The creation of Pakistan as a separate sovereign state is far too complex a political phenomenon and historical idea to be reduced to “Muslims claimed to be a nation and asked for a separate homeland. Hence Pakistan was created in the name of Islam”. This naïve and simplistic view certainly doesn’t explain why a passionate votary of a united India, known as the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, would end up making a separate state for the Muslim minority of the Subcontinent.
Enough historians have written on it, leading amongst them Dr Ayesha Jalal, and have shown that it was the result of a breakdown of negotiations between the two largest representative parties on the eve of independence and that there had been room till almost the very end for an accommodation on the basis of a federated united India. However on 15 August 1947, the Independence of India Act 1947 created two successor dominions to British India, namely Pakistan and India. The founder of Pakistan, Jinnah, had an unwaveringly Westernised and unambiguously secular ideal for the new state in his mind. He repeatedly told his listeners that Pakistan would “not be a theocratic state to be run by priests with a divine mission.”
On 10 August 1947, he specifically had a reference to God removed from oaths of office and the religious “solemnly swear” changed to “solemnly affirm.” Read what you want into it.
On 11 August 1947, when Jinnah first addressed the newly unveiled Constituent Assembly, he delivered what some have described as his Gettysburg address. Most people don’t bother to read the whole speech beyond the oft-quoted four lines. It was not just about religious freedom but a summation of why Pakistan must be an inclusive, democratic and – I daresay – a secular state. Some of what he said on the day bears repeating. He first sought to explain the need for Pakistan (sentences in bold for emphasis in our current discussion):
“I know there are people who do not quite agree with the division of India and the partition of the Punjab and Bengal. Much has been said against it, but now that it has been accepted, it is the duty of everyone of us to loyally abide by it and honourably act according to the agreement which is now final and binding on all. But you must remember, as I have said, that this mighty revolution that has taken place is unprecedented. One can quite understand the feeling that exists between the two communities wherever one community is in majority and the other is in minority. But the question is, whether it was possible or practicable to act otherwise than what has been done, A division had to take place. On both sides, in Hindustan and Pakistan, there are sections of people who may not agree with it, who may not like it, but in my judgement there was no other solution and I am sure future history will record is verdict in favour of it. And what is more, it will be proved by actual experience as we go on that was the only solution of India’s constitutional problem. Any idea of a united India could never have worked and in my judgement it would have led us to terrific disaster. Maybe that view is correct; maybe it is not; that remains to be seen. All the same, in this division it was impossible to avoid the question of minorities being in one Dominion or the other. Now that was unavoidable. There is no other solution.”
The question of whether the division was right or wrong was one he was content to leave to the verdict of history. Significantly, in the next few lines he referred to India as a single nation of 400 million souls. It would appear that he was still not ready to divorce Pakistan completely from the rest of India:
“I cannot emphasise it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this.”
Most people don’t bother to read the whole speech beyond the oft-quoted four lines. It was not just about religious freedom but a summation of why Pakistan must be an inclusive, democratic and – I daresay – a secular state
Then came those famous lines that are often quoted:
“Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
Note the emphasis on the creed, which is a synonym for religion. He did not stop here. He now harked back to history and gave the example of England and its Protestant-Catholic conflict. Jinnah spoke of “discriminations made” and “bars imposed against a particular class.”
“As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.”
He then went onto declare that if this ideal was followed the Hindu Muslim distinction would end in a political sense and that religion was a personal matter.
“Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims,not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
In a later speech in 1948, Jinnah made references to Islamic principles but these references were always to drive home that the kind of modern democratic state that he envisaged was in conformity with Islam and its principles which taught democracy and brotherhood of all and that Islam did not have any room for an ecclesiastical or theocratic state, partly because he came under pressure from various quarters right after his initial speech who accused him of following a western model and imposing it wholesale on the newly formed Muslim state. In short if one was elucidate the principles laid down by Mr. Jinnah vis a vis state formation and nation building, he envisaged a state which would:
Be impartial to faith of a citizen and where religion would be the personal faith of an individual
Guarantee religious freedom and equality of citizenship
Not be a theocratic state.
Be a democratic state based on the will of people.
Such a state can only be a secular and liberal democratic, albeit a Muslim majority, state. Even earlier he had made it absolutely clear to his colleague and follower Raja of Mahmudabad that Pakistan would not be an Islamic state because that would raise innumerable sectarian conflicts.
Things began to change soon after Jinnah’s demise. When we look at the debates of the Constituent Assembly, we find vociferous opposition to the Objectives Resolution mounted by the minority members of the Pakistan National Congress. All of them, without exception, referred to Jinnah’s promise that Pakistan would be a secular state. They were overruled and on 12 March 1949 the Objectives Resolution was passed which vested sovereignty over the universe in Allah mighty and which sought to enable “Muslims” to order their lives according to Quran and Sunnah. Instead of moving towards making religion a personal matter, it sought to entrench as the central plank of the new state.
