by Adnan Syed
Note: This four part writeup on Islam and its vague relationship to Pakistan has its genesis in information exchange done in the comments section of the post “Pakistan’s Corrected Approach to deal with Taliban Thugs” during the month of September. I am thankful to YLH, Bonobashi, PMA, BC and many more for giving ideas about this writeup.
From 1947 onwards, most would agree that Pakistan lurched from one crisis to another. A quick summary of Pakistanis history since its birth would probably read as follows.
Partition massacres left a deep scar on Pakistani psyche. Its towering founder who singlehandedly resurrected the Muslim League in a period of 10 years, and combined the diverse and often split Muslim electorate under the Muslim League umbrella, died too soon. India refused to hold referendum in Kashmir on extremely dubious grounds and a small scale war ensued where Pakistan got 1/3rd of the Kashmiri territory while India kept the rest. The first Prime Minister was shot dead within four years of independence, but not before he introduced the controversial “Objectives Resolution” that introduced the first state sanctioned religious theme into the affairs of the state and its future constitution.
1954 riots against religious minority segment, and failing civilian governments were followed by Army takeover of the country. 1956 constitution officially called Pakistan the Islamic Republic and declared that no law repugnant to Quran and Sunnah would be enacted, and existing laws be brought in accordance with Quran and Sunnah. This constitution was abrogated two years later. However subsequent constitutions kept Pakistan as Islamic Republic, with Objectives Resolution remaining in the preamble of the constitutions.
In between, the majority province was getting alienated from its Western wing due to our heavy handed discrimination against them. A bloody war, where West Pakistan allegedly embarked on an ethnic pogrom styled massacres, resulted in Pakistan split into a less than half of its own initial size. A civilian-socialist politician took the reins of the country, and after a spotty six years in power was overthrown by an avowedly religious military dictator. Bhutto tried every game in town to stay in power, pushing country towards more religious mandated state level actions to appease the religious right. The military dictator who went by the term “Mard-e-Momin (The righteous Man)” aroused more religious sentiments to stay in power, resulting in radicalization of the new generation. His forays into Kashmir and Afghanistan, and his Islamization of the Pakistani society affect Pakistan to this day. However he was followed by two young, yet remarkably inefficient civilian leaders, who saw on their watch the conditions in Afghanistan go completely out of hand, all the time when their subordinate Army and Intelligence organizations propped one set of Mujahedeen after another, only to find a group of them that went out of control, turned Afghanistan into a seat of learning for all aspiring Muslim militants, who began to wreak havoc across the world.
The West duly followed the militants to their source, and the Mujahedeen now turned on Pakistan, beginning to target seemingly disparate areas in the name of imposing Sharia, and fighting the infidels. The new military man General Musharraf tried to subdue the religious rhetoric. Yet his uneven approach to dealing with the militancy, and his particularly horrific political and judicial manoeuvrings made him deeply unpopular. He was forced out of office and a democratic government is back in power, where (to much surprise to many), a political party chairman holds the office of Presidency. However the house leader aptly remains the Prime Minister.
With that quick summary of Pakistan’s last 62 years, there are a few themes that remained constant throughout Pakistani history:
1) Pakistan as a nation has suffered from a deep identity crisis. It vacillated between right wing Islamism, and more liberally oriented governance. Equally remarkable is that the so called left wing liberal leaders have never shied away from using Islam when the pressure from Islamists got too much, or when the left wing votes just did not cut it to stay in power
The identity confusion has not helped the governance and administration issues in Pakistan. The governance was quite weak to begin with; the civilian governments showed terrible administration skills, and their overthrows by the military backed regimes became admissible by the infamous judiciary’s doctrines of necessity.
2) In many ways, Pakistan has acted like a typical third world country; incomplete rule of law resulting in huge economic disparity and sordid growth rates. However, Pakistan’s instability was compounded by the frequent use of religion to unseat and destabilize exisiting governments, as well as religion’s frequent effects on Pakistan’s foreign and military policies. The absence of a solid idea about “what kind of state Pakistan ought to be” resulted in disparate variations of the Pakistan Ideology that were adapted by the rulers based on their own political leanings.
Comparing Pakistan to its bigger neighbour India shows a stark reality. India quickly determined that secularism inspired by 20th century humanism ideals would be the official policy. Even with communal biased right wing political parties in its system, the country remained secure in its generally secular Indian identity. India avoided the instability associated with state level confusion resulting from ambiguous religious role. India managed to practice imperfect, yet functioning democracy throughout its history and never seriously faced gut churning political upheavals that Pakistan did.
3) However, it is remarkable that Pakistan somehow keeps coming back to democratic system time after time. As a matter of fact, even the most despotic of dictators faced huge amount of pressure (and subsequently yielded) to allow the elections to take place and civilian rule to be restored. Unlike other third world Muslim countries like Egypt, Libya and Jordan, the one man rule under sham elections did not last much long in Pakistan.
4) We also notice that the theocratic rule has been unable to impose itself on Pakistani population, even though there is an active and vociferous right wing media present in the country since its inception. Remarkably, among the hoopla for the rule of Sharia, calls for return to Khilafat, and similar religious arguments, Pakistanis keep electing more centralist governments. Iranian styled theocratic state, or overtly religious governments styled after Saudi Arabia or Sudan have not yet taken root in Pakistan.
How the point 3 and 4 will play each other out is uncertain. There is a sizeable segment of population that embraces Islam as all encompassing code required not just at a personal level. However, majority population is a devoted follower, yet is uncomfortable both with modernity and its perceived evils, and with the rigid interpretation of Islam
This uneasy equilibrium between Islam and Pakistan has rocked Pakistan since its inception, and it is not going anywhere soon. Based on our look back at the Pakistani history, I maintain that the instability associated with the vagueness regarding Islam in the affairs of Pakistan will keep eating Pakistan inside out. Pakistan’s own uncertainty regarding its meanings has resulted in extremely risky behaviour on Pakistan’s part, where the consequences are coming back to haunt Pakistan badly.
Our northern areas as well as Southern Punjab belt is becoming a fertile grounds for breeding extremists and our policies of propping up proxy units to fight on our behalf in Kashmir and Afghanistan are now resulting in the same units turning back upon us.
We shall see that Islam has been linked with the idea of Pakistan from the very beginnings of Pakistan Movement, though the exact extent of that relationship remained quite unclear. The idea of an Islamic Pakistan caused substantial commotion in the Muslim League ranks, and Quaid gave exact statements to the effect that theocracy was not to be in Pakistan. We do however see the strategic vagueness regarding the role of Islam was indeed pursued by Quaid and the Muslim League and was never fully vanquished after the birth of Pakistan.
In the recesses of this vagueness, an idea of Nazaria-e-Pakistan took shape. Looking back at our pre-independence days, it is hard to see that Nazaria-e-Pakistan present in the way it is shown to us. The founding Muslim League members were hardly a religious lot; however studying their statements and their subsequent actions gives us some light on the evolution of Pakistan as a present Muslim majority quasi-Islamic country.
Tomorrow: Our Founding Fathers and their ideas about the religion and Pakistan