December Issue 2009
What is Pakistan?
Farzana Sheikh, Associate Fellow, Asia Programme at Chatham House London, has titled her book after what is on every Pakistani’s mind — the question ofMaking Sense of Pakistan. This is not a simplistic historical narrative of pre-and post-1947 but a thorough analysis of Pakistan’s politics, especially the complex dynamics of the relationship between the state and society. This 276-page book tackles the major problem of Pakistan’s identity, concentrating on the critical question of whether it was meant to be an Islamic theocracy or a liberal state for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.
Sheikh’s argument is that the current confusion regarding Pakistan’s identity persisted even prior to Independence, mainly because the Muslim leadership was unsure of how to organise the Muslims within the context of the larger India. It had to be a choice between a state with a certain ideological character or one that provided a secure umbrella to the Muslims. Had the Muslim ummahfelt secure in a united India, they might not have demanded an independent state. So, the Hindu leadership was as responsible for Pakistan’s creation as the Muslim leadership. Such an argument draws flak from both Indians and Pakistanis who would each like to look at historical events as a conscious process rather than something that emerged accidentally. Instead of getting bogged down in the above debate, Sheikh raises another important question about Pakistan’s creation as an independent state for Muslims: did the leadership really think about the consequences?
Sheikh argues that there were several ideas of what was needed for the Muslims of India. Jinnah, we are told, was not eager to make a theocratic state. His perception of the link between religion and state was different from how it was envisioned by other Muslims leaders like Iqbal and Maudoodi. These two leaders thought in terms of pan-Islamism, in which a separate territory was not as important as the unity of the ummah. These varied perceptions continue to haunt us even now.
Jinnah tried to turn the state into a liberal entity but was unable to succeed as he died soon after the country was created. The later leadership gradually moved away from a liberal concept of state and began to woo the religious right. The process started with Liaquat Ali Khan, who developed links with the Ahrar and produced the Objectives Resolution of 1949. After this, the state was forever lost in the tussle between those who desired a secular-liberal polity and those who veered towards Islamisation.
Sheikh argues that the very act of using religion as a base to demand a separate state had provided the basic direction of politics for all leaders, including those claiming to be secular such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had no option but to resort to the use of what they termed a more progressive form of Islam.
The book is engaging for many reasons, one of them clearly being the debate on socio-economics in Islam. The fact that leaders such as PPP’s Hanif Ramay used the term ‘Islamic Socialism’ indicates the possibility of ideological and conceptual experimentation within Islam. The question that this segment of the book raises is that while it is generally accepted that Islam is all-encompassing and offers a complete way of life, the socio-economic experiments under Bhutto opened more vistas for experimentation. Historically, there is no concept of state control on the mode of production, which is what happened under Bhutto — supposedly to provide relief to the poor and redress inequalities among various social classes, as religion stipulates. The methodology used to bring about this change included a balanced use of secular tools such as nationalisation.
Sheikh then transports us from Bhutto’s rule to Zia-ul-Haq’s, an era where orthodoxy took root and jihad was introduced as an instrument of state policy. Interestingly enough, throughout these years, Pakistan did not use any of its other identities, such as its ethnic identity, to build Pakistani nationalism. It was believed that a singular identity was a better replacement for multipolarity. Perhaps this was because of the urge to create a nation rather than use symbols that the leadership considered to be divisive. Although the book needs more work as far as the discussion on jihadi networks is concerned, it is a valuable read for anyone trying to solve the Pakistan riddle, especially its complex and confused link with religion.
The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter