When religious extremists assassinated Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and Bashir Ahmed Bilour in December 2012, my mind kept going back to what some political thinkers had warned about decades ago. Men, whose warnings were not only ignored but labeled as being treacherous and ‘anti-Pakistan.’
For example, the following is what Sindhi nationalist leader and scholar, G M Syed, said about Pakistan’s future way back in 1953: “In the years to come, Pakistan will not only become a problem for itself, but it will pose a danger to the world.”
More than 50 years ago this man had somehow realised and predicted a future that is currently haunting not only Pakistan but also the world at large.
This was a man articulating a rather breathtaking insight that he had experienced long before Pakistan had become an anarchic dystopia where bread is promised and blood is shed in the name of faith.
But Syed was not the only one in those days casting a pessimistic shadow across the possible future of the newly-founded country. Those who agreed with Syed were various Bengali and Baloch nationalists, along with Pushtun nationalist icon, Bacha Khan.
Very early on these Sindhi, Pushtun, Baloch and Bengali nationalists and thinkers had started to raise an alarm about the cosmetic nature of what was beginning to be devised by the state as the ‘Pakistan ideology’ – even though this term was never used by the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah and would only come into play in the 1960s.
The trigger was the 1949 Objectives Resolution initiated by the government of Liaquat Ali Khan, and which, for the first time, described Islam to be the binding force of the young nation.
Men like Syed and other ethnic-nationalists correctly saw through the maneuver and explained it as the beginnings of a process that they feared the ruling elite would exploit in its attempt to suppress the country’s multicultural and multiethnic make-up.
They thought that with the Resolution the state was creating an illusion to counter a reality that it did not fancy.
The awkward reality was that Pakistan was not exactly a single nation with a single language. It was a diverse country with multiple ethnicities, religions, Muslim sects and sub-sects.
Each one of these had their own literature, language, culture and interpretation of faith, society and history.
The illusion naturally went the other way by describing Pakistan to be homogenous nation-state with a monolithic strain of faith that would cut through the ethnic and sectarian diversities. These were described by the state as being dangerous cleavages that could tear the young country apart.
The ruling elite began seeing these diversities as divides and an existentialist and political threat to the country.
It is interesting to note that there is little or no evidence to suggest that there was ever a concrete plan to immediately turn Pakistan into an Islamic republic or state.
However, when agitation by Bengali nationalists in former East Pakistan over the issue of making Urdu the national language broke out, instead of democratically addressing the issue, this suddenly prompted the government to officially introduce certain theocratic declarations in the 1949 Objectives Resolution.
Even though these declarations were no more than an eye-wash and the Pakistani leadership and society remained largely secular in orientation, men like G M Syed and Bacha Khan were quick to sight a dangerous trend. To them the ruling elite was now willing to use religion to suppress centuries-old ethnic identities of the Sindhis, Pushtuns, Bengalis and the Baloch. They saw these identities being forcefully replaced with a cosmetic and monolithic ideology based on the state’s ‘elitist’ understanding of Islam and nationhood.
Over the decades, the governments and the ‘establishment’ of Pakistan painstakingly constructed this supposed ideology, so much so that (ever since the 1980s) it eventually started being used by intelligence agencies, politico-religious parties, and some media personnel to actually justify the folly of the Pakistan state and military patronising brutal Islamist outfits.
‘But wasn’t Pakistan made in the name of Islam?’ They would (and still) retort.
Until about the late 1960s it was fair to suggest that Pakistan as an idea was carved out as a country for the Muslims of the subcontinent who were largely seen (by Jinnah), as a distinct cultural set of Indians whose political and cultural distinctiveness might have been compromised in a post-colonial ‘Hindu-dominated’ India.
As Jinnah went about explaining his vision of what Pakistan was supposed to mean, there are no doubts about the historical validity of the notion that he imagined the new country as a cultural haven for the Muslims of the subcontinent where the state and religion would remain separate, but driven by a form of modern democracy that incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality and interfaith harmony.
There is also no doubt about Jinnah’s distaste for religious zealots whom he feared would actually harm the ‘Pakistan Movement.’ Maybe this is why some of his most vocal Muslim critics included certain Islamic fundamentalist parties.
