The Pakistani predicament cannot be understood or fully explained without a reference to history. We are what we are in large part because of the circumstances of our birth. That we were unprepared for statehood was no big disability.
Nations learn on the march and we could have done the same. But we were scarred by something else. Our vision of statehood was very limited. In that sense it was flawed.
Partition and independent statehood should have meant a liberation of the spirit, a broadening of our mental horizons. But in our endeavour to construct an ideological state, resting on a system of thought, which drew inspiration from the past, we set about erecting high walls and embankments around national thought. We should have been a progressive nation. We became instead an outpost of reactionary thinking.
To a large extent this reflected the kind of leadership we had. The Indian national movement had produced a whole range of outstanding leaders, spanning the political spectrum from right to left. With the perennial exception of Jinnah and one or two others, the leadership of the Muslim League was plodding and lustreless, nawabs and sardars drawn mostly from the aristocracy and the landed class. Such a leadership could not create a progressive nation.
There was another vital difference between the Indian national movement and the movement for the creation of Pakistan. The former struggled for independence from the British whereas the primary aim of the latter was to seek safeguards for the Muslim community against the Hindu majority.
Jinnah was amongst the first of the Indian nationalists. We must always bear this in mind. But on the whole the Muslim League leadership was not in the forefront of the fight against the British. That was not part of their outlook. Worried about the future they sought bulwarks against Hindu rule. And, given their social background, they were mortally afraid of anything that carried even a remote hint of socialism.
This was not a fighting mentality. This was a defensive mentality and its nature put a stamp on the texture and psychology of the new state. Small wonder then that audacity and the taking of risks, the ability to think big, were not the defining characteristics of our birth.
We did not prosecute the Kashmir war, 1947-48, with the vigour that the enterprise deserved. Jinnah was an ailing person and the men around him, a few exceptions apart, were men of straw. Where we should have lost no time in drawing up a constitution we wasted time in theological debates, one outcome of which was the Objectives Resolution.
Where we should have abolished feudalism and distributed Hindu property equitably, we allowed feudalism to retain its stranglehold in West Pakistan (East Pakistan being different) and distributed evacuee property on the basis of self-filed claims, opening the door to widespread graft and forgery.
The dominance of the bureaucracy over state affairs was no accident. The calibre of the Muslim League leadership almost invited bureaucratic meddling and interference. The higher bureaucracy being deeply conservative in nature, its growing influence meant a predisposition towards a policy of dependence upon the West. Our status as the United States’ most allied ally and our membership of the anti-Communist alliance were thus foreordained.
Our geographic location or, as we are wont to say, our strategic location, at the crossroads of history and the march of empires, should have given us confidence and strengthened a spirit of independence. In our case it gave rise to a sepoy mentality: a willingness to serve foreign interests at minimum wages. Before independence our so-called martial races served most loyally the British Empire. After independence our army has felt little qualms in serving American interests under one guise or the other.
So many things have changed over the years but this aspect of our national policy remains fixed in stone. We concluded our first military agreement with the US in 1951. Sixty odd years later we remain locked in America’s military embrace, fighting a war whose direction and purpose are defined by the US.
In India it was the quality of the leadership thrown up by the independence movement, which ensured civilian dominance over the military. In Pakistan it was the sub-standard quality of the political leadership, which ensured the military’s dominance over decision-making. Given the material at hand, no other outcome was possible.
Pakistan also suffers from another disability: the overweening influence of Punjab in all matters great and small. Punjab’s has been the dominant hand and, more importantly, the dominant thinking in shaping Pakistan. East Pakistan was pushed towards separatism because Punjab could not accommodate East Pakistani aspirations. Punjabi judges, acting in concert with Gen Zia (as his willing accomplices), hanged Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. When Pakistan’s accounts before the final judgment seat are drawn up, Punjabi generals, mandarins and senior judges will have much to answer for.
The ideology of Pakistan is largely a Punjabi artefact. Pakistan as fortress-of-Islam is also, for the most part, a Punjabi concept. Islamabad as Pakistan’s capital is a Punjab idea. For much of Pakistan’s history the Punjabi elites and the army high command have marched to the same tune.
No wonder, Pakistan’s affairs are in such a mess. Through an accident of history Punjab is propelled into a position of leadership and it makes a mess of the whole thing.
Punjab and the army are synonymous. Punjab and the ISI are synonymous. Punjab and the threat from India are synonymous. The ideological state dedicated to a very primitive notion of national security—underpinned by huge outlays on defence—which we have created, is a Punjabi invention. The remaking of Pakistan has to begin with dismantling the national security state. Otherwise the sepoy mentality will remain alive and our begging bowl will not break.
The Delhi Sultanate, beginning with Qutbuddin Aibak and ending with Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi, and the Mughal Empire, from Babar onwards, were not fortresses of Islam. They were secular enterprises resting upon a superiority of arms and a vision of government in which the highest posts were occupied by the Muslim aristocracy but which, lower down the rung, allowed room for votaries of other faiths. This was out of necessity because such a vast kingdom could not be administered on sectarian or exclusivist lines.
The greatest Muslim kings and emperors of India were those who were the least bigoted. The worst were champions of fanaticism such as Aurangzeb. The Mughal Empire’s tragedy was Aurangzeb’s victory in the war of succession, which broke out during the lifetime of the Emperor Shahjehan. For the future of the empire Dara Shikoh, genial and tolerant, would have been a far better choice.
Pakistan’s problem is the blinkers on the eyes of its governing classes. There has to be a liberation of the mind, a cultural revolution, before Pakistan can emerge from the shadows into the light. And before it can leave the sorrows of the past behind.
Ayaz Amir is a distinguished Pakistani commentator and Member of National Assembly (parliament). For comments, write to firstname.lastname@example.org