Does the more evident the hard reality become that nations exist, make more elusive a definition of what constitutes a nation?
There are 193 Members of the United Nations. In turn, there are possibly thousands of nations that exist within those 193 states. In North, Central and South America alone, there are umpteen historic, indigenous communities which call themselves "First Nations" to distinguish themselves from the contemporary version of nation-states in the Americas which have been shaped by mass migration and settlement from Europe over the past 400 years. In a single country like Pakistan, several regional communities consider themselves nations – while they remain conscious and proud of also being part of a larger, singular Pakistani nation.
The relatively unique nature of religion-inspired Pakistani nationalism can be gauged by the fact that the Oxford English Dictionary does not include religion as one of the determinant elements which shape a nation. Another aspect of the uniqueness of Pakistani nationalism is that, while being inspired by a religious faith, neither at a national nor at the structural state level, has there ever been a theocratic dimension. Which is actually reflective of a core tenet of Islam: that it neither sanctions the Muslim equivalent of a Christian Church nor of a Pope. Despite aberrations and deficiencies in the evolution of both our nation and State over the past 74 years, including four military interventions, the concept of Pakistani nationalism remains democratic, participative, pluralist, inclusive and progressive.
As a knee-jerk reaction to the disintegration of the original state structure of Pakistan on 16th December 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh, sections of academia, media and civil society tend to echo the dubious thesis favoured by most of their counterparts in India and some Western countries to the effect that the Two-Nation Theory became dead as a dodo after only 24 years of practical existence.
There is also a segment of liberal opinion in Western academia and media which, in seeking to explain the upsurge of populism, anti-immigrant hate, even shades of elected fascism emerging in Europe and parts of the Americas in recent years views nationalism, per se, as a dangerous, potentially destructive force because the disruptive new upsurges stoke a narrow, divisive form of ultra-nationalism.
While scepticism in general is a healthy condition because it challenges cosy presumptions and demands validation through solid facts or cogent arguments, there is a need to prevent the positivity of scepticism from becoming the self-demeaning negativity of cynicism and nihilism.
Though the term "Two-Nation Theory" became current in the first half of the 20th century, the foundational DNA of this concept is rooted in over 7000 years of history. Territory is an inexorable element of a nation. But regardless of whether the nation has sovereign control over territory – or whether, as in the case of the Kurds, their territory is part of the sovereign control of other states e.g., Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran – the physical origins of Pakistan begin with Mehergarh in Balochistan, Mohenjodaro in Sindh, Taxila and Takht Bahi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This was followed by a cavalcade of kingdoms that succeeded each other even as the soil remained the same.
Then, over 1300 years before the 20th century, as early Muslims began to settle in or invade different parts of the Western coast of South Asia – e.g., Arab traders in Kerala where there are signs of the first-ever mosque being built before Muhammad Bin Qasim's advent into Sindh and a mosque in Bhambhor – religious faith began to intertwine with territory to spur the gradual growth of Muslim identity in South Asia.
Stark, startling contrasts between the precepts and practices of Islam and Hinduism generated unavoidable tensions between a new, external, intrusive message and its bearers encroaching upon indigenous areas. Yet from the very outset, there appears to have been a basic acceptance of the extraordinary diversity in South Asia.
A Spectacular Diversity
This diversity was made more spectacular because of the multiple levels at which it existed – and exists to this day. Within each level, there is also a profusion of varieties. Hinduism was never a single, monolithic religion or way of life. With a rigid, hierarchical, harshly-enforced caste structure, Hinduism also offered dozens of different deities in dozens of regions and hundreds of locations where it was practiced. If the world today has anywhere between 6000 and 7000 languages, of miniscule use as well as of mass usage, there are hundreds of dialects in this part of the continent to add their own variety.
Comparatively, despite Islam being non-caste based, monotheist, egalitarian – in which black or white, rich or poor worship shoulder-to-shoulder in the same mosque – the new message of divinity was also accompanied by its own diversity. In languages such as Arabic, Persian, Turkish and the already existing local languages of early converts, or of later entrants and the sweet derivation of Urdu melding the three imports with Hindi and regional languages.
This initial diversity within Islam was later further compounded by those who adopted different schools of thought, be they Hanafi or Shia. As also the classes of conveyors who brought forth Islam into the region, as traders, soldiers, artisans, masons, architects, conquerors or peaceable, non-violent Sufi saints. Thus, from its very inception pluralism was a cardinal principle that shaped the birth and growth of the Two-Nation Theory.
