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‘This is Pakistan of Zia, not Jinnah’

Regional détente imperative to resolve Pak domestic problems, says Ayesha Jalal

By Imtiaz Ali


Regional détente is imperative to resolve Pakistan’s domestic problems which cannot be solved within its borders, therefore, a breakthrough in Indo-Pak dialogue is the need of the hour, says eminent historian Ayesha Jalal.

She was delivering a lecture on “the relevance of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah for today’s Pakistan” at Mohatta Palace as part of the ‘South Asia spring lecture series’ here on Saturday.

She opined that the held Kashmir holds “strategic significance” for Pakistan because of water. “However, Islamabad’s demand to hand them over Kashmir has undergone changes as the focus is now being laid to resolve this primary problem between the two countries,” she added.

Jinnah’s relevance: Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s thoughts about constitutionalism, federalism and the role of religion still make him “relevant” for today’s Pakistan, she opined.

Referring to Jinnah’s role in the House of Commons and extensively quoting from his speeches, Ayesha Jalal said that the Quaid adopted the path of constitutionalism to seek equal rights for Muslims.

As far federalism is concerned, she believed that Quaid wanted a real federation. The Pakistan Muslim League wanted strong provinces, while Congress was in favour of giving residual powers to the federal government, she added.

Ayesha Jalal said that Jinnah was against narrow interpretation of religion and he had humanist perspective, especially about the rights of women and minorities.

Critical assessment: However, summary dismissal of the NWFP government, central government’s action against Kalat state and perceived insensitive attitude towards the Bengali language were some of the “errors of judgment” made by the founder of Pakistan, she said. Similarly, holding several positions at the same time like presidentship of the Muslim League and the post of governor general of Pakistan were questionable, she added.

She, however, contended that there was a “context” behind these things, which should be understood. She opined that Jinnah made these “mistakes” for the sake of the state formation and stabilisation, adding, it did not mean that the Quaid was against democracy or federalism. When Jinnah termed provincial aspirations or provincialism as “disease or curse”, it was mainly because he wanted Muslims to unite and it did not mean that he was against provincial rights. Similarly, at one time, the Quaid had realized that he should give up the party presidenship.

Admitting that no leader was above criticism, Ms Jalal advocated a “little mercy” for Jinnah, as he was concerned about national unity and wanted Pakistan to stand on strong footing.

She said that like any politician the Quaid changed his tactics/positions to meet emerging requirements and in order to avoid becoming “redundant”, but he never shifted his strategic goals. Quaid was a strong supporter of freedom, as for him a nation without freedom was like a rose without any shadow.

Was violence in 1947 inevitable? Responding to questions from audience, Ayesha Jalal said that prevention of holocaust at the time of 1947 partition needed “administrative action”. She said that her understanding of that period suggested that some evidences were available, raising fears of bloodshed but Mountbatten did not appear willing to prevent it. She said that the bloodshed in 1947 was also a result of collective failure as no leader apprehended it. She said that the Quaid was pretty shaken over the killings and merely extending partition date would not have prevented the holocaust since it required taking administrative measures. However, such massive killings triggered complete panic in Pakistan and the sense of insecurity from India could not be overcome even after the gap of 62 years, she added. Ayesha Jalal disclosed that she was writing a book that would cover Quaid’s entire career.

Zia’s Pakistan: Responding to a question, Ayesha Jalal said that Muslim League raised the famous slogan of “Pakistan Ka Matlab Kia…” because its leadership was under “siege” by the then religious parties which were not in favour of Pakistan. Similarly, she added, religion was used by military ruler Gen. Ziaul Haq in 1980s and by subsequent governments in 1990s because of “strategic reasons”. “Today’s Pakistan is Zia’s Pakistan and not of Jinnah’s,” she commented.

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