favour of the Islamic system.

 Now the ensuing discussion since this speech and today has been what are the ‘essential principles of Islam’ which Jinnah had talked about in his address to the Karachi Bar? Who will decide principles of Islam — the parliament, the ulema, the religious parties? Or is it the prerogative of the Supreme Court to define the Islamic laws incorporated in the constitution mainly by a military regime of Zia?

 Emphasis on religiosity in Pakistan has influenced the country’s dangerous foreign and national security. The natural corollary of this policy was giving more space and a free hand to the religious extremists in the country’s politics and building a large army to counter the perceived ‘India threat.’  

 The troubles of Pakistan thus started compounding because of this officially supported narrative. The pure secular objective of having maximum autonomy within the framework of India got lost in the religious propaganda campaign. ‘End’ do not justify the ‘Means’ in political and social evolution process; the ‘Means” start dictating to another ‘End’. That’s what is happening in Pakistan precisely. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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