Of The Mischief In Our Stars

At every critical juncture of its tortured history, Pakistan has unfailingly proved its detractors right

Of The Mischief In Our Stars

Perhaps our country was born at an inauspicious moment; under the evil watch of misaligned stars. Paulo Coelho (of The Alchemist fame) said, “When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” But the reverse can also be true; “When we really need something, the whole universe conspires in preventing us from achieving it.” We, as a nation, have been in a profound search for political and social stability but our misfortunes prevent us from securing it.

Stumbling its way from crisis to crisis, Pakistan has now finally reached a nadir in economic meltdown, political instability, institutional paralysis and judicial stagnation. The ever-increasing incidents of religious, sectarian, political and familial violence in every part of the country are a natural social response to the breakdown of state structures.

This started before the creation of the country. A listing of this tragic array of a comedy of errors would create a sense of why good fate has eluded us. In the process of self-introspection, it would dawn on us that misaligned stars didn't choose us: instead, it is we who chose them to follow.

To begin with, even the infallible Quaid-e-Azam slipped on the question of Pakistan being an Islamic state. In order to gain public support, he voiced assent to the idea and accepted the slogan of “Pakistan ka Matlab kia” (The meaning of Pakistan is that ‘God is One’), and then went on to state on numerous occasions that Islam would be the basis of governance in Pakistan. This was political opportunism. In his famed August 11, 1947, speech, he only guaranteed freedom of religion; but even that promise was not honoured by those who followed him in leadership role. Then, on the very vital issue of promoting Urdu above Bengali as the official language of Pakistan, he erred again. A person who neither understood Urdu nor knew Bengali was attempting to impose the language of minority on the majority. Moreover, out of the two, it was Bengali that was richer in history, with better literary and scientific output. 

It is hard to digest that the Quaid’s great vision deserted him at a critical point. The first anti-Pakistan riots in Dhaka, with loss of lives of East Pakistan youth, are called Language Riots in Bangladesh and marked with a Shaheed Minar. The day of the bloody riots. February 21, in 1952, is commemorated as a national holiday in Bangladesh. In declaring the day as the International Mother Language Day, UNESCO indirectly celebrated our folly. 

For people of my generation, the first generation born in independent Pakistan, it is contemptuously humiliating to accept that the likes of Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Attaullah Shah Bokhari, Abdul Samad Achakzai, Maulana Maudoodi,  Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan (yes, even he), Syed Hussain Ahmad Madni, Khizer Hayat Tiwana, Allama Inayutullah Mashriqi, Dr Zakir Hussain, etc, who were opposed to partitioning of India, were correct in comprehending that Pakistan would be a failed idea. Hussain Ahmad Madni opposed Pakistan because he thought that nations were formed on the basis of homeland (geographic basis) and not on ethnicity and religion; a truth that we now clearly understand. Significantly, Madni played an important role in helping Dr Zakir Hussain to establish Jamia Millia Delhi, a secular institution of education. Another prominent Muslim leader, Sir Mirza Ismail, the Prime Minister of Mysore, Jaipur and Hyderabad states, and the visionary who transformed Mysore (present day Karnataka) into a land of industry and development, refused to support Pakistan despite the urging of the Quaid because he too didn’t thought it to be a viable nation. However, his two brilliant nephews, Agha Hilali and Agha Shahi, the foreign secretaries, migrated to Pakistan. The Quaid was annoyed with Sir Ismael for not supporting him but, as Bangalore in Karnataka becomes international hub of information technology and allied hardware manufacturing, the latter would be having the last laugh.  

We, the first post-partition generation were raised into believing and branding these farsighted leaders as show boys, traitors, misled and misguided. It didn’t seem strange to us that Muslim League wanted Pakistan for Muslims and a vast majority of their fellow religious and perceptive leaders wanted a united India because they thought that the idea of religious-based state was not practicable. It is discomfiting to realise that those leaders might have had better vision than the leaders of the now defunct Muslim League.

