Last month India and Pakistan had celebrated their independence from the British Raj three scores and ten years back. In some paradoxical way, Bangladesh had also joined in half-heartedly in that celebration as that was also the precursor to its own independence, some 24 years later on 26 March 1971.
A two-nation theory (TNT) which Muhammad Ali Jinnah adopted and promoted in the late 1930s and 1940s with so much hullabaloo that not only the Indian National Congress (INC) but also the British Raj, shaken and grievously injured and weakened by the WWII, had to cave in. The strident call for a separate state for the minority Muslims comprising some 30 per cent of the Indian population was nothing but Jinnah’s Machiavellian ploy to achieve his political ambition. After spending the formative years of his political career in the Congress, Jinnah realised that his ambition to reach the highest rung of the political ladder in the talent-strewn Congress could not possibly be achieved. So he had to find alternative avenues to achieve his goals.
For centuries Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Zoroastrians and all other religious mixes had been living together sometimes under Muslim rulers, sometimes under Hindu rulers, sometimes under Christian rulers and many a time under an admixture of rulers. But never before were people segregated on the pretext that minorities would not receive justice under a unified government. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the INC president for a number of terms, Mahatma Gandhi and many others tried to persuade Jinnah to be part of a united India by offering him various options, such as a federated state for India with all administrative powers except foreign and defence being vested in states, Jinnah’s choice in the matter of a first cabinet, etc. But Jinnah would have none of it.
The country was forked out into two nations – one for the Muslims and the other for all religious denominations in India. Pakistan was formed by putting together two Muslim majority areas – West Pakistan on the west and East Pakistan on the east of India – separated by nearly 2000 km. There was no common ground between these two peoples, except the tenuous link of Islam. If Islam could be the glue between various peoples, then the whole of the Middle East would have been a single state, which it is not!
However, Jinnah won the day, not so much by the strength of his political argument but by sheer communal animosity and barbarity. When communalism is stoked up by politicians to gain currency, race riots inevitably follow. More than one million people – men, women and children – died in race riots immediately pre- and post- independence and ten million people were displaced.
That the new state would look after the interests of the Muslims sounds totally hollow. More than 30% of Muslims remained in India despite some of the most horrendous race riots triggered by politicians to polarise the country. Jinnah used Islam for his political purposes, but he was not a practising Muslim at all. He belonged to the Ismaili sect (also known as Aga Khani) — part of the Shia sect in Islam. He was a thoroughbred western educated lawyer with a western lifestyle. When he formed the first government in Pakistan, his first foreign minister, Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, was an Ahmadi (also known as Qadiani), another sect of the Shia community, now regarded by Sunnis as heretical. His law minister was a Hindu. Jinnah’s second wife was a Zoroastrian, an ancient religion predating all monotheistic religions. So, religion was definitely not the deciding factor, although the state was created on this basis.
However, within a few short months of the creation of Pakistan, Islamists led by the Jamaat-e-Islam saw their opportunity. The first step to transform Pakistan into an Islamic state was taken by Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, through the Objectives Resolution, wherein it was declared thaat sovereignty over the entire universe belonged to God Almighty! All non-religious activities were gradually discouraged in both wings of the country. Within a few years, Pakistan was declared an Islamic Republic.
Religious fanaticism had completely taken over Pakistan since 1970s. If such fanaticism had existed in Pakistan when it was created, then Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, would have been declared non-Muslim and expelled from the country. Mohammad Zafrullah Khan would have been relieved of his duties as the country’s top diplomat and imprisoned on charges of heresy. Prof. Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel Laureate in physics from Pakistan, had actually been stripped of his nationality and declared a non-Muslim as he was an Ahmadi. His tombstone was desecrated by removing the word ‘Muslim’ from it.
The very ideology of the two-nation theory now stands totally discredited. Those two nations have now spawned into three nations, Bangladesh being the latest one. As it stands now Baloch, Sindh and the border regions in Pakistan are asserting their rights based on their ethnicity and cultural identity in contrast to Pakistan’s assertion of religiosity. If you open a can of worms, it is very difficult to put the worms back in.
The communal ideology of one state for one religion is not only heinous but positively dangerous also. Pakistan as well as most, if not all, Muslim countries started driving away non-Muslims from the country. The more fanatical a country is, the more ethnic cleansing it carries out. In 1950 (shortly after independence), West Pakistan (now Pakistan) had 85.5% Muslims, whereas by 2010, the percentage had gone up to 96.5%, meaning non-Muslim population had been reduced from 14.5% to 3.5%. In 1950, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had 85% Muslim population, whereas in 2010 it had gone up to 89.6%. Contrast that with India, a non-Muslim country, where the Muslim population between these two dates went up up from 10% to 13.5%. In most Middle Eastern Muslim countries, the Muslim population is 98% to 99%, with all non-Muslims having been driven out or eliminated!
Intolerance is the hallmark of Pakistani politicians. In 1971 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto roared that he would never play a second fiddle to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (although Mujib had the largest number of elected representatives in the proposed assembly), one could not miss echoes of Jinnah’s strident call in the 1940 Lahore Resolution for a Muslim homeland for Muslims (with him as the leader).
Disturbing streaks of personal ambition are self-evident in Pakistani politics. In Pakistan, not a single elected prime minister since independence has managed to serve his or her full term. The latest in the line, Nawaz Sharif, has been removed by the judiciary on suspicion of corruption about a year before the end of his term. The hands of the military authorities are present all over the place. Democracy has never been allowed to flourish in Pakistan even after seventy years of independence. Chaos and confusion reign everywhere, law and order is blatantly absent. If this is not the sign of a failed state, what is it? As the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor once said, “The state of India has an army, the army in Pakistan has a state”.
Bangladesh is fortunate enough to have parted company with Pakistan within 24 years of a most unhappy relationship. How dreadful it would be if Bangladesh had been with Pakistan now! I am not trying to scare Bangladeshis, nor am I thinking of giving them undue nightmares. But unless Bangladeshi people wipe away entirely that dreadful association and vouch never to entertain any thought of association with Pakistani Islamists, the nightmare may well come back. Pakistan is not going to go away. But we must stay away from its path and be vigilant forever.
A Rahman is an author and a columnist.