However, in spite of the fact that a number of speeches by Jinnah can be quoted in which he is heard envisioning Pakistan as a progressive and non-theocratic Muslim state, there are, at the same time, examples of speeches by the same man (especially in the former NWFP), where he actually uses terms like Shariah and Islamic state.
No matter how intense the debate between those who saw him as a secular, liberal Muslim and those who claim that he was okay with the idea of Pakistan being turned into a theocratic state, the fact is that we might never really know exactly what it was that Jinnah actually stood for. He died of TB just 13 months after the birth of Pakistan.
Jinnah’s death in 1948 reduced his party the Muslim League from being a dynamic organisation of visionary action, into a rag-tag group of self-serving politicians.
Gone too was the party’s ability to bring into policy the modernist aspects of Jinnah’s otherwise rather undefined vision. The idea of a progressive Muslim country got increasingly muddled and shot down by the same Islamic forces that had opposed the creation of Pakistan and had labeled Jinnah as a ‘Kafir-e-azam’ (leader of infidels).
One such force, the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), went on a rampage in 1953 in Lahore, hungrily overseeing the country’s first major anti-Ahmadi riots.
By then the famous August 1947 speech by Jinnah in which he had underlined the idea of religious freedom in the new country was conveniently forgotten as the ruling elite grappled confusingly with the crises thrown up by the anti-Ahmadi riots.
Though the government crushed the riots, three years later it eventually caved-in to the demands of a handful of vocal Islamic leaders by officially declaring the country as an ‘Islamic Republic’ in the 1956 Constitution.
Misunderstanding Islamist activism to be an expression of mere emotionalism, the ruling elite gave the Islamists a bone to play with in the shape of the Islamic provisions in the 1956 Constitution.
This the government did without bothering to explain to the rest of the people exactly what an Islamic Republic really meant in the Pakistani context – a country comprising of a number of ethnicities, ‘minority religions,’ and distinct Islamic sects.
But was democracy really the answer to the dilemma of the state and government imposing a monolithic idea of faith upon a diverse polity? The truth was that the state’s Islamisation project was actually scrapped and halted under a military dictatorship (Ayub Khan).
Therefore, it is ironic that the second major step towards the Islamisation of politics in Pakistan (after the secular Ayub Khan interlude), was actually taken during a democratically-elected left-liberal regime in the 1970s.
Stung and perplexed by the devastating defeat faced by the Pakistani armed forces in the 1971 war against India, and by the consequent separation of the former East Pakistan (that became the independent state of Bangladesh), the Z A Bhutto/Pakistan Peoples Party regime set about putting into practice its idea of socio-political and economic regeneration of what remained of the country.
This idea eventually saw the regime trying to synthesise socialist and nationalist populism with political Islam.
In 1973, the government invited a number of secular nationalist intellectuals, historians and some Islamic scholars for a conference in Islamabad, asking them to thrash out a more concretely defined and well-rounded version of Pakistan’s ideology that would help the government in salvaging the country’s lost pride.
By the end of the conference, both secular and Islamic intellectuals concluded that Islam should clearly be defined as the core thought in the constitution of Pakistan.
Recommendations were made to promote this core idea through state-owned media, school text books and government policies.
This so-called ‘core idea’ was the answer to the question, ‘how to carve out an identity separate from India?’
If India was secular, then Pakistan had to be Islamic, if for no other reason than to justify the Partition of India in 1947 and the ‘two-nation theory’ that had otherwise all but collapsed after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle.
Pakistan was renamed as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the 1973 Constitution, while in 1974 the Bhutto regime (on the insistence of the religious parties), outlawed the Ahmadis as an Islamic sect.
Furthermore, although the government and society (until about 1977) remained largely secular and modernist, the idea of an Islamic state put forward by the government-sponsored conference ironically turned into a rallying cry for religious parties during their 1977 movement against Bhutto.
While Bhutto (like Anwar Sadat of Egypt) was busy taking to task his largely exaggerated communist, far-left and ethnic-nationalist opponents, religious parties that had been sidelined after the 1970 elections began filling the political and social vacuum created by Bhutto’s strong-arm tactics against leftist student groups, intellectuals, trade unions and Baloch and Pushtun nationalists.
