- Posted July 30, 2014 by
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The written word: Your personal essays
The Enigma of Pakistan
So far, they have been very successful in achieving this target because Pakistan has not only retained its religious label but has also become much more conservative than it was in 1947, when it was carved out of India.
In the 1980s, the Afghan war provided this lobby the opportunity to acquire weapons, military training and international patronage to fight the Russians. After 1989, when the Soviets left Afghanistan, the religious lobby decided to use their Afghan experience for turning Pakistan into a religious state. And they did receive a lot of support from the country’s civil and military establishment who wanted to use this lobby to achieve their foreign policy objectives.
Pakistan indeed was turned into a large laboratory where militant groups from all over the Islamic world were brought together, initially with support from the US and its Arab allies, to do all sorts of experiments with the country.
This exercise brought forth Taliban militants, who initially received guidance from the Pakistani establishment, but soon turned against them as well. The plan was to use the Islamist militants for creating the so-called strategic depth by bringing Afghanistan on Pakistan’s side in a possible conflict with India. This target was never achieved but the militants did become an existential threat to the Pakistani state.
They have already killed tens of thousands of people, including six thousand soldiers, and have proved on dozens of occasions that they can hit any target inside Pakistan, whenever they want. This forced the Pakistani military to launch a major offensive against the Taliban in the country’s tribal region. The military has forced them to retreat to their hideouts, both in Afghanistan and inside Pakistan. It is still not clear if they have been finally defeated or will re-emerge from their hideouts to shed more blood.
But the Taliban are not the real cause of Pakistan’s identity crisis. They are just a symptom. The real cause is the very slogan that is still chanted in Pakistan’s streets: Pakistan ka matlab kya? Those gleefully chanting this slogan do not realize that their effort to strengthen the country’s religious identity also creates doubts about the very existence of the country. In their effort to impose their views on the people, they have prevented Pakistan from moving ahead. They argue that first it should be decided why Pakistan was created. The country should focus on other issues only after resolving this basic issue. It is like buying a car for the family and then refusing to drive it until it is decided what was it bought for: taking the earning members to work? driving children to school? doing grocery or for visiting friends? The answer is clear, a car can serve all these groups but to do so, the owners first need to start driving it.
Unfortunately, the religious right in Pakistan refuses to allow any one to start driving this car until it is decided Pakistan ka matlab kya. Pakistan, like most other countries, has a religious right, liberals, socialists and the seculars who want to separate state from religion. In democracy, no group or individual is in power forever. You can have a government led by the religious right, as it happened in India this year. It can then go to the liberals, the socialists or social conservatives, whoever the people vote for. Each group has the right to implement whatever system it wants, while in power, as others have the right to oppose that system. This is the purpose of the opposition in a democratic system.
The Pakistan ideology is in reality the saga of a grand concoction. In democracy, it is wrong to ask the purpose behind creating a state. The purpose is clear. A state is created to provide a space for a group, large or small, to live within particular geographical boundaries. Once this target is achieved, the state then goes about providing stability, security and economic opportunities for this population to live peacefully and prosper.
The ideological engines behind nation-states that are fueled by a mixture of both real and imagined perceptions about a people’s history have, on many occasions, pushed groups of people (nations) to achieve some stunning economic, political, sporting and cultural feats. However, the same engines have sometimes also been responsible for generating feelings of chest-thumping racial and ethnic superiority and paranoia that have led to genocidal violence and discrimination against those considered to be inferior or treacherous or unable to be pigeon-holed into the concepts of nationhood constructed by a nation-state.
A majority of nation-states in the world are products of the 20th century. Compared to most European nation-states, they are still toddlers. Whereas the ethnic, religious and cultural homogeneity of many of these states have helped them to rapidly turn their respective nation-states into cohesive political and cultural wholes; there are many ‘new nation-states’ that are still struggling in this context.
When people begin to identify themselves as Pakistanis first, the watered down concept of nationhood will finally shape the way it should have done much earlier. Pakistan is one such ‘new nation-state.’ Merely 67 years old, its state, governments, ideologues and intelligentsia have largely failed to develop and evolve a cohesive concept of Pakistani nationhood that enjoys a widespread consensus.
