I.A. Rehman: Jinnah’s New Pakistan Is Possible


Jinnah The following piece is courtesy Dawn and was originally published on 14th August.

The discourse on Pakistan’s political ideal has taken a new turn. Those calling for the establishment of Jinnah’s Pakistan are being challenged with a demand for creating a ‘new Pakistan.’ Essentially, this is a new form of the tussle between secular democrats and advocates of a theocratic dispensation that is as old as the state itself.

The secularists’ demand for Jinnah’s Pakistan stems from their repudiation of the state’s drift towards a religious one. They argue that the increasing role of religion in politics, law-making, judicial policies, educational curricula and discrimination against minority religious communities, and now campaigns to exterminate smaller Muslim sects, are in total violation of the Quaid-i-Azam’s vision of Pakistan. According to them he wanted the state to be a democratic polity.

The main features of this state were as follows: religion was a matter of citizens’ personal belief, it had nothing to do with the business of the state; all people living within the state’s boundaries were equal members of a new nation formed on the basis of common citizenship; they were to live under a constitution framed by their own representatives (that is, a man-made code); the form of government was to be a people’s democracy; the foremost duty of the state was going to be protection of the lives and property of all citizens and promotion of their welfare; and in the area of external policy Pakistan was to abide by the principle of goodwill for all and malice towards none. The Quaid’s declaration that Pakistan would not be a theocracy was unequivocal and free from any ambiguities.

These outlines of Pakistan’s political structure and its orientation were derived in the main from Jinnah’s foundation-laying address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 when he was speaking about a state whose birth way only three days away and not in the context of his campaign for Pakistan. Other points had been taken from the Quaid’s policy speeches during the Muslim League movement, statements made on the eve of independence and his messages to international audiences afterward.

Jinnah’s successors in power paid scant attention to his political testament. The reasons could be diverse. Some of them might not have shared their leader’s ideal of a secular democracy – and this could have been one of the reasons for the attempt to suppress/censor his August 11 address. They might have considered it unsafe to stir the hornet’s nest by provoking the religious lobby. Or the factional conflicts within the ruling party that emerged while the Quaid was still alive became so intense after his death that the ideals of Pakistan were cast aside. The failure of the leadership to start building Pakistan along the lines suggested by Jinnah created’ space for the religious lobby to lay siege to the state.

This lobby was spearheaded by Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, who had broken away from the pro-Congress Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind and had backed the demand for Pakistan, and some prominent leaders of the Barelvi school of thought. They argued that as the demand for Pakistan was made on the basis of the religious identity of the Muslims of India – or more correctly the Muslims who were in majority in some provinces of India — Pakistan had to be an Islamic state. They also quoted in support of their demand passages from the statements of the Muslim League leaders, including the Quaid-i-Azam, to the effect that Pakistan’s polity would be Islamic in substance and character. A surprise entry into this lobby was the founder of Jamaat Islami who had paid little respect to the Islamic protestations of the League leaders and had resolutely opposed the demand for Pakistan on the ground that it could not be an Islamic state.

The ruling elite chose to yield to the challengers without a fight and came out with the Objectives Resolution as a bulwark to protect their power base that had become vulnerable for lack of democratic sanction. The resolution made the religious lobby stronger and the colonial-model state weaker by a wider margin. The signal of the state’s surrender to the advocates of theocracy led to the emergence of modern looking middle class theorists who helped the religious lobby by digging up passages from Jinnah’s speeches in which he had referred to an Islamic polity as the ideal of Pakistan, or democracy’s being present in the blood of Muslims. They claimed that Jinnah had made these statements both before and after independence and that his August 11 address had been superseded by his speeches at a Karachi reception and his talk before a lawyers gathering. One of these middle class scholars of history went so far trying to prove that Jinnah’s August 11 speech did not represent Pakistan’s ideal as to suggest that the old and sick speaker had become senile.

All these analysts who laboured to show that Jinnah used more words in favour of an Islamic system than for a modern democracy chose to ignore two important facts. First, that the Quaid-i-Azam rejected theocracy directly and explicitly, and we do not find a similar rejection of elective democracy in any of his speeches and writings. Secondly, the Indian Muslims’ thinking during the colonial period admitted of no conflict between Islam and democracy. A common theme was that democracy was Islam’s gift to humankind. A number of Muslim political leaders of the 20th century, who were also firm believers in Islam – Abul Kalam Azad, Obaidullah Sindhi, Hasrat Mohani, Hakim Ajmal Khan et al – believed in a pluralist democracy that could only be secular. Iqbal also supported the idea of a sovereign parliament which was qualified to perform ijma, the community’s right to interpret Islamic law when Quran, Hadith and Qias were silent on a point. (Later on a strong group, including Jamal Abdul Nasir and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, argued that socialism was in accord with Islam.)

Pakistan’s rulers during the first decade of independence did not confront the theocratic challengers with the arguments ready at hand. Not only that, they hounded the secular democrats, defenders of civil liberties, trade unionists, and progressive writers/journalists as if they were a pestilence. And when they joined the military pacts designed to fight the socialist bloc they not only handed over the space for debate to conservative and half-baked clerics, they also condemned the people to social and intellectual regression. The process has not ended.

