Left Writing Pakistan…

25 02 2007

The following are a random collection of posts relating to Pakistan from different debates I have been part of on Orkut in the past few months.


Akhand Bharat Anyone?


Partition has happened and rather than keep arguing about whether it was good or bad, the point is to start living as good neighbours.

Do improving relations between Pakistan and India pave the way for an eventual merger / union / confederation? This again I would consign to the dustbin alongwith all the other questions like “agar partition nahin hota to kya hota…”. These questions are irrelevant and waste our energies.

Irrespective of whether improving relations and deeper people to people contacts between the citizens of these two (three) countries leads to anything else, we need better relations just for sanity and survival.

No nation is immutable; they all keep forming, decaying, re-forming continuously, much to the dismay of the nationalists. And this forming, re-forming, etc is both ideological/political as well as territorial/spacial. This process cannot be stopped and therefore neither is India, nor Pakistan, nor for that matter, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan or any other country and its boundary permanent. How, why and where they change are difficult to predict.

Both the merger / confederation of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka etc is as much possible in this century as is their splintering into smaller parts, as is the possbility of these smaller parts unifying into entirely different and totally new “eternal nations”.




Can someone explain to me why drinking alcohol, eating pork or marrying a parsi woman a bad thing?

I enjoy the occasional beers, rums, whiskey (ah! a good single malt) or whatever spirit I have.

I really look forward to having a well fried strip of bacon or a well made ham sandwich.

And the few parsi women I have known are wonderful.

So, if anything, washing down one’s ham sandwich with a bit of chilled beer while romancing one’s (parsi) wife, really makes Jinnah so much more human (as distinct from a prophet or devil).

As for the secular [speech] part, its irrelevant, as far as I am concerned. His personal ambitions and lack of concern for consequences of his actions was the primary cause for one of the most horrific genocides in the history of the Indian sub-continent; a genocide which did not end in 1947 but continues in Kashmir, Gujrat, Ayodhya, Dhaka, Bombay, Balochistan, … the list is without a full stop.

All else is irrelevant.


I agree that those who believe in the teachings of the Quran would not consider drinking alcohol, eating pork or marrying a woman not of the book, good things….

As for whether Jinnah actually did these or not is an endless squabble which too I shall skirt for the present.

But I would like to pick an argument over the last sentence of Amir’s post…

Blaming Jinnah for the partition and its consequences is not akin to blaming “god” for all the genocides of humanity.

What one is arguing is that it was a combination of (i) perceived threat to the identity and physical safety of Muslims in a independent Hindu majority India; (ii) personal ambitions to become the prime minister of independent India; and (iii) an unwillingness or inability to think through the consequences of partition for contemporary and future generations, which propelled Jinnah to give leadership to the demand for partition of the British India Raj and creation of Pakistan.

I don’t accept the Great Man in History version of events. Therefore, I would be the first to accept that there was a material basis for the demand for partition among the Muslims of North India, driven mainly by point (i) above. But it is also important to note that this fear was deliberately fanned by Jinnah and the Muslim League to drive their personal ambitions, unhindered by any thought to its consequences.

All other actors of that great soap opera (transfer of power) were implicated in the partition, but Jinnah and his ML were the prime movers and will have to bear primary responsibility for its consequences. They were not God (nor the devil; just over-ambitious politicians) but they did deliberately fan the flames of Hindu-Muslim antagonism and blocked attempts at re-conciliation (as did many Hindu politicians).

Therefore, I said that it is irrelevant whether Jinnah was secular or not. His actions have been the primary cause for the deep roots Hindu-Muslim conflicts have taken in this sub-continent.


On Pakistan’s Identity


I do not think that Pakistan has a historic identity in the sense that most nations do.

In my opinion, all nations are “artificial”, imagined communities which developed / were developed over the past few centuries. But nations, even though artificial, are grounded in historical processes, social formations, movements, geography, language and common interests of its members, etc etc.

But in the case of Pakistan, this “artificiality” seems to me to be the defining feature without the other features.

Let us compare with India. While present day India (as a professed nation~state) was born through and in opposition to colonialism, it draws on a few millennia of civilisational legacy, on a shared geography and common cultural and social features. These latter, in the context of a common opposition to colonialism, provided the template for building the modern Indian nation.
This building of a modern nation in India was not an automatic process under colonialism. Far from it, it was a hugely contested and intensely conflictual political process whereby not only was a pan-Indian identity created, but also distinct linguistic, religious and linguistic identities. While the Indian identity has generally received primacy over these other competing identities, this is not a resolved issue, as we all know!

The dominant idea of India (dominant not merely in terms of State power, but also in popular acceptance) remains one of a liberal, inclusive, religiously non-partisan, welfare Nation~State. It is under serious challenge from the Hindu right which views India in starkly different terms, it is also under challenge from various competing nationalisms which reject its offer of inclusiveness.

