Knowing Pakistan- A dialogue with Yasser Latif Hamdani

Yasser Latif Hamdani (“YLH”) is a lawyer and an author based in Lahore, Pakistan. He is a regular columnist for Daily Times and is also the author of the upcoming book “Jinnah; Myth and Reality”. He co-edits pakteahouse.net, a leading blogzine in Pakistan and also blogs about legal issues on globallegalforum.blogspot.com.

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What is your idea of Pakistan as lay man? And as a Member of the Bar and a Law Man?

YLH : I have tried but I cannot distinguish between my idea of Pakistan as a layman and as a member of the bar. As I understand it the idea of Pakistan arose out and as a result of the following:

  • The inability of British Indians to evolve a common nationality and this itself has three factors:  a. The insecurity of Muslims – having taken to modern education and British rule much later than the Hindu Majority (a gap of 80 years almost b/w Ram Mohan Roy and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan) b. The unwillingness of the Hindu majority to meet the Muslims half way and allay their fears and c. the role of the British rulers i.e. making Hindu-Muslim settlement a sine qua non and a condition precedent for responsible government in British India.
  • The introduction of separate electorates for Muslims in 1909 (which was – it must be emphasized- opposed by Jinnah) which created a fissiparous tendency.
  • Congress Party’s insistence that it spoke for all India and not just those Indians who supported it.
  • Gandhi’s support for the Khilafat Movement which introduced a permanent religious angle (of the Mullahs) and made religious identities non-negotiable destroying the top down Indian nationalist unity constructed painfully through the Lucknow Pact of 1916.
  • Congress’ unwillingness to accept the Delhi Muslim proposals in 1928-1929 which would have undone the separate electorates. Jinnah had convinced almost all of the Muslim opinion makers to endorse joint electorates in return for reserved representation and constitutional reforms in Sindh and NWFP (KP).
  • The Punjab Muslim thesis at the roundtable conference i.e. represented by the British backed Fazli Hussain and the Unionist Muslims who wanted a watered down Indian federation as opposed to Jinnah’s faction of the Muslim League which wanted a workable federation and Congress which wanted a strong central government.
  • The British insistence at the roundtable conference that the Princely states could negotiate their status vis a vis the Indian federation which was unacceptable to the Indian provinces.
  • And finally in 1937-1938 the inability of the Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru to concede even an inch to the Muslims of the Hindu majority provinces.

All of the above represent distinct forks in the road with one way always leading to the elusive Hindu-Muslim unity to which both Gandhi and Jinnah were ideologically committed all through out. Had a different route been taken by those concerned India may well have remained united and the idea of Pakistan would not have become necessary.

The Two Nation Theory was a consociationalist counter-poise and did not say at any time that Hindus and Muslims could not live together.  Instead it said that Hindus and Muslims being two nations had to formulate a constitution for the governance of their common motherland. The idea of a Muslim nation was a Muslim nation within India. The Lahore Resolution was a bargaining counter. Jinnah wanted a scheme or an idea that was strong enough to rope in the Muslim majority provinces which had been dominated by the local politicians so that he could then negotiate with the Congress at the center. His calculations included a belief that the Congress Party would rather concede safeguards at the center than agree to a division of India. This was a miscalculation. The British were in a hurry to leave and the Congress was in a hurry to get its strong center which it did but after division of India and mutilation of Punjab and Bengal (which again it must be stated was opposed by Jinnah till the very end).

