By Imran Kureshi
February 16, 2015
Here is a brief take on my version of the role of Islam in our polity. First, I would like to mention a book on governance and violence in Pakistan by Dr Sagheer Hussain, of Bahauddin University, in which he also deals with this subject. Simplifying what he states and thereby no doubt doing great injustice to the learned doctor’s treatise, his contention is that before partition, our institutions (judiciary, police, bureaucracy and army) received considerable exposure to rational democratic discourse under the British. But here there is a dichotomy since basically these institutions were inculcated with and believed in an authoritarian system of governance, as also was the case with feudal politicians.
Another aspect of this perspective is that ours is a hybrid society, in the sense that the population is attuned to democratic discourse at various levels but basically we are a traditional society and have not completely assimilated or accepted democratic norms and values. Modern research has shown that such societies are most prone to violence. Furthermore, Dr Sagheer maintains that before partition the Muslims of the non-majority Muslim provinces of northern India felt much more threatened by Hindu domination than the Muslim majority western provinces. Thus the former created the All India Muslim League (AIML), claimed that the Muslims were one integrated block and had to have separate arrangements than to be with the Hindus after the British left. They propagated an Islamic national discourse to strengthen their stand. This discourse continued after partition. I would like to add here that it was not only the Mohajirs who introduced the Islamic discourse, but in the election campaign in Punjab in 1946, pirs and religious elements flocked to the AIML and considerably overshadowed the more secular supporters. They adopted as their own Allama Iqbal’s dream and the concept of a separate Muslim state, which they envisaged as an idealistic religious state. It was in this campaign that the slogan started: Pakistan ka matlaab kya? La ilaha Ill-Allah.
I would like to make a digression here. The Islamic aspect of this discourse is based on the doctrinaire interpretations of religion that came about with the Islamic revival in the subcontinent in northern India in the beginning of the last century — Barelvi, Deobandi and other sects. However, if you compare it to the Islam of the Golden Age and Ottomans you will find many differences. The latter was much more tolerant, understood statecraft and dealt with provinces in a fair manner. Because of this, our current stratum of religious belief was redefined at a time of colonial domination. There is greater emphasis on identification, preservation of culture and an assertive show of religion; also there is greater intolerance of other religions and sects, and rejection of anything considered western.
When the Mohajirs migrated to Pakistan, they enjoyed a privileged position because of their political representation in the Muslim League (although their politicians had lost their electorates) and the officer cadre in the state institutions, by which they built a strong position for themselves in commerce as well. Thus they were very much part of the power structure and the mainstream.
Digressing a bit, again referring to Dr Saghir Hussain, regarding the controversy on whether the Quaid was an Islamist or parliamentarian, obviously he was very much exposed to democratic rational discourse, but we see the tactics he adopted in the 1946 elections in Punjab, in which success was the only consideration and he espoused all the convenient slogans of socialism, student mobilisation, democracy and majorly Islam. He almost single-handedly created this country and thereafter was governor general.
The Mohajirs continued to propagate the Islamic national discourse to maintain their privileged position. The institutions were very secular. However, they too used the Islamic national discourse to suppress and discourage dissension in the provinces of East Pakistan, Sindh and Balochistan. However, in those days there was no assertive proselytising of any manner and the minorities were treated with respect and felt secure. Karachi was a harmonious multicultural society. It should be noted that in Ghulam Muhammad’s constitution of 1956, the operative part of the Objectives Resolution was done away with though it was voted back by the Assembly. And Ayub Khan’s 1962 Constitution did away with the resolution altogether. Ayub Khan can by all accounts be deemed a secularist.
Here is the most important digression of all. After partition, the mainstream, through the institutions, decided it was the custodian of this country and relegated the politicians (and the East Pakistan majority population) to secondary status, keeping them only to give legitimacy to the various governments (and martial law). They ruled in an autocratic manner from the west wing and treated the provinces in a criminal manner, suppressing regional culture, factionalising their elite, exploiting East Pakistan and Balochistan atrociously; in short, treating them like a colony without the impressive pomp and circumstance, the artful finesse and condescending beneficence of the British. The tragedy is that we did not learn a lesson from the secession of the east wing nor from the prolonged insurgency in Balochistan nor Sindh.
(To be continued)
Imran Kureshi is a freelance columnist