In certain incidents of desperation the state has often tried to bulldoze through and impose particular ideas of Pakistani nationhood that have ended up actually offending and upsetting large sections of the Pakistani society, creating a number of ethnic, religious and sectarian fissures. The imposition in this regard was done by both the establishment (during military dictatorships) as well through the Constitution (during democratic governments); and yet there is still no one idea of Pakistani nationhood that is acceptable to at least the majority of Pakistanis.
The problem may lie in the ambiguity that still surrounds the idea of the ‘Pakistan Movement’ — a mid-20th century cluster of political and intellectual activity led by Muslim nationalists in undivided India. These men and women, led by a brilliant and cultivated lawyer, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, worked towards creating a separate nation-state for the Muslims of India. Though they were successful in doing so, the vibrant political and intellectual ingenuity and energy that had successfully carved out a Muslim nation-state in the region, suddenly started to seem exhausted and almost entirely devoid of any fruitful imagination after the creation of the desired nation-state.
Pakistan was never a homogeneous society. Though a majority of its citizens were Muslim, they were made up of several sects and sub-sects. Then there was also the question of it having various distinct ethnicity (and languages): Punjabis, Sindhis, Bengalis, Baloch, Pakhtun, Saraiki, Gujrati, Mohajirs. It also had a number of ‘minority’ religions (Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Zoroastrian). But instead of building a cohesive nationhood on the shared history of a diverse group of people coming together to create a brand new post-Colonial nation-state, the state of Pakistan spent too much time navel-gazing about certain theological abstractions to define the ‘Muslimness’ of the new country.
This meant nothing, really. But within the next 30 years, the abstract and ill-defined ‘Muslimness’ eventually mutated to mean something ‘Islamic’ (but not necessarily Pakistani).The people of this state have the right to vote for, and bring into power, whoever they think can best serve their interests. If they fail to satisfy them, they can, and should be, shown the door in the next elections, not before as it is often done in Pakistan. It is the duty of those who want to serve the people to show what the purpose of the system they advocate is, and how they want to achieve that goal. So the right question would be to ask these groups what is the purpose of the system that they want to implement. And not Pakistan ka matlab kya.?
“Neither the Muslim League Working Committee nor I ever passed a resolution [called] 'Pakistan ka matlab kya' — you may have used it to catch a few votes,” said Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah when a Muslim Leaguer chanted this slogan at the last session of the All India Muslim League. Unfortunately, the slogan-monger prevailed over Jinnah.
Those who believe in this slogan now dominate Pakistan. Those who remember what Jinnah said on this or other occasions can be counted on fingers. Pakistan was carved out of India because the Muslims of the subcontinent demanded a separate land for themselves. They did so because they felt that an early exposure to Western education and British patronage had put India’s Hindu majority well ahead of them. They could not compete with them in a united India.
The Pakistan Ideology: History of a grand concoction
The leaders of the political movement that led to the creation of Pakistan were secular Muslims, who appeared more interested in creating a British parliamentary democracy than an Islamic state. Most of those who could have had a desire to create an Islamic state, the subcontinent’s Muslim clerics, were against the creation of Pakistan. This, however, did not prevent the same clerics from trying to convert Pakistan into an Islamic state once it was created.
The effort to forge a single religious identity out of half a dozen ethnic groups, each having a distinct language and culture, had the consequences that all such efforts do. Whether Jinnah wanted an Islamic state or not, however, is now irrelevant. Islam is the state religion and it is written in the Constitution.
The army has been trusted with the job of protecting the country’s ideological frontiers, along with the real borders. As Pakistan’s brief history shows, the army always invoked the holy task whenever it toppled an elected government, and rightly so; the constitution indeed gives the army the responsibility of defending both Pakistan and Islam. But has this constitutional Islam helped Pakistan? Apparently, not.
Just seven months after Partition, it became clear that Islam was not enough for some of the Muslims of this state. They wanted more. The first threat to the new Islamic republic came from its most vulnerable point, the former East Pakistan. The Bengali Muslims, who once backed the Pakistan movement to end Hindu domination, soon felt that the new state was challenging their very identity as Bengalis.
