Saturday, April 25, 2009


The events unfolding in Pakistan in the recent past, and also ever since its independence, and its partition from India on 14/ 15th August 1947, have always led one to evaluate and analyse the role of religion in the evolution of a modern nation-state. Pakistan started as an idea in the mind of some people.

The idea of a separate country based on religion is attributed to Sir Mohammad Iqbal who first propounded the idea in his presidential address to the Muslim League at Allahabad in 1930, and subsequently refined it in his writings and speeches to reiterate the claims of Muslims to be considered a nation "based on unity of language, race, history, religion, and identity of economic interests." Based on this idea, and the 1933 pamphlet "Now or never" by a group of Cambridge students who called this state the land of the spiritually pure and clean - Pakistan; Pakistan was finally carved out of the Muslim majority areas of British India based largely on the political ambitions of one leader, Pakistan's Quaid e Azam M. A. Jinnah. He worked tirelessly to rejuvenate the Muslim League and convince the Muslims on the need for a separate homeland, based on religion. His rational can best be understood from his own speech delivered in March 1941; relevant portion reproduced below.

"The only solution for the Muslims of India, which will stand the test of trial and time, is that India should be partitioned so that both the communities can develop freely and fully according to their own genius economically, socially, culturally and politically. The struggle is for the fullest opportunities and for expression of the Muslim national will. The vital contest in which we are engaged is not only for the material gain but also for the very existence of the soul of the Muslim nation".

Jinnah was clear that Islam was the basis for the creation of a separate state, but he was also clear that it was not expected to serve as the model of government. Mohammad Ali Jinnah indicated his views about Pakistan in his inaugural address when he said,

"You will find that in the 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."

However, that was only his personal belief, and not the belief of the people he had so painstakingly convinced on the irreconcilable nature of the two major religions of the subcontinent. His speeches had convinced his followers that their religious beliefs dictated that they had to live in an independent Muslim majority state to thrive, and thus not be a part of an independent modern secular Hindu majority nation-state.

His followers believed that the state of Pakistan was created only for Muslims, and Islam had to be the basis for the state and thus this vision of Jinnah of a Muslim majority state in which religious minorities would share equally in its development was questioned shortly after independence. Jinnah did not live long enough to see his vision become a reality and thus his followers steered the newly independent nation in the direction of their understanding of Jinnah's vision, as spelt out by him in his numerous public speeches between the late 30s and 40s leading upto the partition and independence.

The constituent assembly which was constituted to frame the constitution was guided by the objectives resolution of March 1949,

----"wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;
-----wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunna; [and]
-----wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to progress and practice their religions and develop their cultures."

After much debate and disagreements, dismissal and reconstitution of the Constituent assembly, the Constitution of Pakistan came into place on 23 March 1956, after nearly 9 years of independence. In the meanwhile minorities continued to stream out of Pakistan, as they felt threatened by the turn of events. Minorities comprising of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and others today constitute just about 4% of the total population of Pakistan. The main relevant provisions in the Constitution were as follows:-

- The name Islamic Republic of Pakistan was selected for the state of Pakistan.
- All citizens of Pakistan were granted freedom to profess, practise and propagate any religion and the right to establish, maintain and manage religious institutions.
- According to the directive principles, steps were to be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with principles in the Qur'an and Sunnah.
- No law shall be enacted which is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Qur'an and Sunnah and that existing laws shall be brought into confirmity with such injunctions. Whether a law was repugnant to Islam or not, would be decided by the National Assembly.
- Only a Muslim could be qualified for election as President.
- The President should set up an organisation for Islamic research and instruction in advanced studies to assist in the reconstruction of Muslims society on a truly Islamic basis.
- Teaching of the Qur'an was to be made compulsory for Muslims.
- The purchase and sale of alcohol was banned and prostitution was prohibited.
- No person should be compelled to pay any special tax, the proceeds of which were to be spent on the propagation of any religion other than his own.
- The state should endeavour to strengthen the bonds of unity among Muslim countries.

Religion was the basis of this new nation, as per this constitution but people of the same religion who migrated to Pakistan were, and are still, considered to be Mohajirs. There is a Shia-Sunni divide; various other divides and a divide along ethnic lines too. Religion alone has not been the glue that it was propagated to be. Every divide has been slowly showing its ugly face in the course of the last 61 + years of the nation's existence.

This constitution was abrogated in 1958; martial law imposed; new constitution came into place in 1962; name of the state became "Republic of Pakistan" and the prefix Islamic was dropped; this constitution was abrogated in 1969; martial law imposed and Gen. Yahya Khan took over the reins of the nation. Political powerplay between the West and then East Pakistan led to the formation of Bangla Desh, as an independent nation. Pakistan which until 1971 had its Centre of Gravity in India, now started consciously calling itself a West Asian nation and Bhutto started looking at leadership roles for Pakistan in the Arab world. Study of Arabic was encouraged and was duly formulated into the 1973 constitution.

