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When the past is the future


March 23, 2017

The nation celebrates Pakistan Day today in a spirit of unprecedented unity and a sense of confidence in its destiny to unlock the future that has, unfortunately, remained elusive for the most part of our national existence. The 23rd of March is a momentous occasion to reflect on the events that led up to the passage of the historic Lahore Resolution.

Living nations retain their link with the past to familiarise their young generations with their freedom struggle, the role played by their founding fathers in creation of new states and sacrifices rendered by the teeming millions in pursuit of the shared goals. This link also provides a reference point to judge the reality of today against the promise of yesterday, thereby throwing the missing links in sharp relief.

A look at the text of the Pakistan Resolution shows that it was not a stand-alone event. Rather, it reflected the gradual development of the Muslim thought, which evolved in a peculiar political, economic and social milieu of the Subcontinent.

As developments on the political and constitutional chessboard picked up pace – dictated by a combination of greater political awakening at home and fast loosening grip of Great Britain on its dominions – it became evident that Muslims needed to act fast to protect their interests. If they had any illusions with regard to the possibility of acceptance of their demand for a reasonable representation in any constitutional scheme of things, the Nehru Report and the Simon Commission shattered their dream of ‘democratic and pluralistic Hindustan’ whereby they lived with their Hindu counterparts as ‘One Nation’.

The idea of Western democracy whereby numbers decide who gets to rule espoused vociferously by the Congress leaders like Nehru represented the repudiation of the Muslims’ demand for separate treatment on the basis of their uniqueness as a community. What compounded the misery of Muslims was the lack of a clear narrative – backed by historical context and founded on Islam as an inspiring ideal – conferring on them unique cultural, religious and civilisational identity.

This clarity came with a vengeance probably for the first time in the form of 1930 presidential address by Sir Muhammad Iqbal at the 25th Session of the All-India Muslim League in Allahabad. Iqbal delved deep into the question of the Muslim identity by employing his scholarly insights and penetrating intellect to conclude that by every definition of the word, the Muslims qualified to be called a nation. This address signalled an end to intellectual obscurity, and the rebirth of Muslim political thought. Iqbal gave Muslims a voice in the political wilderness. Consequently, an urge for the protection of civilisational, sociological, political and economic identity in the political narrative became more pronounced and relentless.

If there was any confusion on the political plain, it was soon removed by the Congress-led ministries in different provinces after the 1937 elections held under the Government of India Act 1935. The period of two years between 1937 and 1939 is remembered as the darkest era in the history of Hindustan. It gave Muslims the foretaste of what the Congress-led rule would be like at the federal level.

The Congress government had the sole agenda of obliterating Muslims’ civilisational identity. The shabby treatment of the Muslims during this period injected a sense of purpose in the latter’s struggle and also convinced those sitting on the fence who still harboured any notion of a joint struggle against the British colonialism that change was necessary. Iqbal’s prognosis of the communal problem and the way forward that he spelled out in his 1930 address stood vindicated.

What stands out in the text of Pakistan’s founding document is an emphasis on the rights of the minorities. This shows how sensitive the Muslims, who were a minority back then, were to the need for preserving their culture, civilisation, faith and identity. So powerful was the message of the resolution that in 1941, it became part of the All-India Muslim League constitution and in 1946, became the basis of the demand for a separate homeland.

Over the journey of the last seven decades, we have had our high and low points. If there were moments of national shame such as the dismemberment of Pakistan, there were occasions that marked the restoration of national pride and honour. Each time the nation faced a crisis of unprecedented nature, it showed remarkable resilience to bounce back. However, we seem to have drifted away from the ideals that defined our freedom struggle and became the basis for the establishment of Pakistan.

We have come to have two Pakistans within the sovereign state created by Quaid-e-Azam: one for the ‘haves’ where 10 percent of the elite considers it its birthright to benefit from the state largesse and the other for the 90 percent ‘have-nots’ who continue to bear the brunt of elitist policies since the last 70 years. The time has come to bridge this widening divide and include the 90 percent of people in the mainstream. Nations that fail to respond to the aspirations of its people are doomed.

One of the biggest challenges and opportunities is the imperative of framing a national narrative that brings the focus back to the objectives for which this country was created. It is through practical actions that we can accomplish the objectives that our founding fathers set out for us in the independent country.

The scourges of terrorism, militancy, extremism, regionalism and other sub-national identities that plague our body politic and sap our collective energies run counter to the idea of Pakistan. These and other similar challenges have emerged because formation of a national thought, which is inclusive, cosmopolitan and welfare-oriented, has never been given the kind of importance and priority that it richly deserves. Hence the poverty of intellect and a sense of listlessness seem to dominate the national landscape, much to our chagrin.

A vision, howsoever articulate and well-meaning, is unable to reverse the tide of decline unless it is backed by clearly defined set of goals and actions. The people’s broken trust can only be repaired if they are convinced that the state is there to take care of their needs: that their children will have equal opportunities for growth like their more affluent counterparts and that the rule of law will trump all other considerations. It is how people develop stakes in societies. An egalitarian, tolerant, and peaceful polity where non-Muslim minorities enjoy religious freedoms and a complete sense of security is the answer to all our challenges.

As I go about performing my duties as a servant of the people day in and day out, I am inspired by the thought of making the welfare of the public be-all and end-all of the public policy. I draw my inspiration from the following quote of the historic speech that Quaid-e-Azam delivered to the first Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 as its first president:

“If we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. Every one of you, no matter what his colour, caste or creed, is first, second or last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations….”

On this Pakistan Day, let us derive energy from the idea of Pakistan and recommit ourselves to the translation of ideals into reality. Let the past define our future as a progressive, moderate and tolerant nation.

The writer is the chief minister of Punjab.

Twitter: @CMShehbaz