Jinnah’s Pakistan

By Ziyad Faisal for The Friday Times

When a suicide-bomber targets a market-place, a rabid Islamist kills a figure who is not pious enough or Independence Day comes, we are reminded of the psychosis of the Pakistani state. We are reminded that in addition to shaky material foundations, the Pakistani state rests upon highly flimsy and contested ideological grounds. At such times, there is almost always a chorus from the literate urban middle-classes of the country: they want “Jinnah’s Pakistan”. For the more conservative sections of our urban middle-class, the Pakistan they long for is the “laboratory” which Jinnah claimed he sought, to implement Islamic values. For the more liberal sections of the urban middle-class, the Pakistan they want was described by a secular Jinnah in his speech on August 11, 1947. The more perceptive reader will already realize that while every historical figure can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, if a single leader can be held up by secularists, conservatives, nationalists and Islamists alike, perhaps the leader himself was not so sure about certain things.

But what exactly was Mr Jinnah’s own vision for Pakistan, and how did it interact with the nature of the Pakistan Movement and the realities of post-1947 Pakistan? To understand the yearning for “Quaid-e-Azam ka Pakistan”, one must look at the founding myths of Pakistan and Jinnah’s place therein.

Almost any child who goes to school in Pakistan learns a certain story. The story involves a young man, burning the proverbial midnight oil as he studied at night, trying to shield the light he was using with cardboard sheets, so as not to disturb his siblings. When asked by his sister as to why he would not simply go to bed, he said something along the lines of how important this hard work was, for him to become a great man. The Pakistani reader will recognize immediately the young man we are talking about: the Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Most modern nation-states actively propagate their foundational myths: based on a kernel of truth but embellished greatly with fantasy, exaggeration and historical omissions. It is only natural that such myths centre around the integrity, heroism or ambition of one or more “founding fathers” who were instrumental in creating the state it in its modern, institutional form. So, for instance, Israel has its Bar Kochba and its Ben Gurion. Turkey has its Attaturk leading the fight for independence from barren Anatolia. The United States has its George Washington, who supposedly would not lie to his father about cutting a cherry tree, even as a boy. Latin American countries have their Simon Bolivar, Italy has its Garibaldi, Ireland has its Michael Collins. The Indian state has its own pantheon of founding fathers, from Asoka to the Rani of Jhansi, all the way down to Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. Even Saudi Arabia has its epic tale of Bedouin raiders from the sand-dunes of Najd turning into majestic kings and defenders of the Holy Kaabah.

As for the foundational myths of Pakistan, let us bear in mind the following: every modern nation-state is ultimately a very artificial social construct, and the more artificial a state, the more artificial its founding myths.

And what is the Pakistani child taught about the founding fathers of the country? Well, if we put aside the valuable nation-building efforts of Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud of Ghazni, what we are left with is essentially Allama Muhammad Iqbal and, of course, the Quaid-e-Azam. Iqbal, as a brilliant poet and an aspiring philosopher, who dreamt of Pakistan. Mr Jinnah, the great political leader who brought this vision to fruition. Such is the clichéd narrative we are given.

In that famous story about the hard-working youthful Jinnah, the Pakistani student is being taught that a boy in his mid-to-late teens had already within him a young Quaid-e-Azam: the Great Leader. He would go on to study the legal system of the British colonialists, gain the respect of the British and the adulation of the Muslim masses of South Asia and eventually this epic tale culminates in the heroic Muslim League’s achievements of Partition and its accompanying bloodbath.

The historical record suggests that the budding Leader was not exactly convinced about the need for communal Muslim politics until at least the early 1920s. He was, after all, the chief architect of the Lucknow Pact of 1916: the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” as Sarojni Naidu famously described him. Even as late as 1946, Jinnah as a practical politician could entertain the possibility of some sort of compromise with the Congress leadership and the British. The Muslim League leadership would have been satisfied with adequate guarantees of limited autonomy for Muslim-majority regions of Punjab, Sindh and Bengal. The Pashtun leaders of the north-western Frontier, of course, were not to be taken on board, because their loyalty to the Congress amounted to some sort of treachery. As for the Baloch, one imagines, it was assumed that they need not be considered in any calculations: they would somehow automatically be convinced to join the new nation-state and forget centuries of distinct history.

