Every year this month, we have the same arguments, the same reflections…
Independence Day is an occasion to pay tribute to the leaders and the ordinary people who made enormous sacrifices for the establishment of Pakistan. It also provides an opportunity to review what has been achieved in the years of independence and where have we faltered?
Pakistan’s story is neither a total success nor a total failure. It is a mixed track record of some achievements that have kept the state going and the failures that often cause disappointment and a crisis of confidence among the people.
Right from the first Independence Day, Pakistan was subjected to the doom’s day scenario. There were a number of political and societal leaders in India and Great Britain who thought that Pakistan would collapse under the weight of its problems within a couple of years. The Congress Party of India thought that when the emotions of 1947 subside, the whole issue of division of India would be reviewed afresh and that Pakistan would return to India.
Though India also faced problems in the initial years, Pakistan encountered far greater challenges because it was virtually setting up a new state system which lacked financial resources and trained human power to sustain the state. Its industrial sector was weak or non-existent in certain fields and the overall economy faced serious problems because of the negative impact of the partition and especially violence and disorder of the earlier years.
However, Pakistan has not only survived but created a viable state by coping with internal changes and cultivation of new international linkages. The industrial and business sector experienced much expansion and the same can be said about education and healthcare if we compare the present situation to what it was in the first three-four years of independence. Refugee rehabilitation was a cumbersome problem which of which was tackled in 20 years. The establishment of Pakistan provided new opportunities to its citizens.
The ideals and goals set out in the last phase of the independence struggle or the early years of independence have not been fully achieved. The greatest failure has been the non-realization of the shared destiny as visualized at the time of independence. There is a lack of widely shared and enduring consensus as to why was Pakistan created and what type of political and economic order should be adopted?
An ideological and political confusion is being deliberately created in Pakistan on the nature of the Pakistani state and its future direction. Even what constitutes democracy is often challenged by different groups for different reasons. If there is no argument available to question the 1973 constitution and elections, the Islamic argument is brought in to delegitimize the existing system. For example, one favourite argument in Pakistan now-a-days is that the people holding the key offices should do things, function as rulers and lead their lives in accordance with the life style and governance of the Khulfa-i-Rashideen. Why should President Zardari have constitutional immunity and maintain so much security around him when the earliest rulers of Islam did not have any of these things.
With this kind of argument you can delegitimize the modern stats system as it is different from the Islamic government of the earliest period. However, nobody would like to apply this rule on one’s individual life. Nobody makes the argument that we should not use electricity, modern means of communication and technologies because these did not exist in the earliest period of Islam.
Pakistan was established on a ‘homeland’ concept. It was a homeland for the Muslims to protect their socio-cultural identity, rights and interests from being overwhelmed by an unsympathetic majority in a united India. This insecurity was caused by the political experience of a large section of the Muslim League that converted their concerns into political demands.
Islam was invoked for political identity formation for the Muslims to distinguish them from the followers of other religions in the politics of India. It was also used for political mobilization for the attainment of the political goal of protection and advancement of the identity, rights and interests of the Muslims. The strategies of the Muslim League to achieve this objective changed over time. Ultimately, the Muslim League leadership adopted the strategy of a separate homeland.
It is erroneous to argue that Pakistan was created for implementation of Islam or in the name of Islam. It is a post-independence argument advanced originally by Islamic political parties to justify their role. There is no resolution of the Muslim League in the pre-independence period that says that they wanted a separate country to protect Islam or implement Islam. There is no resolution of the Muslim League for making the Sharia the supreme law and constitution.
The slogans in the marches of the Muslim League and the election campaign, especially in the Punjab, NWFP and to some extent in Sindh are now being used to determine the nature of Pakistani state.
While emphasizing the identity, rights and interests of the Muslims, the Muslim leadership and especially the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, always assured equal citizenship to non-Muslims that were to stay in Pakistan. The homeland for the Muslim was to be a multi-religion state where the rights and interests of every community were to be protected.
What we need to do most is to create a genuine democracy that pursues constitutional liberalism, civil and political rights, socio-economic securities for all, free education and healthcare and equal citizenship irrespective of caste, creed, ethnicity, region, religion, sect or gender.
Other independence related debates relate to the date of independence. Pakistan, like India, got independence on August 15. For some years Pakistan used to celebrate its Independence Day on August 15. Later, it was changed to August 14, perhaps to distinguish it from India’s independence. During General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, a large number of orthodox religious leaders wanted independence to be officially observed on 27th Ramzan. Some of them proposed that Islamic Kalma should be inscribed on Pakistan’s national flag in the tradition of Saudi flag. The Zia regime did not implement their demands. This year, some religious leaders plan to celebrate the Independence Day on 27th Ramzan.
We should not get involved in unnecessary debates so that we save time and energy for the tasks that will improve the quality of life of the common people. Pakistan’s salvation lies in addressing societal problems rather than political and religious leaders engaging in personalized and ego-driven debates.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.