So then what is the central idea of Pakistan? It is certainly not to create an Islamic state as Pakistanis now seem to believe. That was ruled out by Jinnah on no less than 50 occasions. Jinnah’s consistent view throughout was of a democracy where sovereignty would rest with the people regardless of their identity.  The only viable idea, vision and concept of Pakistan is one that Jinnah expressed on 21 May 1947 and 11 August 1947 and on several other occasions – 30 that I have counted. The creation of a new nation state was an accident of history, like all other nation states. However once it was created, it was to be organized on what one would in modern parlance call “secular democracy”. Instead Pakistan’s early leaders – after Jinnah’s demise- came up with the chimerical Objectives Resolution which sought to balance the modern nation state with an Islamic ideological ethos, prompting Jawaharlal Nehru to rightly comment that it was medievalism. The way the Objectives Resolution was passed by the Pakistani Constituent Assembly was in complete and total negation of the fundamental principle that Jinnah had been fighting for i.e. a permanent majority should not oppress a permanent minority. The Objectives Resolution was passed with all Muslim members minus one voting for it and all Non-Muslim members voting against it.  Pakistan having arisen out of a minority’s demand was now turning around and oppressing its own minorities. From then on this has been a slippery slope. The final nail in the coffin of the idea of Pakistan came when Ahmadis – who were amongst the leading patriots of this country- were excommunicated, ostracized and condemned by the very state that they had so vociferously supported.

The Idea of Muslim Nation within India was always contemplated under one single premise of “Separate Electorates for Muslims”. Don’t you think this would have been more disastrous? We would have had mini-pakistan in every Government Department, instead of a more homogenized country as we see today in India, which has proved to the world as a successful Secular Country, inspite of many communal clashes within the Country?

YLH : The important thing is that this Muslim nation in India did not come about over night. There were many occasions that Jinnah and the ML offered Joint Electorates to the Congress Party provided certain safeguards were conceded to Muslims and other minorities.  Personally I don’t think an India which was willing to let other communities grow and evolve voluntarily towards an Indian identity would have been a disaster. Nor do I think it would have meant a division in every government department.

In any event it does not matter what I think. The fact of the matter is that Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress preferred a strong centralized government with formal equality over an adequately federated India with residual powers resting in the province. So if making a homogenous India meant sacrificing Muslim majority areas, Indians should own up to it.  Why continuously demonise the creation of Pakistan when partition was the choice made by the Congress quite willingly? That Muslim majority provinces sought less control from an all India center was a fact but then the inability or unwillingness by the Congress to deal with Muslim majority provinces on mutually acceptable terms should be taken as a Congress Policy. The fiction of “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam alone” should be rested once and for all. Pakistan was the consequence of an inability of all Indians, Muslims and Hindus, to first evolve a common nationality and then having failed to do that to evolve a constitution that was acceptable to the diverse people(s) of India.

Assuming that Jinnah contemplated for a Secular Pakistan, then what was the need for the Direct Action Day in 1946?

YLH : Of course this begs the question as to what you think “direct action” means. In fact I do not understand the relevance of the question. Direct Action universally means civil disobedience. Gandhi and Nehru used the terms Direct Action for civil disobedience. Dr. King used direct action to describe his movement. In fact a few months before the direct action undertaken by Muslim League, Nehru had declared that Muslim League was not progressive enough to launch “direct action”. Of course the events in Calcutta tainted the Muslim League badly. There are however several facts that Indian readers may want to consider. On 14 August 1946, Jinnah appealed to all Muslim League workers to remain peaceful and non-violent. For the most part all over India from Peshawar to Bombay to Calicut the Direct Action Day was a peaceful hartal.  Calcutta was the notable exception. But there too the record shows that appreciably more Muslims died than Hindus, according to all sources. So the question really has little to do with the issue of whether Pakistan was contemplated as a secular state or an Islamic state. In fact it is entirely divorced from the issue.  What happened in Calcutta was a tragedy – a tragedy and a dilemma of a constitutional politician forced into resorting to unconstitutional means and then having his strategy being blown to bits by the unthinking mob.

What were the reasons for launching direct action at that stage? In May-June 1946, Jinnah had taken an enormous risk by accepting an Indian federation in form of the Cabinet Mission Plan. For this – for the first time – the formidable “Quaid-e-Azam” had been roundly criticized by Muslims all over India. Jinnah had assured them that Cabinet Mission Plan was the only way and that groupings at the middle tier would guarantee the essence of Pakistan.  On July 9, Jawaharlal Nehru declared that Congress was going into the constituent assembly unfettered by the groupings clause of the proposed federation.  Despite this clear reversal of the scheme, the British were still going to offer Congress interim government. This would mean a death knell for the League and the Muslim point of view. Therefore the civil disobedience was the only course of action left.