Pakistan became independent on Aug. 14, 1947, and on March 24, 1948, Jinnah addressed a special convocation at the Dhaka University where he declared that Urdu will be the only national language of Pakistan. The students chanted, “no, no, no,” telling him that they wanted this status for their language, Bangla. On Nov. 27, 1948, a young student Ghulam Azam read the welcome address for Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan when he visited the university. Ghulam Azam reminded Liaquat that they wanted two things, provincial autonomy and Bangla as a state language. This very same Ghulam Azam later founded Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and gained notoriety for his alleged role in war crimes during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. On July 15, 2013, a tribunal sentenced him to 90 years in prison.
The Bangla language movement continued to spread and reached its climax on February 21, 1952, when police killed a student demanding official recognition for their language. On Nov. 17, 1999, UNESCO declared February 21 the 'International Mother Language Day' for the whole world to celebrate.
Political Islam: Rise, fragmentation and possible fall
In 1956, the central government granted official status to the Bengali language but by then it was already too late. After a long and bloody struggle, in 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Bengalis opted out of Pakistan but they remained a Muslim nation. Mosques in Bangladesh have more namazis than those in Pakistan do. Their madrassas produce more scholars — most of them non-jihadis — than those in Pakistan do. The Bangladeshi Tableeghi Jamaat is larger than its Pakistani counterpart. Even religion-based political parties have a larger following in Bangladesh now than they did before 1971.
This contradicts the claim that Islam and Pakistan are inseparable, and that separation from Pakistan also means separation from Islam.
This obsession with linking religion and politics has hurt Pakistan, both internally and externally. Like Bengal, in three of the four remaining provinces — Sindh, KP, and Balochistan — many view this obsession as an excuse for suppressing their own separate ethnic and lingual identities. They also believe that the center uses Islam to prolong its control and to continue the economic exploitation of the smaller provinces.
Externally, other nations — including those in the Muslim world — have always ridiculed Pakistan’s claim that it is the leader of the Islamic ummah. The first nation to ridicule Pakistan’s leadership claims was Egypt, not India. King Farouk of Egypt, who ruled from April 23, 1936 to July 26, 1952, famously snubbed Pakistan’s Islamic pretensions. During a recent visit to Washington, a group of Pakistani journalists were offended when an Arab journalist politely told them that his government had asked him not to mix up with Pakistanis. Asked why, he said: “Most Pakistanis have links with terrorist groups.” Pakistanis living in the West often have similar experiences when they try to befriend people from other Muslim nations. Muslims in other regions – from Egypt to Indonesia and North Africa to Central Asia – equate Pakistan with terrorism, not Islam.
Terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were all Arabs, mostly Saudis or Saudi-inspired, but few blame Saudi Arabia. Pakistan gets the blame because in their eagerness to display their Islamic credentials, many Pakistanis openly express their sympathies with these jihadi groups.
Political Islam: Why militants now symbolize Muslims
During the Afghan war, Pakistan foolishly allowed terrorists of all ilk and color to settle in the country, practice jihad and train local jihadis. By 1990s, the country had tens of thousands of hardened jihadis and soon they became so powerful that they started dictating their terms to their Pakistani handlers.
So far, more than 50,000 civilians and 6,000 Pakistani troops have been killed by these jihadis. Some of them have been mercilessly slaughtered like sheep upon capture. Other victims have been blown to pieces by suicide-bombers eager to join the company of virgins waiting for them in heaven. Pakistan has now launched a major military offensive to defeat the jihadi militants, but many across the world still doubt its sincerity because of the country’s past affiliations with these groups.
Militant Islam has succeeded in not only making Pakistan an international Pariah, but has succeeded in giving Islam a bad name. In fact Militant Islam is a misnomer.Islam is supposed to be a religion of Peace, charity kindness, forgiveness and all such. Even a die hard enemy of Islam could not have succeeded in giving Islam such a bad name as much as those so called upholders of Islam have. Killing and eliminating those who do not subscribe to your views, is definitely not Islam. It is better to bury ones differences than one another instead
The time has come for Pakistan to break up its ties to these groups and learn to live as an independent, secular, and honorable nation. This does not involve severing ties to Islam. Even as a secular state, Pakistan will remain a Muslim nation, as most other Muslim states do. Pakistanis can still be proud of the Islamic heritage without any ties to the religious militancy that the world has come to associate Pakistan with.