02 Dec Analysis: The Idea of Pakistan?
We argued in the preceding post (Analysis: Vision and Management) that a country cannot prosper without a national vision and concluded with the following questions: What is the national vision in Pakistan? And, are our problems getting worse precisely because of the absence of a national vision?
It is a coincidence to find an entry that enables us to continue this discussion – a column by Shahid Javed Burki who is among the leading commentators on economic issues in Pakistan. I will quote the introduction to the column before picking up on the issues of interest to us:
Even those who continue to believe in the idea of Pakistan — and I count myself among them — cannot but accept the fact that that while India and the `idea of India` have taken off, Pakistan continues to slip, falling rapidly behind its now prosperous neighbour.
The idea of Pakistan to which I refer has many meanings attached to it… For me the idea that a separate political entity was needed that did not have to contend with the weight of the Hindu majority made sense in the late 1940s.
Whether this idea will make sense ultimately will have to be left to the judgment of history. India pursued a different idea: for many leaders involved in the movement for gaining freedom from the long rule by the British it was sensible to craft a political system that would allow space to many diverse people. Diversity in India came in many forms — religious, linguistic, ethnic, caste, geography etc. There cannot be any doubt that a few hiccups notwithstanding, India has been able to work that idea.
The first thing that struck me was the opening sentence: “Even those who continue to believe in the idea of Pakistan…” Two thoughts came to mind: First, that the number of those who continue to believe in the idea of Pakistan must be shrinking; and second, that there is something that could be identified as the idea of Pakistan. Let us just note the first and use the second as the starting point for our exploration.
The idea of Pakistan, in the words of the author, was the following: “that a separate political entity was needed that did not have to contend with the weight of the Hindu majority…” Let us contrast that with the idea of India, which the author describes as ‘Unity in Diversity,’ before moving on to investigate the visions incorporated in the respective ideas.
The national vision in the idea ‘Unity in Diversity’ is very clear and has been described succinctly by the author: “to craft a political system that would allow space to many diverse people” and motivate them to work together towards goals reflecting the preferences of the electoral majority. In the author’s judgment: “There cannot be any doubt that a few hiccups notwithstanding, India has been able to work that idea.”
Let us now search for the national vision in the idea of Pakistan as interpreted by the author, to repeat, “that a separate political entity was needed that did not have to contend with the weight of the Hindu majority…” This comes across more as a political objective than a vision and even if it incorporates a vision, it is a very time-bound one. What would replace it once the political objective was realized of achieving a separate political entity that did not have to contend with the weight of the Hindu majority? Would it be fair to argue that there was a pre-1947 idea of Pakistan but no post-1947 idea of Pakistan? And that none has since been found that commands the allegiance of an electoral majority?
The author is forthright in stating that he still believes in this idea of Pakistan and that it made sense to him in the late 1940s while leaving open the final judgment on its soundness to the verdict of history. I can understand, sort of, why the idea might have carried an emotional and visceral appeal in the late 1940s but I find it difficult to understand how it could have made sense or withstood the scrutiny of reason.
Let us go back to the claim that “for many leaders involved in the movement for gaining freedom from the long rule by the British it was sensible to craft a political system that would allow space to many diverse people.” If this was indeed true why was there the feeling that Muslims would be the exception, that they would be excluded from the set of diverse people? How did belief in this exceptionalism square with concern for the fate of the Muslims who were to be left behind in India? And what was the conceptualization of a Hindu majority? Did it make sense to conclude that all Hindus, regardless of their diversity characterized by language, ethnicity, caste and geography, would vote in unison against equally diverse Muslims given that the two communities shared many of these attributes? How could it make sense to collapse all that diversity into a monolithic conceptualization of unidimensional and antagonistic Hindus and Muslims?
And would a parsing of the idea of Pakistan not have immediately thrown up the question that would have undermined severely its ability to make sense? If a self-proclaimed minority needs a separate political entity so that it does not have to contend with the weight of an imagined majority, is there a logical end to the process? What exactly is the notion of a minority and a majority in a system of representative governance?
The judgment of history has already been delivered on this flip side of the idea of Pakistan. What remains of the country desperately needs a new idea that incorporates a coherent national vision. There is little to lose in borrowing something that has worked in very trying conditions. ‘Unity in Diversity’ appeals to reason, except, perhaps, that we now need to be bolder – the unity needs to extend beyond national borders in South Asia. Only a peaceful and cooperative South Asia would enable us to make up to the millions whose lives and dreams have been shattered by the tragic lack of a national vision.