The Statesman Editorial: Jinnah Was right

JINNAH’S  famous address on 11 August 1947 to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly was supposed to lay the secular foundations for a future Constitution of the country. Jinnah, after all, firmly supported equality of religions and the freedom to practise them all without fear or favour. He emphasised the need of a democratic Constitution for the new nation which he was responsible for creating, whether it was his first choice or not. He also hoped that the two countries of India and Pakistan, after the wounds of Partition had healed, would become friendly neighbours, each boasting a secular Constitution and a willingness to look after their minorities.

There was an abortive attempt to suppress that address to the assembly. It is worthwhile to remind the Pakistani people that the Munir Commission, which was formed to find the causes of the anti-Ahmadi agitation, pointedly asked the most obvious of questions about maltreatment of minorities ~ if we make Hindus into second class citizens then what do we expect to happen to Indian Muslims? Moulana Moududi airily said that it was for India alone to decide how to treat its Muslim citizens, as if Pakistan’s behaviour had no effect on such decisions. The Indians, stated Moududi, are even at liberty to treat Muslims as shudra, low caste, if they so wish.

Of course, none of the ulemas ever agree with anyone, or even each other, about the interpretation of Islam, let alone what sort of an Islamic state one should be. Jinnah also asked the secretary of law of Pakistan, Edward Alec Snelson, to write a draft of a Constitution, one which carefully guaranteed maximum autonomy for East Pakistan. Snelson was also the first draftsman of the Pakistan government, and was earlier married to actress Greer Garson who was among the top heroines of Hollywood during the 1940s. Snelson is reported to have sketched outlines in which he urged maximum room of manoeuvre for East Pakistan.

These recommendations mysteriously are nowhere to be found today in the otherwise carefully kept archives. Pakistanis simply were not prepared to accept for some 40 years that Jinnah had agreed with Suhrawardy that he should work for a united Bengal, independent of Pakistan, a goal which the Congress under the influence of Gandhi did not agree to either. Marwari businesses led by Birla also played a role against such a move. If Pakistan’s rulers had heeded the advice of Jinnah there would have been no need of the catastrophic army action in East Pakistan later.

The essential wishes of the founder of the country were quickly erased or shunted aside after his death. Liaqat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister, brought in an objective resolution which imparted an Islamic bias to the laws and tragically laid the foundation of future sectarian and communal conflict. It was resisted by the opposition from Bengal, which mainly consisted of Hindus of East Pakistan who were ignored though they were almost a quarter of the population in that province. Sectarian minorities enthusiastically supported it, including Sir Zafarullah Khan who was a leading Ahmadi and foreign minister of the country. He was the creature of the British and when politics collapsed in Pakistan, it inevitably became the client state of the United States. Our former masters, the British, also became a US client though they, with their penchant for understatement, call it ‘special relationship’. Post-war England has since produced the biggest lackey of the US in Tony Blair.

In Pakistan, Ghulam Mohammad and Iskander Mirza, who were British colonial officials, laid the foundation of pro-American policies and later joined the military pacts ~ Seato and Cento. These pacts not only alienated Pakistan from India but also from the Arab national movements led by Nasser. During the last 63 years, three Constitutions were made but the spectre of the objective resolution burdened them all. After the separation of East Pakistan, Bhutto produced the Constitution of 1973, with the help of the National Awami Party, which he himself mutilated. Zia finished the job by mutilating whatever was left of the 1973 document.

The People’s Party wanted to go back to the mutilated Constitution but not the original one passed in 1973. At the moment, the government is run by ad hoc orders and one does not know who really is the chief executive, the President or the Prime Minister. There is no governance. Hindus, Christians and the Ahmadis are sidelined and it looks that they have no future in Pakistan. They have become permanent second class citizens. Last month saw the killing of Shia members in Quetta and Lahore when their processions were attacked, while dozens of Shia doctors were objects of targeted killings. Ethnic groups are highly critical of each other too. Political leaders are not disposed to take a bold national stand, which gives the impression that they hardly know what a national outlook is. Minorities are completely alienated and now the biggest sectarian Shia minority faces a grave danger to its existence. Both Zia and Bhutto were responsible for putting discriminatory laws on the statute book.

Until now there were a multitude of man-made tragedies jarring the country but the floods this year brought a natural disaster of unprecedented magnitude. Landless labourers from villages have fled to urban areas. They may be tempted not to return, Small land-holders will suffer because of their absence. The British bequeathed a good administrative system which now stands paralysed. There is no single leader to whom one can turn to in this critical hour. Dozens of parliament members face courts to prove that their educational qualifications are not bogus. During the floods the army has been able partially to rehabilitate itself but it still carries a lot of baggage from its past, as does the judiciary. The present parliament, like the shameless Republicans in America, has done nothing except blame past regimes for the ills of the country.

The Army, in spite of its past, is in a position to give a lead to the country but not to rule this time. The only possibility to save Pakistan is to go back to Jinnah on 11 August 1947 and carve out a secular, democratic state. We will need a new constituent assembly which can be accomplished through consultation between the army, judiciary and parliament.

The Army chief, the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Speaker of Parliament should sit together and ask prominent and clean individuals to join the new Constitution convention. The time limit to frame a new Constitution should be no more than six months. A secular Constitution is the only alternative which should also satisfy the regional demands of the Baluchis and Sindhis, and keep faith with Jinnah.

Source: The Statesman