Pakistan Day reflections
On this day, March 23rd, 72 years ago, an extraordinary public meeting took place in Lahore. In what was then called Minto Park and where today the Minar-i-Pakistan towers over the landscape, the All India Muslim League met to weigh the options for the subcontinent’s Muslims in the run up to independence from the British. The Lahore Resolution adopted in 1940, later dubbed the Pakistan Resolution despite the fact that the word Pakistan is not mentioned in it, asserted the right of united India’s Muslim community to seek states grouped according to majority in the northwest and northeast of the country. The question of independent states at that point was still left open. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, brilliant practitioner of the art of politics that he was, accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in a last ditch effort to keep India united, with constitutional guarantees for the Muslim minority that felt threatened by revanchist Hindu revivalism and the mainstream Congress’ arrogant unwillingness to understand or allay the anxieties of a considerable Muslim minority. As it turned out, Congress (Nehru and Patel in particular) sabotaged the Cabinet Mission Plan by refusing to commit to the constitutional guarantees for Muslims for 10 years that were the cornerstone of the Plan. From then on, partition became inevitable. It did transpire, but accompanied by the most ferocious blood letting and the greatest mass migration in history.
The wounds of partition have not healed completely on either side, but with the passage of time and new generations coming to the fore in both countries, the idea that geography and neighbours cannot be chosen and that if India and Pakistan cannot do better, at the very least they should learn to live with each other in a civilised manner has taken root. Recent developments indicate hopeful signs that this wisdom is sinking in on both sides of the border. Of course much water has flown down the Indus since independence, and through the twists and turns of relations and even wars between Pakistan and India, arguably the two nuclear-armed neighbours can no longer contemplate going to war. If peace is then the only option, it follows logically that engagement and confidence building are the order of the day. Of course regional developments over the last four decades have also fed into the changed scenario. The Afghanistan imbroglio threatens not only peace and stability in Pakistan at the hands of fanatics and terrorists, India cannot rest sanguine either that it is safe from the spillover of these tendencies.
While the historical legacy of differences, difficult as the gulf has proved to bridge, particularly over Kashmir, seems to be on a tentative retreat, it is a token of how far the Pakistan envisaged by the founding fathers is from present-day Pakistan that is cause for introspection and even sorrow. Contrary to what many religious and right wing elements would have us believe, the historic exercise of the right of self-determination by a large section (not all, it must be admitted) of the Muslim community of united India to create a new state called Pakistan was not, if the Quaid’s thoughts are properly understood, to turn it into a theocratic state run by clerics, but a modern, progressive, welfare state in which the apprehensions of the Muslims in united India that they would be disadvantaged and marginalised would become a mere historical curiosity when Pakistanis enjoyed the fruits of independence and development. Looked at today, it must be recorded that Jinnah’s Pakistan died in 1971 when Bangladesh broke away, and the ‘New Pakistan’ that remained is today arguably on the cusp of existential disaster. The miseries of the people, their lack of rights or say in the country’s destiny, their consequent alienation and apathy are not what Mr Jinnah had foreseen for his people. Given this unsavoury reality, we can only apologise to the Quaid today for the mess we have made of his vision, and vow once more to combat the forces of darkness that he in his lifetime had little time for and we his successors must combat before they engulf what little remains of the original élan of the new state.