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Islam and Politics ( 15 Jan 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Contending Visions for Pakistan



By Husain Haqqani  

16 Jan 2015

Now that we are a sovereign country secured by nuclear weapons, do we still need ideological nationalism?

Since Pakistan’s birth in August 1947, Pakistanis have been divided over the raison d’etre of the country. In a recent lecture (excerpts from which were published in TFT as ‘Re-imagining Pakistan’) I had cited Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech to Pakistan’s First Constituent Assembly and pointed out that he saw partition only as a constitutional way out of a political stalemate, as he saw it, and not the beginning of a permanent state of hostility between two countries or two nations.

This explains his assertion that “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Quaid-e-Azam also voiced the expectation that India and Pakistan would live side by side “like the United States and Canada,” obviously with open borders, free flow of ideas and free trade. He insisted that his Malabar Hills house in Bombay be kept as it was so that he could return to the city where he lived most of his life after retiring as Governor-General of Pakistan. None of these make sense if he envisaged an eternal conflict between Hindus and Muslims based on the inherent incompatibility of the two religions and two peoples.

Much of my recent work is based on understanding and explaining how the notion of an “ideology of Pakistan” has contributed to the rise of Islamism and extremism over time. As is often the case ideologues do not like any interpretation of historic events that does not conform to their beliefs. I have been labelled “anti-Pakistan” for positing an alternative vision for Pakistan and for critiquing the decisions of its successive leaders about foreign and domestic policy.

I have been labelled ‘anti-Pakistan’ for positing an alternative vision for the country

Last week, I found myself demonized from an unusual quarter. Former civil servant, caretaker Finance Minister, World Bank veteran and author Shahid Javed Burki cited a private conversation between us in an article in The Express Tribune titled ‘Economics was the basis of Pakistan’s creation.’ Without context, he quoted me as suggesting that Pakistan’s creation was a mistake and then proceeded to describe me as “a person who had represented as its ambassador a country he believed was mistakenly created.”

I have always been respectful towards Mr Burki, as I am with all my elders, and have often exchanged views with him freely. We have not always agreed but I admire his erudition, have read all his books and even reviewed one several years ago. I was, therefore, surprised to see a reference to a private lunch conversation in a published article. As I wrote to him, normally it is considered courteous to ask if a one-on-one conversation can be written about. That he chose to dispense with that courtesy disappointed me.

The remark about mistaken creation also distorted the substance of our exchange, which was more about the ideological divide within Pakistan. During our lunch conversation I had realized that contrary to Mr Burki’s assertion in public that ‘Economics was the basis of Pakistan’s creation,’ he in fact sympathized with the ideologues of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology. He spoke passionately about being denied entry to a Brahmin kitchen while attending a Hindu class-fellow’s birthday party in Delhi at age 7 or 8, and said that Hindus and Muslims could not live as one nation because the Hindus have been affected forever by “800 years of our ruling over them.”

I told Mr Burki that unlike him, I was born after Pakistan’s creation and do not need an ideology to be a Pakistani. It was in this context that the remark about Pakistan’s creation came up in our conversation. To summarize my view, I am a born Pakistani citizen and that is the only citizenship I have. While I may have a different take on history about what should or should not have been, I will remain a Pakistani and, therefore, feel it is my right to imagine a non-ideological, territorial Pakistan more in line with Quaid-e-Azam’s August 11, 1947 vision statement.

Of course, Mr Burki is not alone in his views. Pakistan’s founding generation was deeply divided between those who wanted to perpetuate the religion-based politics that led to the demand for Pakistan and those who thought Pakistan should now evolve as a functional, pluralist state. That division endures today.

The ‘ideological camp’ included people like Liaquat Ali Khan, Chaudhry Mohammed Ali, Ghulam Mohammed, Iskander Mirza etc. They advocated war for Kashmir, militarism, anti-India identity and suppression of ethnic identities within Pakistan. The secularist camp was led by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and included people like Mian Iftikharuddin. They proposed federalism, normal relations with India and playing down the role of religion in politics.

Just as Mr Burki is surprised that someone who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador should have the views I have, I am surprised that a man of his secular inclinations and personality cannot accept a secular, non-religious imagining of Pakistan or a different view about the country’s creation.

For the ideological camp, conflict with India is integral to their fundamental belief system even when they pretend to talk of importance of India-Pakistan trade. They do not consider the creation of Pakistan as a result of complex negotiations between the Congress and Muslim League over constitutional arrangements in a post-colonial subcontinent. For them it is about incompatibility of two peoples –Hindus and Muslims who simply cannot live as one nation in one country.

Nothing clarifies the two contending visions for Pakistan – ideological versus secular – than responses to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 Constituent Assembly speech. To me, it outlined a vision for a secular Pakistan. The Quaid had said in that speech that “in course of time Hindus would 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 his book “Pakistan: Fifty Years of Nationhood” (Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1986) Mr Burki had this to say about the Quaid’s August 11, 1947 speech: “How could Muslims cease to be Muslims and Hindus cease to be Hindus in the political sense when the religion to which they belonged were, in Jinnah’s passionately held belief, so utterly different from one another? Was Jinnah giving up the two-nation theory, the ideological foundation of the state of Pakistan, once the new state had come into existence? Was the speech a clear signal to the people of Pakistan that the new state, though founded to preserve Islam in South Asia, was to be run on secular grounds? Was Jinnah providing a confirmation of the view shared by many of his opponents that he had cynically exploited the issue of religion to divide India? The speech raised all these and many other questions, but Jinnah failed to explain his statement.”

In Mr Burki’s view, “Jinnah probably did not know that even as he was speaking millions of people were leaving their homes and moving in two different decisions: Hindus and Sikhs to India, and Muslims to Pakistan. The transfer of population between independent India and Pakistan solved the political problem that Pakistan would have faced had a large number of Hindus and Sikhs stayed in Punjab and Sindh – the two provinces of the new Muslim country in which there were sizable communities of non-Muslims. The Pakistan that emerged as a result of this mass movement of people was religiously much more homogenous than Jinnah or any of his associates had envisaged. Had Pakistan retained a number of religious minorities within its borders after independence – as would have been the case if the exchange of population had not taken place – its constitutional setup would have needed to accommodate religious diversity” (pp 26-27).

For Pakistan’s ideologues, the forced 1947 population exchange in the Punjab was an event that “solved the political problem” of having many Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. I see it as having moved Pakistan in the direction of religious extremism, without helping the Muslims left behind in India any way because they still remained a large minority. Now that Pakistan is a sovereign country, secured by nuclear weapons, does it still need ideological nationalism or can we move towards territorial nationalism without describing anyone who questions the ideology as somehow being opposed to Pakistan?