Revisiting Pakistan’s foundation 70 years later
by Abdullahil Ahsan
Pakistan celebrated its 70th birthday amid many commentaries and documentaries on the subject appearing in international press. A friend of mine drew attention to a Japan Times article entitled “Pakistan’s creation — a mistake?” (also published in Cyprus Mail Online) by a Canadian journalist. With almost 30 percent Muslims, perhaps “(An undivided) India could never have ended up with a sectarian Hindu nationalist like Narendra Modi as prime minister,” the author opines. “If the Hindu majority haven’t massacred the 190 million Muslims of today’s India, then how were they going to massacre the 530 million Muslims of an undivided India?” the author asks.
These are, of course, valid observations by any student of history. Interestingly, although he holds the view that Gandhi, India’s founding father, was “a profoundly sectarian Hindu leader,” he fails to understand why Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, abandoned his idea of Hindu-Muslim unity.
The London-based Economist, with a special report entitled “Seventy years of Indo-Pakistani enmity”, also deals with the subject. Again interestingly, although the report says “in the initial division of spoils, India got more of the money,” it fails to explain what it means by spoils. Is the report referring to Pakistan’s share from the British Indian government’s treasury? Pakistan was supposed to receive 550 million rupees under the Indian Independence Act, but India never fulfilled its commitment and Britain did not put any pressure on India concerning the matter. However, the article reaches a conclusion saying, “Bolstered by continued American support, the Pakistani army has been free to indulge its obsession with India ever since.” The report clearly holds Pakistan responsible for what it calls enmity between the two nuclear rivals.
Both articles indicate Pakistan’s international image crisis. Many commentators do not hesitate to depict Pakistan as a failed state: Googling the subject, one finds many articles and YouTube videos on the subject. For many, therefore, the question whether the emergence of Pakistan on the world map was a mistake is relevant. But why are such questions being raised now? What went wrong in Pakistan?
Demand for Pakistan
The idea of Pakistan is said to have been conceived by the renowned poet-philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1938). In his speech made in 1930, Iqbal proposed and elaborated his ideas which later laid down the foundation for the demand for Pakistan. His main concern seems to have been the status of Muslims in India and the potential role of divine guidance in political governance. He began the speech by highlighting the need for ethical ideals for governing societies and by analyzing the fate of Europe under the impact of German theology professor Martin Luther’s reform movement. Although Luther’s intention was not to reduce the impact of Christianity in Europe, his movement culminated with the Treaty of Westphalia, which eventually not only divided Europe into many nation-states but also deprived Europe of the universality of Christianity. Motivated by nation-state interests and racial hatred supported by social Darwinism, Europeans encountered complete devastation in the form of two world wars in the 20th century. As for Iqbal, he was concerned about the effects of the caste-ridden, Congress-led European-style Indian nationalism on Indians, in general, and on Indian Muslims, in particular. Although Muslims contributed to India’s growth and prosperity for a thousand years, they received little recognition for this from the Congress leaders. Iqbal, therefore, proposed a state with Muslim-majority areas in the northwest of India, where, he believed, Islam’s universal ideas would provide guiding principles for governance which, perhaps, could serve as a model for the rest of mankind. Compromising with the contemporary world politics dominated by European ideas, this view was called “Muslim nationalism”, although Iqbal barely endorsed the idea of nationalism that was shaping Europe during his time.
Unfortunately, historians have termed the demand for Pakistan as “Muslim separatism”. In reality what Iqbal wanted was to safeguard universal human values and dignity from India’s caste-driven nationalist social system. He was only envisioning an India where everybody’s dignity would be respected, and believed an independent Muslim state could become a model for peace and prosperity not only for the rest of India but for the whole of mankind.
Iqbal’s vision was then taken up by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1875-1948), a lawyer by training who came to be known for his political activism. Jinnah used to be known as the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” and as a member of the Indian National Congress, he worked enthusiastically to visualize an independent democratic India. But later he became frustrated with the hypocrisy of the Congress leadership. At one stage, he became extremely frustrated with all of the political leaders in India and left for London. But following Iqbal’s vision and persuasion of many, he returned to India to assume the leadership of All India Muslim League. He was able to translate British India’s realities on the ground into ideas and framed a theoretical framework for Pakistan in what became known as the “Two-Nation Theory”. He succeeded in achieving his goal within two decades. Jinnah was convinced of the potentials of Islam’s universal teachings. In reply to the suggestion of Lord Mountbatten that Pakistan find a system of governance in the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s legacy, Jinnah reminded the last viceroy of British India that the tolerance shown to non-Muslims by Muslim rulers goes way back to the time of Prophet Muhammad. He vowed that the same humane principles would be followed and practiced in the newly-created state of Pakistan. But, unfortunately, far from Iqbal and Jinnah’s vision, Pakistan ended up as just another nation-state promoting what its leaders called “national interests”. But again, the question arises as to what went wrong in Pakistan.
