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Our founders and guardians

A fellow-columnist has asked why “if we had to go through this (the mess that Pakistan has become today) did we go through the trouble of Partition?” (February 22). Let’s begin to answer the question by wandering a little into ‘alternative history’.

I suspect that at the time of Partition our fathers looked backwards through the wrong end of the telescope, saw the steady diminishment of the Muslim community, projected the decline into the future and decided Pakistan in the mutilated form offered up by the British would do. They must have sensed that the unaccomadative ascendancy of the Hindu – Congress-style nationalism wasn’t as broad as it was ‘Hindu’ – would eventually have forced the separation of the Muslim majority provinces from the main body of India and subcontinental borders would have looked much like they do today. The fault lines were clear and the denouement unavoidable. Anyway, for a thousand years India had either been ruled by Muslims or the British and Muslims did not savour the idea of living permanently under Hindu-majority rule.

So, viewed thus, Partition was not only inevitable but all for the good. True, what followed 1947 was not, and for that the country’s founders and ‘guardians’ must share the blame.

From the outset, the Founders seemed confused. One lot wanted a state based exclusively on religion and another supported traditional western liberalism. Jinnah happily found no conflict in the (co)existence of both strands in the body politic of the new state, but he wasn’t around for long.

Meanwhile, the ‘lay’ versus ‘religion’ debate raged and the Founders ignored the social backwardness of the regions Pakistan inherited and missed the danger of rural magnates/feudals running the show and ‘backwardness’ taking root.

The absence of political platforms at the time of Partition compounded the problem, because it meant we had to try either institutional rule (by the soft/hard face of the services) or personal rule, albeit, sometimes under a party flag, as no other platforms were available.

But nature abhors a vacuum. Political evolution cannot be denied. If the trees don’t grow, the undergrowth will. People need local leadership – non-family, non-community – in urbanised settings, where the relationship has to be vertical with the state, rather than horizontal, with the community structure. So in urbanised Pakistan these relations developed spontaneously, outside the community, outside the rule of law, and outside the power of the state.

Why then did our ICS Guardians – bright sparks that they claimed to be – have nothing to offer in the crucial early days by way of a plan or blueprint to tackle these issues? Because they had little intellectual heft and were not visionaries or statesmen. That was not why they had been recruited; or to be thinkers or ‘bookish,’ although living by the book was definitely a requirement. Their training made them unsuited to examine ‘national’ problems and devise countrywide ‘modern’ solutions. It made them sit on the fence with respect to things that did not strictly concern their operational ambit directly, and wait for the lead from their colonial masters. Except that the latter had departed and their new masters, after Jinnah, were clueless, and visionless to boot.

But, I suspect, they thought they could manage an extension of the Raj, till brighter grain grew. They never saw the country bumpkin becoming the Raj, nor the flooding in of hard Islam at the level of the state (that subsequently Bhutto allowed and Zia made concrete). They did not think rural rustics would have much of a hand in shaping society. A feeling that was reinforced by the Quaid’s own obvious distaste for the ‘backwardness’ on view which, he believed, would soon give way to a state based on ‘modern’ lines.

Moreover, our Guardians were a condescending bunch and in awe of themselves. They felt they had little to learn. Even among the Founders they had no time for anyone except Jinnah. Privately, they regarded Liaquat Ali Khan as an uninspiring mediocrity, and although they viewed Suharwardy as a near-equal, he was considered far too wayward, unreliable and unscrupulous; in other words, too much of a politician for their taste. As for the rest they held them in closely guarded contempt.

Three fundamental issues bedevilled the evolution of an integrated Pakistani state in 1947. Inequality among the provinces in economic growth and in regional development; absence of a national consensus in the role of religion in state matters and lack of definition of the state’s responsibility for the kind of economic growth that would be inclusive and ‘popular.’ All three were transparently the core issues Pakistan had to address at its inception but did not, and hence all three remain but are more challenging now because their resolution is more tangled as they are being increasingly contested by different protagonists.

So what of the future? The future, said a wise man, is made of much the same stuff as the present, and even if one is optimistic one can’t exactly be joyful at the prospect before us. In fact, the future looks threatening rather than inviting.

Poverty is endemic and for the foreseeable future too the majority will only be able to eat enough to stave off death. There are no signs that the shoddy poverty of the goths and bastis, the melancholy poverty of the better paid who have to save every rupee to provide the basic wants for their children and the angry poverty of what someone termed ‘the cultural proletarians’ who earn less than unskilled workers (as policemen and petty office workers) will end any time soon. It will take a herculean effort by wise planners and infinite patience before all that improves.

The other evil genie that will remain with us is ignorance. The majority of Pakistanis are functionally illiterate. Even the undeniably literate are seldom proficient; and given the low priority governments of all hues have placed on education nothing is about to change soon. The periodic emergence of an academic genius or two, like an Abdus Salam, is just a distraction.

Yet another evil spirit is injustice – the spawning ground of extremism. People here only go to court when they know they are in the wrong and in order to let the case drag on interminably from one postponement to next. The aim is to pauperise your opponent and force him to accept a compromise. The poor will remain terrified to approach the (lower) courts where only strength, weight and resources allow a safe engagement with the law.

Similarly, bureaucrats will remain ignorant, indifferent, overbearing, insolent and corrupt. Good bureaucrats will not be rewarded and the good, bad and indifferent will all follow the same predetermined careers from beginning to end. All will get the same raises of salary on the same day, be promoted on the same day and pensioned off at the same age – barring the prime ministers favourites, who will get an extension. Nobody will ever be fired for inefficiency.

Meanwhile, fear and violence will continue to dominate lives and rob an honest man of his virtues and a firm man of his will and cause those who can afford it to flee. Money, honour, prestige, politics and the desperate struggle for power will exact their daily human sacrifices. Violent death will continue to lurk in the shadows and, considering fanatics and bigots are multiplying, so will honour killings and religion-based violence.

So the question is not why we had to have Partition but why the fruits of independence promised in such abundance have eluded us for so long and will continue to do so till we reinvent ourselves. And of that, fat chance.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

Zafar Hilaly, "Our founders and guardians," The News. 2013-02-26.

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