Can we afford to bypass Jinnah’s Pakistan?

Published today by Jinnah Institute, Islamabad:

Notwithstanding the contradictions inherent to pre-1947 Muslim politics, Jinnah was clear about certain fundamentals. Pakistan was to be a secular, democratic state. It was not destined to be a national-security obsessed and a paranoid military-intelligence complex.

Pakistan was to be a federation and Jinnah’s advocacy in the 1930s and 1940s was majorly focused on achieving a de-centralized governance paradigm. Finally, the new state was envisioned as a peaceful country, which would interact and establish relations with its neighbour India following the US-Canada model. Jinnah indicated that he would not mind settling down in his native city Bombay after his retirement. All of these facts are on public record and not fantastic or imagined tenets of his vision. What was so alarming about Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan that had to be virtually undone by the custodians of a Praetorian state? Not unlike Pakistan’s history, Jinnah’s legacy is a contested and fractured narrative.

After successive victories, the right wing of Pakistan won a significant battle under General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) when it officially established the “ideology of Pakistan”. However this victory was not limited to official pronouncements but significant institutional changes were also effected to achieve a colonial archetype from South Asian history i.e. a “permanent settlement of ideological contours. Lord Cornwallis may have undertaken such a settlement for Bengal’s fertile land but Pakistan’s education system, the media and the public discourse finally declared such a settlement as the sacred “truth”.

This sacred “truth” nullified Jinnah’s vision and historic struggles to achieve a fair deal for the Muslims of India, which had culminated in the creation of a truncated and “moth-eaten” Pakistan.

In terms of domestic governance of the new polity, Jinnah’s speeches to civil servants, firm advice to military officers and even to some of his errant politician colleagues were clear. The bureaucracy and the Army had to operate within the legal boundaries and a new direction for the post-colonial state had to be negotiated without undermining the rule of law and the imperative of creating a citizen-responsive state. To the military men Jinnah said the following in June 1948: I should like you to study the constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present and understand its true constitutional and legal implications. And, to the civil service, his message was clear in early 1948: You do not belong to the ruling class; you belong to the servants. Make the people feel that you are their servants and friends, maintain the highest standard of honor, integrity, justice and fair-play. If you do that, people will have confidence and trust in you and will look upon you as friends and well wishers.

So how did we fare after Jinnah’s untimely death in September 1948? We abandoned the goal of a secular-democratic state guaranteeing its minorities full rights with the introduction of the Objectives Resolution in 1949. This odious legal instrument became the nightmare for every constitutional draft for its vagueness and appeasement of theocratic urges had to be willy-nilly reconciled with any democratic framework. The final nail in the secular coffin came in the shape of making the Objectives Resolution an operative part of the Constitution in 1985 via Article 2-A, which today is allowing for dragging religion into everyday governance and enabling the right-wing legal profession and jurists to abuse it with impunity.

After Jinnah, the abandonment of the democratic project and the hegemony of the unelected institutions of state meant that an enemy was required to justify the existence of a military empire; and to provide it a permanent political role. In the process, we lost the Eastern wing, which reacted to military diktat and revolted against an unjust army action in 1971. By the 1980s, hating and fighting this enemy, i.e. India was not a just a nationalistic endeavour but a religious obligation, when the state adopted a particularistic interpretation of “jihad” as an official policy. This was necessary for the sustenance of General Zia-ul-Haq’s long rule as well as Pakistan’s profitable role as a frontline state in the anti-communist war in Afghanistan. Thus the jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan and its subsequent export to other locations across the globe were well thought out and calculated strategic shifts. The ruling elites had all but destroyed Jinnah’s Pakistan. The only thing that could not be transformed in such a short time was the diversity, pluralism and essentially secular versions of lived Islam at the subaltern level. Perhaps this is the reason why Pakistan continues to survive as a viable and vibrant society, which has the capability to muster its social capital and community networks in times of serious adversity, and continue to move on. Nevertheless the un-Jinnah definition of Pakistan has gained traction, as the school system, madrassah-mosque networks and a public discourse laden with enemy-conspiracies and lies have indoctrinated two generations of Pakistanis. The average Pakistani mind today is hostage to the perennial paranoia about the un-doing of its ideological framework, protected by an arsenal of nuclear warheads and the strategic Jihadi assets, which can provide a perverse sense of national honour by wreaking havoc in the eastern and western neighbourhoods.

In such a context, economic growth, social justice and equal opportunity have been relegated to the domain of rhetoric and good intentions. The only time the political discourse veered away from national security was under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, where an agenda for social change became a plank for public mobilization and state policy. However, this was short-lived partly due to Bhutto’s indulgence of the national security institutions and partly because the military could not allow the evolution of alternative narratives of the state.

Therefore, Pakistan reverted to its original type in 1977: a paranoid and militant national-security state. In the three decades that followed Bhutto’s judicial murder in 1979, Pakistan was governed directly by the military for two decades and indirectly for a decade. These decades were perhaps the most damaging for they witnessed the rise of Islamism and sectarianism, and worsened relations with India. Alongside these structural shifts, centralization of power and repression of sub-national political aspirations took place, thereby turning Pakistan into an ungovernable and unworkable federation. It is only in recent years that the political elites of Pakistan have, through consensus, attempted to re-align Pakistan to a more federal complexion through 18th amendment to the Constitution, which provides a radical departure from the abominable trends of centralization of power. However, the greater challenge faced by the civil and military rulers of Pakistan holds the key to the country’s survival.

This challenge comprises the following: the educational system and the madrassah networks, the black laws introduced by the military under General Zia-ul-Haq and the primacy of an outdated national security paradigm. The latter is the most complex of the contemporary challenges: however, resolving it would take us closer to the viable state that Jinnah had envisioned in the late 1940s.

The radicalisation of society through the Qadris and al-Qaeda operatives within state institutions and the growing power of sectarian and Islamist militant organizations across the country, contain the seeds of Pakistan’s undoing. Contrary to the Wahabi worldview of Islam as a monolith, Pakistani Muslims are diverse, heterogeneous and steeped in the secular worship traditions of South Asia. These traditions did not emerge in a year or a decade but were formed over a millennium of interaction with the ancient cultures and religions of South Asia. Thus, the tolerant Islam of South Asia practised the art of co-existence and was not shy of finding commonalities rather than emphasizing and ossifying differences. But such inclusiveness and pluralism can only flourish in a secular state with a neutral and professional civil-military bureaucracy that reports to the representatives of the people and allows for negotiation, bargaining and accommodation – hallmarks of a democracy.

August 11 is now turning into the real Independence Day, for this was the day when Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as an official Head of State, laid down clear and unequivocal policy parameters. Naysayers within Pakistan’s liberal chatterati, its leftist minority and the right-wing fascists may exercise their democratic right and contest Jinnah. However, whether there is any other viable alternative to Jinnah Pakistan remains a question. Public debate in Pakistan must not bypass what Jinnah foresaw in a post-colonial Pakistan. Pakistan’s remotest chance of carving out an identity for itself will always, in one way or another, hinge upon Jinnah’s advocacy and vision for the Muslims of India.

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