Notwithstanding the recurrent battles and wars between invaders and original residents, between those seeking new areas to rule and those wanting to preserve their ancestral reigns, there was a remarkable willingness and capacity for reasonably peaceful co-existence. Massacres and slaughters did occur from time to time during wars and soon after them. But the notable fact is that a relatively small number of Muslims attained temporal power in and around Northern South Asia and in Central and Southern parts like the Deccan and Mysore; to then rule over a much larger number, the vast majority of non-Muslims, for well over 700 years. This timespan stretched from the start of the “Slave” dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries to the end of the Mughal empire in 1857. Figures like Shivaji symbolized the fierce determination to resist rule from Delhi – and Muslims – but the conflict was not primarily rooted in religious difference as it was in the primordial ambition to exercise political control and dominance. Hindu Rajput commanders loyally served Muslim kings. Muslim advisors counselled Hindu rulers. Cultural interaction also thrived.
A Historically Autonomous Territory
As Muslims and Hindus lived side-by-side, in varying phases of mutual existence as well as periodic tensions, the historic, territorial homeland of what constitutes the land of Pakistan today in 2021 asserted a notable degree of autonomy through most of the past 2000 years. Except for the Mauryan period, 300-200 BC, then followed by the minority Muslim rule over a Hindu majority by the Lodhis and the Mughals from the 12th to the mid-19th century, then culminating with 90 years of direct British rule from 1857 to 1947, the territorial spread of today's Pakistan was governed mainly by local, indigenous rulers or by migrant conquerors and their descendants from Central and West Asia rather than by rule from Delhi.
Though the idea of a hereditary monarchy is antithetical to the egalitarian, proletarian creed of Islam, the cold-blooded execution by the British of the two sons of Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1857 came to mark two major milestones: on the one hand, a complete break with the history of dynastic Muslim minority rule over the Hindu majority in South Asia. On the other, the inception of a search for a new identity for Musims in which the primary aspiration of Muslim majority areas was to regain or attain self-rule and autonomy in partial reflection of the imperishable nature of Muslim identity.
Reaction to Hindu Chauvinism
Yet, it is also ironic when we remember that some of the crucial initial actions taken, that eventually made South Asian Muslim nationalism an inevitable and permanent truth, was the introduction of narrow exclusivism by some – not all – segments of Hinduism's own adherents. From the advent of the Arya Samaj in 1875 in the second half of the 19th century through the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and the creation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925, and other similar entities which proclaimed Hinduism to be the sole criterion that defines – or must define – all residents of this part of South Asia, the Muslim response became unavoidably self-protective, reactive and reciprocally robust.
Therefore, with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan personifying the start of a new journey for Muslims in the second half of the 19th century and then achieving, in phases, the sharp articulations by Allama Iqbal in 1930, by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali in 1933 and by Muhammad Ali Jinnah onward of 1937, the Two-Nation Theory acquired a persuasive coherence which directly led to 23rd March 1940 and to 14th August 1947.
Given the unprecedented, awkward State structure of the original Pakistan, it was almost a miracle that the disjointed country survived for as long as it did for 24 years. RSS cynics and their covert leaders in the Congress like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had confidently projected Pakistan's demise in only six months after its birth.
While the West Pakistan-based civil and military leadership in 1971 made numerous mistakes to alienate many of the people of East Pakistan, it was India's outrageous covert, and then overt violation of international frontiers on November 21, 1971 which enabled the secession of East Pakistan.
Bangladesh Reaffirms Two-Nation Reality
On December 16, 1971, it was the original State structure of Pakistan which was rejected. The Two-Nation Theory and Reality remained unaffected. Fifty years later, in 2021, Bangladesh remains steadfastly proud of being a predominantly Muslim nation. Article 2(A) of its Constitution begins with the words: "The State religion shall be Islam..." and then rightly goes on to acknowledge the sanctity of other faiths, which however, do not receive the status of being State religions.
But even after the confusion spread regarding East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh and allegedly negating the Two-Nation Theory is soundly rebutted by the facts in the preceding paragraphs, there remains the question that the Two-Nation Theory does not purportedly explain an inconvenient truth. Which is that over 180 million Muslims remain part of a Hindu-dominated and now Hindutva-dominated India in 2021.
Status of Indian Muslims
This is certainly a reasonable contention to raise in order to seek an explanation as to whether the Two-Nation Theory and Reality rendered grave injustice to those Muslims who remain in what became the Indian state in 1947 and what it is today in 2021. An initial response – though not necessarily a complete response – is that any Reality and Theory does not – and cannot – take responsibility for every single Muslim in South Asia publicly voicing belief in the Reality/Theory and whether s/he migrates or not out of India into Pakistan or Bangladesh.
