Usually anniversaries are supposed to be occasions for ritualistic praises of individuals or some deed of prominence. Catch-phrases used in rhetoric are like stock-taking or emulating the example. In fact once the occasion is over, its impact is neither here nor there.
This year Quaid-e-Azam Mohhmad Ali Jinnah’s birth anniversary follows some months earlier remark of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a Hindu Diwali function that his vision of Pakistan is a liberal state, where there will be religious equality, freedom to practice all creeds and absolute protection to minorities without discrimination.
More or less rephrasing of some parts of the landmark speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah of August 11, 1947, it spelled a welcome change in the prime minister who once was known to be ‘mullah’ in the closet and imminently aspiring to be ‘amirul momineen’. In his second stint, his party bulldozed through a Shariah Bill in the National Assembly, but could not get it passed by the Senate, as PPP had the majority and its leaders martyred Zulfikatr Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto stood for Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s secular Pakistan.
His remarks ignited spontaneous criticism from the religious lobby that had waylaid Pakistan from Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s destined goal of a democratic, liberal, progressive and secular country. Quite a few scribes in the media too took interest in debating ‘liberal’ Pakistan’s prospects. Some did not take the remark much too seriously, others tried to give different interpretations to it. One of them went to the extent of saying that perhaps his speech writer some how stumbled into reading Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History and the Last Man’, and got the idea of liberal democracy as the best system of governance.
Prime minister’s remarks were music for my ears. At least he has come half way, perhaps someday he would get to the point where he would accept the fact that Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s secular politics and Pakistan are sine quo non for each other. There is no reason for him to dread the religious lobby. At least- for the time being- it has lost support of its patron institution that used it to convert Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan from a social welfare state into a garrison state.
Army Chief General Raheel Sharif is conscious of the enormous damage bigotry, religious and sectarian extremism have caused to the country. That is why he is determined to take Zarb-e-Azb to logical conclusion. He is overly committed to eliminating terrorism in all its evil manifestations. One hopes rogue elements within the state institutions that stealthily support Taliban and its latest version Daesh— too are buried deep down. Nawaz Sharif has shown a healthy change, it was time his party too follows suit and those who continue to shield Red Mosque rebel and such other elements are taken to task.
There has to be a paradigm change, our national narrative has to be ostracised of the notions that were implanted during General Zia’s time. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was categorical that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state. It is great injustice to him to give the impression that he used religion as a crutch for his political ends. He was never deceptive in politics.
Whenever he mentioned about Islam and Pakistan, he was fully conscious that it did not run parallel to either democracy or secularism as these two were ingrained part of Islamic paradigm. As Muslims democracy is in ‘our bone marrow and in our blood’. To him Ijtehad – debate, discussion and consensus – were essentially what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had bequeathed to us for running the state strictly under ‘Huququl Ibad’ – rights of human beings based on Islamic social justice guarantying egalitarian principle of greatest good of the largest number.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947 lays bare that in his Pakistan, all its citizens will be equal, enjoy equal rights-irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender.
For him Islamic socialism and secularism were not contradiction of Islam, but true manifestation of its social justice system.
The very fact that that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent as Rehmatul Lil Alameen – blessing for all human kind irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender – and not for just Muslims alone—shows that the Creator’s dictate was essentially secular. That is why Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared categorically that religion shall have nothing to do with the business of the state.
Pakistan was created in the name of religion is the most lethal perception. Islam, nor any other religion was under threat during the Raj. Pakistan’s raison d’être was essentially economic combined with autonomy in governance in the Muslim majority areas.
And that perhaps is the mother of all miseries. Over the years Pakistan’s national interests are sacrificed over the issues related to religion rather than welfare of its people. Even if we want to serve the ummah—though it is neither here nor there—merely an abstraction—we can do it as the Quaid believed that Pakistan can at best serve the Muslim world by becoming a democratic, liberal and secular role model for them.
A government of the people, by the people and for the people is sure guarantee for the welfare of the masses as opposed to unrepresentative rulers or the Praetorian coteries seeking legitimacy from foreign powers.
The author is a former high commissioner of Pakistan to UK