Immediately after the creation of Pakistan, instead of unifying the nation in a democratic social contract, the religious right – with the active support of the politicians – waded into enacting a bigoted piece of legislation in the shape of the Objectives Resolution. Having opposed the idea of a separate county for Muslims in the Subcontinent and having declared both Iqbal and the Quaid as apostates, the clergy held the nation hostage to the pre-partition popular sloganeering of the Muslim League itself. They demanded that the idea of 'Pakistan means Islam' must be put into practice. The Objectives Resolution was a regressive piece of legislation that continues to torment the socio-political fabric of nation. It was proverbial pound of flesh exacted by our Shylocks. 

The speech of Mr Chattopadhyaya, a member of Pakistan's post-independence Constituent Assembly, in opposition to the Resolution, makes more judicious sense now than all the logic given in support of it at that time. He was full of premonitions. He warned that "One day a Louis XIV may come and say ‘I am the State, anointed by the Almighty’ thus paving the way for advent of Divine Right of Kings." Tragically, General Zia said exactly the same thing in the 1984 referendum to extend his rule. The question he formulated was "If you want Islam, then I am the president for five years." This, in opinion of this writer, was worse than the arrogant claim of the French monarch, in that the later referred to his temporal powers but Zia usurped for himself the religious powers as well. He became the State and it's god as well. It is said that the evil that a man does, lives long after him. The evil of the Objectives Resolution is that kind of evil.

In Pakistan, ministers, judges, military officers, bureaucrats and every other official, who should be responsible to the people, claim to be answerable to ‘God and God only,’ an undemocratic declaration frequently hurled at the public. That, in essence, implies accountable to no one. The Objectives Resolution has weakened the concept of democracy to the extent that those elected by the people have no desire to be answerable to the electorate. 

Out of the full strength of 75 of the Constituent Assembly in 1949, only 54 delegates or 72% voted in favour of the resolution. All ten minority members had their amendments rejected and voted against it. Since that fateful piece of legislation, Pakistan lost the democratic path and followed the course of despotism, fundamentalism and fanaticism. At every critical juncture of its tortured history, Pakistan has unfailingly proved its detractors right. 

In contrast, India ratified their constitution in November 1949, held their first general democratic elections in Oct 1951 and continued the democratic traditions that have served them so well in putting them on the path of education, progress and international prestige.

Speaking about the 'Quaid's Pakistan,' a phrase frequently thrown at those who oppose the status quo, he, in his wildest dreams, would not have imagined that the Ahmadi community, that overwhelmingly helped the cause of Pakistan, would be so blatantly persecuted in his country. In one stroke of legislation, the nation cast aspersions on patriots and achievers like Sir Zafarullah, MM Ahmad, Air Chief Marshal Zafar Chaudhary, Lt Gen Abdul Ali Malik, Lt Gen Akhtar Malik, economist Atif Mian, Dr Abdus Salaam, my childhood friend and class fellow, Gp Capt Waqar Nasir, a kind simple soul, and many more like them. Maj Gen Iftikhar and Sqn Ldr Munir gave their lives for the defense of this nation. These people were and are fiercely patriotic and some of them stood by the ideals of Muslim League. 

In enacting the Second Amendment to the Constitution, even a secular leader like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto forgot that religious extremists are insatiable. A bit of latitude only whets their appetite. Indeed the clergy and their zealots didn't stop at excluding them from folds of Islam. It was followed by legislations to reduce space for their religious freedom. They have been beaten, killed, excommunicated and vilified. Their places of worship have been vandalised. The gravestone of Dr Salaam, the only Nobel laureate of the country in science, was defaced. Surely the evil done by the National Assembly in 1974 thrives to the detriment of the country. 

The Quaid would never have assented to the excommunication of a section of society on the basis of religion. In pre-partition days, the section of clergy that opposed Pakistan also wanted the Ahmadis to be labelled as non-Muslims. Paradoxically, these religious extremists, the kind that perpetuate terror in our country, could never have fulfilled their fanatical desire in a free, united India that they supported – but got their wish in a Pakistan that they opposed!

Now we live in a Pakistan where some people would brand the Quaid as a pork-eating, whiskey-drinking non-Muslim. This is a Pakistan of those who opposed him in the run up to independence and who want their own narrow brand of Islam to prevail; exactly what the likes of Hussain Madani, Chattopadhyay and others had prophesied for the nascent nation. This is not the Pakistan that can earn respect among its neighbours or in the larger world. This country certainly had great promise but followed a wrong star at every crucial moment of its history.

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com