As the fifty-seventh anniversary of the creation of Pakistan approaches, MUZAFFAR IQBAL discusses the role Islam played in its creation, and the role it can play in Pakistan’s future.
August 14, 2004, will mark the fifty-seventh anniversary of the creation of Pakistan. Carved out of the Indian subcontinent in the name of Islam, Pakistan came into existence as the culmination of a historic process that took shape over centuries, producing a peculiar set of civilizational currents that produced a unique hybrid culture. These cross-currents gave birth to a new language, Urdu, a certain lifestyle distinct from those that had existed in India before the arrival of Islam, and a singular expression of the Islamic belief-system that combine various Arabian, Persian and Indian elements. In many ways, Pakistan is an extraordinary country, not only because it came into existence to embody a belief-system but also because, through its creation, the unfolding of Islam in history found an expression that combined several major streams of human civilization, including elements of Persian, Arab and local Indian cultures.
At birth, Pakistan was also a unique country in a geographical sense: there was no other state in the world that was divided into two wings separated by a thousand miles of hostile territory. Even after 1971, when East Pakistan separated from the parent state to become Bangladesh, Pakistan retains enormous geographical variety. Its sprawling 310,000 square miles — about as large as France and Britain together — span a terrain of fierce deserts, fertile plains, and snow-capped mountains belonging to three major mountain ranges: the Hindu Kush, the Karakorams and parts of the Himalayas.
But this unique country was born in the shadow of death and violence. When the colonizers realized that it had become impossible to control India—the so-called jewel in the crown of the British Raj—it was already too late. The whole subcontinent was on fire, and communal riots had become the order of the day. In one terrible slaughter in Bihar, from October 30 to November 7, 1946, approximately 30,000 Muslims were killed in a premeditated, well-organized pogrom; this was just one of numerous large-scale, cold-blooded massacres that engulfed the entire subcontinent in a terrible period of uncertainty, both before and after the hasty departure of the British. They left behind them two states locked into a simmering and intractable conflict over numerous unresolved issues, the most important being that of Kashmir.
In May 1947 the partition of the Indian subcontinent, originally planned for June 1948, was brought forward to August 1947. This acceleration, coupled with an already deteriorating law and order situation, resulted in an enormously chaotic process of genesis in which thousands of people perished, whole villages were burnt to the ground, several million people migrated, and major issues were left unresolved; even the boundary line dividing the subcontinent into two states was not finalized until the closing days, when it was finally completed in an arbitrary manner. Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the British chairman of the Boundary Commission, literally drew a red line on a map, giving control of all major rivers to India, and dividing villages and families.
The partition of India was one of the bloodiest events of the twentieth century. The situation was so bad that at the start of its existence there was little hope that Pakistan could survive. While the new Indian state inherited all the splendid buildings and equipment of the Imperial secretariat, in Karachi the Pakistani government had scarcely any typewriters, telephones, desks, ink or stationery, and its personnel struggled with the pressing tasks of running a state in shabby tin structures.
But all this was of little importance to the generation of Muslims who had been inspired by the vision summed up in the slogan: Pakistan ka matlab kya: la illaha ila' Allah ("What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no deity except Allah"). This chant, which now seems so remote and forlorn, then filled the entire country; those who remember those days speak of an unearthly presence of grace, of the fulfillment of God's promise to His sincere believers, as if this transforming chant was like the air they breathed, the raison d'etre of their existence.
From that high point of August 14, 1947, Pakistan's journey has been a story of bitter disappointments and betrayals. The initial scene was set up by the British. They left behind a simmering wound in the form of various unresolved issues between India and Pakistan: the future of Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad; the division of military stores; and even financial balances of the British era, which India withheld for several months in 1947-48. It was not the external issues, however, that deeply affected the new polity, but rather an internal malaise that spread like cancer, killing the fragile, dream-like vision that had inspired millions of souls. In retrospect it seems impossible that millions of people could sacrifice so much, only to be robbed of their cherished vision in so short a time.
Looking back at the euphoria that took millions of people during the summer of 1947 to a new homeland, one wonders what happened to that dream. August 14, 1947, was meant to mark the beginning of the fulfilment of a dream that had enthralled and inspired a whole generation of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent; fifty-seven years later the process has still not begun. What was it that destroyed the dream of Pakistan so early in its life? Who were the people who let it happen? Why did a state created in the name of Islam, bought by the enormous sacrifices of millions of people, the culmination of a historical process of unique characteristics, fail to fulfill the aspirations of its people?
These are, of course, mighty questions, requiring much more detailed analysis than can be offered here, but one thing is clear: the failure was not of the people, but of their leadership. Pakistan did not turn into a client-state of America, held in bondage by the IMF and misled into a chaotic, violent existence by a deeply secularized leadership, because of her people; it is the result having, in place of proper leadership, a tiny elite that has no political legitimacy and none of the qualifications required to govern a Muslim country.
This crisis of leadership emerged very early in Pakistan's history. Those who took charge of the independence movement in its final phase were a product of the British educational system, and their commitment to Islam was that of a secular sort; that is to say, they saw Islam as a religion providing guidelines for a personal moral code, but not as relevant, indeed essential and central, to the entire spectrum of the collective life of a people. Thus, beyond its utility for slogans, Islam was never seen as a primary source from which operative principles could be derived. This created a state mired in dichotomies: its constitution proclaimed Islam to be the state religion, but the entire edifice of ruling institutions, inherited from the British Raj, was based on secular principles. There was no attempt to reorder either of the two most powerful state institutions left behind by the British Raj—the state civil service and the military—on Islamic principles, and these two institutions were to play a decisive role in destroying the new polity. Perhaps the new state was deliberately delivered into these hands by the departing colonizers. At any rate, it never attained independence in any true sense.
Held hostage by its own military, Pakistan was to suffer four military coups in its short life, each worse than the one before. This crisis of leadership persists even to this day. Thus, without a mature leadership rooted in Islam, Pakistan's future seems increasingly bleak. What was once a happy dream has turned into a nightmare of strife, bloodshed, sectarian violence, and subservience to foreign masters.
Given the present state of Pakistan, it may seem quixotic to refer to the dream of a bygone era, but unless Pakistanis can reconstruct a higher principle and motive for their existence as a polity, they are doomed. In order to recreate the echo of that bygone dream, a new generation of leaders has to emerge, a leadership that can instill the vision of Islam into the mainstream of Pakistani public life, and restore hope and trust to the hearts of the country's long-suffering people; all other roads lead to internal collapse and disintegration. Pakistan's only raison d'etre is Islam; without this commitment, it has no hope of survival.
Of course, 2004 is not 1947; the world has changed hugely during the last fifty years. In this altered global environment, the echoes of La ilaha ila'Allah have also assumed a new meaning. Pakistan is now part of a global movement that aspires to transform the entire Muslim world into a true Islamic political community, united by allegiance to Allah's tawheed (oneness, uniqueness), and guided by Islam's vision of life in this world and after it. At present, this global movement is at a very early stage, but its existence is undeniable. Within Pakistan there is an increasing awareness that, without being part of this global movement, Pakistan has no hope of survival. In spite of the great efforts at social engineering being undertaken by the ruling military elite at the behest of their American masters, most Pakistanis remain committed to Islam. This fact is not obvious if one's knowledge of Pakistan is restricted to media reports, but in fact a deep commitment to Islam is present in the very hearts and souls of Pakistanis, and no amount of educational and cultural manipulation can destroy it. The ruling generals and their stooges will soon find that the rewriting of history textbooks and the removal of Qur'anic verses from curricula, as they have recently ordered, can do nothing to destroy this commitment.
At present, the greatest need of the global Islamic movement is the integration of its various components, resources and strengths, in order to infuse new hope in the hearts of those who stand at the threshold of joining the great struggle. Muslim intellectuals committed to the establishment of a new world order, and to the emancipation of Muslims from the clutches of secular rulers and foreign dominance, have a great responsibility to articulate Islam's eternal and universal vision in a manner that will guide all peoples everywhere. Pakistan's future depends on its commitment to Islam, and its geographical location makes it an integral part of the new global currents that are already beginning to transform the Muslim world.