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The Pakistan of Muslim League

The seven-page manifesto of the PML in 1957 shows the party wanted to foster a mono-identity upon the diverse people of Pakistan

The Pakistan of Muslim League
The making of a security state.

Recently I came across the first manifesto of the Muslim League after the creation of Pakistan. This manifesto was passed at the Pakistan Muslim League [PML] Council meeting in Dacca between October 11-13, 1957. This manifesto was agreed upon in anticipation of the general elections to be held under the recently passed constitution of Pakistan in March 1956 which had taken Pakistan in a decidedly Islamic path.

The manifesto of the Muslim League — the party which founded the country — is significant in many respects. It not only shows the internal thinking of the party which led the country to independence, but also the priorities of the party if it came to power. Of course the promised elections never took place and therefore the manifesto never saw the light of day, but its contents remain significant in terms of the political, social and economic thinking of the time.

The manifesto begins with a clear statement: “Whereas the State of Pakistan was established on the basis of Islamic Ideology…’ and that ‘the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had repeatedly declared that Pakistan would be democratic state based on the Islamic principles of social justice.” Hence, the PML was very clear from the outset what was the basis of Pakistan and what should be its future trajectory. By 1957, there was a clear consensus among the political leaders of the country that Islamic ideology was at the foundational and future core of Pakistan.

The manifesto is very clear on what principles Pakistan should be run. In its first article the manifesto aims to inculcate the ‘spirit of Islamic brotherhood’ and the elimination of ‘provincial, racial, tribal, caste and other un-Islamic sentiments.’ What is interesting here is that the PML regards any other identity — save the Islamic one — as ‘un-Islamic’ and wants to remove them.

It wants to foster a mono-identity upon the diverse people of Pakistan, but interestingly does not clearly delineate what this ‘Islamic’ identity would practically entail. What features of being a Bengali or a Punjabi or a Pakhtun ‘un-Islamic’? Or is the mere profession of such an additional identity or its manifestation unacceptable? Further, what are the other ‘un-Islamic’ features of the Pakistani society which it wants to remove?

Unlike contemporary conflicting, but fiercely debated, ideas of what constitutes an ‘Islamic Social Order’, the manifesto very confidently goes on to explain what steps should be taken to establish such a state. It calls for an adjustment of Pakistan’s ‘social, economic and educational system to suit the requirements of a progressive Islamic society’ through not only bringing existing laws in conformity with the principles of Islam but by making the study of Quran and Sunnah mandatory for Muslims. Alcohol, prostitution and gambling also make it to the list and the manifesto further calls for their prohibition in addition to establishing Islamic institutions like Masajid, Auqaf and Zakat.

This is a call for a radical transformation of the prevailing society, norms and practices which were and are still fiercely debated, but the manifesto deems them as self-explanatory, and does not care to even spend a few paragraphs on it.

The manifesto is very clear on what principles Pakistan should be run. In its first article the manifesto aims to inculcate the ‘spirit of Islamic brotherhood’ and the elimination of ‘provincial, racial, tribal, caste and other un-Islamic sentiments.’

Further, the manifesto calls for a restoration of ‘the system of Separate Electorates’. This is an interesting demand, since after intense debate it was decided that in West Pakistan there would be separate electorates while in East Pakistan there would be joint electorates. This was decided after clear demands of people in East Pakistan — both Hindu and Muslim — that the Bengali nation in Pakistan should not be divided on the basis of religion. It is significant that the PML wants to perpetuate the division of the people of Pakistan on the basis of religion, even while claiming to be a party of the whole of Pakistan.

The PML also promised to give ‘equal citizenship as provided in Islam’ to women. Again, beyond this mere line it does not define what these rights were and whether if there were any limitations on them.

The provision on minorities is even more significant since it not only promises to ‘ensure the minorities the enjoyment of their rights as equal citizens of Pakistan, including the right to freely profess and practise their religion,’ but also enjoins the country to make ‘every effort to secure similar rights for the Muslim minority of Bharat.’unnamed

So even as late as 1957, Pakistan was still seeing itself as the protector of the rights of Muslims in India. This, as we know, complicated the relationship of the Muslims in India as they were seen as fifth columnists, citizens-in-waiting of Pakistan, in India. The public advocacy of Muslims in India put them in a precarious situation in India, but also complicated Pakistan’s stance since according to its own Citizenship Act 1951, only those people who had migrated to Pakistan by January 1, 1952 were eligible to become citizens of Pakistan. Hence it is rather bizarre that the PML was so eager to help the Muslims in India but was not committed to accept them as citizens of Pakistan in case they wanted to move there.

Together with a stress on the Islamic ideology of the state, the manifesto stresses the importance of governance through a democratic system and calls for ‘strict observance of … the established democratic traditions and conventions’ while ‘guaranteeing civil liberties and fundamental rights to the people of Pakistan’. Here again, there is no reflection on how these claims sit with the Islamic basis of the country, which the PML so proudly professed.

There are two more significant aspects of the manifesto, both of which account for Pakistan’s India centric foreign policy and its status as a security state. It calls for military training of able-bodied citizens with ‘the ultimate object of securing the introduction of compulsory military training of all citizens…’ while ‘liberating Junagadh, Manawadar and other areas which belong to Pakistan’.

It goes on to stipulate that effective measures would be taken to secure Pakistan’s ‘rightful and due share of water from the rivers flowing down the territories of Bharat’. These articles show how still India still loomed large for politics in Pakistan — in fact had become a permanent feature not only in terms of defence but resource rights and uses. The introduction of mandatory military service, advocated by a political party, would have further strengthened the power and hold of the military over affairs in Pakistan — something which was already becoming a reality by 1957.

The seven page manifesto of the Pakistan Muslim League in 1957, published by its Secretary General Qazi Mohammad Isa, is an interesting read. It shows how the party was very clear that it wanted to go down the Islamic state route, but was unclear what it actually encompassed. Most articles are only a line or two long, and there are no details given how the promises made were going to be realised if the PML came to power. Oddly enough all this is still very familiar.

Yaqoob Khan Bangash

Yaqoob Bangash
The writer teaches at the IT University in Lahore. He is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYK.

One comment

  • An important find, though it makes for very depressing reading. I hope you write a separate and more detailed article around the Manifesto, and tell us what were the pressures on the ML leadership that made them come up with such a confused mishmash just ten years after coming to absolute power in the new country.

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