Unravelling Pakistan’s Federal Tapestry

Author: Dr Zafar Khan Safdar

Pakistan, emerging in 1947 from a vision of Islamic nationhood, grapples with establishing unity and enduring democracy Internal divisions fuelled by religious rhetoric have widened, prompting military intervention in politics. The founding fathers envisioned a state grounded in Muslim culture, but debates over its Islamic character hindered progress. Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, while fearing Hindu dominance, used Islamic slogans to protect Muslim interests against Indian nationalism. The Pakistan Movement initially focused on socio-political aspirations and the creation of Pakistan. However, Quaid-i-Azam’s emphasis on the state’s welfare and Islam’s role in national identity shifted the narrative. Historians debate whether the movement’s true essence has been misrepresented, with conflicting views on whether Pakistan was founded on Islamic ideology or a distortion of history.

The 1857 War of Independence aimed to assert Islam’s glory, but Hindus found opportunities under British rule. The Anglo-Muhammadan Oriental College at Aligarh symbolized Muslim modernism and fuelled the Pakistan movement. Reforms by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan revitalized Muslim engagement, leading to the formation of the Muslim League in 1906. The Pakistan Movement faced misrepresentation and scrutiny, with historians divided on its basis. Some argue it was founded on Islamic ideology, while others claim it distorts historical truth. Quaid-i-Azam refrained from endorsing any specific ideology, emphasizing instead Islamic principles in governance. Pakistan’s creation stemmed from the constitutional struggle between Muslims and the majority, articulated by Jinnah amid Hindu-Muslim conflict. The Two Nation Theory, advanced by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, arose from colonial attitudes and Congress’s policies, prompting Muslims to seek a separate state. The Indian National Congress failed to address Muslim concerns, prompting the demand for an independent nation. The Congress’s push for a unified Indian nationhood alarmed Muslims, who perceived their educational and political disadvantage. This movement sought to establish a responsive state aligned with indigenous aspirations.

Despite aspirations for a democratic constitution, Pakistan saw multiple iterations driven by personal and group interests.

In the early 20th century, elections in the subcontinent became a pivotal issue, with Muslims asserting their distinct national identity and advocating for a Joint Electorate system based on neutrality. This demand stemmed from the belief that religion should remain separate from politics, aligning with modern western political theories that separated the realms of religion and governance. Muslims sought a separate identity and electorate to ensure an Islamic or Constitutional State that safeguarded the rights of all groups. The Indian Council Act of 1909 partially met this demand for representation, as the British authority sought to appease a significant portion of the population. Muslim leaders refined their objectives, aiming to forge a United Front with Hindus and broaden democracy’s base.

Quaid-i-Azam helped Congress and the League reach a nationalist constitutional accord when he was appointed Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity in 1916. In 1913, he became a member of the Muslim League with the goal of promoting harmony between Muslims and Hindus. Between 1917 and 1920, there were political upheavals brought forth by the Khilafat Movement and Gandhi’s ascent within the Congress. Because of the ensuing bloodshed and disappointment, Muslims decided to follow their own nationalist path, guided by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Tensions between communities were exacerbated by the Indian Councils Act of 1909 and the Indian Act of 1919, which fell short of expectations. A commission was established in 1927 by the British government to create a constitution. The Centre-Province power struggle saw Congress advocating for a strong unitary Centre, while the Muslim League pushed for provincial autonomy. Quaid-i-Azam rejected the Nehru Report, promoting a federal constitution with provincial autonomy. The Government of India Act, 1935, granted provincial autonomy but complicated matters with governor power.

After independence, the governor-general gained influence in provincial affairs. Pakistan inherited a federal system but faced opposition to its federal aspects due to fears of expansionist Hitlerism. The authoritarian regime altered the federal system, emphasizing centralized control. Governance crises stemmed from struggles over authority, reflecting the nation’s political and constitutional history. Pakistan’s independence struggle lacked clear planning, and Quaid-i-Azam’s vision for a sovereign Muslim State lacked a concrete blueprint. The Two Nation theory remained ambiguous, and adopting the colonial India Act of 1935 entrenched authoritarianism. Despite aspirations for a democratic constitution, Pakistan saw multiple iterations driven by personal and group interests, hindering stable governance. Later the constitution making faced delays due to ideological conflicts and clashes between civil servants and politicians. Quaid-i-Azam’s efforts to address nepotism and corruption were hindered by British bureaucratic powers. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan struggled to reconcile the viceregal system with political institutions, facing challenges in regional representation and Islamic controversies. The legacy of British-trained civil services and the military complicated Pakistan’s governance, delaying constitutional development. Authoritarian institutions exacerbated religious and regional tensions, while the Objective Resolution aimed to define the state’s fundamental principles. However, provincial autonomy and ideological debates hindered its implementation, dividing Pakistan into central and provincial factions

As we delve into the genesis of the Two Nation Theory, we find ourselves navigating a labyrinth of historical intricacies, from the colonial shadows cast upon the Indian subcontinent to the tumultuous political landscape shaped by the Indian National Congress. Yet, amidst this tumult, Pakistan’s federal system emerges as a beacon of contention and innovation. Inherited by leaders who defied the federal norms of the 1935 Act to circumvent the looming spectre of Hitlerism, Pakistan’s journey toward nationhood was marked by a delicate dance between provincial autonomy and central control.

The resulting federal structure, akin to a symphony of governance, comprised dual dimensions-the overarching national government and the dynamic federating units. However, this orchestration of power was not without discord, as authoritarian impulses sought to harness the essence of the system. Today, as we reflect upon these historical crossroads, let us not merely commemorate the birth of Pakistan, but rather, let us embrace the rich tapestry of identities, governance models, and pluralistic ideals that continue to shape the vibrant mosaic of South Asia.

The writer is a PhD in Political Science, and visiting faculty at QAU Islamabad. His area of specialization is political development and social change. He can be reached at zafarkhansafdar@yahoo.com and tweet@zafarkhansafdar

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