Now I know much is made by unthinking historians of how violence in Calcutta made Pakistan inevitable. This is clearly wrong. On the contrary the violence in Calcutta undermined most of all the Muslim League. Not only did the cross communal Muslim League ministry come under stress but at the center Muslim League was forced to enter into the interim government and cooperate with the Congress.

Let us leave the last word though to Jinnah’s critics. Bombay’s Blitz, a left-leaning pro-Nehru run by Russi Karanjia in 1946, wrote in its issue after the Direct Action Day:

“The worst enemies of the Muslim League cannot help envying the leadership of Mr Jinnah…cataclysmic transformation of the League from the reactionary racket of the Muslim Nawabs, Noons, and Knights into a revolutionary mass organisation dedicated, by word if not be deed, to an anti-Imperialist struggle, compels us to express the sneaking national wish that a diplomat and strategist of Jinnah’s proven calibre were at the helm of the Indian National Congress. There is no denying the fact that by his latest master-stroke of diplomacy, Jinnah has outbid, outwitted and outmanoeuvred the British and Congress alike and confounded the common national indictment that the Muslim League is a parasite of British Imperialism.”

So clearly the Direct Action Day cannot be confused with any theocratic ambitions of which there were none.

What does the idea of India stand for a Pakistani citizen?

YLH : India is a paradox for the Pakistani citizen.  India is the enemy and yet Indian films and film actors and music generally are the no. 1 source of entertainment in the country. Every single person I know in this country is an authority on Indian cinema. Therefore the “enemy” part to me looks concocted, reinforced. What is certain is that our relationship on a very psychological level is not your normal relationship between two neighbours so closely connected. In fact is a relationship of strong love and hate that an average Pakistani feels at the same time towards India and Indians. I have met many young Pakistani boys who dress and act like Shah Rukh Khan but are also passionately anti-Indian. Believe it or not, a lower middle class Pakistani youth sees both Hrithik Roshan and Hafiz Saeed as his heroes.   However in recent times this confusion seems to be resolved. India has taken somewhat of a back seat for Pakistanis as enemy no.1 is now increasingly the United States of America. The irony is even there the most rabid anti-American protesters are likely to be standing in long queues for US visas. Therefore I believe it is not an average Pakistani’s idea of India or even US for that matter but an average Pakistani’s idea of Pakistan that defines a Pakistani’s attitude towards India (or the US for that matter). A Pakistan that is at peace with itself will be at peace with its neighbours and the world at large.

With peace Pakistan and India will only reinforce their commonalities and come together in close friendship or even alliance or treaty relations as sovereign countries as is the case in Europe.  In the coming decades, the South Asianess will be underscored. What Indians need to do is push for a deeper relationship with Pakistan. This is the only thing that will discredit Hafiz Saeeds and the Lashkars.

Can you define or describe an average Pakistani citizen? Their nature and philosophy of life?

