Pakistan today is perceived to be characterized by bigotry, violent extremism and modes of thought that are in conflict with science, rationality and respect for human rights which are the defining features of much of the modern world. Many Pakistanis and the world community believe that Al Qaeda and some of its affiliates not only find safe haven here but have actually penetrated the state apparatus itself. At the same time, an economic structure has emerged in which mass poverty is endemic and where the majority of the people are deprived of the minimum material conditions of civilized life. Pakistan today is a far cry from the conception of its founding fathers. It is a moment of reckoning when it may be helpful to review the principles on which the idea of Muslim nationhood in the sub continent was founded.
Three elements constituted the basis of the freedom struggle of a large part of the Muslim Community in northern India:
(i) Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s education movement was based on his view that science, reason and the idea of development in the contemporary world were not in conflict with Islam. Indeed for Muslims to progress and be free it was necessary to embrace modern education and to engage politically with the contemporary world on the basis of shared principles.
(ii) Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s luminous poetry, served to remind Muslims that humans are made in the highest mould. Therefore the existential challenge is to apprehend our God given freedom, and to achieve a connection with God through self actualization in the pursuit of truth, beauty and love. It was this insight that informed his famous line: “Take selfhood to such a high level that God may ask man what is your will”. Hence we are led to Iqbal’s murshed, Jalal-ud-Din Rumi: “There is no law in our religion except love”.
(iii) The political philosophy of Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah unambiguously propounded the principles of constitutionalism, law and the equality of all citizens regardless of their religious beliefs. When the Cabinet Mission Plan offered a “zonal scheme” for a decentralized Indian state, Jinnah and Gandhi readily accepted but it was rejected by Nehru and the Congress. This triggered the decision in 1946 to form an independent state of Pakistan. It was in his first speech before the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah articulated the principles of a modern democracy for Pakistan in which religion was to be a matter for the individual but not the state.
Clearly, the spiritual, philosophical and political principles that constituted Muslim nationhood, had propounded enlightenment, the awakening of human consciousness, material development and freedom within a democratic constitutional order. These founding principles were gradually eroded during Pakistan’s tragic trajectory of politics, power and pelf till an antithesis emerged: Bigotry and a closing of the mind frustrated Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s dream of achieving an educated sensibility; systematic inculcation of hate in state funded madrassas began to close the avenues to the heart through which Iqbal’s spiritual awakening of Muslims could be achieved; an economic structure that enriched a few while perpetuating mass poverty undermined the idea of equality of economic opportunity, so basic to democracy; and a power structure took root in which elected governments became a facade for military rule and where the state nurtured violent extremist groups, thereby making a travesty of Mr. Jinnah’s dream of a democratic Pakistan. All this happened not because of a foreign conspiracy against Pakistan and Islam. Rather it occurred because the pursuit of power by some politicians and state institutions ignored the principles on which Pakistan was founded, and were unconstrained by considerations of rationality and the public interest.
To build a better future we will have to rediscover the values of enlightenment, love and human development articulated by the founding fathers. At the same time each organ of the state must function within its specified domain in order to strengthen the edifice of constitutional democracy which is essential to the idea of Pakistan.