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Jinnah’s Vision For Pakistan: A Conversation With Ayesha Jalal

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Pakistani history going back to its creation in August 1947 is a history of elemental struggles against innumerable obstacles. While some of the obstacles have been external, some have been internal, stemming from leadership failures. The struggles of Pakistan evoke the struggles of Sisyphus, the character in Greek mythology who is tasked with pushing a boulder up a hill knowing fully well it will roll back on him.

If Jinnah were to return today, he would find a country nowhere close to his vision. According to one argument, Jinnah envisaged Pakistan to be a secular state. State was to function as a parliamentary democracy, where all citizens would have equal rights regardless of their religion, a country which would live in peace with its neighbors, where the army would answer to the prime minister.

Soon after his demise, Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan was appropriated and modified to suit the whims and fancies of those who followed him, most notably General Ayub, the commander-in-chief of the army who seized power in 1958. A few years later, Ayub gave the country a new constitution that rested on a novel concept, ‘Basic Democracy’. He claimed that it was better suited to the “genius” of the people. They would not be ready for real democracy, he maintained, for another two generations. Jinnah’s vision was shelved.

Two and a half generations past Jinnah’s vision is still shelved. Why? Was the vision without merit? Or was it the implementers who were at fault? I put these questions to Professor Ayesha Jalal. She’s the acclaimed author of “The Sole Spokesman,” “The State of Martial Rule,” and most recently, “The Struggle for Pakistan.”

Professor Jalal said some of the problems had surfaced even while Jinnah was alive. That’s why he had wanted to be the sole spokesman. Perhaps he knew the calibre of the men who were on his team. Jinnah had selected Urdu as the national language to liberate Pakistan from its colonial, English past. Unfortunately, his decision ended up dividing the two wings of the country. Urdu was hardly spoken in East Pakistan where the majority resided. Jinnah was given bad advice.

At the time of independence, she writes in “The Struggle for Pakistan,” West Pakistan’s per capita income was 10 percent higher than East Pakistan’s. By the late 1960’s, “the western wing had stolen the march with a per capita income that was nearly 40 percent” higher than that of the eastern wing. Yet Ayub, who had served as General Officer Commanding of the 14th Division in the East in the 1950’s, had become convinced that the people of East Pakistan were “incapable of seeing beyond their nose.”

During Ayub’s rule, the seeds of discrimination against East Pakistan were laid which eventually caused that province to secede after a bloody civil war escalated into a full-scale war with India.

How did Ayub seize power? On October 7, 1958, Mirza declared martial law. Jalal says that Mirza told the American ambassador that he was taking this action to forestall an army takeover. Ironically, the army chief deposed him on the 27th of October. This phenomenon would become a hallmark of Pakistani history. General Yahya, Ayub’s hand-picked army chief, deposed him in 1969. General Zia, Bhutto’s hand-picked army chief, deposed him in 1977. General Musharraf, handpicked by Nawaz Sharif, deposed him in 1999.

In July 2000, I was talking to a former army chief about Musharraf’s coup. The general said that anyone who opposed the coup was not a patriot. When I mentioned this comment to Jalal, she quipped, “Who has given these generals the right to judge who is patriotic and who is not?”

Another decision that continues to generate controversy is Jinnah’s decision to send raiders into Kashmir just two months after independence. They were supposed to capture Srinagar, ensuring Kashmir’s liberation from India. She said that Jinnah was not in the loop when the armed tribesmen were sent into Kashmir. They were within 30 miles of Srinagar when they resorted to loot and plunder in Baramulla, a town inhabited by Muslims. In the meantime, the Indian Air Force flew in the Indian army into Srinagar. India tightened its grip over the princely state which Pakistan considered its jugular.

Some political analysts have opined that if the two warring siblings were to resolve the Kashmir issue, they would begin living in peace. But the late Professor Stephen Cohen had presciently averred that Kashmir was merely the symptom of a deeper malaise. If that issue were to be resolved, they would find something else to fight over, he maintained. Jalal agrees. She says that the Indo-Pakistani conflict is a conflict over identities, with each country wanting to be the opposite of the other.

Then our discussion turned, inevitably, to the current situation. She said Imran Khan was the army’s choice. He had “no skills or experience to serve as prime minister.” She felt things were going to get worse during his tenure. Imran’s assertion that the army and the civilian government “are on the same page” gave the show away. The army was calling the shots. When asked why Imran was so popular with Pakistani-Americans, she said that the diaspora was out of touch with reality. They showed up in droves to his rally in Washington, DC and cheered him when he talked about revenge.

Jalal noted that one could demonize politicians in Pakistan at will but could not even raise an eyebrow against generals or judges. In an interview with Dawn, Jalal had noted: “Long suspensions of political processes under military authoritarianism have led to a general disdain for politics and politicians in the country. The negative narrative on politicians goes some way towards explaining the enthusiasm with which people have at different points in time welcomed military takeovers.”

Jinnah had envisaged that Hindustan and Pakistan would be part of a greater Indian Union and that Punjab and Bengal would stay on as unified states. Muslims who stayed in India and Hindus who stayed in Pakistan would live normal lives since Partition would end communal violence.

Instead, Partition turned the two newly born countries into warring siblings. India turned into a slaughterhouse for Muslims and Pakistan became its “stalking horse.” Pakistan became an intolerant state, prone to abrupt shifts in mood, one that was “constantly wrestling with religious extremism and military authoritarianism.”

It’s nothing short of a Greek tragedy that Jinnah’s noble vision was not meant to be realized.

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Naya Daur