The season of light…
By Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness … We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
THESE lines were written by Charles Dickens in the background of the French Revolution. These hold true in a very different historical setting in which Pakistan was created and started its journey. It was a journey which began amidst conflicting rays of hope and despair, and belief and incredulity.
Pakistan emerged on the map of the world as the solution of the communal question that had declined to be addressed within a wider united Indian framework that had made partition inevitable.
The founding fathers had cultivated a very promising image of Pakistan, a country that would be a social welfare and modern democratic state, radiating all the virtues a common Muslim believes to be found in what was believed to be an Islamic state. The reality of Pakistan, however, unfortunately proved to be the nemesis of what had been cultivated.
A lot of Pakistan’s saga has to do with its leadership.
Historians generally enter the historical theatre by first identifying the characters in a given drama whose more deep-seated urges and social context unfold only later. That is why the historians undertaking the social and political history projects are also compelled to give due place to the historical figures playing some crucial role.
Pakistan’s hopes and despair after independence had also much to do with its leaders, the founding fathers. But who could be counted among them?
Our freedom is known for its being the work of just one individual, the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Leonard Mosley called the creation of Pakistan a “one-man achievement”. More comprehensive was Stanley Wolpert’s depiction of Jinnah’s role in the creation of Pakistan: “… few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Jinnah did all three.”
However, while Jinnah’s unusual role makes him a unique figure, it also represents a weakness of our freedom movement which did not create a wider section of big leaders. Those who accompanied Jinnah were mostly not even his pale shadows.
This weakness came to be exposed when Jinnah died 13 months after independence. Beverly Nichols had foreseen the danger: “If Gandhi goes, there is always Nehru, or Rajgopalachari, or Patel or a dozen others. But if Jinnah goes, who is there?”
And really when Jinnah went, there was no one there.
Liaquat Ali Khan did come of age and certainly his stature increased but there was no question of him filling the space left by Jinnah. Despite having been a trusted lieutenant, Liaquat did not command the level of authority that Jinnah did. One can only say that after Jinnah’s death, he naturally came under more political limelight. Pakistan, as such, began with a very limited political resource.
Unfortunately, the League had during the freedom movement remained a platform giving voice to Muslim political separatism; it was more of an umbrella under which Muslims of all shades could assemble. At best it was a movement. But a political party it was not. No widespread structures; no committed and trained cadres.
Soon after independence, it was proposed in the League’s Council to liquidate the party and allow diverse elements within it to form more natural organisations built around various ideological preferences and political programmes. This was not approved and in the later years, short-sightedness of certain leaders even compelled them to argue that League and League alone had the right to rule the country.
Most of the prominent Leaguers had not emerged above the provincial politics and even in the provincial arenas most of them had been pitted against each other. With such inherent weaknesses League could not withstand the pressures of the civil and military institutions which had lost no time in adjusting themselves to govern the state.
A major failure of League leadership in those formative years was its total neglect of the fact that a major segment of the effective political leadership in the regions which comprised Pakistan could be a great help in building the country.
The leaders one is referring to either did not go along Muslim League during the Pakistan movement, and some of them had their reservations also about the new country, yet once Pakistan came into being, their relevance had not diminished but had in fact increased given the fact that they were the sons of the soil, had their strong social and political bases and were looked upon with respect by sizeable followers.
This marginalised elite included the likes of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Abdul Samad Achakzai, G.M. Syed, and Ghous Baksh Bizenjo. Engaging this elite could not only have been helpful but was perhaps essential for realising the project promised by the League.
If Pakistan had to be made a genuine federal state, for which Jinnah had fostered the most convincing arguments, it was this stuff of politicians which was needed to be brought in to make it a reality. That they did not support the Pakistan movement is not of much significance because we all know that after independence the state lost no time in courting the support of those religo-political organisations and even sectarian outfits that had opposed the Pakistan idea more vocally and with stronger arguments. Had it happened otherwise, the size and worth of the real critical mass Pakistan would have found in its political domain would have been radically different.
