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A Pakistani Does Not Equal A Muslim and A Muslim Does Not Equal Pakistani

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

June 11, 2018

Husain Haqqani is Pakistan’s most famous exile at the moment. This is because of the infamous Memogate case, about which the less is said the better. My own past relationship with him has been fraught with unease, primarily because I disagreed with several historical claims in his previous books. Having myself spent a great amount of time researching Muhammad Ali Jinnah, I have found many inaccuracies in his work.

During a trip to Washington DC, I had the opportunity to meet him and exchange views with him on several issues. There was both agreement and disagreement, but one thing was readily apparent. Mr Haqqani is not an enemy of Pakistan or even its military. If anything, he sincerely wants Pakistan to progress as a state and indeed become a modern democratic state, which is at peace within and without. This is what we all want.

Therefore I read his latest book “Reimagining Pakistan” with great interest. To be honest there is still much room for disagreement in his telling of the founding of Pakistan but fundamentally, one agrees that the founding of Pakistan was seen by its founding father, Jinnah, at least as a constitutional solution to a political stalemate which would result in Pakistan and Hindustan living side by side as the US and Canada with open borders and free flow of ideas and trade. If Jinnah was to come back today and look at the subcontinent, he would be the first to admit that this has not come about.

Mr Haqqani also points out that Jinnah declared that he was going to serve Pakistan as its Governor General as a citizen of Hindustan. Therefore, the idea of citizenship was to him at least not a settled one, which is why Jinnah intended to return to Bombay and live out his retirement there. Where one feels he should have invested more is explaining how or why Jinnah, who proudly proclaimed for most of his life that he was an Indian first second and last, came to be so disillusioned in the last eight years that he resorted to demanding the creation of Pakistan. My own book on Jinnah’s life, which is to be published in India in 2019, will address this question specifically.

However Mr Haqqani’s criticisms are on the money. Pakistan came into existence with its leadership largely unprepared. This is reflected in Jinnah’s insistence on keeping British governors in all provinces except Sindh. Mr Haqqani also rightly points out that the so called Islamic Ideology that is said to be the basis of Pakistan was never forwarded by Jinnah himself, who had spoken of the Two Nation Theory in the same way as the Two Nations Theory in Ireland. As a lawyer, Jinnah used that as precedent in British India. One could go further and say that the unpreparedness of the Muslim League leadership at the time of partition shows itself that its top leadership at least never expected Pakistan to come into existence, using it as a bargaining counter at an All India Centre for division of sovereignty instead of land. Certainly, the alacrity with which Muslim League had given up its Pakistan demand and endorsed the Cabinet Mission Plan only a year before partition seems to point in this direction.

Mr Haqqani’s criticisms are on the money. Pakistan came into existence with its leadership largely unprepared. This is reflected in Jinnah’s insistence on keeping British governors in all provinces, except Sindh

Mr Haqqani points out that it was always forecasted that Pakistan was going to wither away — a theory that seems to be the perennial favourite of Western commentators. Pakistan did not, and thus disappointed a lot of its critics and opponents. The question Mr Haqqani asks, however, is qualitatively different. Instead of beating our chests with pride about having survived despite repeated predictions of our collapse, we should seriously investigate why a question mark has always hung over our existence. To rid ourselves of this question mark, we have to seriously reimagine Pakistan. Mr Haqqani is not the first one to say this and he will not be the last one either. Militarily, we are a strong country with nuclear weapons, so the idea of India or whoever overwhelming us through force is a very remote possibility. For our own sake though, we have to recognise that our failure lies not in the collapse of the state but our inability to establish a working democracy and civilian supremacy.

There are two reasons for this says Mr Haqqani, and I tend to agree with him.

The first is the idea of Islamic ideology as the basis of polity in Pakistan. To this end, he quotes both Suhrawardy and Toynbee, showing that any attempt to create an exclusively Muslim or Islamic state would actually lead to the state’s destruction. Indeed it would have been even more useful if he would have referred to Mr Jinnah himself, who had told the Raja of Mahmudabad that the idea of an Islamic state where Muslims were divided into 70 plus sects would mean the state’s dissolution. The idea of nationalism itself works cross-purposes to the idea of a constitutional state in my opinion. What is important is citizenship. Pakistan’s citizenship law is based on Jus Soli i.e. son of the soil. Indeed, Pakistan is the only country in Asia to follow this radical idea, which in theory at least is entirely non-discriminatory. It is about time Pakistan’s governance showed deference to this idea of citizenship and recognised that a Pakistani is a Pakistani, regardless of what religion he belongs to. A Pakistani does not equal a Muslim and a Muslim does not equal Pakistani.

Therefore, the idea of having a state religion or of barring non-Muslims from the highest offices of the state is entirely contradictory to this basic reality. Pakistan is not Israel. Pakistan is not the Muslim Zion. Unfortunately the powers that be have not learnt their lesson despite repeated humiliation the world over. NADRA has recently floated a proposal that now every Ahmadi, Scheduled Caste, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi or Sikh has to give an affidavit not just stating that he or she is a Hindu, Christian, Parsi or Sikh but additionally an affidavit stating that he or she is a Non-Muslim. This proposal is especially targeted at Ahmadis but even otherwise, it establishes that somehow Muslims are the main category and everyone else is a non-Muslim. This vitiates the very spirit of Pakistan’s citizenship law.

The second is the virulent anti-Indianism. While I disagree with Mr Haqqani on his hypothesis that Indian politicians have reconciled themselves with Pakistan’s existence wholeheartedly, Pandit Nehru’s statement at Aligarh notwithstanding, one has to accept the contention that we cannot remain in a perpetual state of hostility towards our much larger neighbour. Such conflict is ultimately more damaging to us than the larger party, because they have the ability to scale it. Even otherwise in 1999 Prime Minister (PM) Vajpayee symbolically accepted the existence of Pakistan by visiting Minar-e-Pakistan. We have the world’s sixth largest military and fastest growing nuclear stockpile. This insecurity that India is out to get us is therefore entirely misplaced. Mr Haqqani recommends that we look to Belgium as a model, because Belgium was born out of conflict with the Netherlands in 1830. While he does skip the whole issue of Belgian exploitation of Congo, he has a point that Belgium did not attempt to imagine Netherlands, France or Germany as its nemesis. Consequently, this new state in Europe has weathered many storms including the two World Wars and has emerged as a central member of the European Union (EU) today. Belgium can easily afford a model future for us to follow in this respect.

In the future, if we can put our house in order, Pakistan can easily be an Asian Belgium. Islamabad can be the Brussels of Asia, but it requires course correction, acceptance of limitations and a welfare-oriented goal. This is how one wants to re-imagine Pakistan. Whether or not Mr Haqqani can restore his reputation amongst the ultra-nationalists of Pakistan through his book, to me he is a true patriotic son of Pakistan.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practicing lawyer and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School in Cambridge MA, USA.