Pakistan’s roots lay in the final days of the British Raj in India. Before then the territory -roughly defined as the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, the coastline on the Arabian sea of Sindh province and Baluchistan -had not been defined as Pakistan but, over the centuries, became first part of one empire and then another.
The British. initially through the East India Company and later through the British Army, controlled the area from the early part of the nineteenth century onward. From the 1880s, though, the aim for millions of people throughout the subcontinent who wanted self-determination was the end of British rule. The Indian National Congress, which initially included Muslims, worked to achieve this end. The British did not want to relinquish control but the Second World War weakened Britain economically and politically, and by then the empire on which ‘the sun never sets’ was in its twilight years.
The Indian National Congress negotiated with the British to bring about the end of their rule over India, and they wanted to see the whole subcontinent remain one country. Here the histories of the two nations starts to diverge; wary of Hindu nationalism, and mindful of the kind of violence that took place at sporadic intervals over the 1920s and 1930s in different cities and provinces in India. the All-India Muslim League took a different view. As part of this league, two men in particular were fundamental in the foundation of Pakistan, Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal.
Iqbal, who died in 1938, nine years before the creation of Pakistan. is the visionary poet-philosopher considered to be the spiritual founder of Pakistan. In 1930 in an address to the All-India Muslim League, he said. ‘I would like to see the Punjab. North-West Frontier Province. Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government within the British Empire or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of Muslims, at least of North-West India.’ Believing that ‘the Indian Muslim is entitled to full and free development on the lines of his own culture and tradition in his own Indian homelands,’ Iqbal felt that this was a necessary stage for the Muslim community to develop its collective selfhood, or khudi.
Iqbal not only conceived of a self-governing Muslim state, his passionate voice awakened and activated Indian Muslims, motivating them not only to strive to free themselves from the bondage of imperialism and colonialism, but also to challenge other forms of totalitarian control. Believing fervently in human equality and the right of human beings to dignity, justice and freedom. Iqbal empowered the disempowered to stand up and be counted. He argued against an unquestioning acceptance of Western democracy as the self-governing model, and instead suggested that by following the rules of Islam a society would tend naturally towards social justice, tolerance, peace and equality.
Iqbal’s interpretation of Islam differs very widely from the narrow meaning that is sometimes given to it. For Iqbal, Islam is not just the name for certain beliefs and forms of worship. The difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is not merely a theological one -it is a difference of a fundamental attitude towards life. In his view, in Islam, based on the principles of ‘equality, solidarity and freedom’, there was no hierarchy or aristocracy, and the criterion for assessing the merit of human beings was taqwa (righteousness). As Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said: ‘The noblest of human beings are those who fear God most.’ In other words. those who are humane and just, because when you fear God you believe you are accountable to Him and must act accordingly.
To Iqbal the culture of Islam did not consist of the actual cultural practices of Muslims. It was an ideal value-system, based upon the ethical principles enshrined in the Quran. He believed that Islam provided the guidance needed by human beings to realize their God-given potential to the fullest. In his philosophy of khudi, Iqbal presented his blueprint for action that would lead to intellectually sound, ethically based and spiritually grounded development of individuals and communities.
Iqbal and others, such as Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), who urged Muslims to obtain a Western education and established the Aligarh University for this purpose, argued that this vision of an ideal society could never be achieved as long as Muslims remained in a minority in a Hindu-dominated India. It was not only that India, with its caste system and social inequalities, was the antithesis of everything they wanted. It was also that such a bold experiment of recreating the ideals of Islam could never be achieved in a country where Muslims were in the minority. At the time, much of the Islamic world was under European colonial rule, and realizing the promise of Islam required a country -or at least a state within India where Muslims would have the opportunity to live according to the highest ethical ideals and best practices of their faith.
When Iqbal died in 1938, it was left to the lawyer-politician Muhammad Ali Jinnah to create that country. Iqbal was an idealist but he offered concrete guidance to Muslims about how to live a life grounded in the integrated vision of the Quran. Jinnah also combined idealism with pragmatism. ‘Somewhat formal and fastidious, and a little aloof and imperious of manner, [his] calm hauteur masks a naIve and eager humanity, an intuition quick and tender, a humour gay and winning; the obvious sanity and serenity of his worldly wisdom disguise a shy and splendid idealism,’ wrote Sarojini Naidu, the first woman to become president of the Congress Party.
