Cross Post from Daily Times
Published July 13, 2010
By Ishtiaq Ahmed
Rather than hate India, we should learn from India. It has five times a greater population, far greater ethnic and linguistic variation and myriads of religious faiths and cults. It is not a democracy in the social sense but it is a sophisticated democracy in the political sense
I have presented, mainly, the exclusive model of nationalism and state-nationalism that I have argued emerged in Pakistan, notwithstanding the very bold attempt of Jinnah to supplant it with inclusive nationalism. Exclusive nationalism — whether based on race or religion or some other cultural factor — discriminates, constitutionally, people who do not qualify as members of the community because they do not share the specific cultural ties that have been chosen to define the nation, even if they live in the same territory. Israel is a case in point. Jews from anywhere in the world can come and settle in its territories but not Palestinians who may have lived there in 1948 or in 1967 or in 1973. Only Jews have a timeless law-of-return privileging them over the Palestinians.
The question arises: are states and nations fixed and frozen forever or can things change for the better? In other words, can an exclusive type of nationalism be transcended by an inclusive type of nationalism? The answer is, yes. After all, the nations of Western Europe were originally founded on membership in the State Church. Before World War II, most states in Western Europe required membership in the State Church in order to hold public office. Thus, for example, Sweden, where and my family and I are now settled, required even schoolteachers to be members of the Lutheran State Church.
When western states became members of the UN, they began removing all discriminatory laws. Thus state-nationalism, based on exclusive religious criteria, was abandoned and, instead, inclusive nationalism was adopted. Of course in doing so, the horrors and suffering of World War II played a very important part. It was realised that peace within Western Europe depended upon the establishment of secular-democratic states. Germany, the main offender in World War II, was the last to change its laws and now people of non-German descent can also become German citizens with equal rights.
We in Pakistan have not suffered a major war, but, since 1980, innocent blood has been spilled every now and then by religious and sectarian zealots. Not only do they target minorities — Hindus, Christians, Ahmedis, Shias — all of whom live in fear, but, from time to time, the Sunni sub-sects are also drawn into horrific target killings. Suicide bombing is another form of self-destruction.
The creation of Pakistan was supposed to give the Muslims of India a chance to develop and prosper because Hindus and Sikhs were ahead of them and they felt that a united India was not a level playing field. That is the point of view that attracts most of us — most recently Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain wrote a eulogy to Jinnah for giving us Pakistan. There is, of course, the other point of view as well that Pakistan was to become an ideal Islamic state. On both counts, we have failed. The Muslim middle class or intelligentsia have done well but so have the landlords who would have lost their big landholdings if India were to have remained united.
The creation of Pakistan also benefited a military apparatus that takes away a major portion of the development budget. I remember that in 1999, Rs 179 billion were allocated to defence and only Rs 5 billion to education and health. Does that make any sense? I am sure India also overspends a great deal on defence. It can also cut its huge spending, which is Pakistan-specific, if the power elites of both states act responsibly. As for Pakistan becoming an ideal Islamic state, I need not labour this point at all because we are considered the epicentre of global terrorism thanks to just such an obsession. When you talk to a Baloch, he has his own catalogue of grievances against what he describes as the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan. I suppose he would say thank you to anyone who gets rid of Punjabis from his homeland.
Rather than hate India, we should learn from India. It has five times a greater population, far greater ethnic and linguistic variation and myriads of religious faiths and cults. Although India has thus far failed to tackle the sprawling poverty that afflicts the lives of vast portions of its population — and I am convinced it has roots in the inhuman caste system — it has nevertheless evolved political institutions that confirm that, in spite of all the odds against it, India is a political democracy. It is not a democracy in the social sense but it is a sophisticated democracy in the political sense. How else would you explain that a former untouchable, Ms Mayawati, is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh with a population equal to that of Pakistan?
There is, of course, a virulent Hindu nationalist lobby that is equally exclusive of minorities as is Muslim nationalism. It has committed many crimes against Muslims and Christians but it does not enjoy such sanction from the Indian constitution. In the case of Pakistan, the constitutional and legal systems uphold discrimination. This must go. A 96 percent Muslim majority state does not need to reinforce its overwhelming advantage over the minorities by imposing draconian laws such as the blasphemy and Hudood laws. Pakistan can become a constitutional democracy by adopting Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech as the basis of its nationalism. More difficult than that, is it not?
I think it was most unfortunate that Pakistan’s National Assembly declared the Ahmedis non-Muslims but, simultaneously, I do not think that different Muslim groups are under any obligation to accept each other as authentic Muslims. They can privately continue to damn each other but the state should have no partisan role in it. Till the mid-1960s, the Catholics and Protestants believed that the other group would burn in hell. This is in the nature of monotheistic religions. What the rest of the world has learnt to do is separate religion from the state, making it a private affair.