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Those who do not learn from history…

Pakistan’s 75th Independence anniversary has just passed. As usual, the day produced much flag-waving and exhortations regarding how we live in the most wonderful country on earth. For the rich and comfortable, this luxury is affordable. But for the vast majority — the poor, marginalised, deprived of rights — there is precious little to celebrate in the present, and much to fear in the future.

Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947 as a result of the struggle of a major Muslim minority in un-divided India against the real and perceived marginalisation by an overwhelming Hindu majority were India to remain undivided after British colonialism departed. The major responsibility for Partition and its attendant (and in some cases continuing) human tragedies was the inability of the Hindu majority to overcome the ‘divide (on religious lines) and rule’ strategy of the colonialists in the wake of a united armed uprising by all of India in 1857, and accommodate the Muslim minority’s concerns on just, democratic lines. The wisdom that should have attended the majority community’s approach to and sensitive treatment of a considerable minority was conspicuous by its absence. These attitudes even turned the erstwhile ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’ (none other than Mr Jinnah) into an advocate not only of Muslim rights, but eventually a flag-bearer of a separate state of Pakistan.

Neither side of the pre-Independence divide anticipated, or was prepared for, the communal frenzy that broke out on both sides of the newly demarcated borders of the new two states. The departing British, despite having the military, law enforcement and administrative means at their disposal to avert, or at least minimise, the communal slaughter, simply washed their hands of any responsibility, thank you Lord Mountbatten. This parting ‘gift’ from British colonialism has never been accounted for in any satisfactory, judicious and fair manner. The result of this neglect of responsibility by the colonialists has been an unremitting current of hostility between the two states, further fuelled by the unresolved tragedy of Kashmir.

Having ‘dispensed with’ the dead bodies and displaced of the greatest human migration in history, both Pakistan and India embarked on their independent life in contrasting ways. Whereas India adopted a secular, democratic parliamentary system, Pakistan wrestled with an authoritarian military-bureaucratic oligarchy soon after the departure from this troubled world of the Quaid-e-Azam. This Pakistani oligarchy has been more or less dominant to this day, even if it has evolved new, more subtle, indirect ways to maintain its hegemony. India, on the other hand, has succumbed to the logic of Gandhi’s appeal to traditional Hindu culture and practices to mobilise the masses during the independence struggle, which Mr Jinnah rejected and was forced to leave the Congress after being heckled for it. Gandhi’s approach inadvertently opened the doors to Hindutva nationalist revanchism. This tendency, nestling within the bosom of the independence struggle, has finally brought the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to power through its ‘parliamentary’ face, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

While the plight of Muslims and other religious minorities in India is an ongoing abomination, Pakistan’s story turns on the hegemony of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy inherited from colonialism. This hegemony produced denial of democracy, absence of respect for, and inclusiveness of, the diverse nationalities inhabiting the new state. It at best produced an economic (capitalist) development model that facilitated the elite capture evident today, to add to the landowning elite bequeathed by colonialism. The people as a whole were deprived of political, economic and social rights, belying the hopes attendant on the new dawn of freedom. The federal structure of the state, having passed through the abomination of One Unit, failed to provide their due rights to its constituent units, resulting eventually in the breaking away of East Pakistan in 1971 when even its clean victory in the 1970 elections was blasted away by a cruel military crackdown bordering on genocide. India may have taken advantage of our internal strife to intervene and sever the eastern wing, but the basic fault lies within us.

Such a major setback, in which the majority of our people (East Pakistan) broke away to re-emerge on the world stage as Bangladesh, should have imparted critical lessons. But since the whole tragedy has been pushed under the carpet and forgotten, there is no evidence that any lessons were learnt. The most important of these lessons should have been that people cannot be driven into ‘paradise’ at the point of a bayonet. But in the remaining post-1971 Pakistan, a new popular dispensation under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reverted to the old authoritarian ways and resorted to military action in Balochistan (NWFP supporting in solidarity) in 1973 that arguably eventually swallowed up Bhutto and his regime at the hands of a strengthened military.

Ziaul Haq’s 11-year dark night left Pakistan’s polity and society twisted in unprecedented ways in the name of ‘Islamisation’. The Afghan adventures not only shattered our neighbour, its internal fallout yielded the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), conspicuously resurgent again as we speak. The civilian rule turn by turn by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz (PML-N) from 1988 to 1999 ended with Musharraf’s coup. Military rule lasted almost nine years (till 2008) to add to the 10 years of Ayub (1958-69), three years of Yahya (1969-71) and 11 years of Zia (1977-88). The unequal battle between the civilian political forces and the military-bureaucratic oligarchy has yielded mixed results, with little or no certainty about the future.

Part of this uncertainty about the future resides in the current struggle between the coalition government at the Centre led by the PML-N and a post-overthrow, resurgent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Although the noose is tightening around the PTI’s neck because of the foreign funding disclosure, Toshakhana shenanigans, Shahbaz Gill’s unique contribution to an embarrassed PTI’s troubles, and reports of corruption during Imran Khan’s almost four-year stint in power, the government seems unable or hesitant to deliver the knock-out blow because of concerns regarding the split in powerful state institutions regarding their attitude to Imran Khan.

Rashed Rahman, "Those who do not learn from history…," Business recorder. 2022-08-16.
Keywords: Political sciences , Communal slaughter , Foreign funding , World stage , Quaid-e-Azam , Mr Jinnah , Zulfikar Ali Bhutto , Imran Khan , Musharraf , Ziaul Haq , Shahbaz Gill , Pakistan , India , PTI , PMLN , PPP , TTP

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