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76 Years After: What Pakistan is? And who is responsible for what it is?

  D Suba Chandran

Is ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ an ideal fading into a myth?

On 14 August, reflecting on “76 years of sovereignty,” Dawn, in its editorial, asked a pertinent question: Is ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ an ideal fading into a myth? (Editorial, “From Jinnah to Now,” Dawn, 14 August 2023).

Founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in October 1941, Dawn is one of the leading English daily in Pakistan, considered moderate, independent and liberal. According to Dawn: “The founding fathers imagined an egalitarian, prosperous welfare state; one that thrived in harmony and justice with absolute civil supremacy. But decades after them, what emerged is entirely divergent from their beliefs.”

The News International, another moderate and liberal English daily, in its editorial (“The Idea of Pakistan,” The News, 14 August 2023), said: “The one thing we have never been able to do is define what Pakistan is. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah attempted to do so in his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947. Unfortunately, we have strayed from that ideal and in doing so and paid the price.” The News International, published since 1991, belongs to the Jang media group, which owns Daily Jang, a Urdu daily published since 1939, and Geo News, a TV channel.

The News, in its above editorial, continues: “…history has continued to repeat itself in Pakistan over and over and over again. Democratic leaders have been ousted, killed, maligned. Progress has been thwarted... Until the 21st century, not a single elected government served out its term. More than half the country was so alienated it decided to form a whole different nation. And today, so many Pakistanis had rather take the most dangerous journeys out of the country than try and live here.”

Pakistan “has stood far too close to the edge for far too long.” Why so, and who is responsible?
The editorial in The News also notes: Pakistan “has stood far too close to the edge for far too long. A year that saw Pakistan come dangerously close to default and suffer a political crisis not at all of the people’s making is a reminder of how much is left to be done to complete Quaid’s vision.”

This analysis attempts to analyse the above questions/issues posed by two editorials published by Dawn and The News: Is “Jinnah’s Pakistan’ an ideal fading into a myth?” And why Pakistan “has stood far too close to the edge for far too long.”

While most in Pakistan (and elsewhere) have zeroed on what the problem is facing the country, they seem to miss two specific questions: Why and Who. Why is Jinnah’s Pakistan fading? Why Pakistan has stood too close to the edge far too long? Why has the idea gone wrong? And who is responsible?

There have been numerous reflections on what has gone wrong with Jinnah’s Pakistan – referring to his address to the Constituent Assembly in August 1947. In this context, the first question – the most fundamental question should be on Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan itself. Most of us, based on his address to the constituent assembly in 1947, take it for granted that Jinnah wanted a moderate, liberal and inclusive Pakistan.

Perhaps, he did want to achieve an inclusive, moderate and liberal Pakistan. Unfortunately for Pakistan, and for his idea of it, he could not live for long to see it through. He passed away in September 1948 due to his ill health. From June 1948, his health was deteriorating, and he had to shift to Quetta. Thus even during the brief period between August 1947 and September 1948, he could not concentrate fully to develop his idea into a full-fledged state. After his demise, the idea started unravelling by 1951 itself, as could be seen from developments leading to the first anti-Ahmediya riots. But, did Jinnah really believe, after creating Pakistan in the name of religion, and a “two-nation” hypothesis, that post-1947, it would create a different identity for itself?

Second, did the leaders then outside the Urdu-speaking Muslims in what became the provinces of East and West Pakistan, share the idea of Jinnah’s Pakistan? And do they share it now? While there is so much focus today on terrorism and extremism as an existential threat to the country, there is less focus on what has gone wrong with the idea of Pakistan in the provinces. While those who migrated from British India to Pakistan agreed/agree with the idea, not many leaders today agree with Jinnah’s project on what Pakistan ought to be.

Today’s political leaders pay lip service to Jinnah’s political idea of Pakistan, but think more through their ethnic identity. The PML-N, PPP, BNP and ANP have all but become Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtun parties. Perhaps, the only exception should be Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who tried to build Pakistan and its middle class with his “Roti and Kapda” slogan cutting across ethnic boundaries. Other leaders have been looking at Pakistan through their provincial prisms.

Even Zulfikar did not give space to the Bengalis in East Pakistan, leading to the breakup of Jinnah’s Pakistan. While India and Indira Gandhi took the blame (or the credit) for breaking Pakistan, the responsibility for what had happened in 1971 should rest with the post-Jinnah second-generation leadership that looked at Pakistan through ethnic prism, as against Jinnah’s religious identity. Ironically, it is the religious political parties in Pakistan today (that opposed the idea then), that look at the country beyond the ethnic and provincial identity. Though the religious parties have street power on any given day, they always lacked the political support to form the government at the national level. They could do it in KP (then the North Western Frontier Province) and Balochistan, that too thanks to Musharraf’s machinations in 2002.

The leaders of the mainstream parties today not look at national politics through the provincial prism, but worse, they also look through the class prism. In the process, building a Pakistan for an elite class. This should be one of the primary reasons for the exodus of the middle and lower classes to the Gulf and Europe. This should also be one of the reasons for the lower classes to look at religious political parties, and now the extremist ones.

Political leadership vis-à-vis the Deep State
While the “Deep State” is responsible and has been blamed for political engineering at the national and provincial levels, the failure of political parties has been overlooked. The Establishment has been an extra-constitutional political factor in Pakistan. Its intervention during the recent years -  the Imran project before 2018 elections at the national level was a case in point. At the provincial levels, the Deep State played a role in the breakup of MQM in Karachi, and the making of the Balochistan Awami Party in Quetta (to which the caretaker prime minister belonged to before resigning from it on Sunday).

Despite what the Army Chiefs have been telling in public, including the last one, on the political role of the Establishment, its action has been otherwise. A recent case in point is what has happened to Imran Khan and his party. The exodus of the leaders from the PTI would not have happened without the Establishment’s intervention.

The Establishment was and remains a factor in what had gone wrong with the political leadership. But the latter has to take the blame for ceding that space. The political leadership also has been ceding the space to the Establishment. What Imran did before the 2018 elections, Shehbaz and Zardari did after it – working with the Establishment to overthrow the other.

The political parties are yet to accommodate each other at the national level and integrate all provinces in the political decision-making. Until this happens, as The News has commented in its editorial, “history has continued to repeat itself in Pakistan over and over and over again” and will also continue to repeat.

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