Pakistan’s Punjab problem


Our historical memories were those of the Muslim conquest of India. Our heroes were Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad of Ghaur, Babar and Akbar. But these were transnational heroes, from beyond the high mountains separating Hindustan from the lands to the west, of little use to us, except as flickering memories, when Pakistan came into being and we were very much on our own, having to manage things ourselves. In any case, there were no infidels to fight and subjugate. There were no more battles of Panipat to be fought except with our own problems and, in many instances, our own demons.
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PUNJAB AFTER INDEPENDENCE: HISTORY SHOULD HAVE MOVED ON

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by Ayaz Amir

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Punjab is more than half of Pakistan, in politics, culture and industry. Whether anyone likes it or not, the task of governing Pakistan, of getting Pakistan right, falls heaviest upon the land of the five rivers (now three after the Indus Basin Waters Treaty).Call this the burden of geography or the curse of history.

History, however, left Punjab unprepared for the task of leading Pakistan. Punjab had a long tradition in poetry, literature and culture. But the one tradition it did not have, or did not possess in abundance, was that of rulership. In all of recorded history, from Alexander to the present, who are the Punjabi rulers that we know of?

In Alexander’s time Porus whose kingdom straddled the River Jhelum, the battle between him and the Greeks commemorated in legend. Then after a gap of two thousand years just one name: Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A few Punjabi politicians attained prominence under the British: Sir Fazal-e-Hussain, Sikander Hayat of Wah and Khizr Hayat Tiwana. And then, after the horrors of Partition, the sorry lot whose contribution has been second to none in mismanaging the affairs of the new republic.

Our historical memories were those of the Muslim conquest of India. Our heroes were Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad of Ghaur, Babar and Akbar. But these were transnational heroes, from beyond the high mountains separating Hindustan from the lands to the west, of little use to us, except as flickering memories, when Pakistan came into being and we were very much on our own, having to manage things ourselves.

In any case, there were no infidels to fight and subjugate. There were no more battles of Panipat to be fought except with our own problems and, in many instances, our own demons.

The choice before the new state of Pakistan was either to step into the modern age or seek comfort in the past. With more visionary leaders Pakistan could have reconciled Muslim nationhood, the basis of Pakistan, with the demands of modernism. But this was not to be.

What constituted the Pakistani leadership?

(1) Conservative Punjabi landlords instinctively averse to anything calculated to upset the established order of things; and

(2) the Urdu-speaking elite migrating from India which could not afford to forget or downplay the passions behind the demand for Pakistan for that would have meant laying open to question the wisdom of their great pilgrimage. So we remained stuck in the past and this had fatal consequences with which we are still grappling today.

The two-nation theory was great for the quest of achieving Pakistan. Indeed, it was a necessity in that the demand for Pakistan dictated the emphasis on Muslim separateness. But once Pakistan was achieved, and the boundaries of the new state were fixed on the map, history should have moved on. Once Pakistan was achieved the necessity was no longer there to keep raising the banner of Islam. In a Muslim-majority country where the last thing under threat was Islam, it was pointless to keep proclaiming that Pakistan was a fortress of Islam. It just wasn’t necessary.

Jinnah was the first to recognise this. Hence his great speech of August 11, 1947, in the Constituent Assembly in which he spelled out a creed of secularism for the new state. In so doing he was not repudiating the tenets of the Pakistan movements but he was certainly modifying some of the messianic zeal which had animated that movement.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah with Mohandas Gandhi in Bombay, September 1944.

Both the Congress as personified by Gandhi and the Muslim League led by Jinnah had stoked the fires of religion in order to advance their political ends. In Nirad Chaudri’s Autobiography of an Unknown Indian there is a haunting passage about where, in times to come, the descent of politics into religion would lead. But it is remarkable that once Partition was a done deed and freedom was achieved for India and Pakistan, Gandhi’s was the strongest voice raised in India for Hindu-Muslim tolerance and on this side of the divide Jinnah the lone voice raised for secular tolerance.

But Jinnah was ahead of his time. And most of the Muslim League members of the Constituent Assembly could not understand what he was saying. Jinnah would never have countenanced the Objectives Resolution. We can’t seem to get out of its mesmerising orbit.