For obvious reasons, it is not possible for 180 to 200 million Indian Muslims dispersed across different parts of their country to up and move to either of the two major Muslim nation-states to the West and the East of India. Firstly, because Indian Muslims want to remain where their ancestors had settled centuries earlier. They have built up bonds and ties with their locations that are vital to their sense of self.
Yet it bears remembrance that in 1947 and for a few years thereafter, about 10 million Muslims did uproot themselves from their ancestral lands to permanently migrate to Pakistan.
Second, now in 2021, Indian Muslims do not want – or are simply unable – to move to a new country and the uncertainties which are inevitable when migration takes place.
Third, they have the courage and fortitude to live with the Hindu majority and are willing to face the extremism and excesses of Hindutva. One source of their self-confidence may well be in the fact that even in the most recent general elections in India in 2019, the Hindutva coalition of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured only 38 per cent of the popular votes. A big majority – 62 per cent – of Indian voters opposed the BJP and what Hindutva represents. Despite the weaknesses of the Congress and schisms in the opposition, there are still ample grounds to hope that, ultimately, better sense will prevail in India’s elections and in the Indian society.
Due to the absurdities of the first-past-the-post electoral system, despite receiving a minority of the popular vote, the BJP coalition was able to achieve a decisive majority of seats in Parliament. Until this outmoded, unjust electoral system – unwisely followed by India, Pakistan and other countries – is changed, such an anomaly will continue to distort the electoral and power structures of several countries. Alternative electoral systems offer options to make results more representative of public will. But that is a subject requiring separate perusal.
In certain parts of the Indian state, Muslim citizens show tough resistance to, and defiance of Hindutva, both politically and physically. For example, in the city of Hyderabad Deccan (the birthplace of my dear beloved late father!) they elected a fiery outspoken Asaduddin Owaisi to the Lok Sabha to represent the fact of they being thoroughly Muslim and thoroughly Indian citizens. One of the great tragedies of the Indian Muslim community is their political fragmentation which both reflects and compounds the fact of their diffusion in different parts of India and their inability to mount a singular front on a nationwide scale.
Whether they are willing to go to the extent of describing themselves as a nation or not, the hard truth is that, by most of the criteria which define the concept of nations that exist as politically-independent states or as large communities within a nation-state, which does not personify a particular community's beliefs and values, Indian Muslims today constitute a definite nation.
While our deep concern for the welfare of Indian Muslims remains, Pakistani Muslims need to guard against their words or actions endangering the safety and security of Indian Muslims. The latter are vulnerable to the hatred and hysteria of Hindutva extremists, who are themselves so insecure and paranoiac that they accuse Indian Muslims of being Pakistani agents.
Status of Pakistani Hindus
Whereas the political status of Muslims in India post-1947 has declined dramatically in the past decade, the opposite has happened with Hindus in Pakistan. In the 2018 elections, for the first time contesting on a general seat – not a seat reserved for non-Muslims – a Hindu candidate, Mahesh Malkani, defeated a Muslim candidate by over 20,000 votes in Tharparkar for the NA-222 constituency. He also outpolled 13 other candidates. The fact that approximately half the population of Tharparkar is Hindu is only marginally relevant. The same pattern was repeated in two other contests the same year at other constituencies in Sindh where Hindu candidates defeated Muslim candidates among voters where Muslims are in the majority.
The contrast between the political empowerment of Indian Muslims and Pakistani Hindus becomes more pronounced when it is noted that, while Muslims are over 15 per cent of India’s population, Hindus are roughly half the population of only 3 per cent non-Muslims.
Perhaps an unrivalled feature of the extraordinary status given to non-Muslims in the Pakistani political system is the fact that every adult non-Muslim voter has the right to cast two votes in a general election – in contrast to an adult Muslim voter who has only one vote. Non-Muslims can contest in or vote for candidates for general seats as well as vote for seats exclusively reserved for non-Muslim candidates. Nevertheless, there is much more to be done to advance the status of non-Muslims and Hindus in our country.
In conclusion: simultaneous to the invigorating, colourful, assertive pluralism and diversity present across all parts of Pakistan reflected in the resonance of dialects, languages, lifestyles, folk art, folk music, cuisine et al., there has emerged and become indelibly established a definite discernible sense of what one calls "Pakistaniat". This expression of identity mirrors the beauty as well as the blemishes (in parts!) of the people of Pakistan, their many strengths and their (fewer!) weaknesses. But always, there is the unshakeable faith and conviction in the abiding truth of the Two-Nation Reality and Theory.
The writer, a former Federal Minister, has authored: What is Pakistaniat? published by Paramount Books. Paramountbooks.com.pk which is available in English and Urdu versions. Details of other books at: www.javedjabbar.net.
E-mail: [email protected]
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