At PTH, we have argued for the partition as a nuanced set of events that were characterized by extreme mistrust between the two major political forces of that time. These major parties harboured deep distrust against each other. The Muslim League politics increasingly focused on the idea of Pakistan as a bargaining chip to win the rights for the sizeable Muslim majority within the United India. The British hurry to leave the United India, emergence of Muslim League as the sole spokesman for the Muslims, and Congress unwillingness to recognize the Muslim nation demands within the United India resulted in a bloody and messy partition. We still live with the scars of the partition that resulted in one of the largest uprooting and human migration of modern times.
What is indeed controversial and unresolved is the role of Muslim nationalism that the subsequent rulers seek to convert to an Islamic nationalism in the newly formed state of Pakistan. The concept of Muslim nationalism was then (at the time of partition) and still is rather undefined. The concept is still in an evolutionary stage, and the evolution is playing out particularly quickly in a land no other than the present day Pakistan. Mingling of religion with the state has always resulted in disaster throughout the human history, Pakistan being no exception. But what has been lethal for Pakistan is the religious bogey adopted by the rulers of Pakistan has resulted in suppressing vibrant ethnic, cultural, and the religious identities of Pakistanis that at times ran against the ethos of the state subscribed conservative strain of Islam. This strain gained ground in Pakistan particularly since the 1970s.
Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad takes another view of the challenges faced by an inclusive Pakistanis nationalism that never really took off. He invokes the partition and the strategies invoked by the Muslim League before partition to connect it with the confusion that plagues Pakistan throughout its history. We do not necessarily agree with Dr. Ahmad’s point of view. But there have been references to his Nationalism series at the PTH and it is only fair that Dr. Ahmad’s view is published here to hear his view of this debate. We will cross post this series from the Daily Time and encourage all of our readers to put forth their views on one of the most fascinating issues that have been quintessentially relevant to Pakistan throughout its history; the idea of inclusive and humanistic yet a Muslim-majority-nation’s nationalism.
Daily Times – Nationalism: inclusive versus exclusive — I
Cross Post from The Daily Times
By Ishtiaq Ahmed
Jinnah was too intelligent and too much of a liberal not to understand that religious nationalism is inherently anti-minorities. Therefore, he wanted to go back to his pristine liberal convictions based on equal rights and equal citizenship. However, here he miscalculated.
As an ideology and political doctrine, nationalism is a claim set forth on behalf of a body of people claiming to constitute a nation to establish a sovereign state over a specific territory. Once that state comes into being, it has to devise a national identity to distinguish itself from other states. No state can hope to survive in the long run only through the exercise of force or threats. Deeper links in the larger society have to be cultivated so that a substantial number of people, a majority if not the whole of its population, identify with the state in an emotional sense. In order to achieve that, the state has to disseminate the national identity in the larger society through the educational system, the mass media and the political system.
This is not easily done because the selection of unifying symbols and values is a sensitive matter. There is no absolute or objective criterion — or criteria — on which nationalism in general or state-nationalism in particular can be grounded. Language, religion, common ethnic origin, historical experience, cultural heritage or civilisation, common residence in the same region, and various other such factors have been invoked from time to time to construct national identity. All types and forms of nationalism as well as official or state-nationalism can be classified as varieties of two analytically distinct types: the civic-political and the cultural/ethnic type of nationalism.
The civic model is conventionally associated with the emancipatory ethos of the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution. It terminated the feudal system of hereditary privileges requiring inferiors to render duties and obligations to superiors. Instead an egalitarian body of equal citizens entitled to equal rights vis-à-vis the state was established in the new dispensation. It took that model another 156 years before it became truly universal and inclusive when the UN Charter of 1945 proclaimed it as the preferred framework for establishing participatory, democratic states.
The second type is known as the cultural or ethnic model of nationalism. Its origins are traced to the German Romantic Movement, which emerged in reaction to Napoleon’s expansionist wars to spread the European Enlightenment’s universalism and rationalism to the whole of Europe. For the German patriots it meant hegemony of the French culture rather than some universal spread of rationalism. Consequently, they emphasised the peculiarity and even uniqueness of the German culture. The underlying logic of such theorising was that nations were organic communities bound together through feelings of affection and solidarity deriving from a sense of common descent and culture. Thus rather than individual citizens being the main bearers of rights it was the nation or community which had priority over members. However, as a cultural marker, common language was not accepted by the German Romantics; hence only people of German blood could be proper Germans. German-speaking Jews or Roma people, also known as the Gypsies, were thus excluded. Nazism was the manifestation of an extreme type of nationalism based on putative common ethnic descent.
Keeping these two distinct models of nationalism and state-nationalism in mind, we can look at the problem of nation-building that Pakistan has faced from its inception in August 1947. The Muslim League asserted that Indian Muslims were a separate nation by virtue of their common faith in Islam. As a nation it was entitled to the right of self-determination over territories where Muslims were in majority. Such a definition ipso facto precluded non-Muslim Bengalis, Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Sindhis, Baloch or Urdu-speakers from the nation because they were not Muslims.
When Pakistan came into being, Mohammad Ali Jinnah heroically tried to reverse the basis of state-nationalism: instead of Muslim nationalism he proposed Pakistani nationalism. The August 11, 1947 speech was just that attempt to rectify the inherent tendency of ethno-religious nationalism to exclude those who do not fit the bill according to some organic sense of community. Jinnah had no compunctions in using Islam in the election campaign in the Muslim-majority provinces of northwestern India to mobilise Muslim support for Pakistan.
He was, however, too intelligent and too much of a liberal not to understand that religious nationalism is inherently anti-minorities. Therefore, he wanted to go back to his pristine liberal convictions based on equal rights and equal citizenship. However, here he miscalculated. He believed that giving birth to an idea — that Muslims are a separate nation by virtue of faith in Islam — to achieve a political objective would not prolong the life of that idea once the objective was achieved.
The history of ideas shows that once an idea takes off it acquires a life of its own — bigger and more powerful than its originator. That is exactly what happened in Pakistan. The birth of Pakistan was inevitably going to be bloody — anybody who knew the situation on the ground knew that well. Consequently, some one to two million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were killed during the partition massacres and pogroms; the biggest forced migration in history took place — at least 14 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were uprooted from their ancestral abodes where they had lived since time immemorial. In the partitioned Punjab — the first case of ethnic cleansing took place as both were emptied of unwanted minorities.
Those Muslims, especially who lost hearth and home in East Punjab, did it because they were Muslims. In fact, the loss of Muslim life in East Punjab was greater than the Hindus and Sikhs killed in West Punjab. Those Muslims who left northern India either under duress or voluntarily were also doing it because Pakistan was going to be a land for the Muslims. I interviewed the formal MQM president Azim Ahmed Tariq in Karachi in early 1990. He said to me that Nehru and Gandhi were insisting to our elders to remain in India but we decided to migrate to Pakistan, which was going to be the national home of Indian Muslims. This claim of the MQM is absolutely right though what they did to the Sindhis who opened their arms to receive them is another matter.
Could such a state easily become a secular, democratic state based on the French model of inclusive nationalism simply because its founder wanted to reverse the basis for citizenship because he was personally a secular-liberal? I will address this question in the follow-up article next week.
(To be continued)
Ishtiaq Ahmed is a Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore. He is also a Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. At ISAS, he is currently working on a book, Is Pakistan a Garrison State? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org