It is also under challenge from its own failure to live up to its promises.

Despite all these, India remains grounded in both history and the present.

Unfortunately, with Pakistan that has not been the case and this “artificiality” which I mentioned has only accentuated with the passage of time.

Pakistan has no history of nation building prior to the elections of 1937. When I say no history, I mean none, zilch, zero!

Those elections, with the inability of the Muslim elites of the Gangetic plains to get enough representation, were the catalyst for the idea of Pakistan.

Even after that, Pakistan remained a negotiating counter for the Muslim elites in their negotiation for political space with the British, the conglomeration of other elites represented by the Congress and also the different parties of local interests.

My sense, from what little I have read of that period, is that even in the immediate post WWII period, Pakistan remained a negotiating counter for more powers and priviledges by the Muslim elites of the Gangetic plains. Less than a year before Independence / Partition, Jinnah and Nehru were giving serious thought to the proposal to make the former Prime Minister of India to stave off partition of the country. Bona-fide nations do not do that…

The complaint of the Muslim League was that the promise of the Indian Nation of being liberal, inclusive and religiously non-partisan was not real enough, that there were not enough check and balances for these promises. They were using the threat of partition and Pakistan to negotiate. No more and no less, either.

The problem is that the Muslim League leadership was, to use that quaint English metaphor, “foist with its own petard”. When a negotiating counter, which is used as a proxy for something else, becomes reality, it usually leads to chaos.

It was precisely because Pakistan was not a bona-fide nation that even the top leadership of that country did not make a clean break from India. They retained property, family, other ties with India because they themselves were not clear about what this new “nation” was supposed to be.

And suddenly when the new Nation was foist on them, they had to scamper to build a mythology of the nation from scratch, but a mythology which remained true to the hatred and bloodshed of partition…

Pakistan is an autonomous State (as autonomous as States dependent on imperialism can be) but it is not a nation. But Pakistan claims that it is primarily a Nation.

The main proponents of the Pakistan nation (historically) are not from any of the geographies of Pakistan, they belong to the Ganges plains. Those, whose areas formed Pakistan, did not vote for Pakistan till the very end; they voted for their local parties which were opposed to the Muslim League or for the Congress.

It is this artificiality which has never been overcome and has needed the glue of political Islam and the sledgehammer of military rule to keep it going.

Pakistan cannot have a historical identity because it does not have a bonafide history of the coming together of the nation.

Is Pakistan a refuge for the subcontinent’s Muslims? Then why are more Muslims in India; why did Bangladesh seperate, why did lakhs of Muslim families like mine consciously reject Pakistan and not migrate in 1947?

Is Pakistan a representation of the true Islamic State? Is Pakistan a Nation~State of people living in the North West of the sub-continent?

None of answers to these questions can provide Pakistan with a historically grounded identity.

But six decades of living independently has now produced a generation which is not grounded in the shared history of India and therefore largely alientated from that identity, but it also does not have a coherent identity of its own. This seems to be the primary reason why radical Islam finds so many adherents in the land of the pure.

But Pakistan has done damage than to merely its own citizens. It has kept the pernicious “two nation theory” alive. One nation is India and we, both believers and critics of India, can agree with the definition of India. Will nation number two stand up please!

This “two nation theory” has stigmatized 140 million Indian Muslims; it has provided the sustenance to Hindutava politics and kept the fires of communalism burning in India too.



A few weeks, and much digression, later the debate revived with this… 



Here is a little snapshot from our tumultous history asking questions about the identity of Pakistan?

… Another occupant of the train, Basheer Ahmed, was saved due to a last-minute decision to sit in another coach. Ahmed, 73, who was separated from his family during Partition and converted to Islam in Pakistan, comes to India every year to meet his Brahmin brother, Subhash Sharma.

The answer to why Subhash Sharma’s brother had to beome Basheer Ahmed to survive in Pakistan is, for the main part, also the answer to Pakistan’s historic identity.

The main news item is a “human story” about the dead and the survivors of the Samjhauta Express blast/fire and can be seen here http://tinyurl.com/383n9q
To this I was asked…
Are you speaking about the identity of Muslims (converts) in the subcontinent or are you talking about the identity of Pakistan? Please be a bit more explicit.

I am not speaking about the identity of those in the sub-continent who have converted to Islam and become Muslims. I am referring to a specific sub-set within that: of Hindus (and Sikhs) who remained in the area known as Pakistan on 14 August, 1947 and who had two options — either become Muslim or be killed/expelled. My example refers to the attempt to carve out a monolithic identity for Pakistan premised on Islam/Muslim-ness which left no space for any other identity to survive.

What is terrifying for me is this single-mindedness, this insistence that there is very little space for anybody outside Islam and Muslim. If you notice, this is the exact mirror of the Hindu Nationalist slogan in India: “Mussalman, jao kabrastan ya Pakistan”. Despite this, Muslims in India were never forced to leave their religion and way of life for permission to live.

