Pakistan Resolution at 72
March 30, 2012
23 March 2012 marks the 72nd anniversary of Pakistan Resolution, which was passed unanimously at the All-India Muslim League session in Lahore. This was the first time, the name Pakistan was made public and a reference was made for the creation of ‘separate states’ for Muslim people of the subcontinent.
The context of a separate homeland for Muslims had, indeed, existed before that in the form of the concept floated by poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal or the Muslim League’s consistent demand for political equality for Muslims in the post-British united India—a proposition that Muhammad Ali Jinnah as leader of the Indian Muslims’ largest representative organization continued to adhere to until a year before the subcontinent’s partition in August 1947.
Jinnah struggled for a loose federation in India, where Muslims retained their distinct religious identity while benefitting from the fruits of democracy in a decolonised state. Eventually, however, it was the intransigent attitude of the Indian National Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership that paved the way for the Partition. It was no surprise, therefore, that a country whose two wings existing far apart came into being without any firm foundations being seriously contemplated or planned well in advance.
Pakistan was, thus, a crisis state right from the beginning. The Kashmir war, the disproportionate distribution of resources and the early death of Jinnah were among the factors that caused this crisis. Jinnah was a pragmatist and a modernist. He may have used religious to raise the level of Muslim political consciousness to create mass Muslim support for equal rights before or independence in the end. However, as soon as Pakistan became a reality, he categorically stated that the business of the new state would not run on the basis of religion.
Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech is the finest statement on secularism, which meant that various religions, the majority Islam—and the minority Hindu, Sikh, Christian and others—will coexist in the new Republic of Pakistan. Islam as the last of the revealed faiths calls for such coexistence. Thus, the debate on Pakistan being an Islamic state or a secular republic is meaningless when Islamic and secular values are seen to be compatible.
The reason this issue has become debatable and controversial in Pakistani history is because the mainstream Islamist groups in the subcontinent, particularly Jama’at-e-Islami under Maulana Moududi, were against the creation of Pakistan; and, since its establishment, have confused secularism with atheism, which are two different concepts—for the former is the basis of religious pluralism in a society and the later is grounded in sheer negation of religion itself.
Pakistan at 72, since the passage of Lahore Resolution, is doubtlessly a state in perpetual crisis. Recognition of this unfortunate reality requires us to explore the reasons behind it and consequent address their casual factors. The foremost of these factors is that, unlike India, the process of democratisation in Pakistan has not been smooth. The country’s politics has experienced the dictatorship of the army during much of its history in the form of prolonged military rules and the army’s indirect clout in domestic politics.
All other plagues in Pakistan’s sordid internal reality—such as the feudalistic structure, the colonial bureaucracy, corruption by politicians, ethnic and religious fissures and the surge of radical or violent religious movements—are an offshoot of the civil-military imbalance of power. For each time the army has ruled Pakistan, it has found the feudal politicians and civil bureaucrats as its most pliable partners. The ethno-religious divisions in the society also widened during the same period. In fact, each prolonged military rule, be it General Zia’s 11 years or General Musharraf’s nine years, sowed the seeds of political, economic and social instability for subsequent civilian regimes.
This does not mean that politicians do not share any blame for the country’s manifold ills during the country’s nearly 65-year old political evolution. Their corruption, mismanagement and authoritarianism frequently provided the justification to the army for military takeovers or interventions in the political process. The same factor caused widespread public distrust in political forces, thereby scuttling the scope of civilian supremacy in Pakistani politics.
It goes without saying that any country under an army rule or whose politics is dominated by the military cannot plan for a viable long-run future. The affairs of Pakistan, throughout its history, have consequently been run on ad-hoc basis. Successive military regimes, or quasi-civilian orders directed by the army, have lacked political legitimacy. Since civilian forces ruled only for shorter durations, often ridden with multiple crises, it was generally not possible for civilian leaders to be visionary enough to tackle galloping national challenges.
However, whenever civilian leadership leading a duly representative political order got the opportunity, it, indeed, delivered. Prime Minister Bhutto, for instance, gave Pakistan its first truly parliamentary Constitution in 1973. Prime Minister Sharif was able to do away with the arbitrary Presidential powers in the amended form of this Constitution since General Zia’s days. And the present coalition government of the country, led by Pakistan Peoples Party, has restored the same Constitution in its original form, and ensured what it eventually desired in terms of ensuring provincial autonomy, judicial independence and fairer electoral process.
Another implication of the army’s domination of politics is visible in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The country’s existence in a conflict zone meant that great powers, such as America, were interested in its affairs. Somehow, the global geo-politics of the region—whether it was to counter Soviet Communism during the Cold War period, particularly to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, or to fight al-Qaeda-led international terrorism, again in Afghanistan—made Pakistan relevant to their international agenda.
Interestingly, twice the last well over three decades, the army’s prolonged rule in Pakistan and the American involvement in the region coincided. Both Generals Zia and Musharraf needed political legitimacy, which, given the unrepresentative character of their respective military regimes, was hard to come by for long domestically. So, in each case, deals were cut with the outside great power—in Musharraf’s case, not even on paper, which ensured the longevity of the military rule but, in the process, aggravated the crisis facing the Pakistani state and society.
When a country’s national interest is forsaken to serve the interest o an outside power, the outcome has to be the sort of situation that Pakistan faced after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan over two decades ago or the one has faced since the end of the Musharraf era. Coupled with this is the security paradigm in its regional approach, which Pakistan has pursued since independence. Of course, India equally shares the blame for causing the insecurity dilemma for Pakistan throughout this period, forcing its rulers to seek the American help. The pursuit of this security paradigm meant that little is left for social development or economic progress.
In the final analysis, therefore, Pakistan’s alliance with America has had greater costs than gains. With direct or indirect US help, the country has been able to muddle through one economic crisis after another. However, unlike the Chinese, the Americans have not contributed much to improving the country’s indigenous economic base. More importantly, Pakistan’s democratic crisis owes much to its ‘strategic’ alliance with the United for managing one regional conflict or the other over the decades.
Seen from this perspective, it is good news that at last the country’s current leadership is trying to chalk a new set of rules of engagement with the United States. Obviously, Pakistan cannot afford to completely disentangle itself from the modern world, with America as its pillar. The whole idea is to reshape Pakistan’s relations with the US in a manner that instances reflective of outright intrusion into national sovereignty—as was particularly the case throughout last year—could be avoided in future.
Inside Pakistan as well, a gigantic transformation is under way in politics that may auger well for the future of democracy. The present government will most likely complete its full tenure in office. Through three successive amendments in the Constitution—the 18th, the 19th and the 20th—it has put in place unprecedented reforms pertaining to parliamentary supremacy, provincial autonomy, judicial independence and fairer electoral process that are irreversible.
Moreover, additional power centres—in the form of assertive judiciary, civil society, and private media—have emerged as new challengers to the army’s traditional domination of politics. The mainstream political forces are equally assertive. Even if the army has ultimately shaped the contours of the country’s foreign policy, a transformation in this policy away from security paradigm is indicative of the assertion of civilian forces. Pakistan today stands for an Afghan-led reconciliation process and a relationship with India dominated by concerns such as trade expansion and regional integration.
So, 72 years down the line since the passage of the Lahore Resolution, Pakistan may well be on a course that takes it out from the doomsday scenario that is often projected for its future. Even otherwise, the country may have been in perpetual crisis as a state but the resilience of its nation has always disappointed the proponents of the doomsday thesis.
--The article is based on a presentation the author made at the Pakistan Resolution Day event organised by Pakistan Welfare Association (PWA) in Southampton, UK, on March 24, 2012.