Is Pakistan a nation state? Essay
HISTORY is fickle. A human contrivance, it draws its importance from the mortal human beings who want so much to understand the nature of their existence, their purposes in a span of limited time. and their connections with a buried past and a never realized future. History is meaningless in the absence of human industry, but it is more a reflection of the human mind than the material world of life forms. Life in all its aspects would continue without history, but human life loses its substance without the signposts that mark the trail of human evolution and adaptation. The stages of history describe the increments of human experience on an ever shrinking earth, but it is the individual actors of historic legend that continue to fascinate and provoke interest long after they have past from the world of the living. History, after all, is a summing up; it is the interpreted record of particular events, fashioned by observers who mayor may not be intimate with their subject, who may or may not be participants in the life experience they describe, who mayor may not be able to distance themselves from the story they choose to tell. That there can never be true history, that is, that no historian can ever reveal more than ‘a glimpse into the past. explains why history is forever being written and rewritten.
The volumes that address a particular moment, an event, a personality, address the human yearning for explanation long after the moment the event, the personality have passed from the scene. Ultimately, history is the cumulative record, a glance back to where we were before we arrived at Where we are. And tomorrow the glance back will be to today. and so it will be tomorrow, and in all tomorrows.
THE ELEMENTS OF THE PAKISTAN PARADIGM
By what standard does one judge the political ‘history of Pakistan in the twentieth century? Fifty years is but a moment in the time of states or is it? The Soviet Union was one of the two most prominent of the world’s states when Pakistan achieved independence but fifty years later it is-hardly more than a memory, a virtual footnote to history. Read in such context, fifty years is not a flash of light or the blink of an eye. Fifty years of human events cannot be passed over so casually that we fail to grasp the meaning of the life experience and its manifestation in the contemporary nation state. And perhaps that is one key to the conundrum that draws our attention.
The world of the twenty-first century will be ever more so the world of nation-states. By contrast, when the twentieth century began, nation states were few in number, and except for the United States, the earth was blanketed by empires and their colonies. Empires had their roots in traditions and conventions that described defined status and purpose, and the systems they imposed were not very far from the life ways of the colonial people they victimized. Alien rule was rule from a point beyond the reach of the colonized, but nonetheless it was predictable, and readily grasped by those long versed in superior-inferior relationships. Empires enjoyed exceptional staying power, in major part because the many who suffered the rule of the few acknowledged the uneven juxtaposition of the other’s strength and their weakness. Moreover, time was measured differently in that now distant age. The lifetime of imperial states was read not in years and months and days, but in dynasties and epochs. and little if any significance was given to periods connecting generations to one another. Nation-states are the inevitable result of collapsed empires. Nation-states were spawned in the popular revolutions that challenged and defeated aristocratic and alien rule. Nation states are vehicles for the realization of mass politics. Self government. the inherent right of citizenry to choose their leaders. to demand their accountability. and to establish the limits of their prerogatives. lies at the heart of the process defined as constitutionalism. Limited powers, contractual responsibilities, and fundamental guarantees, frame the relationship between the governors and the governed.
Moreover, law undergirds the functions of the nation state. No one is above the law. and ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. But as law applies to all and justice is deemed to be blind, the procedures where by law is defined and imposed are given as much weight as the law itself. Due process is what ensures that the law will be fair and equitable, that it will not be used arbitrarily, and that the individuals rights are paramount.
The nation-state is all these things and more. It is the safeguarding of its weakest members.> the sanctity of the pluralist community, and above all, it is the creation of a civil society. The world of empires has become the world of nation-states, but whereas the former were practical undertakings and relatively simple to comprehend, the latter are more abstract, theoretical, and burdened by complexity. Nation-states are idealized not realized political expressions, and few if any contemporary nation-states’ conform to the expectations. of their proponents. Becoming a nation-state and being a nation-state are not similar occurrences. Moreover, the spread of the nation stare to every sector of the nation-state to every sector of the planet reveals more.about its appeal than its fruition. Nation-states, therefore, remain goals that may never be reached. Like democracy itself, .the nation-state is more a quest than a reality.
