Hijacking Pakistan


In the wake of the harrowing spectacles enacted on the streets of the country in the recent times, it is generally being feared that Pakistan has been hijacked for a cause that is inimical to the spirit of its creation just over six decades ago. Apparently, there is a lot of rationale to this contention and considerable circumstantial evidence, too.

The fact that Quaid-e-Azam did not want Pakistan to become a religious theocracy is evident from his numerous speeches and interactions at various forums that have been comprehensively outlined by Ardeshir Cowasjee in one of his recent articles. I would only like to mention what Jinnah said in his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947: You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has got nothing to do with the business of the state….We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state. Now I think that we should keep that in front of us as an ideal and you will find that, in course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.

The contents of this speech have to be reviewed in conjunction with the fact that the religious parties in the undivided India remained indefatigable opponents to the creation of Pakistan and their leaders had even proclaimed fatwas against the Quaid for not being a Muslim. In spite of their vociferous opposition, Pakistan was created because the movement enjoyed the support of an overwhelming majority of the Muslims of the subcontinent. The credentials of the religious right have remained suspect as they have never been able to win the confidence of the people at any of the elections that have been held since the creation of Pakistan. Repeated efforts to compensate this lack of support at the grassroots level through display of crude street power have contributed significantly to the evolution of an environment of fear, forcing people to restrain from expressing their opinion in the open. At a recent funeral gathering, I personally witnessed the gross level of brute aggression that members of the religious extreme have started exuding as part of their general discourse. They convey an unmistakable impression that they would literally pounce upon you if you dared to disagree with their illogical fundamentalist diatribe.

In one of his despatches, Harold Gould has stated that the history of Pakistan has been the systematic rejection of the efficacy of Jinnahs vision of a consensual political mode for Pakistan in keeping with the multi-cultural, politically accommodative model that alone has proved viable in the South Asian context, literally since the Indus Valley Civilisation, and irrespective of whether the regimes in power have been Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. To bring about any fundamental change in this environment that is rooted in historical perpetuity would be an effort not only at contravening the natural bent of the people of this region, but would also be a violation of their legitimate opinion that has been repeatedly expressed by rejecting the path of the fundamentalist parties or groupings to come into power in the country. What we are witnessing on the streets of Pakistan is their expression of anger at this rejection. It may also symbolise a principal change of approach as there is increasing stress on violence with little to no respect accorded to any divergent opinion.

The manner in which the ghastly assassination of the former governor of Punjab has been condoned, nay celebrated by the religious extreme is a belittling omen for the country and the foundations on which it stands. The exhibition of support that the fundamentalist groups have apparently been able to generate is no symptom of approbation of their policies. Instead, it is a poor reflection of the silence that a vast number of the enlightened and well-meaning people of this country prefer to remain enveloped in. Their silence has inadvertently forfeited the stage to the jingoists of the religious extreme who use it to project opinions that are contrary to the spirit of the creation of the country. Pakistan, quite literally, has been hijacked.

Is it that the religious extreme is trying to square it off with the founder of the country in this late bid to alter the fundamental basis on which the national edifice is grounded? They could not defeat his will and commitment then, but they are trying to do so now by hoisting the spectre of fundamentalism. If that were to happen, it would precipitate a paradigm shift. The spirit of peaceful co-existence so exquisitely enunciated by the founder of the country would be replaced with the survival and promotion of a select few. The enshrining appeal to reason and logic would give way to the dictatorship of obscurantism. Grounds for progress would be ceded to proponents of retrogression. Hope would be lost and darkness would descend on human endeavour. Speech would be silenced with whips and thoughts curbed with strangulation. There would be no room for creativity and no encouragement for scholarly pursuits. Mediocrity would reign supreme and innovation consigned to oblivion.

Such is the extent of loss that would be incurred by virtue of the silence that is deafening. In the words of the inimitable Faiz Bol ke lab azaad heinn tere, bol ke zabaan ab tak teri hey; tera sutwaann jism hey tera, bol key jaann ab tak teri hey…bol key such zinda hey ab tak, bol jo kuch kehna hey keh ley (Speak for your lips are not (yet) sealed, speak your tongue is still your own; yours is (yet) your stalwart body, speak for your life is still your own;…speak for the truth is still alive, speak and say all thats yours to say English translation courtesy Dr. Khurram Qadir).

The writer is a media consultant to the Chief Minister, Punjab.