Haider Ali Agha: Secularism and Rationale of Pakistan

Pakistan, as the only nuclear country among 55 Muslim nations and a front line state in the recent US-led war against terrorism, has come to occupy a very important place in the arena of global politics. It has been accused by Russian, Iran and India of supporting militant Islamicists in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir, although Pakistan denies these charges and call the movements freedom struggle having indigenous origins. Despite its denials, the world has always viewed its connections with Talibans and Kashmiri militant Islamic fundamentalists who use Pakistani soil for their operations against India with suspicions and has pressurized it to sever its links with them. Talibans, against whom Pakistan recently joined US-led coalition due to fear of wrath of lone super power it could otherwise face, were fostered and fed by Pakistani military intelligence and Taliban in their turn supported fundamentalist rebels in Chechnya and Central Asian states.

In order to understand this behavior of Pakistan in regional politics, it is essential to have rational insight into the course of past events which made Pakistan what it is now. A philosophical understanding of the principle of its creation will be of great service to know with some degree of certainty what future has in store for this state.

G.W.F.Hegel, one of the greatest German philosophers of all times, in his work ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History’ says: “The spirit of a nation is the development of a principle. The distinctive principle of a nation is one which can be approached empirically and demonstrated in factual details.”

Muslim consciousness of the Indian subcontinent is characterized by two dominant political beliefs, albeit ambivalent. One political belief, which is akin to modern day secularism and pluralism, finds its full expression in the reign of Akbar, the Mughal emporer (1556-1605) who was the contemporary of English Queen Elizabeth I. Jawaharlal Nehru, a famous statesman and first Prime Minister of India makes the following comments on the rule by Akbar in his book ‘The Discovery of India”:

“His court became a meeting place for men of all faiths and all who had some new idea or new invention. His toleration of views and his encouragement of all kinds of beliefs and opinions went so far as to start a new synthetic faith to suit everybody. It was in his reign that cultural amalgamation of Hindu and Moslem in north India took a long step forward. Akbar himself was certainly as popular with the Hindus as with the Moslems. He had built so well that the edifice he had erected lasted for 100 years in spite of inadequate successors.”

The other political belief, which is akin to modern day Islamic fundamentalism, is expressed in the reign of Aurugzeb (1658-1707) also called grand Mughal by orthodox Muslim authors. Nehru has this to say about Aurugzeb in his book, ‘The Discovery of India’: “The last of the so-called ‘Grand Mughals’Aurungzeb, tried to put back the clock, and in his attempt stopped it and broke it up. Aurungzeb, far from understanding the present, failed even to appreciate the immediate past; he was a throw-back and, for all his ability and earnestness, he tried to undo what his predecessors had done. A bigot and austere puritan, he was no lover of art or literature. He infuriated great majority of his subjects by imposing old hated jizya, a poll tax, on the Hindus and destroying many of their temples.”

The principle which inspired the creation of Pakistan was essentially religious i.e., two-nation theory--- Hindus and Muslims are two nations and are entitled to states on these grounds. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a western educated lawyer with liberal life style, used this religious principle to animate the Muslim masses to attain a separate state composed of the Muslim majority areas in the North east and North West. It appears anomalous that a man with liberal outlook on life uses religious principle to give orientation to a new nation that he is fathering. However, this religious principle found its objective realization in the state of Pakistan in 1947 and this anomaly has ever since gripped the consciousness of Pakistani nation. Unfortunately, Jinnah did not live long enough to implement his vision of a Muslim state and died just one year after in 1948. His successors who largely came from feudal background formed an alliance first with civil bureaucracy and then with military clique to protect their combined interests in the face of illiterate peasant and semi-literate urban classes. These ruling classes manipulated the religious sensitivities of the masses as they envisioned Pakistan to be ideal Islamic state where ideas of freedom, democracy and equality, as enshrined in Islamic principles of Quran and Traditions of Prophet Muhammad, were to be realized (Objective Resolution 1949 and Islamic Provisions of 1956 constitution). This was an abstract ideal to start with as it had no concrete existence or real precedent in the Indian Muslim history except in the rule of Akbar when pluralism and freedom of faith actually prevailed without pursuing the supremacy of Islamic faith over other religions. This abstract religious principle was also manifested in the foreign policy of the country when Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister of Pakistan, preferred the patronage of the People of Book( Christians) residing in the White House to the friendly relations with godless Communists living in the Kremlin. In East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, the situation was different. The politicians there largely came from middle class and being politically conscious, they were concerned more with their political and economic rights that with Islamic ideological disputes so enthusiastically pursued by the ruling elite in West Pakistan. There was cultural gap and lack of ideological harmony between two parts of Pakistan which took forms of political and economic exploitation of Bengalis resulting in the break up of Pakistan and proclamation of Independent state of Bangladesh in 1971. This national tragedy should have led the ruling clique and intelligentsia to a lot of heart searching and to identify its causes. But it did not happen. Instead, the causes of revolt of 52 per cent population of the country were seen in the Indo-Soviet conspiracy, treachery of east Bengalis and lack of spirit of Jihad shown by Pak army officers. It did not occur to them to seriously rethink the relevance of religious principle in the changing times which was once used to attain Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a western educated politician with a feudal family background assumed power. Bhutto was a great dreamer as he had his peculiar version of pan-Islamism. He wanted to secure a position of world historical significance. He had exaggerated estimate of his personal worth and the task which he wised to accomplish was not in tune with the spirit of the age. He built up his vision on already existing legacy of religious principle. He lost sight of the historical reality that a principle which could not hold Muslims of two parts of Pakistan together and unleashed divisive forces would never be able to unite so many Muslim nations of so diverse dispositions and cultures. He initiated nuclear program to balance Indian nuclear supremacy in the region, framed constitution in which he promised to bring all existing laws in conformity with Quran and the Traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Islamic Provisions of 1973 constitution) and invited heads of state of all Muslim nations in Islamic Summit conference. He went so far as to confront the West and the US in the pursuit of his erroneous pan-Islamic vision. He failed as he was destined to. Bhutto was deposed in military coup brought by Gen. Zia ul Haq as a result of movement launched to protest against alleged rigging in the 1977 elections and two years later he was executed. Neither people at home nor Muslim world could do anything for him except shedding some tears on the end of their hero with fatal ‘tragic flaw’. Some people did not do even that.