How then is one to think of Pakistan as a nation-state? Pakistan was removed from the womb of one of the most successful imperial systems in human experience, but it began its life in an ambiance-totally out of phase with its incubation. Born from an imperial mother, Pakistan was not genetically structured for the world of republics and federations that dominated the thinking of the post World War II era. A clone of a yet untested species, its surrogate birth provided little if any nurturing, and virtually no guidance. Given existence as a nation-state, Pakistan was from the beginning the antithesis of such expression. The embryonic origins of the new entity were rooted in Islamic tradition, but no other sovereign Muslim dominant state of that period, save perhaps the Republic of Turkey, .centered its performance on nation building. The other self governing and quasi self governing Muslim states of the immediate post World War II condition were replications of older monarchical models and their performance offered nothing the way of advice or example to fledgling Pakistan. More significant, ‘however, Pakistan was the product of a multiple birth. Connected to its I sibling during the sequence of gestation, the separation of the two abstractions was manifested in a transfer of power that conferred individual identities, but failed to ensure the positive interaction of the two offspring.
Pakistan was the consequence of a colonial dispensation made possible by two World Wars and the resolute members of a Muslim League movement ‘who, having failed to receive adequate assurance from the majority community that their commingling was a feasible option, insisted on the right to determine an individual future. The actual division of the Subcontinent, however, was the work of the retreating imperial mentor, and its less than evenhanded treatment of the partition arrangements, instead of ameliorating the transition, exaggerated the fears and intensified the bitterness of those who would be forever unreconciled to the proceedings. Pakistan was as inchoate as it was complex. formed from two territorial segments that were separated from one another by vast distances, the units were even more distant from one another in culture and history. Except for their shared religious experience, the, two geographic regions that became Pakistan in August, 1947, had few assets with which to bridge their great divide.
More demanding of attention at the time, however, was the issue of Kashmir. A natural extension of the northern areas of the new Pakistan. only the withdrawing British Raj can explain why the territory was left-in such an ambiguous state. But Britain has long since disclaimed any responsibility for the Kashmir conflict that consumed Pakistani and Indian forces in the days immediately following their attainment of independence. Kashmir was not another colonial dispensation, but rather’ an imperial confirmation. The inclination of the colonial Raj to restore the powers extracted earlier from the Indian princes made greater sense than the exercise of creating two dominions. albeit two nation-states. And although the former colonial authority would have been content with an independent kingdom in the mountain state, they also made certain the region would remain outside the Pakistan camp if the Hindu monarch was unable to perpetuate his rule.
But while India and Pakistan clashed over Kashmir, there were no conflicts between the two states when communal violence took its heavy toll in Pakistan and India proper. The slaughter of the innocent on both sides of the great divide set in train a mass exodus from both India and Pakistan. But the plight of the hapless millions from central India and northeastern Pakistan did not spark the same military reaction that occurred in Kashmir. The fact that Kashmir became a matter of cross border interest, while the sufferings of millions of refugees were perceived domestic problems, illustrates the State’s centric character of the new political entities’. Territorial, not human, questions drew the attention of the new governments. Thus, when limited strategic interests, not collective. regional concerns, established the limits of cooperation and accommodation. the two nation-states were predestined to emphasize the negative features of their relationship.
These early developments influenced Pakistan’s. political behavior and the country never escaped the legacy of its colonial past. Had Pakistan chosen monarchy instead of the inclusive nation-state, it would have been a more appropriate choice. Had the predominantly Muslim nation chosen theocracy in fashioning its political system, that too would have been more in keeping with the nation’s exclusive self image. The Muslim League leaders, however. the persons most responsible for the creation of Pakistan, rejected the distant as well as the most recent past. Democracy. not autocracy. was the tenor of the post World War II period. and nations justified their demand for self determination in the firm belief that the opportunity for self government demanded distinguishing between the power of the colonial few and the aspirations of the popular masses. By the same token. English schooled Muslim Leagues gave substance to the Muslim dream of a reconstituted political order within the Subcontinent. but few among them entertained a system of government that measured up to fundamentalist demands.
