A Homeland, If We Can Rescue It

A Homeland, If We Can Rescue It
BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future. Pervez Hoodbhoy. Routledge (London, New York) and Folio Books (Lahore), 2023. pp. 476

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is a prominent nuclear scientist, well-known author, columnist, and human rights activist. In his latest volume, he presents robust and provocative arguments in what can only be described as a daring, and must-read book. He sets the stage in his introduction by asking striking questions: was the partition of India worth the price in Muslim blood? What is the ideology of Pakistan, and why does it matter? Why couldn’t Pakistan become an Islamic state? Why is Pakistan a praetorian state? Just what are Pakistanis, and how do they self-identify?

In August 1947, the British colonial administration presided over the hasty division of the Indian subcontinent into two independent nation-states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Religious communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium were torn asunder during the madness of the partition. It forced millions of Muslims to move to West and East Pakistan, while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed for India.

Hundreds of thousands did not survive the communal massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. The weight of this tragic history, hatred, and self-interest still bedevils relations between India and Pakistan. And minorities still live in fear of the majority in India and Pakistan.

Hoodbhoy emphatically rejects the idea that India had separate Muslim and Hindu nations in the distant past. He says there were zero nations. But, after the colonial conquest, India lost its diversity in just a couple of centuries. The basis for the partition that Hindus and Muslims are separate nations has remained contentious. The fact that most Muslims did not cross over to Pakistan in 1947 and represent around 15% of India today defies the argument of a deep civilizational divide, or that Muslims were inherently incompatible with India as a motherland.

The author argues that contrary to official history, the case for the division of India, based on the flawed premise that Hindu and Muslim were separate nations, known as the two-nation theory, was hugely speeded up by the British colonialists and the political and religious leaders of the period to serve their narrow interests. He suggests that just religion is not a sufficient reason for the existence of Pakistan and that there is more to a nation than just religion. He argues that seventy-five years later, if Pakistan is to survive and prosper, the two-nation theory will have to be abandoned in favor of a more inclusive identity.

Hoodbhoy states: “The myth of the two-nation theory emerged towards the tail end of the British Raj and had both Muslim and Hindu versions. With enormous explosive power, these myths fueled political movements that ultimately led to new political boundaries and reconfiguring the Indian subcontinent.” The invention of rival Muslim and Hindu variants of the two-nation theory served diametrically opposite purposes: one was to split India, and the other was to impose Hindu hegemony on a united India.

Undoubtedly, the defining of ‘communities’ based on Muslim and Hindu religious identity and attached political representation quickly unraveled India’s deeply intermixed and profoundly syncretic culture. The polarization of Hindus and Muslims and the growth of competing nationalisms led to the belief of many on both sides that adherents of the two religions couldn’t live together peacefully. Yet, the events of 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh, suggest that ethnicity, language, and geography are more solid attributes of a sense of nationhood than religion.

The book dissects the pivotal role of the founders of Pakistan — educationist Syed Ahmed Khan, poet Muhammad Iqbal, and Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah — in conceptualizing and propagating the two-nation theory. It offers the opposing view of noted skeptics of the Pakistan movement and the partition of India — pan-Islamist Abul A’la Maududi and Congress politicians Abul Kalam Azad and Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

Hoodbhoy makes a convincing case that Iqbal and Maududi, who was a late convert to the Pakistan cause, have left a more lasting influence on Pakistan when compared to Syed and Jinnah because the country veered towards religious fundamentalism amid brief periods of modernization. Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have met a similar fate in India as Sardar Patel and Damodar Savarkar found favor with Hindu nationalists.

One question crosses the book; what is Pakistan? How can one make sense of its identity, its reality, and its future? It discusses the official history of Pakistan that revolves around the Indus Valley Civilization, the Arab invasion of Sind under Muhammad bin Qasim, and the Delhi Sultanate. It is a non-Hindu version of history that ignores pluralism and cultural assimilation built over centuries of co-existence. And imagination, invention, and fable bind the past, present, and future to construct a purified Muslim identity.

Hoodbhoy discusses why, despite persistent clamors, Pakistan couldn’t become an Islamic State. The Qur’an or the Hadith do not specify an Islamic state, nor are there examples of Islamic states in history. Jinnah made vague statements that Pakistan wouldn’t be a theocracy, and that the Qur’an and the Prophet’s life were the primary sources of guidance for Pakistan’s future.

The Objectives Resolution adopted in 1949 by all religious and secular groups saw the future constitution as one modeled on European constitutions following Islamic guidelines. Pakistan incorporated Islamic clauses in the 1956 and 1973 constitutions, but the constitutions “did not give any special privilege or exclusive power to the Ulema (religious scholars).”

Like Jinnah, who kept the idea of Pakistan ambiguous to attract a mass following, the tiny military-civilian elite that controls Pakistan does not want to alarm its external Western and Arab patrons with talk of an Islamic state to ensure the flow of aid. The populace, with little stake in the system, has consistently rejected Islamic parties at the polls. It is more interested in economic survival than living under an Iranian style revolutionary government or Taliban-type regime.

Pakistan is in a state of confusion and unsure of itself. Created as a self-professed Muslim state, it rejected theocracy; it did not fully embrace political Islam. It flirted with democracy and Western constitutionalism, remained prone to military dictatorships, and seems resigned to a hybrid-democratic model, where the military calls the shots looking over pliant civilian governments.

The author discusses why Pakistan is a praetorian state. It is an intriguing question because there is no record in the narrative of the Pakistan movement to confirm that the founders of Pakistan created the country for its armed forces. Yet, very early on, Pakistan developed a fortress mentality and the uncompromising attitudes of a military state. It became introspective and defensive, tending to protectionism and determined to maintain a large military despite the prohibitive costs of doing so. So afraid of the erosion of national sovereignty, it became a client state of external powers instead of trusting the strength of its people and self-governing democracy.

Spineless politicians, a subservient judiciary, and a iron fisted civil service made military control and intervention easier. The military has developed like an octopus, with its tentacles firmly embedded in politics, economy, and society. It zealously guards Pakistan’s ideology crafted around the ideas that Pakistan and Islam are in danger and that extreme centralization of power, militarization, and elimination of dissent can only contain this danger. Yet, the national security state has failed to remove national insecurities. In fact, the cost of maintaining the security state has pushed Pakistan dangerously close to the precipice of economic disaster.

Hoodbhoy admits that the future of Pakistan is the shortest chapter in the book. The incoherent national ideology, the parasitic military-civil-feudal elite, the rampaging Mullah, enforced religious homogeneity, and dogmatic thinking are the primary obstacles to building a modern state. Pakistan needs justice, fairness, and equal representation of all its citizens to progress. Hoodbhoy suggests replacing the failed two-nation theory with a Single Nation theory, keeping religion out of politics, and embracing science and technology. This would be a very tall order indeed.

In conclusion, the book makes a unique scholarly contribution to South Asia and Pakistan studies. It is a well-argued book — contesting the standard Pakistani social science texts. Whether one agrees with it or not, the reader will find it worth the while.

Saad Hafiz is an analyst and commentator. He can be reached at shgcci@gmail.com.