Nations within a Nation – The Search for a Pakistani Nation – 2

 By Adnan Syed

“Indeed, world is ruled by little else but ideas.” — John Maynard Keynes

The Two Nation Theory and Inequality in the New State of Pakistan

The two nation theory was primarily based on distinctive majority-two-nations within United India. The distinction was cultural as well as religious, where both of these characteristics freely overlapped each other. Given the dominance of religion within the edifice of the Muslim nation, it was inevitable that religion will form a large part in the new nation state that was carved due to the Muslim nation identity. And given a strong tradition of political Islam within the Muslim body, it was inevitable that the very political Islam will find its way through the vague contours of the shifting idea of an Indian Muslim nation that was formed mainly as a reaction to the changing landscape of nineteenth and twentieth century India.

Since Pakistan was a political unit demanded by the sudden rise in Indian Muslim nationalism in a span of 7 years, it remained a reactive idea. It was an alternative to recognition of the Muslim nation; and when that recognition was denied, Pakistan was born. And this is where the reactive nature of the idea became its own worst enemy. Since events transpired so quickly in those momentous seven years from 1940 to 1947, Muslim League remained focused on their immediate goal of winning recognition of a Muslim nation within United India, it likely never completely delved into the details of governing the new Muslim state.


When the new nation is formed around an ideal of cultural and religious identity, ML leadership found it hard for the new state to not turn and impose the very religious inspired identity upon all who live inside the boundaries of the newly formed nation. The very violation (or the perception of violation) of equality is what gave rise to the newly formed nation state of Pakistan. What Pakistani founders failed to realize was that if the new found state is to repeat the same mistake, its sub nations will feel immediately threatened, in a way similar to how Muslims felt due to perceived Hindu dominated India. As it happened, new nations within Pakistan did quickly rise to protect their interests and ideals.

Suddenly it becomes clear what Jinnah was thinking on August 11, when he all but proclaimed Pakistan as a secular state. He probably had a good idea of what would entail if Pakistan would opt for the route of an Islamic state. He knew firsthand the ferocity of nationalism when recognition is denied and core ideals of nations within a nation are threatened. And he knew well that nationalism based on other identities can be extremely potent and infectious. Proclaiming Pakistan as a secular state did not negate the idea of Pakistan. It was a perfectly sound continuation of an idea of Pakistan that was rooted in perceived inequality. That Pakistan was never a certain outcome was certain. But once Pakistan became a reality, it was imperative that it did not follow the very mistake that became its reason of existence.

Alas, the founding fathers of Pakistan never followed through on Jinnah’s speech of August 11. They either failed to see that precluding all Pakistanis from equality irrespective of their faith and caste will give rise to further nationalism within the new state of Pakistan. Or maybe they naively believed that Islam would allow complete equality to Muslims and non Muslims.

Jinnah was the visible exception as we hear him say again and again that the new nation was not going to be a theocratic state. He clearly said that religion would have nothing to do with the affairs of the state. But we also hear him invoking Islam during the movement for Pakistan. Jinnah used Islam to unite the Muslim polity. This was an expensive bargain; to invoke Muslims as a nation, he had to call on for Islamic principles that Muslims can relate to. Otherwise, the free-flowing multi-dimensional identities of Indian Muslims (cultural, lingual, regional) would overwhelm their collective Indian Muslim identity. He valiantly tried to keep the Muslim nationalism separate from Islamic theocracy. But he probably did not realize that invoking religious bedrock for a nation was that huge of a bargain. To complicate the matters, right after partition, all religious parties jumped into the cracks between Muslim and Islamic nationalism, stoking the uncertainty even further, and highlighting the Islamic angle of the movement at the cost of Muslim nationalism movement.

