August 11, 2020
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'It Might've Been Different Had Jinnah Lived Longer'

Akbar Ahmed, a senior Pakistani civil servant turned academic at Cambridge, has authored a book on Jinnah and is currently producing a film on him. He spoke to Sanjay Suri in London:

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'It Might've Been Different Had Jinnah Lived Longer'

The Golden Jubilee has become an occasion for many commentators to declare Pakistan a failed state.

I think the suggestion that Pakistan is a failed state is related partly to Pakistan’s failure in projecting itself in the world media. Only the negative aspects are being projected. There is no denying the many problems Pakistan is facing. In the last 10 years, we’ve had about 10 prime ministers. There are serious law and order, ethnic, religious and sectarian problems. These things are highlighted by the media.

Having said that, there are positive aspects too. Take simply the fact that Pakistan has survived. There is a Pakistanisation process. A homogenisation has begun to grow over the past two generations. Pakistan is now in the process of developing and discovering itself. It has developed a distinct Pakistani identity.

Isn’t the opposite happening, a splintering along religious and other groupings?

Yes and no. All post-colonial states have some combination of ethnic and tribal groupings. Pakistan began with very distinct ethnic groups. Today, Urdu is the national language, and though it’s the mother tongue of about 10 per cent of the people, it’s commonly understood. Secondly, communications have improved—telephone and transport. Thirdly, there is urbanisation. About 50 per cent of Pakistanis are now urban-based. That has its own ramifications. People tend to lose their tribal identity.

Not in Karachi. The conflicts between Mohajirs and Sindhis have only grown.

That’s a completely different issue. The problem in Sindh is that Sindhis and Mohajirs are quite evenly balanced. Punjab absorbed Muslim refugees quite easily. Mohajirs who came to Punjab began to speak Punjabi within a generation, they became a part of the Punjabi scene. In Sindh it was different. Karachi was the capital, so Mohajirs could wield influence. Their numbers were balanced, so there could be no cultural domination. Mohajirs have a strong culture, but Sindhis have a very rich culture of their own. It is not easy for one to be absorbed into the other.

Pakistan was created on the basis of religion, but Jinnah did not envision an Islamic state. Is the process of Islamisation against Jinnah’s vision?

This is an important question. Jinnah had a compassionate, tolerant Islam as his vision. He fought for a Muslim state where, he said, Muslims would be secure. But he said that because of the high ideals of Islam, the minorities must be protected. He said in his speech of August 11, 1947, that people would be free to go to their mosques, temples, churches. Jinnah said Pakistan would not be a theocracy or ruled by the mullahs. That was relevant to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

But what about a law that discriminates against the minorities?

We are talking of two things here. There is no law in Pakistan that justifies mob rule. Pakistani law provides full protection to the minorities, there is no persecution of minorities. When in some cases someone gets blown up or injured, you are talking of a breakdown of law. But the question of laws in Pakistan is a complex one. Jinnah came to Pakistan in 1947 with visions of a vibrant, dynamic society. There were many different laws at work in Pakistan. The tribal laws, state laws, the Criminal Procedure Code, Islamic law, and the Acts implemented consequent to the creation of Pakistan. Five different, sometimes conflicting, laws.

The history of Pakistan is that its founder died within a year. Nehru had two decades to consolidate and create a sense of nationhood, to give direction, to lay down the foundation. In Pakistan, in contrast, the first prime minister was shot dead in 1951; within 10 years we had martial law. We then had the ethnic movement in East Pakistan and the split in 1971. The histories of the two countries—India and Pakistan—began to diverge very early on. The story might have been different if Jinnah had lived longer.

What effect did the long periods of martial law have on Pakistan’s polity?

The relationship between the army, democracy and the people of Pakistan is very interesting. In Pakistan the one institution that is respected, which has organisation, a structure and training, and an objective that is known, is the army. You have to understand the psychology of Pakistanis. They take pride in an institution that has survived everything. When there is a breakdown, people come and say, save us, restore law and order. The Ayub Khan and Gen Zia regimes are seen as periods of stability in Pakistan. They brought non-stop stable government. Because it was martial law, it was of course against the spirit of Jinnah. But the common man wants stability.

So you have to see the role of the army in the context of Pakistan’s turbulent history. Then, there is the India factor. The one barrier of protection between a threatening India and Pakistan is the army. When the crunch comes it is the army that will save Pakistan from being swallowed up by India.

Is that a realistic fear?

There is insecurity, I would even say a paranoia, in Pakistan about India that you should never underestimate. India is bigger than Pakistan, it has the fourth largest army in the world, it has nuclear capability, it has fought three wars with Pakistan. If India and Pakistan had very cordial relations, then the importance of the army would have gone down.

In India there have been hardly any incidents after the Ayodhya riots in 1992 involving Muslims. In Pakistan Muslims are dying in religious conflicts every day. Aren’t Muslims safer in India than in Pakistan?

That is not entirely correct. Even Hindu writers are extremely concerned about the plight of Muslims in India. Look at the statistics. India’s Muslim population is 13 per cent of the total, yet in the civil and defence services Muslims are only about 2-3 per cent. And the psychology in India is such that there is a deep-rooted suspicion of Indian Muslims, they are made to carry a surrogate guilt about the creation of Pakistan.

The relationship between Pakistani and Indian Muslims is becoming more complex. The turning point came in 1971. Until then there was a feeling of affiliation. There were many contacts, marriages and all that. After 1971, Indian Muslims became much more committed to India, romantic ideas about Pakistan began to go. The Indian Muslim became much more of an Indian.

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