When did Pakistan change from being a liberal country to a fundamentalist one?

Published: August 14, 2016
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It was led not by cultural relativists in flowing robes, but by modern Muslim men and women, most of whom felt that they could reconcile their faith with modernity.

When and how did Pakistan go from being a moderate Muslim majority country to a fundamentalist society within a relatively short span of time and is this trend irreversible?

Pakistan emerged out of a Muslim nationalist movement organised around the group identity of the Muslims of British India. It was led not by cultural relativists in flowing robes, but by modern Muslim men and women, most of whom felt that they could reconcile their faith with modernity. Jinnah’s objectives in any event were to create a united Muslim voting bloc within united India and his demand for a Muslim majority federation was more of a maximum demand he did not expect to be realised.

Jinnah had no truck with the millennial ambitions of certain sections of Muslims who imagined Pakistan to be an Islamic utopia. He repeatedly shot those ideas down, asking his comrade and fellow Shia Raja of Mahmudabad if he had taken leave of his senses by advocating an Islamic state from Muslim League’s platform, suggesting that if what Raja was saying would be followed,

“Consequences would be a struggle of religious opinion from the very inception of the State leading to its very dissolution.” Jinnah then told him categorically that Pakistan “would not be an Islamic state” but a “liberal democratic Muslim state.”

Critics of the Pakistan movement, like Venkat Dhulipala, who want to deliberately ascribe a religious motive for Pakistan often quote Raja of Mahmudabad’s utterances but fail to mention Jinnah’s response, because their entire thesis would fall flat on its face if they would.

It is not often appreciated that the realisation of Pakistan in 1947 and partition of Punjab and Bengal came as a shock to Jinnah and his colleagues who had not really expected Congress to ever agree to a division of India. Now came the hard part – laying the foundations of the new state. On August 11th, 1947, Jinnah made his vision plain. It was to be state where religion of an individual would be a private matter between him and God and where, in due course of time,

“Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual, but in a political sense”

As a citizens of the state and where angularities of majority and minority would vanish. It is a searing irony that we celebrate this day as “Minorities Day” when Jinnah envisaged a Pakistan where there would be no distinction between majorities and minorities.

Choosing his first cabinet, Jinnah picked Jogindranath Mandal, a scheduled caste Hindu lawyer from Bengal, as Pakistan’s first law minister. It was the same Mandal he had chosen to represent Muslims in the interim government of India in 1946 and the same Mandal who presided over the inaugural session of Pakistan’s constituent assembly. As far as symbolism goes, this was as clear as it got. A scheduled caste Hindu could represent 90 million Muslims, a scheduled caste Hindu could preside over the inaugural session of the largest Muslim majority state of its time, and a scheduled caste Hindu could be the law minister in that state, because the state that Jinnah envisaged would be a modern and liberal democracy not a theocracy to be run by priests with a divine mission.

With these beginnings, how did we go wrong?

The truth is that Jinnah was an exception in even the ostensibly secular liberal Muslim elite around him. There was in Jinnah still the erstwhile secular Congressman of the pre-1921 era who believed in Hindu Muslim unity and a secular polity – a veritable civic nationalist who believed in a secular Pakistani identity. Lacking Jinnah’s clarity on Pakistan’s civic nationalism, Liaquat Ali Khan and other Muslim Leaguers, soon after Jinnah’s death, promoted the ‘Objectives Resolution’ which was seen as a compromise between the liberal opinion and the religious opinion. If one analyses the Objectives Resolution, it becomes clear that Pakistan’s rulers were searching to find a reason for why Pakistan was created in the first place. This reason, they lazily concluded, was the establishment of an Islamic order.

To be fair to them though, their understanding of this Islamic order was at variance to how Abu Ala Maududi and Shabbir Ahmad Usmani understood it. Liaquat Ali Khan, Abdur Rab Nishtar and Sir Zafrullah Khan imagined that the interpretation of Islam and its doctrine in modern Pakistan would remain in the hands of men like them and not in the hands of priests with a divine mission. This was a major miscalculation, the results of which were not immediately obvious because Pakistan continued for the next two decades as a relatively liberal and modern state mindful of its religious diversity. Another check on Islamic millennialism was the existence of a large Hindu majority in East Pakistan. In 1971,when for the first time in history the majority of a country seceded, Pakistan was stripped off its Hindu minority almost completely.

This is precisely why the 1973 Constitution took on a more religious colour than the 1956 and 1962 Constitutions. For the first time Pakistan had a state religion. The office of the prime minister was reserved for Muslims. Then in 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a liberal and secular man, threw open the floodgates by allowing the National Assembly to decide the fate of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. They were declared non-Muslims by a unanimous vote, including the votes of secular politicians like Wali Khan and his party members. These ostensibly liberal politicians laid the foundations of a fundamentalist state.

Promises by Jinnah were jettisoned for the sake of political expediency and sectarianism became state policy. Dr Ayesha Jalal has hinted in her book, Struggle for Pakistan, that Saudi Arabia might have been behind the decision. They had apparently conditioned their support for Pakistan’s nuclear program on this decision. Whatever the case, Saudi influence began raising its tentacles during Bhutto’s government.

In 1977 when the elections were called, a nine party alliance of religious and secular parties, including the Awami National Party (ANP), organised themselves around the demand for “Nizam-e-Mustafa” or Islamic order. In a bid to out-manoeuver them, Bhutto instituted his own Islamisation program. Alcohol and night clubs were banned. Horse racing was banned. Friday became the national holiday instead of Sunday. As election results came out, Bhutto was accused of massive rigging. Enter General Ziaul Haq who sent Bhutto to the gallows in 1979. General Ziaul Haq now took the “Nizam-e-Mustafa” demand to its logical conclusion – the unveiling of an Islamic order based on narrow interpretations of right wing religious scholars like Maududi.

Countless new Islamic laws were added to the statute books. A Federal Shariat Court was introduced as a super court to determine whether laws conformed to Islam or not. Religious freedom of groups, like the Ahmadis, was further curtailed and in 1986, 295-C was added to the Pakistan Penal Code which called for death or life imprisonment for any blasphemous comments, intentional or unintentional, about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Women’s testimony was reduced to half in financial matters through the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order which remains the case even today.

Simultaneously, General Zia instituted social engineering through syllabus changes prescribed by Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious groups. General Zia’s regime had the complete support of his American allies who thought that a staunchly fundamentalist Pakistan would be the best guarantee against communism’s spread to South Asia. The Cold War ended, but it is only now that the children schooled in General Zia’s syllabus have come to the forefront. Their world view is shaped by three decades of state propaganda about the ideological foundations of Pakistan – more myth than reality. Many of them today reject democracy as kufr. An entire generation has been radicalised into thinking in terms of violent jihad. It is no wonder that you find extremists in every walk of life in Pakistan. The liberal democratic state that Jinnah had in mind, for the present, is a thing of the past.

Yet, as Jinnah used to say, nothing is permanent in life. The people of the Indus Valley have a glorious past that goes back 8000 years. Extremism has never lasted in this region in its history. The radicalisation that General Zia has brought about will ultimately be a passing phenomenon. I have no doubt that the posterity will undo the harms done to Pakistan in the last 30 years and will hark back to Jinnah’s words on August 11, 1947, as the right and proper vision. Of that there can be no doubt. Future Pakistanis will revisit, revise and re-order their state according to that vision.

Yasser Latif Hamdani

Yasser Latif Hamdani

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He tweets as @theRealYLH (twitter.com/therealylh)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.