The Muslim League itself, founded in 1905-06 by disinherited and disgruntled members of the former Muslim elite of South Asia, was not committed to mass politics or independence from British rule – and certainly not an independent Pakistan. Unlike the populist appeals of Congress leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and others, the Muslim League’s political programme was for a long time directed towards the Aligarh-educated ex-nobility among Muslims. In the 1940s, were it not for a last-minute alliance with Muslim feudal lords in Punjab and some urban elements from Sindh, the Muslim League could never have mustered the political resources to make their demand for an independent Pakistan into a reality.

Conservative nationalists and Islamists in Pakistan are likely to be disappointed by the real Mr Jinnah. He was an intelligent, British-educated barrister, and had little time for the discourse of village mullahs. Steeped in the traditions of British liberalism, Jinnah could bring only a tiny minority of the Muslim clergy to his side even in the 1940s. It is obvious that he was looking for some form of constitutional liberal democracy, no matter how inspiring the pan-Islamic yearnings of Allama Iqbal might have been.

But perhaps our secular liberals are even more likely to be disappointed, notwithstanding the fact that Mr Jinnah laid out a set of principles for a secular Pakistani state in his speech to our first Constituent Assembly, on the 11th of August, 1947. To quote his memorable words on that occasion:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. “

While these are admirable sentiments, perhaps we can be forgiven for pointing out the glaring contradiction here. If a citizen’s religion is not the business of the state, how does one explain the creation of Pakistan as a separate state? If it were not differences in religion with the Hindus and other religious communities of India, what else was it that motivated the Muslim League to demand Pakistan?

Allow me go one step further and remind the reader of the many occasions on which Mr Jinnah invoked Islamic rhetoric in his various speeches to justify the idea of Pakistan. With apologies beforehand, allow me to recall that it was the same Mr Jinnah who would not accept his daughter marrying a non-Muslim man, even though he himself had married a non-Muslim woman. One is reminded of the typical mindset of the contemporary Pakistani Muslim father or brother.

For years, Mr Jinnah brilliantly argued for federal autonomy in Muslim-majority provinces…until Partition happened and the Pashtuns, Bengalis, Baloch and other nationalities within Pakistan demanded the same autonomy. For years, Mr Jinnah pointed out the distinct cultural identity of South Asian Muslims…until Partition happened and Bengalis asked for their language to be given the status of a national language. Urdu and Urdu alone, Mr Jinnah firmly reminded them.

I understand that quite a few readers ought to be exasperated by now. What am I trying to say? What exactly was Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Was he socially liberal or conservative? Was he secular or not? What future did he envision for Pakistan?

The historical record shows that Mr Jinnah was himself has given us adequate arguments for just about any side we choose. Despite the personal integrity, intelligence and political skill of Mr Jinnah, it has to be recognized that the Muslim League was not exactly what it claimed to be. It was supposed to speak for the Muslims of South Asia, but its actual representative credentials were not very credible, even in the “moth-eaten and truncated” (to quote Mr Jinnah) Pakistan of 1947.

To limit ourselves to an imagined version of what Mr Jinnah wanted would mean limiting our political vision and perhaps the very frontiers of our political morality.

What sort of Pakistan does the hari from Sindh want? What sort of Pakistan does the silenced rape victim want? What sort of Pakistan does the tortured body of the young Baloch student want? What sort of Pakistan does the textile worker from Faisalabad want, considering he is paid some 6000 rupees a month? What sort of Pakistan does the terrified Ahmadi want? What sort of Pakistan do you want? What sort of Pakistan do I want?

You see, perhaps the real question is not what our founding father(s) wanted, but what today’s unfortunate Pakistanis want.

Perhaps it is time to consider a possibility: that the laboratory for implementing Islamic teachings was created, and the experiment went horribly wrong. And perhaps it is time to consider another possibility: given the many different interpretations which Mr Jinnah left himself open to, might we be forgiven for concluding that this is it? That this, where we live today, is Jinnah’s Pakistan in all its glory?

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  1. September 9th, 2011

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