Yaqoob Khan Banghash in The Tribune (Pakistan)
Every country’s Independence Day is a defining moment in its history. The events of the day are the culmination of years of struggle and the day hearkens to a new beginning. The same is true for Pakistan, except that we have yet to move on from our ‘1947’ moment. This is not because historians keep writing about it but that in our collective memory, we still have to reconcile with the events of 1947 and move forward. Let me highlight just a few aspects.
First, and here I am utilising the work of Professor Gurharpal Singh — of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London — is the legacy of violence. Since Pakistan was born in violence, violence has become intrinsic to the body politic of the country. Let us not forget that it was not the constitutional brilliance of Mohammad Ali Jinnah which finally convinced the Congress, especially Nehru and Patel, and Mountbatten to agree to a partition, but the deteriorating law and order situation in the Muslim majority provinces, which was directly related to the ‘Direct Action’, called by Jinnah in late 1946. Hence, Pakistan was literally fought for on the streets of Calcutta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, etc. This ‘violence’, which was largely planned, then became so integral to the imagination of the country that since then, both the state and the people have utilised it repeatedly. This is not to say that other countries are not born in violence and bloodshed; they are, but the degree to which this violence has seeped into the mindset of official and public in Pakistan, is destabilising. more
“India and Pakistan are divided by a great wall of silence, which liberals are anxious to breach, which ideologues are determined to strengthen, and which people are condemned to suffer,” writes M.J. Akbar in India Today
What is the difference between Indians and Pakistanis? The answer is uncomplicated: There is no difference. We are the same people, with similar personality strengths, and parallel collective weaknesses. Why then have the two nations moved along such dramatically different arcs in the six decades of their existence?
India and Pakistan are not separated by a mere boundary. They are defined by radically opposed ideas. India believes in a secular state where all faiths are equal; Pakistan in the notion that a state can be founded on the basis of religion.
The two-nation theory, which was the basis of Pakistan, did not separate all Muslims of the subcontinent from Hindus; nearly as many Muslims live in India at this moment, without any hindrance to the exercise of their faith, as live in Pakistan. Pakistan was created on an assumption, which had no basis in either the political or social history of Indian Muslims, that they could not live as equals in a united, Hindu majority India. It was a concept that flourished in the wasteland of an inferiority complex. more
Pervez Hoodbhoy at Himal Southasian:
Illustration by Saira Wasim
The lack of nationhood can be traced to the genesis of Pakistan and the single factor that drove it – religious identity. Carved out of Hindu-majority India, Pakistan was the culmination of the competition and conflict between natives who had converted to Islam and those who had not. Converts often identified with Arab invaders of the last millennium. Shah Waliullah (1703-62), a ‘purifier’ of Islam on the Subcontinent who despised local traditions, famously declared ‘We [Hindustanis] are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and the Arabic language are our pride.’
The founder of Pakistan, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, also echoed the separateness of Muslims and Hindus, basing the struggle for Pakistan on the premise that the two peoples could never live together peacefully within one nation state. But Jinnah was unrecognisably different from Waliullah, a bearded religious scholar. An impeccably dressed Westernised man with Victorian manners, a secular outlook and an appreciation of fine foods and wines, Jinnah nevertheless eloquently articulated the fears and aspirations of an influential section of his co-religionists. Interestingly, he was opposed by a large section of the conservative ulema, such as Maulana Maudoodi of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who said that Islam must not be confined to national borders. But Jinnah and his Muslim League won the day by insisting that Muslims constituted a distinct nation that would be overwhelmed in post-British India by a larger and better-educated Hindu majority.
Thus Pakistan, in essence, was created as the negative of India: it was not India. But what was it, then, beyond being a homeland for Muslims? Decades after the horrific bloodbath of Partition, the idea of Pakistan remains hotly debated. It did not help that Jinnah died in 1948, just a year after Pakistan was born, with his plans still ambiguously stated. He authored no books and wrote no policy paper. He did make many speeches, of which several were driven by political expediency and are frankly contradictory. These are freely cherry-picked today, with some finding in them a liberal and secular voice; others, an embodiment of Islamic values. The confusion is irresolvable. More:
In the Telegraph, Sunanda K. Datta-Ray reviews Jaswant Singh’s “Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence“:
Jinnah and Gandhi
If Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the first Paki and Lord Mountbatten the first Paki-basher (as an old joke went), Calcutta’s Direct Action Day was the first Jehad. Jaswant Singh records that a leaflet warning the “Kafer” of “the general massacre” on August 16, 1946 also reminded Muslims they had once worn the crown and ruled this country but “had become slaves of Hindus and the British”. Displaying Jinnah’s picture, the leaflet spoke of “a Jehad in this very month of Ramzan”.
This is worth repeating because inspired gossip accuses the author of glorifying Jinnah as the apostle of Indian unity and of blaming Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel for demonizing him. Neither charge can be sustained, confirming that the contrived furore over the book reflects the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s dislike of the author and a demoralized Bharatiya Janata Party’s internal power struggles. The ambitions of the egregious Narendra Modi, who cannot have read this massive volume of 669 pages and probably would not have understood it if he had, obviously helped to whip up hysteria.
Modi’s understanding must not be faulted too much, however, for in his anxiety to be fair to all sides, Jaswant Singh often seems to contradict what appears to be his thesis. More:
In the New York Times, Joshua Kurlantzick reviews “To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan,” by Nicholas Schmidle:
Taking office in January, Barack Obama promised a radically different vision of foreign policy from that of his predecessor. But on perhaps the most critical issue, the new king looks a lot like the old one. In Pakistan, President Obama has retained the Bush administration’s targeted drone missile attacks against suspected militants and may quietly be expanding the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert battle against jihadis along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
As Nicholas Schmidle, a contributor to publications including The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Slate, reveals in a richly reported book based on his two years traveling across Pakistan, United States policy does not change because Pakistan, sadly, does not change. Birthed in 1947 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the lawyer son of a rich merchant, the country remains in the grip of venal, feudal, wealthy politician-landlords like the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and the current president, Asif Ali Zardari, for whom democracy means one vote one time, after which the victors go on to dominate indefinitely. Worse, greed and graft have led Islamabad’s ruling class to ignore large portions of the population, who remain illiterate, and their incompetent governance has opened the door to Islamists’ offering average Pakistanis promises that the first Mayor Daley would have recognized – safe and orderly streets – not through machine politics but through the brutal application of Shariah law. More:
What does Pakistan mean? What kind of Islamic state should it be? Manan Ahmed on the real threat facing Pakistan today. From the National:
Pakistan, as constituted by the retreating British, was hardly a cohesive state. The two biggest provinces were themselves partitioned (Punjab and Bengal) and the fate of three princely states was undetermined – Swat, Baluchistan and Kashmir. The country itself was divided into two unequal halves separated by India. The communal horror of Partition, which saw the displacement and killing of millions, soon gave way to the mobilisation of the Army of this nascent state to redraw its borders. In fact, the actions taken then in Baluchistan and Kashmir quickly shifted the balance of power in Pakistan from the civil and the political to the military.
Still, Jinnah’s hopes for a democratic state were briefly glimpsed in the first constitution, which was signed in 1956. The constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic republic but reserved minority rights and enshrined laws in the hands of a secular judiciary. But this was a short-lived achievement, and in the next several decades, dictatorial leaders would steadily erode the unity of the state through their often brutal attempts to consolidate power in Islamabad – first under the guise of modernisation, and then Islamicisation and, more recently, anti-terrorism.
The first of these, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, with the Cold War support of the United States, suspended the constitution and embarked on a decade-long military dictatorship during which he systematically broke down all progressive and democratic voices in the nation. In order to cement his military rule, Ayub Khan preyed on exactly those ethnic divisions which Jinnah had hoped to eliminate. His West Pakistani military regime deliberately marginalised the East Pakistani Bangla population. Though there were populist resisters to Ayub – most notably the political campaign of Fatima Ali Jinnah in 1965 – the military dictators brokered no relief. The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 – after the Pakistani military failed to recognise a legitimate national election and embarked on a systematic killing of Bengalis – spelt the end of Iqbal and Jinnah’s notion that Muslims in India could form a cohesive political union. The fate of Pakistan, the state, in turn, hung in the balance. More:
Council on Foreign Relations website cfr.org has this interactive timeline exploring the history of U.S.-Pakistan relations: