Just International

Seventy Years of Pakistan: Revisiting its Foundation

By Dr. Abdullah Ahsan

Pakistan is celebrating its 71th birthday amid many commentaries and documentaries on the subject in international press. A friend of mine drew my attention to a Japan Times article entitled “Pakistan’s creation — a mistake?” (also published in Cyprus Mail Online) by a Canadian journalist. With almost 30 percent Muslims perhaps “(An undivided) India could never have ended up with a sectarian Hindu nationalist like Narendra Modi as prime minister,” the author opines. “If the Hindu majority haven’t massacred the 190 million Muslims of today’s India, then how were they going to massacre the 530 million Muslims of an undivided India?” the author asks. These are, of course, valid observations by any student of history. Interestingly although he holds the view that Gandhi, India’s founding father, was “a profoundly sectarian Hindu leader,” he fails to understand why Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, abandoned his idea of Hindu-Muslim unity.

The London based Economist in a special report entitled “Seventy years of Indo-Pakistani enmity”
also deals with the subject. In its print edition, the article appeared under the title “Post-partum depression.” Again interestingly although the report says, “in the initial division of spoils, India got more of the money,” it fails to explain what it means by spoils. Is the report referring to Pakistan’s share from the British Indian government’s treasury? Pakistan was supposed to receive 550 million rupees under the Indian Independence Act but India never fulfilled its commitment and Britain didn’t apply any moral pressure on India concerning the matter. However, the article concludes saying, “Bolstered by continued American support, the Pakistani army has been free to indulge its obsession with India ever since.” The report clearly holds Pakistan responsible for what it calls enmity between the two nuclear rivals.

Both articles indicate Pakistan’s international image crisis. Many commentators don’t hesitate to depict Pakistan a failed state: Googling the subject one would find many articles and you-tube videos on the subject. For many therefore the question whether or not the emergence of Pakistan in the world map was a mistake is a valid question. But why are such questions being raised now? What went wrong in Pakistan?

Demand for Pakistan

The idea of Pakistan was conceived by poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1938). In a speech in 1930 he proposed and elaborated his ideas which later laid down the foundation to the demand for Pakistan. Iqbal’s main concern seems to have been the status of Muslims in India and the potential role of divine guidance in political governance. He began the speech by highlighting the need for ethical ideals for governing societies and by analyzing the fate of Europe under the impact of Martin Luther’s reform movement. Although Luther’s intention was not to reduce the impact of Christianity in Europe, his movement culminated with the Treaty of Westphalia which eventually not only divided Europe into many nation-states; it also deprived Europe of universality of Christianity. Motivated by nation-state interests and racial hatred supported by social Darwinism, Europeans encountered a complete devastation in the form of the world war in the 20th century. As for Iqbal, he was concerned about the impact of caste-ridden Congress led European style Indian nationalism on Indians in general and on Indian Muslims in particular. Although Muslims contributed to India’s growth and prosperity for a thousand years, there was little recognition of this among the Congress leaders. Iqbal, therefore, proposed for a state with Muslim-majority areas of north-west India where, he believed, Islam’s universal ideas would provide guiding principles for governance which, perhaps, could serve as a model for the rest of mankind. Compromising with the contemporary world politics dominated by European ideas, this view was called Muslim nationalism, although Iqbal barely endorsed the idea of nationalism which was shaping Europe during his time.

Unfortunately historians have termed the demand for Pakistan as Muslim separatism. In reality what Iqbal wanted was to safeguard universal human values and dignity from India’s caste-driven nationalist social system. Iqbal was only envisioning an India where everybody’s dignity would be respected and since Islamic teachings were very strong on human dignity, an independent Muslim state could become a model for peace and prosperity not only for the rest of India but for the whole of mankind.
Jinnah’s nationalism

Iqbal’s vision was then taken up by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1875-1948), a lawyer by training but came to be known for his political activism. He received the title “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” by another famous political activist of Hindu origin. As a member of Indian National Congress, Jinnah worked enthusiastically to visualize an independent democratic India. But he became frustrated with the hypocritical behavior of the Congress leadership. At one stage he became extremely frustrated with all political leaders in India and left for London. But following Iqbal’s vision and persuasion by many others he returned to India to assume the leadership of All India Muslim League. He was able to translate British India’s ground realities into ideas, framed a theoretical framework for Pakistan in the profile of what has been called “Two Nation Theory” and succeeded in achieving the goal within two decades. Jinnah was convinced of the potentials of Islam’s universal teachings. Rebutting a suggestion by Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India, that Pakistan should find in the Mughal Akbar’s legacy a system of governance, Jinnah declared that his commitment did not lie with the Mughal emperor but with the prophet of Islam and the message of the Qur’an. But unfortunately far from Iqbal and Jinnah’s vision, Pakistan turned out to be just another nation-state promoting what its leaders called national interests. Again then the question arises as to what went wrong in Pakistan?