Pakistan. therefore. was conceived and given substance as a secular state. guided by parliamentary practices. and conversant with the rule of man made law. Muhammad Ali Jinnah articulated this choice of political experience. but the historic record reveals even his closest associates. in spite of their intimacy and genuine commitment never fully grasped his full intention. Jinnah created Pakistan. but he did not transform it into a nation-state. The Pakistan idea and the Pakistan reality could never be reconciled. The idea was a dream sequence in which the Muslims of South Asia would find satisfaction and fulfillment in a secular. democratic experience. The reality was the full awareness that Pakistan would be carved out of regions that were then. and for centuries had been. Muslim dominant. and in a form, were already self governing. The people who were transformed into Pakistanis in 1947. did not experience their liberation. but rather their entrapment. While the more independent peoples of the northwestern regions of the subcontinent were motivated to hasten the departure of the Europeans. Pakistan was the consequence 0 a legal act not a battlefield victory. Moreover. legal authority was conferred upon those who were not and had never been rulers. Because they were made the recipients of the “legitimate” symbols of power did not mean their legitimacy superseded that of long established local authorities. Kinship. tribal. filial and landed interests wove the fabric of traditional leadership and governance in the different regions of western Pakistan. and from their perspective one alien intruder had replaced another. In the eastern territory. the conditions were different. but. the inevitable outcome was not dissimilar. In East Bengal a small urban intelligentsia and Muslim commercial class assumed the principal leadership roles following the flight of the Hindu landlords to India. The Muslim League. which had its origin in Dacca became the vehicle of their expression and the mechanism of their authority. but here too the monopolizes of power were forced to test their credentials against those who spoke for the vast majority that inhabited the province’s rural hinterland.
Considering the dissatisfaction pervading the lands of western Pakistan in making the Muslim League the sole agent of the , Subcontinent’s Muslim population, the war in Kashmir was transformed into a rallying cry for the party and its followers. And although Kashmir was never liberated, it nevertheless provided a justificatiqn for the consolidation of the nation. The Muslims of western Pakistan’ were galvanized by the Kashmir struggle. The mountain state was made synonymous with the Pakistan nation, and although Pakistan addressed its essential unity, it could never be whole is the absence of Kashmir Pakistan, in effect, remained an ongoing quest.
Thus the meaning of Pakistan was altered at the moment of independence by the Kashmir dispute. With attention riveted on the northern most region of the Subcontinent, the secular conception of Pakistan was sacrificed for another representing its spiritual raison d’etre. This reversal in fortunes and direction was unintended by Pakistan’s founding fathers, and especially by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Not only did Pakistan acquire a natural and permanent enemy in its rival sibling, the confrontation between the two offspring elevated Muslim Hindu differences, and given the stirring of high emotions, the way was opened for those opposed to the secular state to enter the political arena.
“Islam in danger” was the popular strategy motivating the Pakistan movement, and the unresolved contest with India over Kashmir guaranteed the perpetuation of that fear. ‘Pakistan’s leaders emerged from the periphery to question the hegemonic role of those at the center, and, neither the periphery nor the center could avoid the challenge made manifest by Hindu India’s insistence on dominating Kashmir. In the psyche of the Muslim Pakistani was the strengthened belief that their tryst with destiny was somehow a contemporary version of the biblical story that pitted Cain against Abel.
Jinnah’s death so soon after the transfer of power collapsed the Muslim League center, and opened the floodgates to the ‘many lesser actors on the fringe of the party or totally outside it. Jinnah, not the Muslim League, represented Pakistan, Jinnah, not the Muslim League created Pakistan. In the absence of the Great Leader, Jinnah’s disciples were either powerless or persuaded not to press the goals that he had envisaged for the new nation. The Muslim League sought to redefine itself in the years that followed and indeed the Objectives Resolution was supposed to frame the future Pakistan: But the difficulty encountered in attempting to do justice to the nation-state, while at the same time honoring the Pakistani citizen’s commitment to his religious tradition, intensified the controversy between those inclined to separate religion from politics, and those who believed’ the two were inextricably intertwined. The more sophisticated members of the Muslim League, therefore.. were encouraged to entertain the views of their more tradition oriented members, and the latter also opened the path for the country’s religious leaders to enter the debate.
