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Re-imagining Pakistan

Is Pakistan a nation state or does it fall in some other category is an intellectual quandary?

Re-imagining Pakistan

Like many post-colonial states, Pakistan was created first and imagined afterwards. In fact, the process of ‘imagining’ Pakistan continues to this day — particularly on Pakistani TV channels.

History as a discipline has been instrumental in tracing the evolutionary process of Pakistan as a political imaginary. If the texts produced by the likes of Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi and Shaikh Muhammad Ikram are read dispassionately, one senses the past has been reconstructed just to suit the historical inevitability of a Muslim state in the North-West of India.

On the contrary, some in the Western academic circles are currently discussing the extent to which Pakistani nationalism is anchored in the future and not in the past. Some historians scrutinise the text of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speeches and find hardly any reference to the political past of Muslims. Islam was mostly invoked to assert the North Indian Muslims’ separatism. But, once the intended separatism was gained, the overall envisaged state structure was essentially modern (one can read it as Western). Alternative propositions like pan-Islamism or the concept of “the continent of Dinnia” propounded by Chaudhary Rehmat Ali did not seem plausible to Jinnah and he, therefore, disdainfully wrote them off.

Similarly, Jinnah’s indifference to the Khilafat Movement also speaks volumes about the trajectory of his political vision. He confined his political struggle to the limits of the Indian subcontinent.

The irony is: the separatism, which was mostly articulated politically, has now been imposed on the cultural ethos and social values as well. Thus, political exclusion has led to cultural exclusion, giving way to cultural confusion. And such confusion is defused only by invoking Islamic Puritanism, which has been antithetical to a plural society like Pakistan.

The modernity epitomised in the movement spearheaded by Aligarh graduates was upstaged by Islamists who have appropriated the national discourse. According to that narrative, a rather unframed and inconsistent narrative, the vision of future was forged in the light of past.

I am arguing that the futuristic vision of a modern polity, entertained by the founding father while envisaging a state for the North Indian Muslims, has been turned on its head.

Another issue needing some scholarly unravelling is our shared cultural customs and conventions with Arabia.

A structural continuity with the colonial past is a fact that ought to be re-assessed by Pakistani historians and social scientists afresh. Terms, such as ‘Pak-o-Hind’ while describing the ancient or medieval history of the subcontinent, point to a bizarre attempt in reconstructing history — in a bid to project Pakistan as an abiding reality, existing separately from the rest of the Indian populace. Overtaken by the passion for fomenting a Muslim separatist identity, Pakistani historians linked North Indian civilisation and culture with the Arabian Peninsula.

Another quandary needing some scholarly unravelling is our shared cultural customs and conventions with Arabia. The point worth consideration is that while we share a religion with Arabs, we are culturally as distinct from them as we are from others.

The concept of nation or nationalism was bequeathed to the Western colonial powers during the 19th and 20th centuries. It is interesting here to allude to Eric Hobsbawm, who revealed to us in his The Age of Extremes that by the start of the First World War in 1914, 87 per cent of the world was in the clutches of 12 colonial powers. These powers, in fact, set the tone for the rest of the world — modernity being its principal instrument has permeated the innermost recess of the ‘colonised being’ to an extent that one is condemned to view the world from the prism of modernity.

Is Pakistan a nation state or does it fall in some other category is an intellectual quandary which gets confounded further every time it is discussed. The right wing ‘imagining’ of Pakistan has been as an Islamic state on the pattern of the state of Medina. That rubric is so well entrenched that despite the Taliban’s inability to provide any sustainable political order and the establishment of Khilafat by ISIS in Iraq-Syria, its exponents are, nevertheless, adaman on calling for the enforcement of Sharia and the promulgation of Khilafat in Pakistan as well. It is opposed to the nation-state, and its intellectual genealogy is steeped in the concept of Umma, a concept not in line with dominant political imperatives.

The proponent of modernist Islam in the subcontinent, the Aligarh movement, supposedly lost its appeal from 1970s onwards. Aligarh’s political ideals were manifested largely through the All Indian Muslim League under Jinnah. It appears to be a cliché to say that Jinnah’s demise augured badly for the Muslim League but, more importantly, when the dialectic between modernist Islam and traditionalist Islam got underway, the latter won the day with the successful passage of the Objective Resolution in 1949.

Then the gradual and steady progression of traditionalist Islam in Pakistan displaced any ideology or narrative which offered opposing solutions.

After undergoing several vicissitudes, such as in 1953, 1971, 1974 and 1979, Pakistan became a virtual hostage to a singular ideology with no space for liberal discourse. The waxing influence of traditionalist Islam had its culmination in regressive outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and TTP, who have made violence, sectarianism and social disruption their identity.

Now, to our dismay, we are totally divested of intellectual capital and critical skills to revive a future-oriented modernist discourse which may open the space for plurality to sustain and thrive.

Thus, in the situation as it exists today, doom and gloom reign supreme.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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