YLH : An average citizen of Pakistan is like any other citizen of any other country, with the added baggage of illiteracy. Unfortunately he or she has been misled, misruled and taken into maze by unthinking civil and military bureaucrats and the deep state that developed in Pakistan in the late 1950s. Weak politicians made too many concessions early on to allow democracy – true democracy- to flourish in Pakistan. Of course this has its roots in the way the British chose to rule this part of the subcontinent. Unlike say Bombay or Calcutta or Madras, the people of Punjab, KP, Sindh and Balochistan were ruled much more directly through the Deputy Commissioner, the Tehsildar and what not. Punjab was obviously the arsenal of the Royal Indian Army – its sons the cannon fodder for British wars abroad. Meanwhile Pathans and the Baloch were seen as uncivilized warrior tribes and for them the British devised the terrible Frontier Crimes Regulation which ironically still remains in force in some areas of Pakistan.  As for the philosophy of life – the Punjabi is open hearted, hospitable but narrow minded and given to religious rhetoric. The Pathan is too rigid in his own traditions which are a curious mix of tribalism and Islam. I do not know enough about the Baloch to comment authoritatively but my feeling is that there the tribal Sardars along with the Pakistani state has made a hash of things. Sindhis are a progressive lot over all and is the most tolerant of Pakistanis which is why it has the largest population of Non-Muslims in Pakistan. Mohajirs who moved from India to Pakistan were and still are a completely and truly middle class community which is why their stances increasingly have become more progressive and secular. However since the Punjabi is in the majority, and I am speaking as one, we see the religious baggage that the Punjabi carries being expressed in terms of constitution and laws. Today – just like a 100 years ago- the Punjabi Muslim stands obstinately in the way of genuine responsible government and progress. However one hopes that as the Punjabi Muslim middle class grows  (and it is growing more rapidly since 1947 than any other group) we are likely to see some of this thinking reversed.

Does average Pakistani citizen distinguish between Jinnah’s Pakistan and Maududi’s Pakistan?

YLH : The average citizen of Pakistan has no clue about Jinnah or Maududi.  Jinnah it knows only on currency and in government buildings through a caricature where by Jinnah is presented as an eminent distant Islamic leader by visible representation in form of a sky blue Sherwani and Karakul Cap.  Things which are common knowledge to those who have read a bit about Jinnah i.e. his role as a legislator in Indian central legislature, his Khoja Shia faith, his secular liberal ethos, his general disregard for Islamic dietary habits etc are not commonly known to the common man. The average Pakistani citizen is incapable of distinguishing between these two concepts because by and large no one has defined these concepts for the average Pakistani citizen.

Will democracy really suit Pakistan as a political option, as many Scholars Advocate that Democracy is against the tenets of Islam? Your Comments.

YLH : I think by and large Pakistanis have accepted electoral democracy as a principle. This is obviously a huge improvement.  I don’t think the scholars who advocate that democracy is against the tenets of Islam have much traction. Obviously democracy suits Pakistanis as much as it suits anyone else in the world. Of course such democracy has to be tailor made i.e. Pakistani democracy has to recognize that despite decades of propaganda Pakistan is a multicultural, multireligious, plural state. In my view a consociational democracy is best suited to Pakistan where minority groups are given representation beyond their numbers so that balance can be achieved in Pakistani society. However democracy is a must for Pakistan to survive. There is no consensus on what Islamic tenets are. Therefore a religiously neutral state is key and such a religiously neutral state can only evolve out of repeated cycles of democracy as in India.

What is more desirable in Pakistan, Rule of Law or Rule of Sharia?

YLH : Rule of law. Who defines Sharia? What is Sharia? Those who want the “rule of sharia” are living in a fools’ paradise. Leave matters of God to individual citizen. Let the state be run on man made principles. Of course this is not at this time accepted by many Pakistanis but with enough cycles of democracy common sense i.e. each Muslim’s sharia is his own interpretation will sink in.

In India, we have huge debates and discussions about Uniform Civil Code and reform in Muslim Personal Law? Do you think any such necessity in Pakistan?

YLH : Pakistanis have not come to a point where such debate has become necessary. My own position is that people should have a choice of choosing either religious personal law or choosing a secular personal law. However I have not spent much time thinking about this. What I do know is that certain basic fundamental constitutional rights should not be overruled by particular personal laws.  For example I view the Congress Party’s abject surrender to Deoband on the Shah Bano issue has created an unfortunate situation where now despite India’s secular status, Muslims place rule of sharia above rule of law.  Btw do your readers know that Shah Bano’s lawyer – Daniyal Latifi- was also the author of Punjab Muslim League’s manifesto in 1945?  Congress’ enduring alliance with the ulema of Deoband which dates back to the Khilafat Movement has been a continuing disaster for all progressives in the Muslim community.

