Pakistan: Ideological illusions

Sixty years of Pakistan

Pakistan with its newly emerging society inherited three elements as legacy. First was the poetry of Altaf Hussain Hali and Muhammad Iqbal, structured around an illusion of a supposedly glorious past, enthralling readers and subsequently giving birth to revivalist movements of all hues. Second, having developed, perhaps understandably, an inferiority complex and a sense of insecurity, the Muslims of the subcontinent adopted an anti-Hindu and anti-democratic attitude. Third, the leadership quickly turned to dealing with all political issues sentimentally rather than rationally.

When the demand for Pakistan was put forward, it shaped itself into a claim for a separate homeland for Muslims where they could live according to their beliefs. Consequently, separation rather than integration became the core of the Pakistan movement. Today, sixty years after independence, as we look back at our history we find these elements still alive in Pakistan’s body politic.

The country has faced a number of political, social, economic and cultural crises after its creation. However, the state survived and took a direction that was supposed to help determine its identity. The factor that played an important role in shaping this identity and determining its destiny was the formulation of an ideology. To have an identity separate from India, the new country also required an ideology. If India was secular, Pakistan had to be an Islamic state in order to justify its separation and the partition of the subcontinent.

In the early phase, the task of framing this ideology lay in the hands of modern scholars such as IH Qureshi and SM Ikram who provided a historical basis for the concept of ‘two nations’ and the role of Islam in shaping a solid Muslim community on the subcontinent. In his book titled Ideology of Pakistan, published in the fifties, Javed Iqbal observes, "Obviously Pakistan is an ideological state and can therefore survive now only as long as its ideological integrity is ensured. It is this ideology which is the foundation of our nationhood, and is the source of our national, political, economic, cultural, religious and moral values or ideals and their expression." He further writes, "Pakistan claims itself to be an ideological state because it is founded on Islam."

In the second phase, the task of consolidating and solidifying the Pakistan ideology was taken over by religious scholars and educationists or authors of textbooks who had government backing. In one such textbook, Pakistan Studies, the author, Gul Shahzad Sarwar says, "The ideology of Pakistan means the ideology of Islam. It guides us in every aspect of life." The same theme is repeated in other textbooks prescribed by educational institutions. Guided by ideology, the state and society itself underwent the process of Islamisation with rapid transformations in our educational, legal and economic systems that subsequently opened the floodgates of confusion and chaos.

The implication of the Pakistan ideology is that the state is a religious entity whose official faith is Islam. It contradicts the concept of a modern nation state, in practice in modern democracies all over the world, whose base is secular nationalism. It naturally excludes all non-Muslim minorities from the concept of nationhood and relegates them to a secondary position of citizenship. A severe blow was dealt to these minorities in Pakistan when the Objectives Resolution was passed in 1949 declaring, "sovereignty belongs to god". The very idea contradicts the modern concept of democracy in which sovereignty belongs to the people. The resolution also declared that no law could be passed that goes against the texts of the holy Koran and the Sunnah (traditions of the holy prophet).

Consequently, as far as Pakistan was concerned the entire process of law-making remained at a standstill if viewed from the perspective of a fast changing modern world, new technologies and a revision of outdated or extinct values. According to the Pakistan ideology, the concept of two nations did not end with partition and serves even today to know the difference between Muslims and non-Muslims. Today our ideology is sacrosanct and to challenge or deny it is a crime punishable with 10 years of rigorous imprisonment (under a law passed during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s regime).

Today this ideology seeps into every aspect of an average Pakistani’s life. Religious parties have gained strength while enthusiastically and repeatedly calling for the creation of a ‘truly Islamic’ state. They adopt two approaches to achieve their objective. In one case, the strategy is to capture power by armed struggle, which they call jihad, against secular and irreligious elements. In the other, there are parties that would like to control the state through the democratic process but with a promise to implement the shariah. Mainstream political parties also publicise the religious provisions in their manifestos to counter religious parties and gain popular votes. Undeniably, religion has become the most important factor in the politics of Pakistan, even dragging the army into the fray when the army’s job is to defend the nation’s frontiers.

This ideology has also transformed and reshaped the images of two individuals who are the pillars of Pakistan’s creation: Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Iqbal is identified as the person who presented the idea of Pakistan as a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. In this respect, as creator of the idea, Iqbal assumed a position of greater importance than Jinnah who was only given credit for actualising the former’s dream, which automatically relegated him to a secondary position. The Pakistani state recognises Iqbal as its ‘national poet’ and it was no coincidence that his ideas suited the interests of Pakistan’s ruling class. Iqbal has also become a favourite figure for Pakistan’s religious parties who continue to discover themes in his poetry that help them promote their religious agendas. His concept of ghazi (holy warrior), momin (true believer), Muslim ummah and his faith in military power for the glorification of the nation, his anti-West, anti-democracy, anti-women, anti-philosophy and anti-fine arts rhetoric provides rich and persuasive material to the fundamentalists.

The same elements have also transformed Muhammad Ali Jinnah into a religious figure. The fact that he was secular in his private life is comfortably ignored. On the basis of speeches in which he mentioned Islam, his personality and his views were reconstructed and he is today portrayed as a deeply religious person. In a tactical move, the religious parties, instead of disowning Jinnah, transformed and adapted his image to suit their interests. Popular articles, especially in Urdu newspapers, narrate stories about his religious zeal. In his official portrait Jinnah is deliberately shown dressed in the traditional sherwani, which immediately gives viewers the impression of a man of faith. These fabricated images of Jinnah and Iqbal are effective tools in the hands of right wing parties today.

An ideological state has to carry a heavy burden. It has to constantly defend and protect itself from all manner of challenges on a permanent basis. It must also justify its existence scientifically, culturally and socially, distort facts in order to hide its weaknesses, and interpret and reinterpret its image on a quasi-perpetual basis to legitimise its existence and usefulness. In an ideological state only one truth prevails. All thought is discarded. All doors to new ideas are adamantly banged shut.

If we analyse the situation in Pakistan at this juncture, we realise that its society has suffered and declined as a result of this infamous ideological stranglehold. Since there is no space for new ideas and fresh thought, creativity has seen a decline; it is no longer capable of producing philosophers, historians, poets, artists, filmmakers, architects, short story writers, novelists or musicians. Intellectually and culturally, it has become barren. There is nothing that could nourish young minds except obsolete or outmoded ideas.

The writer Qurratulain Hyder ultimately returned to live in India following bitter criticism of her novel, Aag Ka Darya (River of Fire). Josh Malihabadi’s poetry was banned when the establishment and religious groups did not like comments he made in an interview. The poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz stayed out of the country for most of his life. (Credit must go to Habib Jalib who continued to write rebellious poetry despite being imprisoned on several occasions.) A much dejected Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, master of classical music, returned to India where he was received enthusiastically, as was his due.

In the academic field, too, the country suffered heavily. To meet the exigencies of an ideological state, two new subjects, "Pakistan Studies" and "Islam", were introduced at all levels of education to turn successive generations into "good" Pakistanis and "good" Muslims. Historians and political scientists began expending all their energy in attempting to justify the creation of Pakistan. As the standard of academic research declined, Pakistani "scholars" lost all contact with international academia. Sadly, there are no organisations for social scientists to come together and discuss recent research, and only a few substandard research journals that are, understandably, not recognised internationally. Internationally, Pakistan stands nowhere in academic status and credibility. This is a tragedy.

When only one truth and one ideology prevail, society plunges into extremism and fundamentalism grows rapidly as the only solution to all problems. As there is no alternative to challenge this fundamentalism, society at large believes in its validity and its power to change and reform. Ironically, technology is also helping to popularise conservative ideas with the help of cassettes, documentaries, CDs, the Internet and email. Almost every television channel in Pakistan broadcasts programmes that promote extremism and make people more narrow-minded.

In a sign of superficial religiosity, the organisation of religious gatherings has become a popular phenomenon in order to express piety and devotion. There is a popular trend to go for Hajj and Umrah in order to earn respectability in the eyes of the people. In the name of charity, the rich, especially the business community, donate a lot of money to madrassas and mosques. But in spite of this show of Islamic fervour, society remains morally corrupt and inept. Crimes against women are increasing: kidnapping, rape, honour killing and the parading of naked women has become routine.

In these sixty years Pakistan’s performance has not been much to write home about. While some individuals and groups have raised their voices against ideological restrictions, and made an attempt to create a liberal and progressive atmosphere, not much attention has been paid to these brave initiatives. As for the question: Is there still hope that Pakistan will rid itself of the ideological stranglehold? The answer is both yes and no. It depends entirely on the creative powers that may still be struggling to break free.

Archived from Communalism Combat, August-September 2007, Anniversary Issue (14th), Year 14    No.125, India at 60 Free Spaces, Pakistan 1



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