As an aside, I was reading this column by Saeed Naqvi in Outlook recently, where says that his brother, Shanney Naqvi’s comment on Pakistan, after a visit to meet relatives and friends was, “Its a nice place, but there are too many Muslims there!”

Read that article http://tinyurl.com/232eg3 and get a sense of what me and many others from a Muslim background who live in India feel. It is a little too effusive for my liking but the questions remain…

Where are the descendants of Bhagat Singh and Lala Lajpat Rai in Lahore? Why did Justice Sachar, who headed the recent committee appointed by the Indian Prime Minister to look into the conditions of Muslims, have to leave his adolescence in Lahore, where his father was a judge, and come to India? Furthermore, why did Justice Sachar not carry any grudge against the sub-continent’s Muslims even though he and his family were displaced?

And then to think why Mr. Sharma had to become Bashir Ahmed to survive in Pakistan?

This comment of mine led to a further question..

Despite this, Muslims in India were never forced to leave their religion and way of life for permission to live.

That’s a pretty big conclusion you draw there no Aniket?

Are you implying that there was some sort of mass conversion on an official level that did not happen in the case of India? And that the case of Basheer Ahmed is unmirrored in the case of India?

Or have I misunderstood you somewhere?

To which my reply was…

That’s a pretty big conclusion you draw there no Aniket?

No. Its not a “big” conclusion. Its the reality.

Are you implying that there was some sort of mass conversion on an official level that did not happen in the case of India? And that the case of Basheer Ahmed is unmirrored in the case of India?

I am not implying that there was mass conversion, official or not, in Pakistan. The relatively few Hindus and Sikhs who decided to stay back in the tumultous months of July, August, September 1947 in the areas which became West Pakistan were either killed or had to convert to Islam to live on.

(It was a different story with the Dalits in what became Pakistan, large numbers of whom were not allowed to go to India, were “retained” and most of whom converted to Christianity. Their occupations remained the same.)

That never happened in India. Yes, there were killings of Muslims in India in 1947. The brutality too was matched on both sides of the new border. But, and this is a significant but, there was no ethnic cleansing of Muslims anywhere in India outside of Punjab (even where Malerkotla remained an oasis). Nor were Muslims deprived of their property en masse.

Precisely why today you find 140 million Muslims in India.

I am no apologist for the Indian State (or for most Indian political parties) but it is a matter of historical record that India’s tryst with both democracy and secularism has been quite successful, despite all its shortcomings. Specially when you compare it with other post colonial States and specially with its neighbourhood.

And then another question…

just wondering…was there any ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims anywhere in Pakistan outside of Punjab? were non-Muslims deprived of their property en masse?

My answer to this…

Punjab, both sides (with the exception of Malerkotla), had the most thorough ethnic cleansing at Partition. (This includes the State of Haryana in present day India; the State where Panipat is located where the recent Samjhauta Express tragedy occured. Interestingly, Panipat still has two Muslim graveyards but almost no Muslims!)

This process was almost as thorough in the NWFP and Balochistan. Sindh was the only part of West Pakistan where some stray Hindus remained, primarily around Karachi and as agricultural bonded labour (Haaris) in rural Sindh.

But it appears to me that these Hindu populations of Sindh are similar in their caste/occupation profile as the Dalits in Pakistan Punjab who stayed back. In Punjab they were “encouraged” to convert to Christianity, while they continued their “Hindu” practices in Sindh. (which seems to butress my point regarding the throughness of the Hindu/Sikh cleansing in Pak-Punj)

The reason I hazard this hypothesis of the Christians of Punjab and the Hindus of Sindh being essentially the same groups who remained in Pakistan at Partition, is the nature of their occupational profile and social status — agricultural labour and “menial” serives. In fact, if you notice the names of many of the Hindus of present day Pakistan, they sound so very different from the regular middle class upper caste Hindu names of North India, but similar to the names which people in the families of jamadars, maidservants and rickshawpullers in India have even today….

There was no question of depriving the Hindus who remained in Pakistan, primarily agricultural bonded labour and “menial” service providers, of their property. They had none!

Those who had property, and decided to retain one family member in what became Pakistan to keep control over their property, had all to either convert to Islam or leave/be killed.

This was not the case in East Pakistan, which subsequently became Bangladesh. While many Hindus did leave for West Bengal and Calcutta, thus providing the initial base to the Communist Party there and footballers to East Bengal FC, many millions also stayed back. Which is why, despite the last two decades of unfortunate Islamisation there, Bangladesh still looked “Hindu” to Tayyba — because a few million Hindus still live there.

But then, I am not really well informed about the social reality of Pakistan and would welcome correction and education…





One response

15 06 2007


This is a link to a conversation among Pakistanis about what would happen if Pakistan became secular.I thought this illuminated a few of the points Aniket mentioned.

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