By Abdullahil Ahsan
Prime Minister Imran Khan has already embarked on his journey toward what he calls ‘Naya Pakistan’. He wants to materialize Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan -- Pakistan that was envisioned by its architect. One must revisit the history of the sub-continent during the first half of the 20th century in order to grasp the spirit of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Neither Mr. Jinnah, nor the poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a nationalist in the conventional sense of the term: rather, their nationalism was based on universal values such as equality, human dignity, and justice. Initially, both founding fathers of Pakistan actively participated in India’s independence movement. However, they were quick to realize that the Indian National Congress, the main political party at the time which had been founded by an Englishman as part of his “white man’s burden” mindset, was moving toward a caste-ridden discriminatory form of nation-state where minorities would lose their dignity.
Unfortunately, independent Pakistan failed to fulfil the expectations of its founding fathers. Jinnah had appointed a Hindu (who happened to have come from a lower class) as Pakistan’s first law minister under whom he had taken oath as the Governor General of independent Pakistan. He also appointed a Jewish-born Austro-Hungarian Muslim as Pakistan’s UN representative (Leopold Weiss; later Muhammad Asad) who wrote Principles of State and Government in Islam. A fairly good constitution was drafted, and it was accepted by all ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. But soon Pakistani politicians and strongmen abandoned those principles; discriminatory practices became common. After a few years of its adoption, the constitution was dissolved by the bureaucracy and armed forces. The judiciary came out to support the action. All in all, Pakistan disintegrated within 25 years of its birth. Thus the primary challenge Khan is faced with is whether he will be able to revive the spirit of Jinnah’s Pakistan.
Analysts and experts have highlighted many imminent problems for Khan. These include economic and financial crisis, unemployment, the rise of extremism, relations with neighbouring countries and with big powers, and many more. Before trying to tackle any one of these challenges, however, Khan and his team need to go through a sort of spiritual awakening. When Iqbal and Jinnah conceived Pakistan, they wanted to see it as a model state not only for Muslims around the world; they had in mind a model for humanity. Both had studied and lived in Europe for considerably long periods and deeply appreciated the crisis that the Western civilization was confronted by. They witnessed firsthand how reactionary social Darwinist nationalism (which, by the way, seems to motivate Trump) led Europe toward devastating world wars. Iqbal, in particular, saw Europe’s crisis through Nietzsche’s eyes and found a solution to that crisis in the Islamic ideals of universal equality and human dignity.
But despite all the challenges ahead, it is encouraging to know that Khan comprehends Pakistan’s weaknesses and is resolved to fulfil the expectations of its founding fathers. This admission is the first step in the right direction.
Khan has rightly begun by identifying the core problem: accountability. “Accountability,” he declared, “will start with me, then my ministers, and then it will go from there.” If Khan succeeds in ensuring accountable and transparent governance, he will achieve the rest without much difficulty. More than seven and a half million Pakistanis living abroad may have the potential to pour a sufficient amount of cash to save the treasury. What Khan needs is to earn their trust -- Amanah -- which is a Qur’anic concept. The Qur’an teaches its followers to internalize the sense of trust and a set of other core values and sincerely put them into practice.
If Khan sets an example starting with himself, followed by his ministers and then the rest of his administration, he will definitely achieve his goal. Unfortunately a key challenge ahead of him in this sense is the so-called Islamists who constantly express their love for Islam by demanding a literal implementation of the Shari’ah and by expressing their love for the Prophet. But despite these “outpourings of love”, they occasionally take the law in their hands and have the audacity of committing murder in the name of honouring the Prophet. On top of these groups, there are extremists who also think that they are serving Islam by indiscriminately killing civilians. If Khan manages to set precedents regarding how Qur’anic values could be put into practice properly, he will not only be able to achieve a great material success but also clarify many misconceptions about Islam both for Muslims and non-Muslims. It always takes time for anyone to gain people’s trust, and Khan will be no exception.
Again, analysts and experts are predicting that the new government will need an immediate cash flow in order to run the administration, and Pakistan again has to seek loan from the IMF, which it has done many times before. Pakistan is reported to have taken a huge loan from China in recent years as well. Khan could perhaps get a lesson on the subject from Malaysia’s Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, who last week renegotiated the terms of a loan from China. Dr. Mohammad enjoys the reputation of saving the Malaysian economy during the 1997-1998 financial crises.
Khan’s rhetoric about corruption investigations sometimes makes me nervous. Not that I approve of the corrupt practices of the two previous governments in Pakistan; what I am afraid of is that it may distract the attention of the new administration. Along with addressing economic and financial problems, primary attention should be focused on the so-called “clash of civilizations” thesis. Old Islamophobic elements have cultivated the thesis in a new form following the Cold War scenario in international politics. Unfortunately, many Muslims, particularly the extremists, still seem to believe in its validity. Khan, thanks to his positive image with the British aristocracy, is in a very good position to counter this thesis. Since he is interested in reviving Jinnah’s Pakistan, he should perhaps consider extending an olive branch to Bangladesh, which was once part of Jinnah’s Pakistan.
In simple terms, Khan should go slowly but steadily. The hope that he has generated among the youth is amazing, and he needs to maintain that optimism. Khan has the potential to achieve Iqbal and Jinnah’s Pakistan and represents the Ummah (the global community of Muslims) positively to humanity at large.