One of the issues raised by minorities was whether under the kind of state envisaged by the Objectives Resolution a non-Muslim could become the head of state. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in his reply specifically promised that there would be no bar against a non-Muslim becoming the head of state in Pakistan. Unfortunately his assassination in 1951 deprived him of any chance to make good on his promise. When we look at the first draft constitution of 1954 – which was to be adopted on 25 December 1954 but could not be because the Constituent Assembly was packed up before that – we find that the office of the President was reserved specifically for a Muslim. The office of the Prime Minister was open to all citizens and there were no other bars. Nevertheless for every constitutional position two kinds of oaths were prescribed: one if the office holder would be a Muslim and one if such an office holder would be a non-Muslim. Significantly, separate electorates were retained limiting the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan to 110 constituencies (inclusive of general constituencies) in total in a 725-member House of Representatives i.e. lower house of parliament, with East Pakistan province getting only 42% of the seats i.e. 309. The state was to be called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Again, this was vociferously opposed by non-Muslim members who saw this a departure from Jinnah’s promises at the outset of the new state. Significantly though just like the constitutions of 1956 and 1962 that followed it, the 1954 Constitution had no state religion. However, the President was given the power to create an organisation to promote ‘Amr bil Maruf wa nahi anil Munkar’ to popularise an Islamic way of life amongst Muslims of Pakistan, another departure from the secular principle.
The men who orchestrated the collapse of the would be 1954 Constitution, Ghulam Muhammad and Iskandar Mirza, were both die hard secularists. In 1956, they along with Chaudhry Muhammad Ali managed to draft a relatively more secular constitution which introduced joint electorates, secularised the oaths of office, reduced the religious content considerably and brought parity between the wings through the Bogra Formula which promised East Bengal province 50% of the seats. The ‘One Unit’ system and the Bogra Formula actually improved the lot of East Pakistanis, contrary to popular misconception. The 1956 constitution also tipped the balance in favour of the secularists while retaining the Muslim only clause for the President’s office. Of course the constitution was replacing a completely secular constitution i.e. the Government of India Act 1935, and therefore when Pakistan became the first Islamic Republic in the world on 23 March 1956, it had taken the first step to become a theocracy. Nevertheless the 1956 Constitution envisaged a gentler semi-theocratic state with no state religion and the office of the Prime Minister open for non-Muslims. The 1962 Constitution briefly dropped the word “Islamic” from the name, making Pakistan simply the Republic of Pakistan, a move that was quickly overturned by the legislature.
It was the 1973 Constitution that made Pakistan a theocratic state in all possible ways. Not only was Islam made the state religion, but from then on, the Prime Minister could only be a Muslim. Strangely, this was done at a time when both the government of the day and the opposition comprised two stridently secular left-leaning parties. The same parliament also took the unprecedented step of deciding who was a Muslim and who was not in 1974. The state’s encroachment into the personal space of a citizen was complete. Jinnah’s pronouncement that a citizen’s religion or creed would not be the business of the state was completely disregarded. 20 years earlier, the famous Munir-Kayani report had stated in no uncertain terms that a universal definition of a Muslim was not only impossible but undesirable. That wisdom was now set aside. Pakistan slid into a sectarian morass from which it is yet to recover.
General Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship did away with any pretense of the state’s impartiality towards faith. Countless draconian laws were promulgated to ‘Islamise’ the state, essentially circumscribing the right to unstinted religious freedom which is guaranteed under the Constitution.
Pakistan today has the severest blasphemy laws in the world, with capital punishment on the books. The non-Muslims in Pakistan are arguably in a worse position than second-class citizens. They live in trepidation of a violent majority, whose bigotry and disregard for even those fundamental human rights promised under the otherwise theocratic constitution of Pakistan finds the stamp of approval from the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Most notably, in one of its decisions in the case of Zaheeruddin v the State, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has all but abolished religious freedom by circumscribing any religious practice that might “outrage” the feelings of the Muslim majority. The tiny Ahmadi community of Pakistan, numbering a few hundred thousand now, are stopped from professing, propagating and practising their faith and are jailed for it. Even though the constitution explicitly promises this as a fundamental right, the courts have upheld the anti-Ahmadi and other blasphemy laws as constitutional. Draconian laws also embolden and fuel mobs against religious minorities and individuals falsely accused of blasphemy – leading to lynching in almost all cases.
There is nothing kind or gentle about Pakistan’s theocracy in 2022.