By Brigadier (ret) Simon Samson Sharaf
In an emotional and controversial address to his constituency, the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari referred to the country as Sindhu Desh. In his fiery and reactive speech, this was perhaps the only silver lining. Deliberately or otherwise, he had touched a very sensitive issue of nationhood.
The politicians of Sindh unlike the Unionists of Punjab have been more Pakistani in many ways than they are accredited. Jinnah, the Syeds, Qazis, Soomros and Bhuttos are but to name a few. Reviewing the annals of history, we are pleasantly reminded that Pakistan was never the realization of one ethnicity, sect or mindset. It was a struggle based on the aspirations of diverse groups and still remains so.
The Baloch voted for the creation with an overwhelming majority. At a crucial time the princely states of Balochistan were advised by Maulana Azad to join Pakistan. Nawab Akbar Bugti valiantly stood by the concept of Pakistan. Can we forget the roles of the Khosas, Jamalis, Qazi Issa, Achakzais, Mandokhels, Jogehezais?
Similarly, the people of NWFP rejected the Congress friendly approach of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and rallied to the beck and call of Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan. Many tribal leaders preferred to join Pakistan rather than live under the Afghan-Indian intrigue.
Let us also not forget the people of Bengal and their leaders including Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman, a young firebrand Muslim Leaguer. These were all sons of the soil who organised the Muslim Education Conference to Muslim League. They lived comfortably within their own majorities least affected by the Congress-Muslim League (Hindu-Muslim) divide. Yet they chose to be Pakistan.
Christians of Punjab and Sindh voted unanimously in favour of Pakistan. Leaders such as S P Singha, Joshua Fazal Din, Chandu Lal and Gibbons remained Quaid e Azam’s most trusted allies in difficult and treacherous times. So did both factions of the Ahmediya Jamaat. They were Pakistanis by choice and never the conquered people. They were also the torch bearers of Pakistan Movement that ran the last but one lap. Men like S M Burke made remarkable contributions in articulating Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Those who ran the last lap sacrificed the most. They had faced the brunt of socio economic injustices and struggled valiantly within their enclaves and ghettos for Pakistan. They migrated from far afar on carts, trains and foot. Very few would know that these hapless caravans also comprised Christians from as far away as South India and Delhi. Most as events proved tragically, left one ghetto, to create another. They still ask, ‘Has Pakistan come?’
Within the premise of the Two Nation Theory and Lahore Resolution, the State that Quaid e Azam promised was an Inclusive Country with Muslim majority; A modern nation-state where people from all walks, ethnicities and beliefs were equal citizens. But as events proved, these die-hard supporters were condemned. Patriotism and nationalism became an exclusive domain of few. Calls for devolution were construed as sub nationalism and separatism. Traitors became a term to define dissent and men such as Faiz and Mian Ifthikhar, the architects of the Kashmir resistance were quickly dubbed as traitors.
My father Lal Din Sharaf, then a young and firebrand revolutionary poet attended the gathering at Manto Park Lahore on 23-24 March 1940. He noted these words of Quaid e Azam in his diary, “Pakistan is a Nation and now must have defined Boundaries”.
For this and many other reasons, I have always opined that PAKISTANIAT is distinct in its evolution. It took birth much before the geography of Pakistan was drawn. If we accept Quaid’s logic of Nation before a Boundary, Pakistaniat existed in the hearts and minds of millions of people who subsequently migrated to East and West Pakistan as also those states that joined Pakistan by choice. Unfortunately, the concept of a Pakistani nationhood has since deteriorated.
The ownership has gradually shifted to those who never made a choice.
There is another dimension to the geographical notion of Pakistan. Historically, the people of Indus were called Sindhu. The term Hindu is a derivative of both Sindhu and Schinde. The little discovered Nara Civilisation that existed along and astride the banks of this river system pre-dates Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and Mehr Garh. Over ten thousand years old the region had been the world centre at least thrice; the Nara (Sarasvati) Age, Mohenjo-Daro and the Great Mauryan Empire. It ruled the world as far away as Greece and Egypt. It had a river system of which Indus was just a part. This Great Nara River entered what is now Pakistan near Fort Abbas and debouched at a place Nagar Par Kar (cross the river). This is the land of world’s highest mountains, largest river systems and oldest deserts. This was the wonderland imbedded in the innate memories of us people.
Indeed, if both the spirit of Pakistaniat that predated its boundaries and innate memories of dreamland morphed into the Pakistani construct of nationhood articulately enunciated by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, what went wrong?
The quest of inventing a nation that already existed, repeated military interventions, misuse of religion for expediencies and political violence has all but obscured the Pakistan that Jinnah created. The bureaucracy, trained to rule fared no better. The two combined with the political rats jumping ships to create a ruling elite. The thesis to emerge was the indispensability of an individual in the backdrop of extreme national vulnerability. Those who challenged the drift or showed imagination were singled out as non conformists, ambitious, pseudo, alarmist and traitors.
These distortions to the national fabric were pronounced during the Zia era and snowballed thereafter. Unfortunately, the last three decades (1977-2008) comprise 19 years of exclusive military dictatorships. If we add the troika factor that continued to remove successive elected regimes, then the past 30 years are patrolled by a praetorian mindset.
The latest round of democracy has landed through a very bloody route. Pakistan’s highlands are burning and economy sinking. The process of nation building has to begin now. It is time to act! President Zardari has to build a spirit of national reconciliation and reconstruction. He has to be accountable to emotions and reflections that highlighted his own speech. This is no time to complain and mourn the past nor any space left for political stratagems.
Your challenges are not opinion makers but the people for whom you have to deliver. Your challenge lies in answering with actions and not rhetoric, the many questions you raised about Pakistan’s identity.
Despite any dilemmas and daemons you confront, your challenge is to take the bull by the horns; Come on, pick the baton and lead the way for Jinnah’s Pakistan! This would forever cleanse you of all malignancies that haunt you and your party.
The Parliament has to take a new guard and play out a long resolute innings without loosing wickets. If they do, the people of Pakistan will see hope and coalesce the way they did as recently as the earthquake of 2005 and against militancy.
Our Destination inevitably is, ‘The Wonderland of Pakistan’. Even if we die doing it, the spirit must keep marching on. This is what Benazir Bhutto did.