The new constitution came into place in 1973 - which is the present constitution; "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" was reintroduced and the word "Muslim" was defined for the first time. This definition, and the subsequent second amendment, led to the Ahmediyyas being declared as non-Muslims.

Pakistani military has played an important role in Pakistan's history, with military Generals ruling the country from 1958–71, 1977–88 and from 1999–2008. The military has had two major agendas during the course of Pakistan's history - one is to keep the external enemy threat live at all times with an anti-India stance, and keeping the anti-Hindu India (It is really sad that government propaganda has ensured that the people in Pakistan do not know that India has the 2nd or 3rd largest Muslim population of the world) pot always boiling, with Kashmir as the central focus point; and secondly to keep the Islamisation process in place.

After 1971, Pakistan felt that a direct military confrontation with India would not be in Pakistan's favour and have thus resorted more and more to the covert form of warfare - the most brazen being the attack of 26/ 11/ 2008.

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan opened up an opportunity for Pakistan to get funds from the US; open new madrassas with Saudi Arabian funding; and train indigenous fighters to take on the Soviets. This continued even after the Soviets left, with Pakistan aiming to create an area of influence in Afghanistan to ensure strategic depth with regards to India. ISI was given this role and has since perfected it. However, what was not visualised was that Pakistan was going to be a victim of its own creation in due course of time.

The situation in the Western part of Pakistan is going from bad to worse with every individual Taliban fighter deciding on his own interpretation of the Islamic law; the more barbaric the better to keep average humans subdued. The democratic government of Pakistan had to acquiese to the demands of the Taliban by passing the Nizam-e-Adl bill. Zafar Hilaly on April 16, 2009 wrote in the Dawn newspaper that,

"The surrender of Swat politically was as humiliating as that of Dacca was militarily. It matters not that Adl is good or bad, barbaric or Islamic; or that court judgements will be super-quick or delayed; or whether presiding officials are called Qazis or Justices. What matters is that the agreement was extracted by force and specifically by the slaughter, amputations, abductions, rape and terrorising of innocent citizens. Again it matters not that once upon a time the laws and practices under Adl existed as part of the customary law of Swat. So did suttee in India; infanticide in Arabia and karo-kari in Pakistan but they will never be enacted into law notwithstanding demands of locals or a parliamentary resolution. But it is unconscionable that Swati women should be denied education and work when no less a person than the Prophet (pbuh) permitted it in Islam".

The demand of the Taliban does not stop with the passage of the Nizam-e-Adl for the Swat region. Dawn editorial for 21 April 2009 argues that,

"Sufi Mohammad has declared that the high courts and the Supreme Court of Pakistan should no longer have appellate power over judgments handed down by the so-called Sharia courts established under the Nizam-i-Adl agreement. Arguing that the judicial system laid out in the country’s constitution is ‘un-Islamic’, he has demanded that the regular court system be replaced with the Darul Qazas as the only forum for filing appeals that will then be decided in line with what Sufi Mohammad vaguely calls ‘Islamic principles’."

All this implies that in a modern nation-state like Pakistan the interpretation of Islam is going to be left to the people who belong to another era of civilisation.

An article in another newspaper dated 25 April 2009 states,

"The Taliban have now moved into the Shangla and Buner districts in full earnest. Residents report masked militants driving through the streets while loud speaker message warn that no 'un-Islamic' activity will be tolerated. Terrified local people cower within their homes as the Taliban take over towns and hamlets without challenge. What seems to have been a rather half-hearted attempt by the Frontier Constabulary to take up positions in Buner was effortlessly thwarted by militants who ambushed the police vehicle leading the FC Convoy, killing one policeman. The convoy then made a rapid retreat. The apparent connivance of some people in the bureaucracy - the commissioner of Malakand, quoted by several news channels as saying that the Taliban would not interfere with the working of the local administration in Buner, being a case in point - does not help either and one can only wonder under what mandate they are operating against the interests of the nation and the state.

The Taliban are clearly upbeat and confident. Their victory has been decisive. In contrast, our security forces seem confused and undecided, as though they already recognize they are on the losing side. The army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had to forcefully come out with a reassuring statement after a GHQ meeting on Friday but statements alone may not be enough to create a sense of security in the traumatised people of Swat and Buner - and indeed throughout Pakistan. What is reassuring about General Kayani's statement is that the army is determined not to allow the militants to dictate terms and that he is cognizant of the very real danger that the advance of the Taliban pose to the Pakistani way of life. Having said that, so far the matching political will in the government seems to be missing - and if anything, so far only Nawaz Sharif and the MQM have taken the stand that is required of all the country's political leadership. In fact one interpretation of General Kayani's statement could be that the ball is now in the politicians' court: to come up with a concerted and coherent plan of action. When that happens is yet to be seen but the forward march of the Taliban is already making its deadly impact on society. In Swat, and now in Buner, small boys wearing the garb of the Taliban play their own games of war, emulating the victors. One horrible TV image shows them 'flogging' a playmate - emulating what they see all around them. In the future, these games could become all too real. Is this then what we have to look forward too?"