Interestingly, although both Iqbal and Jinnah emphasized the Islamic teaching about universal humanity as opposed to India’s caste-ridden perceived “democracy,” a controversy that has emerged in Pakistan is whether or not Jinnah was a secular or Islamic leader. A constitutional making process began in the Constituent Assembly, and Jinnah appointed Jogindra Nath Mandal (1904-1968), a member of the Hindu Dalit community from East Bengal, as the law minister of the newly independent Pakistan. Jinnah knew very well that the Dalits in India also suffered the same fate as Muslims from the Hindu caste system and Mandal was impressed by Islam’s idea of human dignity. Earlier Jinnah had nominated Mandal to the Indian Constituent Assembly to represent All India Muslim League. Why did Jinnah do this? Why did he appoint a Hindu as Pakistan’s law minister? Could Mandal be a catalyst in framing laws for Pakistan based on pure Islamic principles? Another interesting point is, Jinnah also selected Muhammad Asad (1900-1992), an Austrian revert, to represent Pakistan at the United Nations. Jinnah seems to have been committed to universal humanism beyond narrow nationalism, regionalism and religious factionalism of his day. He knew very well that the Quran allows individuals to retain their faith and be to be partners in any civil society. Earlier Jinnah had demonstrated such universality on political issues when he negotiated the Lucknow Pact of 1916, which was endorsed both by the Indian National Congress and All India Muslim League. But within years, the Indian National Congress abandoned its commitment to the 1916 Pact. This and other similar experiences convinced Jinnah that the Congress was only committed to Hindu rights, not to universal human rights. But then the question arises as to why Pakistan failed to follow the ideals of the accommodation of human rights in framing its own constitution.
Pakistan’s constitution-making process began after the death of Jinnah in September 1948 with the passing of the Objectives Resolution in 1949, which laid down the foundation of the country’s first constitution. The framers of the Objectives Resolution succeeded in garnering support from all Muslim sects in Pakistan. Even the Hindu Law Minister J. N. Mandal had endorsed the resolution, and Justice A. R. Cornelius, a practicing Catholic and the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court who served as law secretary to the first law minister of Pakistan and the country’s first prime minister, also endorsed it. The constitution was finalized and adopted in 1956.
But even before the constitution was tabled at the Constituent Assembly, the bureaucrats and judiciary staged a “constitutional coup” and dismissed the prime minister even though the latter had enjoyed majority support in the assembly.
Jinnah had encountered enormous difficulty in running the daily affairs of the state during the short time he was alive after the birth of the state on Aug. 14, 1947. Pakistan inherited no established secretariat for administration. He had relied heavily on the civilian bureaucracy trained by the British. He was also aware of the fact that Indian leaders not only refused to deliver Pakistan’s share of the British-Indian government’s treasury, they were also conspiring to dismember Pakistan. Bureaucrats were the first to betray Iqbal and Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. Malik Ghulam Muhammad, a civil servant and the third governor general of Pakistan, began conspiring against the political establishment, and with the support of Justice Muhammad Munir, dismissed the prime minister and created a political crisis in Pakistan. Sincere and committed politicians and civil servants were marginalized. Prominent members of the non-Muslim community such as J.N. Mandal resigned in early 1950s and migrated to India. Only A.R. Cornelius continued to defend the 1956 constitution and died in Pakistan in 1991.
Today, it is important to remember the early debacle because the Supreme Court of Pakistan has again unseated a sitting prime minister; there is every possibility of political instability in Pakistan in the coming years. Is the court really addressing the question of corruption or is it simply trying to get rid of certain politicians from Pakistani politics?
Rise of extremism
Nobody can overlook the emergence of extremism in Pakistani politics particularly since the Afghan war of the 1980s. However, one must note that, although international press would like to depict the nature of extremism in Pakistan as religious, it has not always been the case. In Karachi and Balochistan, extremists are motivated by ethnicity and racism, in other parts it is in the name of religion. These activities have intensified since the installation of civilian governments in the 1990s, which were accused of rampant corruption. With the U.S. military intervention in neighboring Afghanistan, militancy in Pakistan has increased immensely. Pakistan, indeed, is in crisis. Many Pakistanis see foreign hands in the rise of extremism in the country. Although there might be some truth to such allegations, blaming others for problems in their homeland will not resolve the crisis.
Numerous articles and YouTube documentaries on Pakistan’s independence have appeared during the past few days in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Fox News and many other international news magazines and online sources. As we have indicated earlier, Pakistan has an image problem. In our view the Pakistanis may ignore this mainly to concentrate on finding the causes of their failure internally. In other words, they have to reconsider Iqbal’s recommendation — in his The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam — that “every Muslim nation must sink into her deeper self, temporarily focus her vision on herself alone.” On the 70th birthday, Pakistanis should seriously contemplate on what has gone wrong in their history. They must ask some serious questions as to whether they would prefer Muslims such as Ghulam Muhammad and Muhammad Munir or non-Muslim admirers of Islam such as J.N. Mandal and A.R. Cornelius. Have the Pakistanis been able to conceptualize Iqbal and Jinnah’s visions? Or do the Pakistanis have the courage to ask whether Iqbal and Jinnah were wrong in conceptualizing the theoretical foundation of Pakistan in the first place?