Pakistan in historical perspective

Nabeel Ahmed Sheikh

Pakistan came into being as a result of a long and relentless struggle of the Muslims of the subcontinent for a separate homeland. The Muslims under the dynamic leadership of the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had to struggle hard and gave tremendous sacrifices. This demand was made by the Muslims only when it seemed to them that the Hindu majority was absolutely determined to deny to the Muslims their due rights within a unitedIndia.
The political struggle of the Muslims was aimed at securing their political, economic and cultural rights in India. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the great pioneer of Muslim political revival, had himself been a strong believer of Hindu-Muslim unity, until he was jolted by the Hindu agitation against Urdu, which was the lingua franca of the sub-continent and the language of administration in many parts of India. Urdu was also the repository of the best in Muslim literary and cultural traditions.

The campaign against Urdu was, therefore, seen by Sir Syed and by most Muslims as an attack on their very existence as a distinct religious and cultural group. This impelled Sir Syed to describe Muslims and Hindus as two nations, but he never demanded the break-up of India on religious grounds. Of course, at the time, Sir Syed saw British imperialism as unchallengeable and the issue of independence and a separate Muslim homeland probably did not seem relevant tohim.

However, when the British rulers decided in the 1880s to introduce a system of rudimentary democracy in India, Sir Syed told the Viceroy that the English system of open elections would not be suitable for India. The English people had a common religion and culture but in India there were vast differences based on religion and caste. A system of open elections would mean that the majority (Hindu) community would totally override the interests of the minority (Muslim) community. He, therefore, asked for separate electorates so that the Muslims could get representation according to thenumber.

Separate electorates and one-third representation in the Central Legislature (corresponding to the percentage of the Muslims in India’s population) were the two main Muslim demands until the 1930s. The Hindu-dominated Congress Party conceded these two demands in 1916. The Lucknow Pact, negotiated by Jinnah, was seen at the time — and could well have been the solution to Hindu-Muslim differences. Unfortunately, the Congress soon thereafter went back on its pledgedword.

Even so, Jinnah tried hard in the Delhi Muslim Proposals of 1927 and his three amendments to the Nehru Report of 1928 to reach a common ground with the Hindus. He even managed to persuade the Muslim leaders to drop the demand for Separate Electorates but insisted firmly on one-third Muslim representation in the Central Legislature. As it was, the Congress summarily rejected even this modest and eminently reasonable Muslim demand. Jinnah said this was the parting of the ways. Still, neither in his Fourteen Points of 1929, nor in the three Round Table Conferences held in London from 1930 to 1932, there was any Muslim demand for the break-up of India.

When Chaudhry Rehmat Ali put forward the Pakistan idea in 1933, Jinnah and other Muslim leaders were unwilling to accept it. The division of India would have meant leaving behind the traditional centres of Muslim culture, as well as a significant number of Muslims, in a Hindu-dominated India. This was seen at the time as an unpalatable choice. However, the Congress Rule from 1937 to 1939 became the turning point for the Muslims of India who had the shock of their lives as the Hindus went all out to impose their political and cultural ideas on the Muslims. Many Muslims now feared the destruction of their way of life in a Hindu-dominated independent India. Thus, the demand for the break-up of India in 1940 was made when the Muslims came to the conclusion that the Hindu majority was simply not willing to concede their basic rights in a united India. In this context, the bitter Muslim experience during the Congress Rule acted as thecatalyst.

It is arguable that if the Hindu majority had adopted a fair and reasonable attitude towards Muslim demands, there would have been no division of India and no Pakistan. It is also worth remembering that, even as late as 1946, when the Cabinet Mission proposed a united India in which two regions in the north-west and north-east would have assured Muslim majority, the Quaid-i-Azam persuaded the Muslim League to accept this proposal. This proved that the first priority for the Muslims remained the protection of their rights in the whole of the subcontinent, while the creation of a separate state was negotiable.

Born amid dire predictions of early collapse, Pakistan has proved ill-wishers wrong by its very survival. At its birth, Pakistan faced all the problems confronting the newly independent states after long periods of colonial rule. It had a subsistence economy, based largely on agriculture, and the standard of living was poor, marked by low social indicators, such as high infant mortality, low life expectancy, low literacy as well as other signs of poverty.

In addition, Pakistan had to rehabilitate over 10 million refugees, apart from setting up a new government from scratch, and managing its economy when the majority of trained and experienced personnel, who were non-Muslims, disappeared. It required extraordinary dedication, and national fervour to keep the country going, especially as the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah passed away barely a year after independence while the Quaid-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated three yearslater.

Now, Pakistan appears poised for a new political takeoff with the arrival of freshly mandated-political dispensation after the 18 February 2008 Elections. Pakistan became a nuclear power, the only Islamic country to do so, despite all kinds of pressures and was able to maintain deterrence in the face of the hostility of a much bigger India, though this arms race held up progress in the whole region. Among several political, social and security challenges, the primary challenges are economic, and these require both internal and external initiatives. The implementation of democratic measures, empowerment of the people and giving them a sense of participation remain fundamental to real progress. As education holds the key to progress, we unfortunately have not been able to address this issue of utmost importance.

Lastly, rapid increase in population is the cause of many other socio-economic challenges that must be faced seriously. As we pass the next milestone on our history, we need to address both the short-term challenges that consist of poverty, backwardness and meeting growing needs of water and energy.

Courtesy: Pakistan Observer, 23/3/2008

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