If Jinnah occasionally wavered in resolving the contradictions between the demands of Muslims and inequality inside a theocratic state, his comrades completely dropped the ball after his death. Within 6 months of his death, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan was passing a resolution assigning sovereignty to Allah and holding Islamic laws as a guideline for the future constitution of Pakistan. Except one, all of Jinnah’s colleagues voted for Objectives Resolution. By embarking Pakistan on the path of an Islamic state, founding fathers were sowing the seeds of distrust and fears within the nation of Pakistan, which was composed of various sub-nations primarily along ethnic lines. Maulana Abu-al-Ala Moudoudi, who correctly saw the creation of Pakistan as a product of Muslim nationalism (“chaste prostitution” he scoffed once on this very idea) jumped in as the Muslim League failed to follow through on making Pakistan an equal for all Muslim majority nation. MJ Akbar rightly said that Moudoudi’s children wrested Pakistan from Jinnah’s children. But Jinnah’s children repeatedly catered to Moudodi’s children because they never ever realized that negating Pakistan as an Islamist state was never ever a violation of the raison d’être of Pakistan.

Once Pakistan tried to impose Pakistani nationalism with a healthy dose of religion mixed in, minorities either fled the country, or rose against it. East Pakistan rebelled against the unjustness inside the nation of Pakistan, as it feared (rightly or wrongly) that its cultural identity will yield to the religious-nationalist Pakistani identity. East Pakistan was gone within 24 years of the birth of Pakistan.

Recognizing the Nation of Nations that is Pakistan

Still some 63 years after its birth, as Pakistan struggles to define itself as a nation, it is never too late to realize that Pakistan is a nation of many nations. It may also want to hark back to its origins and see that the perception of injustice and failure to recognize the identity of an Indian Muslim nation is what gave birth to Pakistan. That this 160 million strong nation of diverse nations cannot exist if it doesn’t accord equality as equal Pakistanis. However the religious discourse in Pakistan is so strong that even though Pakistan feels its inherent contradictions, it is powerless to do anything about it. There is a violent Baloch uprising going on, and Sindhi nationalism is kept at bay only by a party led by Sindhis that has strong appeal throughout Pakistan. If democracy is derailed once again, there is no telling how ferocious Sindhi nationalism will be against the state of Pakistan.

There are no fast and easy answers to the conundrum that is the Pakistani state. Pakistan did not get here overnight and will not heal quickly as well. However, in my humble opinion, if Pakistan has to survive as a viable state, the strong religious induced Pakistani nationalism that is threatening smaller nations within Pakistan needs to be checked by Pakistanis themselves. This is easier said than done. So let’s start with the basic lessons from history:

1) For smaller nations within the union of Pakistan to have any say, it is imperative that democracy must continue. Too many of unelected leaders (General Sher Ali and others of Yahya’s rule, General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamist coterie) have reinforced the so called Islamist ideology of Pakistan, thereby threatening the smaller nations within the union, and weakening the foundations of the Pakistani state. Only continued democracy can ensure representation of all nations; allowing proper representation is the first step in recognizing the rights of a nation.

2)  The nation of Pakistan is simply a second derivative of various ethnic nations. There is no top down ideology of Pakistan, except a simple pledge to all of its nations that their culture, language, and rights are guaranteed by the state of Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan must realize that the idea of a religious narrative and a central language for the nation is perceived as a violation of the rights of the very nations that make up Pakistan. And if the history is any guide, perception is everything when it comes to national causes.

 3) Keynes famously said that ideas of economists and political philosophers are more powerful than commonly understood. Indeed, world is ruled by little else but ideas. The idea of an equal and secular Pakistan for all Pakistanis, independent of the religious ideology, is far more powerful than any of us realize. Today, Pakistan still has a free press, a working democracy and an independent judiciary. This environment, if allowed to continue, will spur critical thinking and introspection, and will allow the inherent contradiction of the official narrative to come under intense scrutiny. Eventually, this atmosphere of free exchange of ideas should look at Jinnah and his view on secularism. Our founders talked about Islam as embodying the principles of “equality, fraternity and social justice”. But they explicitly negated theocracy. Their idea of a moderate Islam as a guiding light for a fair and just society was far removed from the theocratic state that Moudoudi or other ulema wanted. Today, we understand the free flowing overlap a bit better that obscured religious and social lines for the Indian Muslim. We can take a step further 63 years later, and say that we do not need to carry the religion bogey carried by our founders to justify equality anymore. Separating religion from politics is the first step towards making all Pakistanis equal.

 4) The birth of a nation state is a result of the binding of a nation around a cause. When a country turns around to deny the very justice for all of its inhabitants in the new state, then it begins living in contradiction. Pakistan’s salvation, at the end, will lie in the lessons gleaned from its birth.


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