The following message depicts exactly – as far as historical records are concerned – the vision of Jinnah for a Pakistani state:“Pakistan not only means freedom and independence but the Muslim Ideology which has to be preserved, which has come to us as a precious gift and treasure and which, we hope others will share with us”. Message to Frontier Muslim Students Federation on June 18, 1945.
The story of the separation of “East Pakistan” is told many times over. The Punjabi-dominated “West Pakistan” never allowed Bengalis to benefit from their economic resources and promote their own culture and language. So much so that they were denied the use of the name of their land Bengal for their part of the world. Thats why Sheikh Mujib put it like this in 1969: “There was a time when all efforts were made to erase the word “Bangla” from this land and its map. The existence of the word “Bangla” was found nowhere except in the term Bay of Bengal. I on behalf of Pakistan announce today that this land will be called “Bangladesh” instead of East Pakistan”.
A recent court verdict which bans political parties from using religion in politics reflects Sheikh Mujib’s vision for Bangladesh. Apart from his many disagreements with the principles on which Pakistan was created and ruled, a major disagreement was on the question of the “ideology of Pakistan”, which according to its founding fathers, was Islam.
Immediately after the independence of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujib gave a strong signal about his new country being different from Pakistan in fundamental ways by proclaiming his basic principles – referred to as Mujibism – which were to guide Bangladesh’s constitution and law-making. These principles included secularism, nationalism, socialism and democracy.
All the four principles of Sheikh Mujib were incompatible with those of the founders of Pakistan. Jinnah and his associates were for a free market capitalist economy, Jinnah himself coming from a merchant family. Sheikh Mujib promoted socialist ideas and embarked on nationalization. Jinnah’s Pakistan derived legetimacy from the ideology of Islam which considered nationalism as a heretic idea and stressed “muslim brotherhood”, while Sheikh Mujib stood for secularism and had a ready justification for his state which derived legitimacy from a compact Bengali nation which is based on common language, culture heroes and history. And finally, Sheikh Mujib included democracy in his four points which meant that sovereignty belonged to the Bengali nation, while in Pakistan the ruling Muslim league party, headed by Liaqat Ali Khan (Shaheed), assigned sovereignty to almighty Allah. (please refer to the objectives resolution 1949)
Having said this, there is no denying the fact that the job of Sheikh Mujib of forging a state for Bengali nation was much easier than that of Jinnah who sought to forge a state for “muslims”, an illusive idea which had no precedent in modern history. Till then, modern states were established on the basis of Western nationalism – a concept with the essential ingredients of common language, culture, history and heroes; the US and India are exceptions (in terms of ethnicity) but the polity of Pakistan compares with none of the two in any meaningful way. The world was not aware of modern states coming into being on the basis of religious ideology.
The leaders of the All India Muslim League mobilised Muslim public opinion of India for a state of their own essentially based on their being distinct from Hindus because they professed the faith of Islam. In their estimate, Muslims and Hindus would stop to think in terms of their religious beliefs once the tempers cooled down in the aftermath of the partition. They also thought (did they?) that Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Baluchis, Sindis and Bengalis will cease to be Pakhtuns, Sindis, Baluchis, Punjabis and Bengalis and will adopt Urdu as their language instead of their mother tongues. Was not it expecting too much? Can indeed any nation forget its language, culture and history? The separation of the erstwhile “East Pakistan” proved that such expectations were over-optimistic. And the insurgency in Baluchistan and a deep-seated resentment in Pakhunkhwa is proving it so once again, not to talk of the brewing bad blood in Sind. The case of Punjab is an altogether different story.
One wishes Pakistan could follow the Bangladesh model. But realities on the ground are different and they do not allow such a possibility. The different population-groups inhabiting Pakistan do not share a common mother tongue. Their cultural differences and mutual suspicions (and their outlook about the Pakistani state) are substantial. Each group has different agenda for its future. Very often they quarrel for asserting their rights on economic resources and control over state machinery. Therefore, the only binding force left is that of the ideology of Islam, the durability and sustainability of which is for all to see. The very idea of religion as a binding force is debatable, for if it indeed was such a binding force, we would not have witnessed the two World Wars and the subsequent Cold War, not to mention the many “small wars” fought between co-religionists, including ones between muslim countries.
Just for the sake of academic debate, let us try to address the following question: If Muslims in a geographically contiguous region are supposed to live together in a nation state – like the Baluch, Punjabi, Sindi and Pakhtun (Bengalis in the past) do in Pakistan – then what is the logic for national borders between Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, UAE, Yemen and Egypt? Are not all these countries inhabited by muslims as well as geographically contiguous? Will Irani nation, for instance, give up its mother tongue – Persian – and join the Islamic republic of Pakistan, adopting Urdu as their national language?
Recently, a friend caught me off-guard when he quipped: why should not the Pakistani Pakhtuns join Afghanistan which too is a muslim country, with the added advantage of a shared language and culture – their language Pashto being one of the national languages of Afghanistan?
These are questions which are – if not answered and not addressed correctly – going to pose an existential challenge to the state of Pakistan, exactly as they did in 1970-71. Simply brushing issues under the carpet and fancying wishful narratives has brought Pakistan to its current state, and the same wont help in the future.