By Ayaz Amir
March 24, 2015
A few words about the parade…why must the accompanying commentary be so hysterical? I put on the TV at about a few minutes to eleven but the commentary, male and female, was just too much, going on and on without a moment’s rest, much too loud and indeed deadlier than any of the weaponry marching past. If the military can’t be made to learn the uses of brevity what hope for the rest of the nation? Thanks to the commentary, two minutes of the parade was all I could stand. There was also the charismatic visage of the president. On this subject what more is there to say?
I have no problem with patriotism but I do have a problem with the myths and fantasies surrounding Muslim power in the Subcontinent. This power reached its zenith under Shah Jahan. Aurangzeb was also a great emperor but by his time the empire had begun to show signs of exhaustion. Too much was spent on the wars in the Deccan and against the Marathas and the aged emperor spent his last years trying to douse these fires.
It is worth remembering that when European armies had developed new battlefield tactics Mughal emperors were still riding to battle on elephant back. The great Babur was in step with his times but by the time of Aurangzeb it was clear that the modern age had bypassed the Mughal Empire – as indeed it was bypassing most of the Muslim world.
Aurangzeb died in 1707 and within a space of 32 years the Timurid Empire, mighty in its time, could not withstand the invasion of the Persian king, Nadir Shah, who ransacked Delhi and carried off its treasures, including the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor diamond. A daughter of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila was taken by a son of Nadir Shah as his wife. Thousands of girls, both Muslim and Hindu, went as slave girls. Afghanistan and Punjab were detached from the Mughal Empire.
The Sikhs were a rising power in Punjab, there were rebellions elsewhere, and the British had established a foothold in Bengal. Muslim power in Hindustan was thus on the decline, the days of its glory over. Paradoxically, the arrival of the British and the establishment of their Raj helped to arrest the process of this decline. The Sikh kingdom of Lahore was not defeated by Muslims; it was crushed by the British. And it were the British who lent a ready ear to the very loyal and almost obsequious plea of the Muslim League, when a delegation of Muslim grandees waited on Lord Minto in Shimla in 1905, for consideration and special treatment.
The concern of the Muslim community, or its leading torch-bearers, in the years leading up to the Pakistan resolution in1940 was less freedom and liberation from foreign rule and more the fear of Hindu domination. It was not about kicking the British out of India. It was about the morning after, about what would happen once the British had gone. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Pakistan movement was thus born out of a sense of fear and foreboding. And that fear – despite our missiles, tanks and nuclear capability – seems not to have left Pakistan’s decision-making circles even after the passage of all these years.
Turkey under the great Ataturk made a clean break with its past. The Bolshevik revolution was a break with the Tsarist past. Mao and the Chinese communist party erased all the symbols of the past and created a new Chinese consciousness. If the leading lights of the Muslim community were at all interested in building a modern, progressive society then here too the effort should have been to leave the past behind, after reflecting on its weaknesses, and then laying the foundations of a new society.
The Chinese communists did away with such symbols of the old China as the pigtail and the clothes worn in the old days. Ataturk did away with the fez, that symbol of traditional Turkish society, and decreed that even the Turkish peasant tilling the land would wear western clothes. Look at any gathering of the 1947 Muslim League leadership. The paladins are the very pictures of caution and respectability, on their faces not a trace of boldness or anything out of the ordinary.
We should have had a constitution within a year if not six months. Quaid-e-Azam should have realised the importance of the Bengali language and there should have been no language issue in the new state. Feudalism should have been abolished at once and land reforms undertaken – large estates broken up and land distributed among tenants and small farmers. In the new state there should have been no place for distinctions of caste and creed. Titles such as Makhdooms, Maliks, Chaudrys, etc, should have been abolished at once. But the new leadership in West Pakistan was landlord-dominated. The concern of this leadership was to protect its privileges, not go about creating a progressive society.
The Kashmir war, once begun, should have been prosecuted with vigour. Srinagar was there for the taking, defenceless and open. But the tribesmen tarried and there weren’t enough officers with the requisite ability or audacity to grab that opportunity.
The distribution of evacuee property – admittedly not an easy task – could have been undertaken on different lines, each incoming migrant getting one small house or a portion of a house. But this became a scam, false claims being submitted and a race started for the grabbing and accumulation of property. Of all the legacies of independence and Partition this has proved to be the most enduring, the accumulation of property by fair means or foul the leading symbol of the new state.
And Pakistan entered into alliances with America and became a pawn, a stooge, in the emerging cold war. Pakistan’s leaders – the bureaucrats and feudalists sitting in its councils – did not have the imagination to steer an independent path for the new country. The Achkan-wearing and poetry-spouting leaders of the Muslim community were afraid in undivided Hindustan. Fear and insecurity remained their defining hallmarks even when the new state was formed.
But all this is past and done. This is a country of 200 million souls. It deserves better. It deserves to step into the modern age. Granted that there is no Ataturk around and no Chinese communist party, and the political class just can’t free itself from its conservative and reactionary outlook. But are there no progressive elements left in this decrepit society? Is all hope lost? Is there no way forward?
No, our prospects can’t be that bleak. Isn’t the army trying to follow new directions? It hasn’t discarded all its prejudices or pet theories but a beginning is being made. How long before the rest of the nation becomes serious about national renewal?
We can’t remain the inheritors of a dead civilisation. We can’t keep mouthing the old inanities. We can’t keep taking refuge behind Islam, raising its banner when stumped for answers.
On the political front we need greater vitality, greater imagination, and a better crop of leaders. Does our society have this capacity of throwing up something new? There are leaders claiming to be agents of change. On a bad morning one look at them is enough to make the heart sink. Still, there is no alternative. Pakistan renews itself or it keeps floundering.
New trends are slowly emerging and that is a positive sign. A year ago there was no possibility of serious action against extremism and terrorism. A month ago who could have imagined that the MQM would be bearded in its den? Small signs but they add up to something different.
But a greater shaking up is needed, something in the nature of upheavals that other nations have gone through. Question is whether that lucky moment will ever arrive or through some accident of fate or history we are condemned to those two greatest afflictions of human society, mediocrity and decline?