After being badly shaken by the Islamist resurgence that he himself had (albeit indirectly and unwittingly) set into motion, he was heckled all the way to the gallows by the very forces he had tried to appease.
General Ziaul Haq’s reactionary dictatorship that followed Bhutto’s downfall is correctly blamed for finally turning the Pakistani society and politics on its head through controversial laws and propaganda in the name of faith.
But all this was really the result of what that seemingly harmless conference in 1973 had suggested and advocated as an ideology, and the ideas that it gave to the religious forces to regenerate themselves and to a defeated military to revive its taste for state power, this time as ‘saviors of Islam.’
Many years and follies later, and in the midst of unprecedented violence being perpetrated in the name of Islam, Pakistanis today stand more confused and flabbergasted than ever before.
The seeds of the ideological schizophrenia sowed by the 1956 proclamation followed by the disastrous doings of the Bhutto regime in the 1970s, and the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s, have now grown into a crooked tree that only bares delusions and denials as fruit.
As Islamic parties, right-wing historians, military men and reactionary journalists continue to use the mythical and hyperbolic narrative of the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’, and consciously suppress the harrowing truth behind the chaos this so-called ideology has managed to create, a whole generation is growing up to the sound of this cosmetic ideological narrative.
This narrative has continued to alienate not only religious minorities and various ethnicities – (mainly Sindhi, Baloch and now even the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs who were once part of the ruling elite) – it has also created violent tensions within various Muslim sects and sub-sects.
It seems the so-called Islam-centric ideology of Pakistan that began as a reformist project, has gradually regressed to such an extent that even the idea of having an informed debate on the subject has become a taboo. This so-called ideology has become stagnant and now suffers from intellectual decay.
What is the ‘Pakistan Ideology?’
When we look at the salient features of what has been propagated (through various state initiatives, history text books and the media) as ‘Pakistan ideology’ over the decades, the following assertions stand out:
• The idea of a separate Muslim state (Pakistan) emerged to counter a possible post-colonial domination of the Hindu culture and politics in the region.
• Pakistan also came into existence to blunt historical conspiracies by the Hindus to absorb Islam and Muslims into their own belief system.
• The Muslims of Pakistan are a nation in the modern sense of the word. The basis of their nationhood is neither racial, linguistic nor ethnic; rather they are a nation because they belong to the same faith, Islam.
• Pakistanis may share a common history with the peoples of other faiths of the region (especially Hindus), but their faith is more importantly rooted in the history of Islam beyond the sub-continent.
• Since Pakistan came into being to assert the fact that Muslims and Hindus are two different nations, Pakistan should be a state where the Muslims should have an opportunity to live according to their faith and creed based on principles and laws of Islam.
• As a Muslim ideological state it is also the duty of the Pakistani state to defend the interests of other Muslim states and countries.
• Pakistan’s ideological and geographic borders are such that various anti-Islam forces are constantly conspiring against the Pakistani state from within and outside Pakistan.
• Pakistan needs a thorough security apparatus to fend off such forces.
• Such forces constitute countries run by Hindus, Christians, Jewish/Zionist, secular and Communist doctrines (from the outside), as well as groups and individuals propagating distinct ethnic nationalisms (from within).
• Though Pakistan does not recognise sectarian divisions between Islamic sects, it remains to be a Sunni majority country where Islamic laws based on historical legislative narratives of Sunni Islam have every right to take precedence.
• It is the duty of the Pakistani state to promote Islamic laws and practices in the society so the society can be prepared to collectively embrace them without hesitation of the emergence of an Islamic state run on the principals of the Shariah.
• Pakistan does not discriminate against non-Sunni Islamic sects and minority religions, but Sunni Islam (constructed on the modernist Islamic thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Iqbal as well as on the Islamic scholarship emerging from friendly Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia), will rightfully dominate in the social, cultural, religious and political policies of the state.
The critique: A new beginning and narrative
The critique of the ‘Pakistan Ideology’ became a concentrated project of various leftist and liberal intellectuals and scholars from the late 1960s onwards.
The critique is based on a deconstructive study of what finally appeared as the ‘Pakistan ideology’ in the 1970s. Bellow are some of the salient features of this still evolving critique that has taken a more urgent turn with the rise of Islamist terrorism and sectarian violence in the country.