Holy Quraan talks a lot about Women’s right, but very less is seen in actual practice, what is your opinion (as a political and social observer) about such failure to follow the basic tenets of religion?

YLH : Does it? I wouldn’t know. How do you then explain the Quranic injunction of two women witnesses in financial matters being equal to one Muslim man? While there is no question that Islam gave women inheritance rights and a guaranteed social status that was unprecedented in Arabia. Is that enough for modern society? I do not know the answer to that question. All I know is that if something in religion seconds fundamental human rights, it should be enlisted but if something overrules fundamental human rights, it should be discarded.

Your opinion and comments about the Minority Rights in Pakistan? Attack on Hindu temples has prompted blasphemy cases in Pakistan? A rare development for minorities. Comments?

YLH : So long as the Constitution seeks to reinforce the majoritarianism of the Muslim community, there are going to be no minority rights. Pakistanis are yet to evolve a just, fair and equitable constitution which not only in words but also in spirit provides equal rights to minorities formally and substantially. I am very interested in seeing what becomes of the 295-A cases against Muslim miscreants for burning a Hindu temple in Karachi. Unfortunately I do not think much will come out of it, but yes it is a rare positive development as I wrote about it in my recent article in the Daily Times.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh Chowk in Lahore and establishing museum at National College, Lahore on 105th birth anniversary of martyr, is it because of the political will or an attempt to appease Minority? Are such developments accepted without hesitance by a lay man?

YLH : Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s life and work is the common heritage of Pakistan and India. He was a son of the soil and a political prisoner. I am sure you have read Jinnah’s famous speech on Bhagat Singh issue where he attacked the British government for its mistreatment of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues.  I think the renaming of Shadman Chowk as Shaheed Bhagat Singh Chowk is an important ideological corrective.  I do not think it is an attempt to appease a minority or because of political will. The Nawaz League government in Punjab is notorious for its anti-minority stances and has little to gain from appeasing the minorities.  Credit must be given where it is due- the renaming is entirely due to the personal efforts of a great social activist of Lahore Diep Saeeda, an ideological devotee of Gandhi and Mother Teresa, who has steadfastly stood for this cause amongst others.  She is a selfless advocate of the rights of minorities as well as a champion of progressive causes in Pakistan. Her work for India Pakistan peace process is also second to none.  To the best of my information there has been no resistance by anyone to this issue as yet.

How far is the Kashmir Question Relevant for Pakistani politics?

YLH : It is not relevant to politics in terms of electoral politics and as a popular slogan. But Kashmir Question is very relevant to the Pakistan Army which wants the Question to remain and therefore for it to have leverage in maintaining the supremacy of the National Security State in Pakistan at the expense of Pakistani people.

Is Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir justified? Yours comments as citizen of Pakistan (leaving aside the political bias which we are bound to carry considering our integrity towards our own Motherland).

YLH : If by Pakistan’s claim you mean the legal claim, then yes Pakistan’s claim is as justified as India’s claim over Junagadh or Hyderabad.  However there is a growing realization that we cannot let the rest of the country be destroyed in this mad pursuit of what we consider to be our legal and legitimate claim. A goodo lawyer ought to advise his client on the chances of a legal claim actually being enforced. If Pakistan were my client, I would say – yes you have a valid claim but there is no way in hell it is going to be enforced – so cut your losses and look after what you’ve got.

Thank you very much for this honest, precise and apt dialogue on Pakistan with us.

2 comments

  1. It's 95% the YLH I came to know all these years. But the 5% difference (in terms of transparency) is commendable and should be recognised.

    He is more honest about the 'Great calcutta killings' than before, even if marginally.

    Thanks YLH, from the bottom of my heart.

    Khuda Hafiz

  2. Malaydeb,

    Sir I feel that you have a sense of humour. My views on Direct Action Day have consistently remained the same for a decade or so. Perhaps you can cite something from my writings that contradicts what I say here.

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