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Pak has never been led by a religion-based party
A noted Pakistani scholar-statesman who has played an important role in the long-running Indo-Pak Neemrana Track 2 dialogue process, Javed Jabbar is also one of his country's most articulate spokesmen. The former federal minister met TOI-Crest to discuss Pakistan's continuing evolution and Muslim nationalism
Many point out that Pakistan is a nation founded upon a faulty ideology, riddled with far too many internal contradictions. And that these are coming to the fore today, in violent ways even. So those beginnings still matter greatly?
It is important to first understand that August 1947 marked the creation of two parallel nation states. It's often said that Pakistan seceded from India, that's not correct. 'India' was a region back then, more South Asia really. The India that exists today has never existed before. So Pakistan was the product of Muslim nationalism;and we've been coming to terms with that over six decades. Besides, reinforcing that is the enormous ethnic diversity of Pakistan. To combine that with being Muslim is a great and evolving challenge for us. Over 65 years we have tried fairly hard to evolve what I call 'Pakistaniat' with several elements that comprise this. These indicate that through all the desperation, trauma and search for identity - and even the breakup of 1971 - we have successfully reconstructed and revived our sense of identity formation. Yes, being Muslim is the first element of Pakistaniat, and I must point out that despite our sadness at what we have made some parts of Pakistan we are also proud of being on our own. You must understand that issues of identity are a significant element in a country that had no prior historical sense of association between the name of the state and the land, unlike 'India' with its ancient historical antecedents. 'Pakistan' is in fact a baby name, invented only in 1933. The Muslim League did not use it even in the 1940 Lahore Declaration. They used several other terms like 'unit' and 'homeland'. But there again, this was a negotiating tactic, where cultivated ambivalence was a deliberate strategy. Why, even up to January 1947, Mr Jinnah was willing to accept a confederal single India, and it was only when, I'm sorry to say, the Congress leadership proved inflexible that things changed.
But they could never accept the Two-Nation Theory, especially when planning for a secular republic...
Jinnah vehemently opposed the partition of Bengal and Punjab because he also wanted a large population of non-Muslims to be part of Pakistan, a secular Pakistan. To be Muslim and to be secular is no contradiction, by the way. The Muslims of India are a shining example. Many in Pakistan too are secular. But, unfortunately, right from school, Pakistanis are taught that 'secular' means godlessness or atheism, which is a mistranslation into Urdu. This causes problems since it's seen as anti-Islamic. It's widespread and, sadly, our media also propagates it. So you see Pakistan's struggle is also a linguistic struggle, to redefine so many essential notions. On another level it's a political one for us, to empower people and to get them to participate and vote in a democracy - election turnouts in Pakistan have never been more than 50 per cent, for instance. And then we have to work to make that democracy more representative. Yet all this doesn't mean there is a lack of will to preserve Pakistan's identity, to come to terms not only with itself but also to come to terms with India and its other neighbours. So I would urge greater patience in evaluating Pakistan as a nation state. No country in contemporary history, especially in terms of structure, was created like Pakistan was in 1947.
On the basis of religion alone?
Partly, but religion is indeed a potent factor in shaping national identity. It takes different forms in different countries. Even a vibrant India should be seen as a multinational state in this sense. The Muslims of India, in all their diversity, are in one sense a nation. And yet they are mostly happy living within a secular, predominantly Hindu India. So there are different forms of Muslim nationalism developing and one of them is Pakistani nationalism. This will take a few generations more to become fully coherent. And also for us to contain and diminish that violent element that's there in our nationalism. That's not going away easily. A big factor that will shape Pakistan's future is how Muslims evolve their relationship with Islam in the context of both society and the state.
And again, if seen in the historical context, where is this relationship currently at?
We're going through that painful and very tormented process right now, unfortunately. The virus of religion-based extremism was already germinating in the 1950s. It started with the anti-Ahmadi riots and then slowly spread. The leadership did not act with the strength and clarity that was needed back then, sadly. Yet, the people of Pakistan, whenever handed the chance, have never voted for religious extremists. In fact Pakistan has never been led by a religion-based party. This is a fantastic anomaly and shows that the temperament and psyche of the Pakistani Muslim is for a pluralist Islam that respects other sects and religions. It is not going to be held hostage by the extremist part of the polity. I only wish that we had shown the courage early on to confront these radicals.
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