Ghaffar Khan, on partition, openly announced his loyalty to the new country. At one point Jinnah even offered his brother, Dr Khan Sahab, the governorship of the province, but these moves were frustrated.
G.M. Syed was certainly on the other side of the political fence, yet he was someone who had once described himself as a soldier of Jinnah, and had described the latter as his general. His differences with the League emerged only on the eve of partition and that was also confined to the narrow provincial politics of electioneering. He could be brought to the negotiation table but the League preferred to let such political elites be marginalised.
Even leaders within the League who stood for provincial rights or advocated civil liberties and social reforms were also gradually shown the door. Thus, some of the earlier opposition parties came out of the League fold. Suhrawardy, Fazlul Haq, Maulana Bhashani, Pir Sahab Manki Sharif, Iftikhar Hussain Mamdot, Mian Iftikharuddin, and several others were all once part of the League, where their space kept shrinking.
An already weakened political class thus became weaker and the emerging civil-military power found it ever easier to establish its dominance.
The civil servants had the experience of administering the colonial state. They employed their experience to restore a state apparatus that characteristically was not any different from the colonial model.
With the induction of the first Pakistani commander-in-chief of the army, General Ayub Khan, a civil-military alliance emerged which soon became more of an oligarchy. Within a couple of years of independence, the initial signs of the policies and the perceptions the state had to pursue started coming to the fore.
The mismanagement of the partition by the colonial rulers, the leaving of a number of matters unsettled, and particularly the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, created in the very beginning animosity between Pakistan and India. A war was fought between the two over Kashmir in October 1947. Though a ceasefire was enforced 14 months later, the matter has not been resolved even in 70 years and even after fighting three wars. The relationship between the two countries stands frozen in 1947.
Dilip Hiro has rightly titled his recent book on the subject as The Longest August.
The adverse relationship between the two countries provided to our rulers and the ruling institutions the pretext to develop Pakistan as a national security state with a political economy of defence as its founding philosophy. The priorities of the state were designed to support what the state had accepted for itself. Things that define a modern social welfare, democratic state became insignificant.
The precarious condition in which Pakistan found itself after independence enabled the civil services to take the initiative in their own hands. Keith Callard writes that “the circumstances of partition and its aftermath demanded strong central action to establish government control over the new state”.
Pakistan, as opposed to India was a new, seceding state, while India was a successor state which had inherited the entire state apparatus that existed before partition.
Thus, the lines were drawn from the very beginning regarding who was to be the actual power-holder and the decision-maker for the state and who had to play a secondary role simply to provide a political democratic colour to this peculiar form of statecraft.
This dichotomy has been fairly visible since the beginning. Liaquat was its first victim. He was made to go to the United States to build what he, upon putting his first step on American soil, described as “a spiritual bridge between his country and the US”.
Towards the end of 1951, he had started cultivating the idea of pursuing a policy deviating from the earlier appeasement of the US. His assassination in October that year cleared the way for enhanced efforts to court the American support.
That Liaquat had begun to be isolated within a couple of years is apparent from what was designated as the Rawalpindi conspiracy case.
The outgoing commander-in-chief, General Gracey, had already informed the incoming C-in-C Ayub Khan about a group of young Turks within the armed forces. Defence Secretary Iskander Mirza had also made a comment to the British Defence Attaché in Karachi with respect to the nationalistic aspirations among young officers.
The prime minister was kept uninformed and subsequently came to know of this remark through the civilian channel of the police. Ayub and Mirza thus kept the prime minister in the dark. The conspiracy behind the conspiracy tells its own story.
Pakistan’s drift towards authoritarianism from its very inception was detected gradually by historians and there has been a great deal of political literature on it since. But it’s a fact of history that the first who noted it were also the first who had to bear the ramifications of authoritarianism.
These were our working classes, our intelligentsia, writers and poets.
Who can forget the writings of Manto and Qasmi and the poetry of Faiz and Noon Meem Rashid articulating the trials of their times. Shouldn’t they too be counted among the founding fathers of our country?
The writer is Adjunct Professor at Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi.