Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Musings on Pakistan Day

For a past couple of days I have been thinking of what I should write for Pakistan Day, a commemoration of the Lahore resolution which finally consolidated the idea of a seperate homeland for Muslims of the Indian sub-continent. But I'm not sure what this day means to me. For starters, I didn't even know this day existed until recently. It wasn't until I came across Kalsoom's (CHUP) wonderful post that I became aware of this day and its historical significance

I know that I haven't been very forthcoming about myself on this blog. If you have been reading my past posts, you will notice that there is very little mention of myself. I'd rather not be one of those people who  blogs about the inanne details of their day. Part of this has to do with the fact that what I do is pretty boring. As a graduate student involved in fisheries research, much of my day is spent poring over data, performing quantitative analysis and writing drafts and reports.So, I see no point in blogging about how quantile regression is the greatest statistical method ever invented or the advantages of principle component analysis  when monitoring variation in long terms fish habitat data. The other reason for this is the fact that I am a private person and prefer to be solitary than among crowds of people. I am one of the people who grudgingly joinned facebook, only to check it once a month or even less frequently. I'm still considering the mertis of twitter and the only reason I blog is because I have a lot to say about politics, fish and life in general but the people around me aren't interested (not because of selfish reasons, but because there is only so much analysis you can listen to before going crazy).

The reason that I'm writing about my personal background today is because it has a lot to do with how I relate to Pakistan. I emigrated to Canada 11 years ago, and haven't been back once. So my understanding of Pakistan is far removed from the socio-political realities today. I get most of my information from Pakistani and foreign news media as well as some excellent blogs (be sure to check out the links in the sidebar), not to mention friends and relatives. Considering this, what should and can I say about Pakistan day?

From a historical perspective, the Lahore resolution is one of the key documents that is responsible for Pakistan today. Passed on March 24th 1940 after a two day All India Muslim League conference in Minto park Lahore, it recommended the creation of an independent muslim state consisting of Punjab, North West Frontier Province, Sindh, Baluchistan, Bengal and Assam due to the irreconciliable differences between the majority Hindus and the minority muslims. Fast forward seven years and Pakistan becomes an independent state.

As a third generation Pakistani and a first generation Canadian, I have tried to understand why Muslims would want a seperate state to begin with. Though our (hindu and muslim) religious beliefs and practices were different, we still ate similar food, wore similar clothes and spoke similar languages. From my readings of history and talks with my grandparents and parents, it seems that the colonization of India caused a social upheaval. After centuries of rule, Muslims were no longer in power. Added to this was the change of  the  language of administration from Persian to English. Almost overnight, Muslims who were proficient in Persian were unemployed replaced by Hindus favoured by the British due to the belief that the indigenous Indians were ethno-linguistically related to Europeans; the Aryan race. The lack of economic opportunity for Muslims as compared to Hindus heightened pre-existing communal tension, which eventually led to a demand for a seperate state. I can't help but think that the posturing of Islam as a ethnic identity going so far as to dictate culture, language and even folklore was a mistake. While Jinnah clearly stated that Pakistan not an Islamic state in the religious sense, I wonder if the foundation of a homeland on the basis of religious identity is the primary cause of religious extremism today. After all, the formation of Pakistan as a muslim homeland  is still  the biggest excuse for the implementation of religious ideology into state apparatus, which has resulted in the promotion of extremist religious ideology leading us to where we are today.

Don't get me wrong. I am proud of being a Pakistani. But not for the same reasons as an American would be pround of being American. I can't boast about Pakistan's GDP or the Constitutional rights its affords citizens or its technological dominance or its superpower capabilites. But I am proud of the little things such as generosity, hospitality, the respect for elders and the strength of family ties. I'm proud that despite all of the hardships that people face, we have still retained our humanity. I'm proud of Dr. Abdus Salam, Edhi, Asma Jahangir,  Huma Jilani and Ansar Burney as well as organizations like the Kashf foundation, Naya Jeevan, Developments in Literacy which are laying the foundation for a better Pakistan.

For me, Pakistan day is sort of like New Years, or an internal review process. It allows us to take stock of our accomplishments and our failures, as an individual, a society and a nation. Every year it reminds us of how far we have moved forward and how much work still needs to be done.

Happy Pakistan Day!


