Pakistan was created on the basis of Islam. The logic of that foundational act has led progressively to Islamization of the polity and society.
The July 2018 General Election provides striking evidence of the enmeshing of religion and politics with the mainstreaming of fundamentalist, even extremist and terrorist outfits, into the political process. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), religious parties fielded 460 of the 3,459 candidates (13%) who contested; they received 4.67 million or 10% (approx.) of the 50 million votes (approx.) cast. Not just the number of candidates, even the number of religious parties fielding them has shown a remarkable rise—MMA (including JI, JUI (F) etc.), Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek backed by Hafiz Saeed-led JUD’s political wing Milli Muslim League, and other smaller entities. They represent all schools of thought (Barelvi, Deobani, Shia, Ahle Hadith, Wahabi) and movements (e.g. Khatm-e-Nabuwat).
Pakistan has created and internalized, over the last seven decades, a national belief system derived from the premises of its creation which gives primacy to religion as the sole basis of its unity ignoring the plurality and diversity invested in the land and peoples through ethnicities, culture and languages, customs and traditions.
Pre-Partition, Islam was the one binding factor that could rally the Muslim masses. Ambiguity in detail was then a strategic compulsion. Even Jinnah, as Ayesha Jalal has pointed out, ‘could not afford to state precisely what the demand for “Pakistan” was intended to accomplish’. But this ambiguity continued even after Pakistan came into being. Jinnah declared on 11 August 1947 that everyone would be an equal citizen ‘irrespective of religion or caste or creed’ and that ‘Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense … but in the political sense as citizens of the State.’ Yet, he also told the Karachi Bar Association on 25 January 1948 that Sharia would be the basis for the Constitution of Pakistan. In March 1949, the Objectives Resolution laid down the principles of the state: democracy, freedom, equality and social justice ‘as enunciated by Islam’. Pakistan had thenceforth become an Islamic ideological state.
Subsequent governments carried the process of Islamization forward with varying degrees of intensity. The narrative became that while the Arabs, Iranians, Turks would have their identities even without Islam, what would the Pakistanis be if they gave up Islam? It was but natural that the concept of Pakistan as the ‘citadel of Islam’ would take root. The military convinced itself, and a coerced nation came to accept that it was the custodian and guardian of the ‘Islamic ideology of Pakistan’. Islam, thus, was used to subordinate sub-nationalisms based on provincial or parochial loyalties. But it resulted in a nationalism that became synonymous with anti-Indianism.
As Haqqani points out, there were warnings, even contemporaneously. The Bengali leader, Husain Shaheed Suhrawardy who went on to become the fifth Prime Minister of Pakistan, (12 September 1956 -17 October 1957), warned as early as in March 1948 in the Constituent Assembly against adopting a version of Islam that is not based on ‘toleration, equality, brotherhood’ and, in effect, establishing ‘a communal state within Pakistan.’ He cautioned the rulers of Pakistan against converting the pre-Partition slogan of ‘Muslims in danger’ into a post-Partition slogan of ‘Pakistan in danger’ to maintain Muslim unity and, thereby, keep themselves in power. He presciently anticipated that a state founded on such an outlook and held together by a ‘bogey of attacks’ will result in ‘constant friction’ with India. ‘There will be no commerce, no business, no trade. There will be lawlessness.’
Pakistan’s location endows it with importance in the global and regional security calculus. In pursuit of its chosen goals, it has acquired nuclear weapons, sponsors terrorism, extremism, radicalization, even as it remains poor, corrupt and authoritarian provoking scepticism about its internal stability. In the process, it has taken on, as former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright once observed, the character of an ‘international migraine’.
Hussain Haqqani’s plea is that Pakistan must ask itself some searching questions: How Islamic is Pakistan meant to be? What does it mean to be an Islamic state in modern times? This book, he says, is an ‘invitation to change the way Pakistanis imagine their nation and state so that its reality changes, which might work a lot better than living in denial.’
Haqqani is better placed than most to ask and attempt answering such questions. He has traversed the entire political spectrum of Pakistan—from being a youthful leader with the Jamaat to becoming the ultimate insider as adviser, at different times, to Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto/Zardari. As it happens with such personages, he fell afoul of the ‘Establishment’ (read Military). Unable to return home where the ‘Memo-gate’ case threatens to rob him of his freedoms, he is now in exile in the USA. He is a prolific and incisive analyst of what ails Pakistan and how it might be rectified.
In the eight chapters of this latest offering, he blends a mass of historical evidence with the political and economic verities to substantiate that Pakistan’s self-perception and ‘positive’ narrative do not match up to realities. The fundamental assumptions that need re-thinking, he notes, include militarism, radical Islamist ideology, perennial conflict with India, dependence on external support, and refusal to recognize ethnic identities and religious pluralism. Pakistan, instead of continuing to be in denial, would be better served by ‘reimagining’ itself to adapt to those realities and change its ways to achieve its true potential as a people, society and state.
Why ‘reimagine’? Because that is easier than abandoning foundational beliefs.
Among the contradictions faced by Pakistan, he lists: the attempt at seeking a Middle Eastern identity while geographically a South Asian state; adopting a radical version of Islam while the people practice a more gentle Sufi version; alliance with the West but suspects and is suspected by it; an authoritarian state with democratic pretensions; remaining insecure despite nuclear weapons; inability to sustain economic and political stability.
Its faultlines, he says, include: civil-military discord; radicalization vs. tolerance; ethnic cleavages; poverty and inequality.
Haqqani feels that Pakistan might be better served by emulating China which transformed itself after choosing pragmatism over dogmatism. Or Japan and Germany, post-War. Pakistan might explore alternative futures that are not bound by ideological parameters: seek friendly relations with neighbours like Afghanistan and India; mainstream secular rather than extremist opinion and organizations; focus on improving human indices rather than on a power matrix bred by self-propagated insecurities.
Haqqani is not very optimistic that a re-think is in the offing.
But then, this book was written before Imran Khan’s victory in the elections. In his first address to the nation on 26 July 2018, Imran spoke of these very issues as his core objectives: improving the lives of the ordinary people, boosting human indices, battling corruption, friendship with neighbours, peace and stability in the region.
Will Imran Khan’s tenure as Prime Minister lead to a ‘reimagined’ Pakistan?
TCA Rangachari is a former diplomat and former Director of the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Book News Book News
Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters by Asad Durrani who served as a three star general in the Pakistan army, and later headed the Inter-Services Intelligence agency from 1990 to 1992, reflects on his time in office—refined by distance and by diplomatic stints in Germany and Saudi Arabia, his assessment of the challenges faced by Pakistan in the last decades. Though critical of the country’s civil and military leadership—also conceding some of his own flaws—he argues that the real causes of Pakistan’s travails differ from what international observers have come to believe.
Westland, 2018, pp. 273, R699.00
Hussain Haqqani’s plea is that Pakistan must ask itself some searching questions: How Islamic is Pakistan meant to be? What does it mean to be an Islamic state in modern times?