The features are extracted from assorted critiques authored by scholars like G M Syed, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hamza Alvi, Rubina Saigol, Dr. Mubarek Ali, Ahtizaz Ahsan, Dr. Parvez Hoodbhouy, Dr. Ayesha Jalal, Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and Dr. Medhi Hassan.
* Pakistan even as a separate Muslim majority state is not a homogenous phenomenon. It is teeming with a varied number of ethnicities, religions and Islamic sects and sub-sects.
* A unified version of Islam and nationalism constructed by the state and then imposed upon the varied ethnicities, religions and Islamic sects was an insensitive and undemocratic attack on cultural heritages of these ethnicities, sects, sub-sects and religions. The act has created hatred and misunderstandings between them, and between them and the state.
* In the absence of a viable and continuous democratic process, Pakistan will continue plummeting as a nation state, and consequently, its ideology will become more and more myopic, suspicious and tyrannical – especially when it entirely becomes the domain of the military-establishment.
* The establishment uses this ideology to co-opt conservative and reactive Islamic forces as allies to justify its undemocratic political domination and to legitimise its otherwise exploitative and cynical Islamic credentials.
* This dangerous practice is then adopted even by democratic political parties who eventually become hostage to the myopic aspects of the ideology and are thus unable to bring any meaningful economic, social and political change and reform.
* All this is creating cleavages, violence and tensions between varied sections of the society and a possible state failure.
* The only thing that can help Pakistan avoid state failure is the granting of democratic rights, participation and autonomy to its various ethnicities and provinces. The provinces should be given the right to decide how much they would want religion to play a role in their provinces’ respective governments, if any.
* This so-called ‘Pakistan ideology’ instead of safeguarding Pakistan’s existentialist identity has actually gone on to be used by dictators, politicians, religious parties and Islamic radicals to justify oppression, religious apartheid and violence in the name of Islam.
* Thus, this is an ideology that though constructed to keep the state of Pakistan intact has actually become a weapon in the hands of those who both wittingly and unwittingly are pushing Pakistan towards becoming a failed state.
* Pakistan’s Muslims have more in common with civilizations that thrived in India, Persia, Turkey and Central Asia than those in Arabia.
* A majority of the cultural, religious and political ancestry of Pakistani Muslims has roots in areas and cultures that were dominated by Muslim regimes with vast and diverse polities that included people belonging to different faiths and Muslim sects.
* A number of non-Muslims were made part of the economic, political and social structures of these regimes. These regimes were Muslim rather than ‘Islamic.’
* We will continue to stagnate if we go on trying to keep afloat the now obsolete ideas of the ‘two nation theory’ and ‘Islamic Republic.’ We have to move ahead with new ideas, even if it meant casting out the old ones.
* That’s why Pakistan should redefine itself as a progressive, democratic Muslim majority republic and state. The term ‘Islamic republic and/or state’ is a modern concoction to politicise Islam and use it to grab state power.
* Pakistan should be a Muslim majority state where all Muslim sects and non-Muslims are free to practice their faiths according to their own cultural norms, within their homes and places of worship.
* We have to realise that this is not what is going to ‘endanger Islam’ and our identity. Quite the contrary, in fact. Because the extreme expressions of the ‘Pakistan ideology’ in the shape of violent Islamist terrorists, sectarian outfits and reactionary military dictators are the ones whose doings have been chipping and clipping away the energy and spirit of Islam in Pakistan.
* And this energy comes from Islam’s emphasis on justice, charity, tolerance and gaining all kinds of knowledge, and not when it is used as a populist slogan or a political and ideological stunt to maintain state and social power and in the process cynically advocate paranoia and hatred towards the ‘others’.
* The state should be discouraged to propagate any single or preferred form of Islam or ethnic culture. The public sphere too should be free from any religious interference or presence of any one particular denomination of the faith.
* Islam is universal and cannot be associated with a single nation. Pakistan has its own culture that has many aspects, one of which is Islam. It does not have a monopoly on Islam.
* We should be constructing a new Pakistan that is driven by multi-party democracy, ethnic, sectarian and religious diversity, and a progressive Muslim majority state that does not limit the economic, cultural, intellectual and political genius of its polity’s diversity by imposing restriction after restriction and calling these restrictions ‘Islamic laws.’
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.