The writer is the Chairperson of the History Department at Forman Christian College Lahore
Every country’s Independence Day is a defining moment in its history. The events of the day are the culmination of years of struggle and the day hearkens to a new beginning. The same is true for Pakistan, except that we have yet to move on from our ‘1947’ moment. This is not because historians keep writing about it but that in our collective memory, we still have to reconcile with the events of 1947 and move forward. Let me highlight just a few aspects.
First, and here I am utilising the work of Professor Gurharpal Singh — of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London — is the legacy of violence. Since Pakistan was born in violence, violence has become intrinsic to the body politic of the country. Let us not forget that it was not the constitutional brilliance of Mohammad Ali Jinnah which finally convinced the Congress, especially Nehru and Patel, and Mountbatten to agree to a partition, but the deteriorating law and order situation in the Muslim majority provinces, which was directly related to the ‘Direct Action’, called by Jinnah in late 1946. Hence, Pakistan was literally fought for on the streets of Calcutta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, etc. This ‘violence’, which was largely planned, then became so integral to the imagination of the country that since then, both the state and the people have utilised it repeatedly. This is not to say that other countries are not born in violence and bloodshed; they are, but the degree to which this violence has seeped into the mindset of official and public in Pakistan, is destabilising.
Secondly, there is the legacy of intolerance. I have mentioned this earlier in this newspaper, the fact that some Muslims of India claimed that they could not imagine living in an India with a Hindu majority, had at its core, a sense of intolerance. For hundreds of years, Muslims had lorded over an overwhelming Hindu population and it seemed that only a return to that situation was acceptable to them, or at the very least, the acceptance that a minority of 25 per cent was equal to a majority of nearly 70 per cent. Ironically, the democratic system which was so unacceptable to this class of Muslims (and here I remember the millions of Muslims who chose not to come to Pakistan), was the vehicle for the creation of Pakistan. Paradoxically, of course, Pakistan as a modern state was born in a situation where one of the basic principles underlying the modern nation-state — majority rule — was unacceptable to its founders. It is no surprise then that East Pakistanis could not get their right of majority rule.
Thirdly, Pakistan has remained what Liaquat Ali Khan called a ‘laboratory’, where various Islamic principles were to be experimented upon and adjusted with the Western concepts of a modern liberal state — and that is what has been happening ever since. Indeed, it was not an easy task to have a confessional state but without the rule of the clergy. At a time when Western Europe was emerging from such an experiment and moving towards liberal democracy, Pakistan was embarking upon this experiment in the Muslim context. We are still reeling from some such ‘experiments’.
Professor Ayesha Jalal has shown how, when Pakistan was created, there was a great sense of ownership among the people of the new state. People routinely commented that ‘such a thing’ did not happen in Pakistan any longer. While this sense of ownership was constructive to a certain extent, it also translated into self-righteousness and bigotry, which prevented constructive criticism and development. For example, it was rather fantastic that during the debate on separate electorates some Muslims in the constituent assembly argued that they were there to safeguard the ‘right of the minorities’ whereas all minority members were united in opposing them. The irony was certainly lost on them.
Sixty-five years ago, Pakistan was born in unprecedented circumstances and with a lot of baggage. Years later, we are still suffering from the same issues — the problems highlighted in Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech are still very much present. Perhaps, it is time that we do not ignore the issues of the past, honestly deal with them in the present, so that we can, finally, emerge from being a laboratory experiment to a real country and nation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2012.