All this brings one to ask the question, "Who decides what is the actual way of life as per Islam"? Is it the Government; the common people of Pakistan; or the people who are the most violent and have been fed on the most regressive interpretations of Islam; with the government trying to hopelessly make peace in the short term with these elements of society. This is not a healthy state of affair for the world in general and Pakistan and its neighbours, including India, in particular.

Religion, I believe, is a very personal matter between a human and his Creator. We may follow the same religion but we will still not have the same perception of our Creator, as the person closest to us, because we all have an independent mind. This is so even if we follow the same rituals and are fed the same mythology too. Rituals and mythology comprise the kindergarten and nursery of religion and help us to develop faith, and nothing more than that. However, actual religion is well past all this and I believe once we actually reach to the pinnacle all paths seem to lead there from any number of directions, based on one's own perception, preference and practice. I firmly believe that religion and the affairs of a modern secular nation-state are not compatible, in as much as each of its citizens are different and diverse in thought and belief. Pakistan is a case in point wherein every individual is trying to exclude everyone else from Islam, based on his individual understanding. Who is the final arbiter in this? The government, which is already found wanting on this account.

The world is concerned and so should the common Pakistani citizens, as they have a self nurtured enemy within which threatens the existence of Pakistan, its neighbours and the world. Can we do something to stop this disease from spreading, or is it already too late??


Ordinary Guy said...

you are right Sir.... it is a disease....
I am waiting for the day we separate religion from State....
I still have hopes for INdia.... but Pakistan seems to have sunk into non returnable state.....
Dont know what is gonna happen....

Kislay said...

Pakistan is a joke, a cruel one , on the people of Indian Sub continent . A very sour one . What else can happen when you distort the very thought process of your citizens , where a Hindu is by default , the enemy .

And the para about Religion was brilliant Sir . Absolutely loved it . I share some similar thoughts .

J P Joshi said...

Ajit: This is a very deadly disease and it is contagious too - and that is the reason for my worry. Unless the people of Pakistan wake up to the threat posed by this virus, nothing will happen. This morning's newspaper says that 300 Taliban fighters have moved into various major cities of Pakistan. Any guesses why? I do hope the people, government and the military of Pakistan start to focus on the enemy within rather than India - as Hillary Clinton has already suggested to them recently.

J P Joshi said...

Kislay: The signs are very disturbing but I do hope and pray that Pakistan survives as a modern nation-state. It is in our national interest. The other options are very disturbing, and I donot even want to think about them.

Political leaders have this unique ability to inflame passions, and generally on non-issues, but once inflamed these passions are very difficult to subdue in people of lesser intellects - the followers. That is the reason why in our context, a Varun Gandhi, a Raj Thackerey, etc. need to be kept under check. Every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed, or religion is guaranteed certain fundamental rights as per the Constitution and these must be respected by all. If not, then it is always the common citizens who lose finally. The law as per the Constitution must and should takes it course, immediately and always. We all need to ensure that. A citizen is a citizen, irrespective of other considerations.

Jira said...

The state of affairs in Pakistan is horrifying. It is Afghanistan once again...And we in the rest of the world can't do anything abt it...
I loved ur write up about Pakistan's History...But I feel that Jinnah was just contadicting himself. If you found a nation based on religion, then there are going to be problems, esp about equality and how people from a different faith are perceived ....

Pakistan has fallen victim to regressive religion...Looks like some of them want the Taliban...Otherwise what is preventing thegovt from driving them out?

J P Joshi said...

Jira: Agree with you that the situation is very bad, although over the last couple of days the government has done some firefighting - I am not sure if this for the consumption of the US before Zardari's visit there and the aid package or they now genuinely feel that they need to stop the Taliban advance. Only time will tell.

My readings have led me to conclude that Jinnah helped create Pakistan to satisfy his own political ambitions; he was a lawyer and a politician, and like all politicians, understood very well that arguments made in terms of caste, religion and other such non-issues in the functioning of a modern state yield good dividend by polarising people, specially in this part to the world. There was no contradiction in his brain. However, it is the polarised followers who have a tough time rising above these considerations after such indoctrination, and that is why it is very important to guard against these issues.

Ordinary people want peace so as to continue with their lives, and will side with anyone who can provide that, based on the people's perception. Yes, there is a lot of sympathy too for the Taliban in that part of the world. It is a very inflammable situation.

Indyeah said...

It is a disease for sure..and as Madeline Albright perhaps rightly said that Pakistan was an international migraine...

but yes I do agree that when all is said and done...we need Pakistan to not just survivce but survive in ahealthy manner like a true democrcay..that is in our own interest

J P Joshi said...

Indyeah: Pakistan and its decision makers obsession with India is their biggest problem. They are the only ones who cannot see that the biggest threat to Pakistan at the moment comes from within, in the form of Taliban and other fundamental and radical non-state actors.

Agree with you wholeheartedly on this. We need stable and democratic neighbours to enjoy uninterrupted peace and development in our country.

Amir Khan said...
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