Pakistan and its existential angst

No country in the world suffers from more existential angst than Pakistan. Fifty eight years after its creation, instead of getting on with life, we are still trying to figure out the holy purpose behind its creation. From the left comes a debased form of secularism; from the right theocracy and mediaevalism dressed up in the garb of democracy. No surprises if amidst this confusion much violence is done to the personality of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But Jinnah, for all his avowed modernism, was no Mustafa Kemal. His spe-eches are peppered with references to Islam and the two-nation theory was rooted in religion.

There we have it: the very nature of our birth containing the seeds of controversy. Hindus and Muslims were not the only ones to blame. If ever an historical event of seminal importance was bungled, this was it, Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, hastening partition, and in so doing, inviting bloodletting and anarchy.

Against the backdrop of what was actually happening on the ground, Jinnah’s August 11 speech was thus less a declaration of policy, as liberals like to believe, as a cry of despair. The religious underpinnings almost guaranteed that the new state instead of moving towards a secular polity, as Jinnah wanted, would become a playground of religious hype. Still, whatever the genesis of Pakistan, bigger men at the helm could have made corrections to the country’s course and given it a new sense of direction. But after Jinnah came a succession of lesser men, utterly incapable of drawing a line between the religious and the political. Thus was born the contradiction which continues to plague Pakistan till today. Muslim separatism was a sound enough basis for fighting a rearguard action against the threat of Hindu domination. Overwhelmingly Muslim, the last thing that needed protection in Pakistan was Islam. The task that awaited its leadership and people was to break the shackles of the past, look ahead and build a modern, progressive state.

Not that General Zia was the first to exploit religion for dubious purposes. But he was so assiduous in harnessing the forces of religion to buttress his illegitimate rule that his became the ultimate con act, false piety shoved down the throats of a hapless people. He made the Objectives Resolution a part of the Constitution. For what purpose, it is hard to figure out. He enacted other ‘Islamic’ laws like the Hadood Ordinances which far from doing any good have only pushed Pakistan further down the road of bigotry and fanaticism.

Pakistan doesn’t need an Islamic reformation. Such an endeavour is fraught with risk. Power exercised arbitrarily without recourse to law or constitution. Fine. But why must we add to this muddle by injecting religion into politics and, in the process, instead of working for the glory of religion making a mockery of it?

The next step is a bit harder: the army curbing its ambitions and Musharraf putting his self-proclaimed popularity to the test of a genuine election. Just these steps and no more, and Pakistan’s existential angst comes to an end.

Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad