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17 January 2011

How to revive Jinnah’s Pakistan

A RECENT editorial in the Guardian sums up the current situation facing the country: ‘Pakistan: The moral collapse of a nation’. I wish to focus on Jinnah to explain what has gone wrong.
Jinnah’s Pakistan is easy to describe and difficult to analyse. We have his speeches and statements for our guidance, but we do not have any writing by him that explains his mission. In addition to his speeches, we have to extrapolate to understand what image he had used as a spokesman for Muslim India, departing from his long political career promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. Unlike the case of Jawaharlal Nehru, there is still no comprehensive political biography available to give us a balanced view of him as a person and as a leader. Many writers, however, have from time to time added their insights into this subject.
We can say that Jinnah had a secular outlook and as President of All-India Muslim League he argued that the best safeguard for Muslims would be to have an autonomous region where they could lead their lives independent of fear of Hindu majority. From 1935 onwards the movement started to gather momentum, in Muslim minority provinces. But in the future home of what was to be West Pakistan, the 1945-46 elections proved that the hold of Muslim League was still tenuous, as Ayesha Jalal suggests. In Sindh Muslim League ministry was formed with a bare majority; the frontier remained under Congress rule; and in Punjab, the results were more encouraging as a result of defections from the land-based Unionist Party, though pirs and mullahs also played a role in southern Punjab.
One of the key criteria we need is to understand how the movement started, because it would shed some light on the sources of its strength. Hamza Alavi, the well known social scientist had developed an hypothesis to explain this phenomenon which may for the reasons of space be called the factor of the ‘salariat class’, broadly referring to Muslim professionals and bureaucrats, who had long felt that in any competition with the Hindu majority they had suffered from handicaps. The economic factor then played a key role.
That Pakistan was established in the name of Islam is a facile slogan. It was raised first by Abul A’la Maudoodi, a relentless pampheleteerer, in his ‘non-negotiable’ demands submitted to the Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly for the establishment of Islamic state. He migrated to Pakistan after 1947, to the land which had been founded by the Kafir-e-Azam, as he had called Jinnah. Leonard Binder in his writings has examined in detail the developments related to this period.
How did Pakistan come into being? Most of the biographers of Jinnah have pointed out that Lord Mountbatten had moved the date of independence of India forward by almost a year to implement his partition plan. Jinnah found it to be a hasty decision. For the imminent partition of Punjab that was to accompany the plan, he made a concerted effort to save the province through negotiation with the Sikh leaders. Had these negotiations come to a meaningful conclusion, a sizable population of the Sikhs would have become part of Pakistan. That would have made life uncomfortable for Maudoodi’s mission.
Jaswant Singh in a recent biography of Jinnah has gone a step further, and as a result of meticulous research, has suggested that the real founders of Pakistan were Nehru and Patel. They wanted their power in an independent India and soon, albeit truncated by partition. This may be a controversial hypothesis but historically it is a fact that Jinnah wanted to accept the Cabinet Mission plan, and also had envisaged that the British would not leave India any sooner than 1948 and that this would give him an opportunity to further consolidate his position. As a footnote: perhaps the carnage that accompanied the great migration of population in both directions in 1947 would not have taken place.
How did it come to pass then from a goal for an autonomous region where Muslims would lead their lives without fear of Hindu domination to establishment of an Islamic state and further, to commit that religion of the state is Islam?
Again to be brief, one needs to look at the whole spectrum of developments from the Objectives Resolution to the 1973 Constitution to 2010 Constitution (18th Amendment, legitimising distortions of General Ziaul Haq including the archaic Federal Shariat Court). They provide a context for identifying a plausible explanation of the current state of affairs of extremism and religious orthodoxy in Pakistan. (For further information see for example my articles on Objectives Resolution: the roots of religious orthodoxy, 20/06/2010; Religious orthodoxy in Bhutto era, 18/07/2010; Controversial aspects of the 18th Amendment, 31/10/2010, etc., all in Dawn, Encounter section). The articles provide a perspective on the current controversy on Blasphemy law.
But the language of the law is open to interpretation, e.g.: ‘…derogatory remarks…either spoken or written…or by any other imputation…directly or indirectly…shall be punishable with death…’ The phrases such as ‘derogatory’, ‘indirectly’ and ‘especially ‘imputation’ would certainly be a challenge to define precisely for any legal expert. Life imprisonment was included in the original draft but was rejected by the archaic Federal Shariat Court as un-Islamic (well! Saudis still use this option!).
The problem with Pakistan goes much deeper. The country is called Islamic republic but the term ‘republic’ has no religious roots. In fact, the entire structure is secular: elected parliament, not an assembly of the pious; president, not a khalifa; judiciary, not a kazi, and university, not darul-aloom. The twain shall never meet, to borrow the phrase from Kipling.
Is a turning-back then from the current malaise characterised by dominance of religious orthodoxy possible, to establish a modern Muslim state? Given the current atmosphere the relevant approach would be to encourage liberal discourse on religion, mainly in Urdu. The forgotten icons of modern Islam can lead the way. Iqbal with his cautious Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is a relevant reference. Another important scholar who became target of an unedifying campaign against him led by Abul A’la Maudoodi, Professor Fazlur Rahman, has a lot to offer. His books were banned during Ziaul Haq period. And there are many others.
No progress, however, can be made until the ruling class would wake up to the danger of patronising orthodoxy to seek their legitimacy. The PPP has spent more time than other parties as rulers since 1971 to the present. Therefore they have to share a greater burden concerning the current situation in this regard; they could have practised what they profess as being progressive and secular, as compared to PML-N, for example, which would certainly move to the centre-right without hesitation.
The recent appointment for example of Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of JUI-F as Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is an example of sacrificing the principle for the sake of political expediency. Some other members of CII should have received the attention in order to promote progressive agenda on important issues including blasphemy and Hudood.
But to repeat the point made above, for liberal discourse on religion to succeed the political elite must stop pandering to religious orthodoxy and rely on their own ability for good governance, and to support this dialogue. The present state of silent surrender is not an option, in order to build a stable future for Jinnah’s Pakistan.
Also, effective measures should be taken to improve the standards of the flow of information among people. Of course the story begins at the school/madressah level. But at least the present educated generation could be encouraged to express their thoughts based on informed opinion. Reading good books on history, culture and biography can improve one’s perspective. Good books are still being published but their constituency of readers is very small. And libraries are in a state of decay.
To conclude, extremism may sometimes be related to ideology. In general however poverty would encourage it and extreme inequality of incomes would serve as its breeding ground. The über-elite of Pakistan do not understand this reality.
By Izzud-Din Pal, The writer is a retired professor.  izzud-din.pal@videotron.ca