Monday, March 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 24, 2015

Pakistan Day Every March 23rd, Pakistanis genuflect towards an imagined idea of their country, a construct that has striven since independence 68 years ago to grip the hearts and minds of our people without, it must be admitted, universal acceptance. The reasons for this duality and confusion are not hard to find. Post-1857, the Muslims of India struggled against marginalisation, the insecurity surrounding which was spurred by Hindu majoritarianism and even, at the fringes, revanchism. When it became clear (gradually, it must be said) that Muslim dominance in India had seen its day, the response of the community was diverse and differentiated, reflecting its internal divisions. The first school of thought to lose out in this crisis was the ‘return of Muslim glory’ trend. Squeezed between British rule and a resurgent Hindu majority whose anti-colonial nationalism was tinged at the margins with an extremist religious mindset, the Muslim polity trifurcated between Muslim (some British created) large landowners (feudals), the religious (millenarian in quite a few cases) lobby, and the modern nationalism of the products of British education: the Muslim intelligentsia. While the first category were predominantly loyal collaborators with the British, the second were hopelessly backward looking, dreaming of an Islamic revival. It was therefore left to the third and newest of the forces that broadly defined the Muslim community to seek its place in the sun, initially under British rule, increasingly challenging it. This intelligentsia’s alliance and cooperation with the relatively modern outlook of the Hindu majority forces, coagulating finally in the formation of the Indian National Congress, is a story of two stages. The first was the period of joint struggle for Home Rule, leading into the formation of the All-India Muslim League, the second the divergence into religious identity, brought on by Gandhi’s appeal to ‘tradition and culture’, which in India’s context could not avoid religion as a reference point. Mr Jinnah, rightly dubbed the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’, was the first to critique this attempt to sneak religion through the back door into the politics of the independence movement, warning of its divisive and potentially deadly effects. His prescience was validated by subsequent events when the religious divide sparked by Gandhi’s appeal to religious traditional symbols coalesced into the communal gulf, with tragic consequences. By the time the Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940 was passed by the Muslim League, demanding autonomous states in northeast and northwest India’s predominantly Muslim regions, the Congress-Muslim League rivalry had solidified to the point where, even when Mr Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan, arguably the last gasp chance for a united independent India, Congress leaders Nehru and Patel threw a monkey wrench in the plan and made partition inevitable. The massacres and displacement of populations that followed were unprecedented in their scale in human history. Almost inevitably, this cruel bloodshed on both sides made ‘permanent’ enemies of the two new states, exacerbated by disputes over Kashmir, etc. It also had the unintended consequence of handing the postcolonial state in Pakistan the key to constructing a national security state under constant threat from its larger neighbour, with the military and bureaucracy inherited from colonialism assuming the viceregal heights and manipulating/using the political forces to their advantage and interest. This capsule view of the origins of Pakistan underlines the trajectory taken by the new state and its continuing validity even at present. Military interventions and martial laws became the punctuation that interrupted brief periods of civilian rule, but the latter lacked the necessary strength and vision to consolidate a representative democracy. Arguably, we keep coming full circle to the same starting point. Today’s Pakistan faces the most serious challenges of its chequered history, perhaps even greater than the events that led to the breaking away of East Pakistan in 1971 after a bloody civil and later India-Pakistan war. Both before and after the emergence of Bangladesh, the Pakistani state, dominated by, and whose policies were dictated to a large extent by the security establishment, has learnt little from its mistakes. Pakistan was always, and remains, a mosaic of nationalities, diverse identities, cultures, languages. In the paranoid aftermath of the shocking events of partition, these realities were ignored in favour of an imagined construct of Pakistani identity, but which proved with time to be hollow and by now is losing in resonance. Only a remaining Pakistan that practices inclusive democracy based on the rights of its federating units, their peoples, and a guarantee of justice and equity can make its place in the comity of nations.

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