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06 June 2012

Facing the reality of Pakistan

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By Aijaz Zaka Syed


It’s been 65 years since the British departed from the Subcontinent after breaking the jewel in the crown into two, leaving behind a blazing inferno of madness that raged on for months and years. Even though the official narrative puts the toll at a million on both sides, it’s estimated to be far higher. Millions were driven from their homes and their properties destroyed, not to mention the rape of tens of thousands of women in this unprecedented exchange of populations. Thousands of Muslim women were abducted in Punjab and a substantial number of them were forced to live with the shame and their tormentors.


It’s perhaps because of that violent separation that the Partition debate refuses to die even after 65 years. Pundits and academics on either side of the divide never seem to have enough of it. With Pakistan tottering from one crisis to another in recent years, a new intensity has been introduced in the debate.


Recently, an interview of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the tallest leaders of India’s freedom movement and a scholar of extraordinary brilliance, has been being furiously debated in the media and cyberspace. While it was eagerly snatched up by the growing legion of Pakistan bashers, it understandably outraged Pakistanis.


Agha Shorish Kashmiri, editor of Chattan and a formidable writer and poet in his own right, did the interview with Azad in 1946 – months before the South Asian twins parted ways. It created quite a stir when it was translated three years ago by former Indian minister Arif Mohammed Khan for Covert magazine, edited by MJ Akbar. Akbar’s own recent book Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan is apparently premised on Azad’s prophecies about Pakistan and fits in rather nicely with all this talk about the imminent collapse of the only Muslim nuclear state.


So what did Azad really say? Speaking to Kashmiri 66 years ago, well before Jinnah’s dream became a reality, the then Congress president paints Pakistan’s future and that of India’s Muslims with an accuracy that is both fascinating and frightening. It’s as if the future was held up before him and he saw it like Nostradamus did.


His warning about the split of East Pakistan came true in a matter of two decades. He was spot on in his analysis about Pakistan’s siege within and competing sectarian and regional identities overwhelming the national identity. He has been prescient about the new nation being ensnared in the machinations of world powers.


Questioning the rationale behind a separate homeland for Muslims, he says: “The question is when and where Islam provided for division of territories to settle populations on the basis of belief. Does this find any sanction in the Quran or the traditions of the Prophet? If we accept this division in principle, how shall we reconcile it with Islam as a universal system? The political disputes we created in the name of religion have projected Islam as an instrument of political power and not what it is – a value system meant for the transformation of human soul.”


He laments the fact that the demand for a separate country in the name of Islam has poisoned Hindu-Muslim relations dealing a deadly blow to the cause of faith: “The factors that laid the foundation of Islam in India and created a powerful following have become victims of the politics of Partition. The communal hatred it has generated has extinguished all possibilities of spreading Islam.”


Azad repeatedly argues that Indian Muslims would pay the greatest price for the territorial division of the Subcontinent: “It won’t be possible for Pakistan to accommodate all the Muslims of India, a task beyond her territorial capability. On the other hand, it won’t be possible for Hindus to stay on in Pakistan. This will have its repercussions in India and the Indian Muslims. More than 30 million Muslims will be left behind in India. What promise Pakistan holds for them? The situation that will arise after the expulsion of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan will be still more dangerous for them.”


Almost everything Azad predicted seems to have come true, including his warning about the marginalisation of the Indian Muslims. It’s not easy even for the worst critics of the man dismissed by Jinnah as ‘the show boy of Congress’ to demolish any of his statements or facts including his contention that demanding Pakistan meant turning “our eyes away from the history of the last 1,000 years.”


Imagine the combined strength of Muslims in an undivided subcontinent. We would have been nearly 600 million - double the population of the entire Arab world – and hardly in a position of political weightlessness, the fear that gave birth to the idea of Pakistan.


So while Partition was a tragedy for everyone, Muslims were its real victims. As someone put it, it was the partition of India’s Muslims. But it’s unfair to single out Jinnah for blame. The credit is shared equally by the Congress leadership. It was Congress’s intransigence to share power with the League in provinces and address Muslim concerns that forced a westernised liberal and champion of Hindu-Muslim unity to push for the ‘final solution’.


Most independent historians, including Stanley Wolpert, Ian Talbot, Patrick French and even Akbar agree on this. Azad himself in India Wins Freedom talks of frustration with his long-time friend, Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and even Gandhi for paving the way for the Partition and the carnage that followed with their attitude. Azad died an unhappy and broken man despite his proximity to Nehru and role in the freedom struggle. He could do little to guide and help his people in critical years after the Partition.


That said, what’s the point of this debate now? Isn’t a little late - 65 years too late? Whether anyone likes it or not, Pakistan is a reality and it’s time everyone, including Indian Muslims, faced it. It’s time to move on. Most Indians and Pakistanis today were born after Partition and they carry no emotional baggage. No matter what anyone thinks, Pakistan isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. It’s not a catastrophe waiting to happen, as some insist.


As former Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar put it speaking in Lahore recently, Pakistan is far from a failed state. It is anchored in history and a strong spiritual belief. It has one of the largest populations in the world, a resilient economy, a strong bureaucracy and military and a lively media. Indeed, its economy in the 70s and 80s had been in better shape than India’s.
Perhaps Pakistan would have been more stable if Jinnah, like Nehru, had lived to shape the course of the new nation which had to begin from a scratch on all fronts. In today’s environment of gloom and doom, Pakistan may look like a hopeless case. But a nation is what its people make it. And Pakistanis are a hardy lot and nowhere near giving up despite all they have been through. It’s this never-say-die spirit of its people that will keep the idea of Pakistan alive. Just as the idea of India lives on in the hearts of a billion Indians. The ideas of India and Pakistan do not have to exist at each other’s expense.


[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on Middle East and South Asian affairs. He can be contacted at aijaz. syed@hotmail.com]


(Courtesy: The News)

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