The conservative religious lobby dismissed Jinnah’s creed of democracy, secularism and equal status for members of religious minorities but they did not abandon him. A classic example is furnished by Jamaat Islami. Its leaders claimed to have been converted to the concept of Pakistan once the Objectives Resolution was adopted as, according to them, the state had become Islamic. Attempts were made to erase references against the Pakistan demand from the party’s revered texts. At one stage one of the Jamaat’s front-rank leaders claimed that his party had contributed to the formulation of the Pakistan demand. A few years ago the party tried to project Jinnah as favourably disposed towards the Muslim Brotherhood on the basis of a letter he had written to Hasan-al-Banna, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Quaid had a habit of writing a courteous response to all letters of sympathy addressed to him.

It was not until Gen. Zia’s arrival as the country’s absolute ruler that the theocratic elements decided that elimination of Jinnah and his politics for the political discourse was necessary for their capture of the state. While decisively changing the constitution in favour of a religious polity, Gen. Zia tried to promote Iqbal as the country’s father figure in place of Jinnah on the assumption that Iqbal’s efforts to promote Islamic law could be used to further his dictatorial regime’s designs to impose on the people its version of Islam. This was nothing more than crude exploitation of Iqbal’s name.

Over the past few years, the modest-looking movement for establishment of Jinnah’s Pakistan has been countered with a drive to debunk the two-nation theory and condemn Jinnah for misleading the Indian Muslims with the call for the partition of India, for being responsible for the partition bloodbaths, and for everything wrong that has happened to the people of Pakistan.

A typical example of Jinnah-bashing is a book written and published by a Lahore lawyer who condemns Jinnah and Agha Khan as ‘Rafzi’ (pejorative term for Shias) agents of British imperialism, and holds Jinnah responsible not only for the killing of Muslim men and rape of women in 1947 but also for establishing a state that can end neither energy shortage or the curse of unemployment. Jinnah’s worst crime in the eyes of the author is that he handed over India to the Hindus and thus deprived the Pakistani Muslims’ of their right and the possibility to convert India’s entire Hindu population to Islam. He even suggests that had Pakistan not been created the Muslims might have already become a majority community in the subcontinent.

One would not have taken notice of this compound of megalomania and infantile disorder but for the fact that the book has obviously found readers – its sixth edition is on sale now – and that it fits in with the scheme of militant organisations, foreign–controlled as well as indigenous ones. It is possible that the militant organisations that are out to convert the Pakistani Muslims to their versions of extremist faith consider Jinnah’s ideal of Pakistan an obstacle to their jihadist ambitions.

Now, there is nothing new about discovering flaws in the two-nation theory or in Jinnah’s leadership or exposing the Muslim League’s or Pakistani rulers’ lack of political capital. The British role in pampering the Muslim League as a counterweight to the Congress Party has been examined by quite a few critics. There are people who maintain that partition did not solve the problems that had been created by the various communities’ collective memory of their history and communalisation of politics. A section of secular democrats maintains that there are many matters on which blind imitation of Jinnah’s actions will amount to living in a past that may not be relevant any longer.

If a reassessment of Jinnah’s place in history were based on fact and reason and the objective was a sincere effort to enable the people of Pakistan to resolve their present crises and plan for a better future, one would have welcomed this trend as a proof of the people’s growing maturity, of their capacity to deal with grave matters without concession to emotions. Much of the criticism does not qualify for this distinction. This is not to suggest that Jinnah could never be wrong. But his actions should be judged in the context of his times. The Indians accuse Gandhi and Nehru of serious blunders. That has not stopped them from looking forward. The issue before the people is how to meet the challenge of the present. Many nations were born in worse circumstances than Pakistan and have stood the trial of times.

The position now is that there is considerable agreement on building a new Pakistan. The point of contention is that the professional clerics, especially the ‘born yesterday’ ‘jihadists, wish to exclude Jinnah’s ideals and principles from the polity, that is, they reject the man-made constitution in preference for Sharia, which is also man-made, they reject parliament’s right to make laws, they deny the principle of federation, they oppose women’s rights and condemn non-Muslim Pakistanis to a second class status. Their objective in assailing Jinnah is to turn Pakistan into a medieval state where reason must give way to bigotry.

Those who wish to save or reconstruct Jinnah’s Pakistan will do well to avoid following the Quaid’s actions that were determined by time and circumstance. Pakistan has already moved beyond Jinnah’s concept in certain areas – today’s federation is vastly different from what it was in the Quaid’s life, the Prime Minister is no longer subject to the President’s whim, and the planning of external relations is not as simple as in 1948. Since, in order to progress Pakistan must continue to be defined by a firm commitment to constitutionalism and the model of a welfare state, sovereignty of the people, and equal rights for women and members of minority communities it is necessary to retain Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, subject, of course, to changes in details demanded by contemporary realities. That would be Jinnah’s New Pakistan. However all those interested in building this Pakistan must realise that they will not be successful without going beyond the August 11 speech and that state-building cannot be done by think tanks alone. The answer lies in promoting democratic politics through dynamic political parties.

The writer is former editor of Pakistan Times and senior political analyst