Thursday, January 17, 2013

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Pakistan is today a deeply divided society with two polar extremes of ignorance pounding at it day in and day out
There are some things that need to be stated clearly and unwaveringly. Tarek Fatah, the self-proclaimed mouthpiece of progressive and liberal Muslims of Canada (a claim that many progressives strongly dispute, it must be added), is one of the most intellectually confused people around in my opinion. More recently, he has taken to making unsubstantiated claims about Pakistan. Now my readers know very well that there is hardly anyone more critical of Pakistan’s multiple failures as a nation and a state than me. Those who want a reminder need to dig up my articles in this newspaper in the last two years. My criticism arises out of a genuine concern as a Pakistani worried about the future of this country and not in form of platitudes of self-importance that Mr Fatah and company have routinely inflicted upon their readers.

Genuine criticism should never be confused with hyperbole and flights of fantasy. Consider Mr Fatah’s recent article in the Toronto Sun provocatively titled “Pakistan: The demon the west created” in which he writes that the reason why partition happened was because Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru did not agree to keeping British bases in India while Jinnah was amenable to the idea. Hogwash! Not only is there nothing in the transfer of power papers to this effect but the actual fact was that India housed not only the British bases, but the high command of the British forces in Asia was based out of Delhi in those early years of independence. Nor was Jinnah “amenable” to the idea of British bases in Pakistan — at least not any more than Gandhi and Nehru were. Long before Gandhi (who rose to fame because of his efforts as a recruiter for the British Army during World War I) and Nehru donned the anti-imperialist attire, Jinnah was the foremost opponent of British imperial push in Asia and elsewhere. Unlike Gandhi, Jinnah’s conditions for local recruitment included the right of Indians to become officers and not just cannon fodder, for which Gandhi was setting them up.

As for partition of India, Mr Fatah’s pronouncements on the issue seem to be rather outmoded and outdated in terms of where historians have come in their understanding of that seminal event in post-colonial South Asian history. Most of the historical research since the transfer of power papers that came out three decades ago seems to suggest that partition happened not so much out of the intransigence of one man i.e. Jinnah as it did because the Congress party under Gandhi and Nehru had made up its mind to get rid of the Muslim majority provinces on the basis of the logic of cut the head to get rid of the headache. Instead of agreeing to the elegant three-tier federation that was devised to keep India united, the Congress party bosses, including Nehru and Gandhi, decided that a smaller more manageable Muslim population was in India’s best interest. Hence, they let go of the Muslim majority provinces, which were willing to come in the federation provided that they had a certain degree of provincial autonomy with residuary powers resting with the provinces (as opposed to the centre where Gandhi and Nehru wanted them). Was it so horrible an idea? The residuary of legislation in United States of America and Australia lie with the constituent units i.e. states, provinces, territories etc.

The reason why partition of India happened was because Nehru and Gandhi combined did not have the foresight, wisdom or statesmanship that Pierre Trudeau displayed in coming to an understanding with Rene Levesque on the Quebec question in Canada. Trudeau did not consider Quebec a headache. He was politically balanced enough to realise the legitimacy of Quebecois demands and to work to meet these demands to the mutual satisfaction of both parties concerned. Canada today is a mighty federation because it accommodated the Quebec demands, and it must be pointed out that the demands of the Quebecois are much more conspicuously separatist in nature than what the Muslim majority provinces were asking in the 1940s in India.

Pakistan is today a deeply divided society with two polar extremes of ignorance pounding at it day in and day out. On the one hand, we have ignorant fanatics and mullahs who want to kill off minorities, even if they are minors and have Down syndrome. On the other extreme, we have people who have joined the global bandwagon of Pakistan-must-be-destroyed-at-all-costs crusaders. Both feed on each other and in the process, Pakistan is the first casualty. Pakistan can no longer afford not to have an alternative narrative on its own history. We cannot allow mediocre minds wreak havoc from all sides and positions on the spectrum. The time for a reasoned and factual discourse on our history is now, before extremist mindsets condemn us permanently to the dustbin of future history.

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at hhtp:// and his twitter handle is @therealylh

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