Where is Jinnah’s Pakistan?

Nasir Saeed

Recently we celebrated the 76th Pakistan Day with traditional zeal and pledges to strengthen the country by eliminating terrorism and striving for greater political stability and sustainable economic growth. Every year this day is marked on March 23 to commemorate the 1940 Lahore Resolution — the first step taken towards creating Pakistan. It culminated in August 1947, and has famously come to be known as the Pakistan resolution — a landmark document in Pakistan’s history. With regard to minorities, the resolution refers to the “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards for religious minorities,” and the “protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.”
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However, this is hardly spoken about, despite there being a great need to discuss the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11 speech more frequently if we are sincerely interested in transforming our country into Jinnah’s Pakistan. Minorities, and particularly the Christian leadership, were also invited to participate on that historic day in 1940. When Pakistan’s independence was announced under the scheme that those areas where Muslims were in the majority would constitute Pakistan, Christian leadership appeared before the boundary commission and made a request to count them with Muslims, as Christians had a majority in several divisions. We all know that the inclusion of Punjab could only be possible because of Christian politicians but, unfortunately, all these facts have been intentionally hidden for years by the establishment and politicians to promote their own agenda. We are paying a heavy price for that and the attack on Easter Sunday in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park Lahore is the latest instance. Certain policies and particular articles were introduced in the constitution, which made minorities class citizens of the country, completely contrary to the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan.

Instead of recognising minorities’ role in the making of Pakistan, and considering them equal citizens, it was suggested that non-Muslims had to enter into a covenant with the Islamic state. Sadly, because of Quaid-e-Azam’s untimely death, we lost his vision. The factions and groups who opposed the idea of Pakistan and Jinnah, began emphasising their ideas of Islam, which led to extremism, division in society and hatred against minorities. Politicians and bureaucrats intentionally ignored minorities to avoid confrontation with religious extremists, and until today we are reluctant to consider minorities equal citizens of Pakistan. Many Muslims still believe that non-Muslims are dhimmi, while a few consider them mohaideen (non-Muslims who have entered into contract with an Islamic government. But according to the founder of Pakistan, they are not dhimmi or mohaideen, but first, second and lastly are equal citizens of Pakistan. Pakistan was achieved as a result of democratic struggle.

For the last several decades there has been a steady rise in radicalisation and hatred against minorities. Those who sporadically raise their voices or show sympathy with minorities are criticised and threatened with dire consequences. Last year when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the “nation’s future lies in a democratic and liberal Pakistan” it started a new discussion in the country. It was an audacious statement, and was heavily criticised. Speaking at a ceremony for the Hindu festival of Diwali, he said, “Every community living here whether Hindu, Muslim or Parsi, everyone belongs to me and I belong to them. I am prime minister of all communities”. And this was something that was not much appreciated.

The Prime Minister assured minorities that he would stand by them in any time of distress.

Recently, the federal government of Pakistan passed a bill under which public holidays have been announced on Holi, Diwali and Easter, and other festivals of religious minorities, a move that received a mixed reaction.

The Sindh government passed a bill last March to include Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s famous speech of August 11, 1947 to the first constituent assembly in the curriculum of classes eight to 10. According to Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed, Director, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi, this speech has never been a part of Pakistani discourse. Moreover, it is not read by students as a part of their course, and if it is happening now, no doubt it is a positive and commendable step.

Although there is not much hope, I still wish that politicians and government pay some attention to such suggestions for a peaceful and strong Pakistan, and to keep our future generations free from extremism. The PTI politician, Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, says that for a strong Pakistan we will have to strengthen the minorities. There are also several statements on the record from the MQM who also believe in equality.

During the Hindu festival of Holi in Umerkot, the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said, “If a Muslim can become a president in India, why can’t an individual from minorities become one in Pakistan?” This is not the first time he gave such a statement; in 2013, he wrote on his twitter account: “I want to see Christian Prime Minister in Pakistan in my lifetime.” This attracted a lot of criticism. His latest statement has also been criticised by the Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Mulana Sirajul Haq, and several others also expressed their concerns. I have even seen some articles justifying the position of India’s Muslim president and asking why a non-Muslim should be president of Pakistan. Are these people really followers of Jinnah’s message, and are well-wishers of Pakistan?

Such statements are very brave and encouraging but impracticable, as to convert these ideas into reality, constitutional amendments are inevitable, and I don’t see this happening at least for several coming decades. It is inevitably a thorny and bloody path. Such statements from the national leadership, and particularly from the heads of the main ruling parties, are of significance and are commendable as their valuable views and sentiments about minorities can be heard by the nation. There is a great need for such debates and statements more often from politicians, academics and intellectuals to initiate a movement to transform our country into Jinnah’s Pakistan. Although it is already late, it is better late than never.