  1. I wish you well on Pakistan day but I think you have to be cognizant to the fact that there were a significant number of muslims who did not want a creation of pakistan and they were led by Frontier gandhi(Abdul Ghaffar Khan).
    Also, the premise that a hindu India would somehow undermine muslims in the sub-contnent is also flawed. Since India is not a hindu country and has never been though Hindus are a majority and that too a fractured, diverse majority without a common belief system.

    I don't mean to rain on your parade but this theory is pretty evident by looking at the progress of both nations.

    Nevertheless, I wish pakistan well because a strong pakistan also means a strong india

  2. @Futz
    I'd like to welcome you to the blog.

    I am aware of the fact that a significant number did not support the creation of a separate state for Muslims within the Indian subcontinent. However, as you are aware a large number of Muslims also supported the creation this state. Part of my post explored the political as well as the historical factors which contributed to this desire (legitimate or otherwise).

    I agree with your statement that it is not enough to assume that a Hindu majority India would undermine Muslims. But given the increased communal tension and animosity between these two groups in the pre-partition era, it would be flawed to assume that there would not be any significant communal violence either. Considering this, you could attribute the creation of Pakistan to a fear of majority-minority power dynamics under a Hindu majority country.

    I would disagree with your assertion that the progress of India and Pakistan is evident in the formation of these two states. Firstly, Pakistan was a Muslim majority secular state until the dictatorship of Zia ul Haq, who implemented Islam as the state religion and introduced Sharia law into the legal system. He is also credited with the creation of Islamic militias for the Afghan "jihad" which later turned towards Kashmir(with government support) and the religious minorities at home. Additionally, the lack of institutions supporting democracy due to frequent military dictatorships have also contributed in creating the state of affairs in Pakistan today.

    That said, your feedback on my post is appreciated.

  3. Yes, I agree that fear drove the creation of Pakistan but also, this was primarily driven by the Muslim league in the pre-partition era. No other religious community(prior to 1947) desired Muslims to create their own homeland. This is not to say that if the partition would not have happened that somehow we would all be a happy south-Asian family.

    In my opinion, "Pakistan was a Muslim majority secular state", is an oxymoron. In hindsight, the mere mention of Jinnah proclaiming Pakistan secular in character did not and does not translate in reality. Theory and practice are really worlds apart.

    A nation which is created out a sense of religious idealism cannot be secular. We need to be honest about this and really agree that Pakistan is a Muslim country and does not have a secular character in its society. Let's not even consider non-Muslims, since even mohajirs have ifelt isolated(in the past) and have ended up creating their own political party. I don't think I need to speak about the perceptions of the Muslim-sunni majority when it comes to Ismaili and Ahmeddiya Muslims.

    I don't mean to undermine the idea of Pakistan and in some parallel sense it would be like calling Israel secular, when the whole idea of its creation was a Jewish homeland.

    Also while India has its own challenges, the reality of the matter is that it owes its political stability to its diversity and almost passive nature of mainstream Hinduism. Parsis, Baghdadi Jews, Ismailis, Chinese have migrated to the sub-continent(which is present day India) and this, to some extent is credited to a secular mind-set of the nation.

    Now this does not mean that India is a utopian place. The afflictions of the caste system as well as old-standing beliefs have crippled growth in large sections of Indian society.

  4. I think that you need to draw a distinction between state and social religious identity. When I called Pakistan as a secular Muslim majority state, I was not referring to Pakistan's social religious identity (Sunni Hanafi Muslim) but rather the identity of the state and its apparatus. Until the dictatorship of Zia ul Haq, no religious identity was attached to the state apparatus.

    I do find the comparison with Israel apt, but not from the same perspective. While Israel was created as a Jewish homeland, it was on the basis of Jewish identity which denotes far more than just religious belief. Similarly, when Pakistan was created as a Muslim homeland, the word "Muslim" was used in a ethnic sense rather than a religious one.

    The application of the term "Muslim" in an ethnic sense to was a bad idea because it glossed over the cultural diversity of muslim communities and imposed religion as an ethnic identity. The failure of Pakistan as a state can be traced to the failure of the recognizing and respecting this diversity by imposing the Urdu language and Punjabi/North Indian culture on all of its citizens- the main reason for the independence of Bangladesh and the popularity of secession in Sindh and Balochistan (notwithstanding feudal ambitions in those regions).