The strenuous efforts and the time consumed in the attempt to draft a suitable and proper constitution describe the shift of power from the center to the periphery, and the emergence of leaders ,with questionable political credentials. The more conservative and orthodox leaders, in spite of their limited constituencies, had accrued the leverage needed to influence the decision that denied a cardinal feature of the nation-state, i.e. that sovereignty ‘must reside in the people. Instead, there was a reaffirmation of faith that sovereignty belonged to God alone, and that mortal men merely held it as a trust. Clearly, this orthodox inception of sovereignty meant Pakistan could not be a nation-state, nor would it be one that limited the powers of government. Indeed this interpretation made it virtually impossible for Pakistanis to choose their leaders, let alone restrict their powers. the Muslim League definition of sovereignty in effect assured the perpetuation of the Subcontinent’s authoritarian experience. Sovereignty, that is the supreme power over subjects and citizens, remained a monopoly of entrenched authority. constitution writing, therefore, became a surrealistic experience, wherein the traditional sources of power and privilege endeavored to produce document that enhanced, rather than diminished, their prerogatives.
More significant, vice-regalsim was sustained. And with it personality politics took precedence over institution building. In the absence of a viable political center, the competition between the provinces was exaggerated, and although the Kashmir question continued to flue Muslim sentiment, no leader emerged to remind the nation that Punjabis and Bengalis were also brothers. Instead, inter provincial and west east controversy was allowed to swirl around the matter of separate or joint electorates, a meaningless conflict in the after math of independence, but never the less a potent issue for those searching for the lost legitimacy of . the Muslim League. The struggle between the center and the periphery, and between the major provinces, made a mockery of Muslim League claims and actions. and no longer standing for anything, the party that had received the transfer of power was easily maneuvered to the sidelines by the permanent services Pakistan’s failure in contemporary nation-building, tragically dramatized by the loss of East Pakistan, meant the country’s political experiment would remain suspended in time. Pakistan would be sustained in the condition of a classic administrative state.
Pakistanis deserve better- a people of significant accomplishment and promise, the Pakistan nation has passed from crisis to crises and been subjected to horrors that a proud and honorable people should ever be exposed to. The problem for Pakistanis appears not to be in their star~, but in their ill defined presence as a nation-state. The people of Pakistan cry out for honesty and integrity, but those crises have never been answered affirmatively, nor are they likely to be answered so long as the population remains divided between the educated few and the illiterate masses. The vast majority of Pakistanis are a gullible congeries of factions, clans, and tribes, and ‘their manipulation by traditional, as well as contemporary, pow brokers remains the central focus of the political experience. The pleas of the educated few for more balanced government, for a share of the decision making process, do not go unnoticed, but they are no match for the machinations of entrenched elites.
Educated Pakistanis must confront the realities of their world. The country is not a nation-state and it will be-some decades yet before such a goal is brought within reach. Too much time has been lost and too many resources squandered in the attempt to fashion a nation-state from the social milieu that makes up the country. Better it would be if the more sophisticated members of the Pakistan .experience acknowledged that Ayub Khan may not have had it right, but that his reaching out to the faceless masses was not an, idle gesture., Government clearly is not the answer when it comes to bridging -the great divide between the modern and the traditional folk who populate this state. If Pakistan is to survive and flourish, and there is every indication of the resiliency of this country, it will be because the different worlds of Pakistan will draw closer together. Before Pakistan can achieve coherency, before it can assume the role of a nation-state, it will have to construct a civil society. The absence of such a condition, and it is a condition, not a structure, can only perpetuate the turmoil that government is unable to address.
Vice regalism can preserve Pakistan, but it will not sustain it. Government will remain intimidating, but it will also be a weak government. one that cannot address the fundamental needs of Pakistani society, Pakistanis must reach out to one another, interact with each other, and assist one another in meeting the demands of the modern world. The Armed Forces are not the answer to the Pakistan dilemma. Nuclear weapons may deter Pakistan’ s aggressive neighbour, but it cannot provide the nation with the guidance it requires in bridging complex social and psychological differences. Pakistanis will succeed in their quest to create a haven for the Muslims of South Asia only when they transcend their sectarian and regional distinctions and begin to see the merit in their Islamic diversity. Pakistan will survive only if the people who inhabit there region believe they are a community, that in spite of their peculiar diversity, they are, after all, one people.