Jinnah had originally been a member of the Indian Congress Party and an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim understanding, committed to a united India. Yet he had fallen out with Mohandas Gandhi; when the Islamic Caliphate finally collapsed in Turkey after the First World War, it was Gandhi who led the protests for its restoration, seeing in this a way of challenging the British. Jinnah opposed the movement. He also disliked Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru, who he felt had used his closeness to Britain’s Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten, to outmanoeuvre India’s Muslims in their fight for political power.
Mountbatten in turn had no patience for the legal constitutional niceties put forward by Jinnah to seek special electorates to safeguard the interests of the Muslims. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas Gandhi and Congress member Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a Muslim leader of the Indian National Congress who later became education minister in India’s government, were four giants of the independence movement -even if they had their own idea of what freedom meant for the people of India.
Even Gandhi and Jinnah, despite their differences, held views in common; both believed that their new countries were not secular ones but ones in which religion would play an important role. Gandhi said, ‘Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is,’ as he thought that politics without religion would be immoral; while Jinnah, some years later in a speech to the State Bank of Pakistan in 1948, reiterated that ‘We must … present to the world an economic system based on the true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice. We will thereby be fulfilling our mission as Muslims.’
Both Jinnah and Gandhi believed that it was the compassion preached by every religion that could become a counterweight to materialism. Anti-British unity fractured after the Khilafat movement, and from the late 1920s political battles within the Congress led to unrealistic demands being made of the Muslim organizations. This intransigence ‘meant that Hindu revivalists were left with the greater part of the blame … for the failure to reach some form of Hindu-Muslim agreement,’ observed Professor Francis Robinson. Jinnah no longer believed Muslims would be safe in a united India.
At a meeting of the Muslim League in Lahore in March 1940, Jinnah added his voice to a call for the creation of two states, one for Hindus, the other for Muslims: ‘It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality …. he declared. ‘The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litterateurs. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state. one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state.’
At this time, democracy was still evolving in the world and people did not believe that it could accommodate different religions and ethnic groups. However, the Muslim political leaders, virtually against all odds and in the face of intense opposition from India’s dominant Congress Party, had achieved the impossible. They had created a new country. Though we were in dire straits in the early years, the revolutionary zeal that gave birth to Pakistan carried us through. In what is known as the Lahore Resolution, the meeting rejected the concept of a united India on the grounds of growing inter-communal violence. and demanded ‘that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign’.
Seven years later, Pakistan was born, although it was, as Jinnah complained, a ‘moth-eaten state’ with far less territory than its supporters had envisaged. Gone were the insidious humiliations of colonialism and the fear of being drowned in an overwhelming Hindu majority in an independent India. We were a free people, free to rediscover an Islamic culture that had once towered over the subcontinent. Free, too, to implement the ideals of Islam based on equality, and social and economic justice. A democracy, as Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah said, not a theocracy. We were to be the shining example in the Muslim world of what Islam could achieve were it allowed to flourish. Such dreams we had.
It was created in two wings. West and East Pakistan. separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. The great provinces of Punjab and Bengal had been split apart, and at least one million people died in the tide of migration as Muslims moved into Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs fled to India. Estimates of the numbers who died range from 200,000 to over one million. More than 12 million were made homeless by the act of Partition and had to travel long distances to settle in new parts of the country, and vast refugee camps sprang up as a result. Families and communities were devastated as those widowed and orphaned in the slaughter had to take what was left of their belongings on a voyage to a new part of the country, where they would be unknown and -often -unwanted. Margaret Bourke-White, the American photographer and the first female war correspondent, called Partition a ‘massive exercise in human misery’.
The madness that took place was exactly that -a madness. No one anticipated or dreamt that such things would happen, and certainly no one expected the violence to reach such heights. Was it a reaction to the end of British rule, a release of pent-up frustrations after the decades of humiliation? It suited the British for there to be division between the peoples of India, and they actively fostered this, as an incoming viceroy, the Earl of Elgin, was informed in 1861: ‘We have maintained our power in India by playing off one party against the other, and we must continue to do so.’ The haste with which the plan for Partition was implemented certainly contributed towards the hostile atmosphere that created such mayhem, and the British were very much responsible for setting this timetable.
Today, as I sit and compose this introductory lesson in Pakistan’s history, I look back to the millions massacred during the partition, the millions left homeless, the huge sacrifices made, the terrible losses suffered, in order to create a free and independent nation for the Muslims of India, tears of gratitude and gladness peek through my eye-lids, threatening to break free and flood my face. My heart swells up as I hear the thunderous roar of the exploding fireworks, of the bullet fired in the open sky, of the celebrations of another birthday of our still new country. I am thankful to Allah, for my incredible luck of being born here and for this chance to live freely, without constraints.