Jinnah’s Secularism

Interestingly although both Iqbal and Jinnah emphasized the Islamic teaching about universal humanity as opposed to Indian caste-ridden perceived “democracy,” one controversy that has emerged in Pakistan is whether or not Jinnah was a secular or Islamic leader. A constitutional making process began in the Constituent Assembly and Jinnah appointed Jogindra Nath Mandal (1904-1968), a member of Hindu Dalit community from East Bengal, as the law minister of the newly independent Pakistan. Jinnah knew very well that the Dalits in India also suffered the same fate as Muslims from Hindu caste system and Mandal was impressed by Islam’s idea of human dignity. Earlier Jinnah had nominated Mandal to represent All India Muslim League to the Indian Constituent Assembly. Why did Jinnah do this? Why did he appoint a Hindu as Pakistan’s law minister? Was he unaware of the implications of his claim that Pakistan would be guided by Qur’anic principles? Could Mandal be a catalyst in framing laws for Pakistan based on Islamic principles? Interestingly Jinnah also selected Muhammad Asad (1900-1992), an Austrian revert, to represent Pakistan at the United Nations. Jinnah seems to have been committed to universal humanism beyond narrow nationalism, regionalism and religious factionalism of his day. He knew very well that the Qur’an allows individuals to retain their faith and to be partners in any civil society. Earlier Jinnah had demonstrated such universality on political issues when he negotiated the Lucknow Pact in 1916 which was endorsed both by the Indian National Congress and All India Muslim League. But within years the Indian National Congress abandoned its commitment to the 1916 Pact. This and similar other experiences convinced Jinnah that the Congress was only committed to Hindu rights, not to universal human rights. But then the question arises as to why Pakistan failed to follow the ideal of accommodation of human rights in framing its own constitution.

Constitutional Developments

Pakistan’s constitution making process began with the passing of an Objective Resolution in 1949 which laid down the foundation of the country’s first constitution. The framers of the Objective Resolution succeeded in garnering support not from all Muslim sects in Pakistan; but also from representatives of non-Muslim communities in the country. Hindu J N Mandal, the law minister endorsed the Objective Resolution and Justice A R Cornelius, a practicing Catholic and the 4th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan who served as law secretary to the first law minister of Pakistan and the first prime minister of Pakistan, also endorsed the Objective Resolution. The constitution was finalized and adopted in 1956.

But even before the constitution was tabled at the Constituent Assembly the bureaucrats and judiciary staged a “constitutional coup” and dismissed the prime minister even though the latter had enjoyed majority support in the assembly. It must be noted that the armed forces were not at the forefront in destroying a civil constitutional process that had began with Jinnah, it were the civil service officers that Pakistan inherited from the British Indian administration who were primarily responsible for the fate that Pakistan suffers today. However when the commanders of the armed forces found out that they were being used by civil servants, they seems to have decided to take the driving seat. Therefore, in 1958 when the president decided to declare martial law and put an end to the constitution and sought support from the armed forces, the armed forces chief decided to take over the complete responsibility. Since then the armed forces have intervened at least twice since the emergence of Pakistan.

Where did the bureaucrats receive their incentive in intervening in politics? One must look at the realities of early days of Pakistan’s history. Jinnah encountered enormous difficulties in running the daily affairs of the state. Pakistan inherited no established secretariat for administration. He had relied heavily on the civilian bureaucracy trained by the British. He was also aware of the fact that Indian leaders not only refused to deliver Pakistan’s share of the British-Indian government’s treasury, they were also conspiring to dismember Pakistan. But these civilian bureaucrats were the first to betray Iqbal and Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. Malik Ghulam Muhammad, a civil servant and the third Governor General of Pakistan, began conspiring against the political establishment and with the support of Justice Muhammad Munir dismissed the prime minister and created a political crisis in Pakistan. Sincere and committed politicians and civil servants were marginalized. Non-Muslim actors such as JN Mandal resigned in early 1950 and migrated to India. Muhammad Asad too resigned and left Pakistan following a disagreement with Ghulam Muhammad. Only AR Cornelius continued to defend the 1956 constitution and died in Pakistan in 1991.

Today it is important to remember the early debacle because the Supreme Court of Pakistan has again unseated a sitting prime minister; there is every possibility of political instability in Pakistan in the coming years. Is the Court really addressing the question of corruption or it is trying to get rid of certain politicians from Pakistani politics?
Rise of Extremism

Nobody can overlook the emergence of extremism in Pakistani politics particularly since the Afghan war of 1980s. However one must note that, although international press would like to depict the nature of extremism in Pakistan as religious, it is not always the case. In Karachi and Baluchistan extremists are motivated by ethnicity and racism, in other parts it is in the name of religion. These activities have intensified since installation of civilian governments in the 1990s, which were accused of rampant corruption. With the US military intervention in neighboring Afghanistan militancy in Pakistan has increased immensely. Pakistan, indeed, is in crisis. Many Pakistanis see foreign hands in the rise of extremism in the country. Although there might be some truths in such allegations, blaming others for problems in their homeland will not resolve the crisis.


Numerous articles and you-tube documentaries on Pakistan’s independence have appeared during the past few days in Aljazeera, in the Guardian, in the Fox News and many other international news magazines and online sources. As we have indicated earlier, Pakistan has an image problem. In our view Pakistanis may ignore this mainly to concentrate on finding the causes of their failure internally. In other words, they have listened to Iqbal’s recommendation that, “every Muslim nation must sink into her deeper self, temporarily focus her vision on herself alone.” On the 71th birthday Pakistanis should seriously contemplate on what has gone wrong in their history. They must ask some serious question as to whether they would prefer Muslims such as Ghulam Muhammad and Muhammad Munir or non-Muslim admirers of Islam such as JN Mandal and AR Cornelius. Have the Pakistanis been able to conceptualize Iqbal and Jinnah’s visions? Or do the Pakistanis have the courage to ask whether Iqbal and Jinnah were wrong in conceptualizing the theoretical foundation of Pakistan?

Dr. Abdullah Ahsan is a member of the JUST Executive Committee.

15 August 2017