Gen Zia, a beardless disciple of Aurungzeb, was adept at exploiting religious sensitivities for his own personal ends. In his rule, the religious principle found its fanatical expression. As a great distruster of multiparty politics and democracy, he unleashed the religious extremist forces to eliminate the influence of political parties. Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan came as a godsend for him. His Ultra-conservative masters in the White House (President Reagan) and 10 Downing Street (Prime Minister Thatcher) gave him all possible help to fight their war against Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan and to perpetuate his oppressive and reactionary rule at home. It was during his rule that the concept of Jihad or Holy war came out of Islamic medieval terminology and gained currency in the country. Army Intelligence Agencies were remodeled on the basis consciousness of Holy war or Jihad and this consciousness also permeated the psyche of the masses. He launched so called ‘Islamisation’ of the country’s legal, administrative, juridical, economic institutions imposing zakat and ushr, two Islamic taxes, and harsh penalties for crimes i.e.; amputations of organs or stoning to death. Islamic shariat courts were established in the whole country. One of the frightening consequences of his policies was growth of sectarian hatred which took thousands of innocent lives. Even after Zia’s death in 1988 in a mysterious plan crash, his jihadi spirit continued to haunt country’s political and elected institutions.

His heirs did not allow civilian rulers, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawas Sharif, to freely decide on the issues like Pakistan Nuclear Programme, Kashmir and Afghanistan. The elected rulers proved to be both corrupt and incompetent in the eyes of general public which is why their removal from power was greeted with relief and no protest was made in the country. The present ruler, Gen. Musharruf, who came to power in 1999, is under tremendous pressure from the world community to reign in the terrorist organizations which work from Pakistani soil. It remains to be seen whether President Musharruf succeeds in undoing the legacy of his predecessor or succumbs to religious extremist violence.

Ironically, the religious principle which brought this state into existence is now posing a threat to the very existence of state after having worked itself to its extreme.

Was it possible for this principle to work otherwise in a progressive and moderate way? The answer is No. The national sprit which stemmed from this principle can be seen in the working of economic, political, juridical, legal, administrative institutions of the state. When the people at helm of affairs use these institutions to satisfy their appetites to the detriment of entire nation, the principle which inspired the creation of such state is on the verge of disintegration by working itself up to its last stage. This principle may retain its temporal continuity without any depth and richness and continue to influence war and peace in external affairs for some time as long as hostile enemy forces pose challenge to the national spirit by inflicting mental and physical pain in the forms of humiliations and death as is seen in Kashmir and Palestine.

The new principle which will arise out of the disintegration of the old principle is the principle of secularism having its roots in the consciousness of the people. This principle is not alien to Muslim consciousness; it has already been expressed in popular sufis’ (Muslim mystics) poetry and music, though in a rudimentary form. Amir Khusru introduced many innovations in Indian music and is also said to have invented sitar, the popular stringed instrument of India. He wrote lyrics of popular songs of his time. The secular principle is as much in harmony with the culture of science and technology as with democratic institutions and needs of industrial progress. The transition from old religious principle to new secular principle will be of sanguinary character as the religious reactionary forces and their mentors or masters in the ruling elite whose economic and political survival is linked with the old dying principle will fight to the last. The secular principle, being the higher principle at this stage of historical development of national spirit, is ‘historical necessity’.

Hegel appreciates the people who struggle for the realization of higher principle in these word: “Only those who know the spirit of the nation and necessity of higher principle likely to arise, and shape their actions in accordance with it are the great ones of the nation. The principle creates for itself the individuals it requires to carry out its end.”

Haider Ali Agha

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