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Pak Tea House » Democracy, Islam, Jinnah, Pakistan, south asia » What Thomas Friedman has wrong on Egypt, Pakistan and India

What Thomas Friedman has wrong on Egypt, Pakistan and India

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Thomas Friedman’s latest piece deserves to be read by every Pakistani, not because it is accurate- there are several glaring mistakes in it- but because it shows pretty much how the world views us- a basket case anti-people state. The important thing that must be underscored is that if the world views it like this it is entirely our own fault.  We have made a horrible mess of things in Pakistan.  

Still for the sake of fairness, one must point out the glaring mistakes in Friedman’s article. Let us first state the facts, Pakistan is – with all its faults and mistakes- a country far ahead of Egypt on the democracy curve. There is no chance Egypt under Morsi is ever going to be Pakistan, let alone a stable secular democracy like India.  Besides Pakistan has had a Christian Chief Justice and several Non-Muslim Supreme Court justices, not that it matters one bit because despite that minorities in Pakistan are persecuted terribly.

Nor was Indian National Congress the epitome of inclusiveness and tolerance as Friedman likes to paint it. Had Congress been suitably inclusive, it would not have alienated a secular liberal Muslim like Jinnah or a Dalit leader like B R Ambedkar.  Indeed had Congress been willing to give the Muslims what Coptics in Egypt want, there would not have been a partition of British India.  Congress’ own token Muslim president Azad is on the record admitting that Congress did not live up to its own tall claims about inclusive national ideals.

But what Congress did right was get Ambedkar – who was a known opponent of the Congress- to write the constitution of India and the constitution he drafted as a result is arguably one of the finest constitutions in the world.  It must also be stated that any critical examination of the record of the big three of India’s freedom struggle, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah will reveal that Jinnah stood head and shoulders above both Nehru and Gandhi when it came to practical steps taken to ensure civil liberties and religious freedom to Indians.  Jinnah’s legislative record speaks for itself.  However the difference was that while Gandhi and Nehru had an established political party behind them, Jinnah’s followers were politically immature, inexperienced and without any grasp of real issues.  While India embraced Ambedkar, Pakistan drove out J N Mandal, the scheduled caste Hindu leader appointed by Jinnah himself.  Too confused, too caught up in their own ego trips and insecurities, the Nishtars and Liaqat Alis failed Jinnah and his idea of Pakistan.

Pakistan it must be stated however was led by men who has been brought up in British tradition of law and parliamentary politics. Still they failed.  Pakistan is a federation with contending multiple identities at play and still the military dominated it in cahoots with local vested interests.  Egypt is being led by Syed Qutb’s followers. Syed Qutb’s equivalent in Pakistan Maududi and his party have never won widespread support in Pakistan.  Yet their threat alone has made Pakistan’s liberal leaders like Bhuttos take retrogressive and reactionary steps.  In Egypt the Qutbians lead and are being pressured by an even more extreme group i.e. the Salafis.  The real question is if Pakistan is going to go down the Egyptian route! The battle for the heart and soul of democracy in the Islamic world is not going to be fought in the Arab world.  The battle is right here in Pakistan and in Malaysia, in Indonesia, in Turkey and in Iran.

The question should have been asked – Will Pakistan follow India or will it continue to look towards its Arab co-religionists?  If Pakistan becomes the Muslim majority version of India- as it was always meant to be- the whole region will benefit.  Unfortunately writers like Friedman are too obsessed with the Middle East to see, that Islam’s real battle lies outside the Middle East.

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