For Punjab Partition brought other consequences too. Punjab had not a single past but two. That of its Muslim conquerors, Mahmud and the Mughals and so on, which was turned into a philosophy and made the basis of Pakistan by the poet Iqbal; and that of its indigenous culture as represented by Waris Shah, Bulley Shah, Guru Nanak and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Which past was it to accept? The virtues of which past was it to proclaim? Here was a dilemma.

Punjab post-1947 was no longer an Afghan or Turkish colony. It was the most powerful portion of a new republic and running that republic, and doing it well, depended heavily upon the kind of performance Punjab delivered. Jinnah’s Aug 11 vision might have implied a tolerant, all-including view of the past. But the requirements of the Pakistan movement, and the horrors of Partition whose memory was still fresh, dictated a heavy emphasis on the theme of Pakistan being a fortress of Islam. This was enshrined later in what we know as the ideology of Pakistan, a source of endless befuddlement and confusion.

For Punjab this meant an erasure of memory. We were the inheritors of Mahmud and Babar, our spiritual axis went all the way from the land of Hejaz to the mountains of Afghanistan and beyond, but it had little to do with the cultural tradition honed over the centuries in the historic doabs (the land between two rivers) of Punjab.

It would not have mattered if this selectivity had no practical consequences. But it did. The choice our part of Punjab made led to a closing of its mind, a shrinking of its mental horizons. Punjab should have been large-minded and been in the forefront of the struggle for a modern Pakistan, its mind liberated from myths and shibboleths. Where Punjab should have led the rest of Pakistan would have followed.

Our creed should have been not the ideology of Pakistan as we know it but the ideology of progress. We should have been a beacon of light not only for our own selves but for the nations to our west. India should have looked upon our progress and enlightenment with envy and admiration. Instead of being a bedfellow of the military and the bureaucracy the Punjabi elite should have sought a partnership with the political elite of East Pakistan.

But these are the might-have-beens of history. Instead of being an engine of progress Punjab became a redoubt of reaction and intolerance. The seeds of East Pakistan secession were planted not in Bengal but Punjab. The true fathers of Bangladeshi independence are the politicians, mandarins and generals of Punjab.

From the Objectives Resolution to the ideology of Pakistan, from there to Ziaul Haq’s Islam, and from jihad to the nightmares now haunting us, this is the route we have traversed. One reason for this is the closing of the Punjabi mind and since Punjab was in the driver’s seat what it did or failed to do had consequences for the rest of Pakistan. In the field of intellect, or what passes for it with us, Punjab does service for the rest of Pakistan. GHQ’s obsessions are Punjabi obsessions.

Are we for the liberation of Pakistan, the sweeping away of the cobwebs which are such a screen over its eyes? Then first of all must be liberated the Punjabi mind. So let us think again and reconstruct the Punjabi pantheon.

In all of history who are the true heroes of Punjab? I hazard a few names: Waris Shah, Bulley Shah, Khawaja Ghulam Farid (for Seraikis are part of Punjab too), Ali Hajveri, Guru Nanak, Iqbal, Munir Niazi (yes, we should include him), Kundan Lal Saigal and (all right) Noor Jahan too. Let us honour their memory. (Bhagat Singh Shaheed was hanged in Camp Jail, Lahore. Will there come a day when Shadman Colony is named after him?)

Let us then hope that from the mental depths Punjab is in today there is a miraculous recovery. That will be the day Pakistan comes into its own.

Email: winlust@yahoo.com

Source, Title image, image Jinnah & Gandhi
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Let us hope that from the mental depths Punjab is in today, there is a miraculous recovery. That will be the day Pakistan will be recreated as a nation.

  2. The Idea motioned in the comment above could become reality in one shot.
    Declare Pakistan a secular state and gift an opportunity to the future generations to work freely in a secular world. Don’t let terrorists to operate from the fortress of Islam. Anyway forts are of no use now and are being used as museums.

    • @ Dr. A. K. Tewari, Ancient forts are being used as museums, right!. But forts still exist even today and are very much operative. They are no more now called forts, they are now cantonments and garrison towns.

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