Pakistanis question nationalism based on Hindu-bashing

For someone coming from across the Radcliffe line, the stereotypes about Pakistan perhaps do not make allowance for imagining its citizens engaging in free and fearless expression. By that yardstick, it is quite a revelation to see the Pakistanis animatedly discussing among themselves the idea of Pakistan itself, more than six decades after gaining independence.

“Is Pakistan an Islamic republic or a nation-state?” “For whom did Jinnah create Pakistan?” “What was his purpose?”

These were the questions one heard politicians, intelligentsia and the urban middle classes raise and deliberate upon even as a sombre and increasingly despondent nation was celebrating its 63rd independence day on August 14.

The streets of Lahore, however, presented a different picture altogether. Youths, on their motorbikes festooned with flags, honking away in exuberance, trucks and cars fully loaded with people choking the roads in a festive caravan leading up to Wagah border, presented a picture-perfect display of nationalism. “It has just become a trend. They treat Independence Day as a festival. They have nothing else to do,” muttered an unimpressed by-stander, underscoring the contradictions that characterise the country’s political and civil lives.

The overt display of nationalism barely hides the underlying faultlines that become evident as one hears former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief seeking to know for whom did the Father of the Nation, Mohammed Ali Jinnah create Pakistan. “Is this the Pakistan he envisioned?” he avers while addressing people on the Independence Day.

At another forum, a historian is questioning the distortion of history and promotion of anti-Hindu prejudices among successive younger generations. A former federal minister is lamenting the narrow interpretation of the role of religion in nation’s polity. In another seminar hall, a former diplomat is ruing the failure of Track-II diplomacy between India and Pakistan and stresses the need for Pakistan to become self-dependent.
The reasons for general disillusionment among Pakistanis are not far to seek.

Skyrocketing inflation, power cuts spanning 12 to 16 hours, resurgent militant and jihadi elements, worsening law and order situation and debilitating corruption have pushed Pakistanis to the wall. “In eight years of Musharraf’s military rule, Pakistan added just 160 MW of power. We have a shortfall of 3,500 MW. Nearly 90 per cent of country’s industry has closed down,” says Syed Mumtaz Alam Gilani, Pakistan’s Federation Minister for Human Rights.

Adding to the mounting chaos is the displacement of nearly 30 lakh people from the NWFP province following the crackdown against terrorists that has spawned a humanitarian crisis besides triggering riots in pockets of neighbouring districts where the displaced have moved to. Not to be discounted are an estimated 20 lakh Afghan refugees who are still living in camps across NWFP and Balochistan provinces. Attacks on minorities are rampant. Eight Christians were charred to death by a mob incited by a Moulvi at perceived sacrilege of Muslim’s holy book at Gojra village, barely a week before Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Hate hated

There is an increasing realisation among the civil society about the futility of the discourse based on convoluted nationalism derived from the hatred of the ‘Other’ — invariably a Hindu India. There is anger and resentment laced with anxiety among the majority about the rise of Talibani and jihadi elements and increasing support for military action in the Swat valley. The people want lesser role for the mullahs in the country’s socio-political life.

“Pakistan’s problems are not related to religion; it is an excuse. Our problems are strategic”, explains Tahir Kamran, a professor of history, calling for ‘soul-searching’ by right wing reactionaries. Most intellectuals blame Pakistan’s chequered history after independence and the current gloomy scenario on the failure to develop democratic institutions.

“After all, the military ruled the country for 33 out of 62 years of independent existence; for 17 years there was neither constitution nor the rule of law. The democratically elected governments have ruled only for 12 years,” says Gilani.

Deliberating on the idea of Pakistan, most feel that Jinnah envisioned a nation that guaranteed equal rights and opportunities, civil liberties and socio economic justice by lifting above narrow communal considerations. The liberals in Pakistan quote his speech delivered on Aug 11, 1947 in which he said, “...we are all citizens, equal citizens of one state. We should keep in front of us our ideal and you will find that in course of time. Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims will 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... I shall be guided by the principle of justice and fair play…” Conscious about the two-nation theory based on religion that had led to the birth of Pakistan, Jinnah had called for greater tolerance among communities who would make up the new state.

Ayesha Jalal, director, South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies, Tufts University, says, “the vision of Jinnah began to be distorted after 1979 during the time of Zia-ul-Haq’s presidency. He encouraged religious elements and pushed Pakistan towards theocracy.” She argues that the wave of Islamic radicalism gained force after the Islamic revolution in Iran coinciding with Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

No wonder, the number of madrasas in Pakistan has risen to nearly 80,000 at present from the 160-odd during the time of partition. Whether Pakistan wants to see itself as an Islamic republic or as a nation-state is still a question begging an answer. As Ayesha says, “The battle for the idea of Pakistan is still being contested.”

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