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February 19, 2020

A ‘people’s history’ and its sources


February 19, 2020

As mentioned in earlier columns of this series, a look at history with a people’s perspective requires critical eyes and keen observations that go beyond official narratives and consult multiple sources – from biographies and essays to people’s poetry and trade union activities. There are not many scholars and writers who have worked on a people’s history or have shone a light at history with a people’s perspective.

Dr Jaffar Ahmed is one such outstanding political scientist who has contributed tremendously to this discipline. I have mentioned him earlier in passing, but here we look at some of his contributions. He did his Master’s in political science and has a PhD from University of Cambridge. He has compiled, edited, written, and facilitated the publication of dozens of books when he was director of the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi. His compilations include Sibte Hasan’s ‘Afkar-e-taza’, ‘Adab aur Roshan Khayali’, and a book on Sajjad Zaheer. He has also published widely in academic journals, magazines and newspapers.

His particular area of interest is government and politics in Pakistan, with a special reference to constitutional development and issues. He is also editor of ‘Irtiqa’, a quarterly in Urdu. Though he has been writing since the 1980s, his first book ‘Federalism in Pakistan: A constitutional Study’ was published in 1990. His latest contribution is ‘Pakistan Mein Mohaedae Imrani’ (Social contract in Pakistan) in collaboration with Zafar Junejo, translated by Nadeem Akhtar and published by the Institute of Historical and Social Research. In his nearly 40 years of academic journey he has traversed a lot, but here I will mention only some of his contributions.

From the Pakistan Study Centre he facilitated the publication of Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo’s autobiography, ‘In Search of Solutions’, which was edited by B M Kutty. That biography of Mir Bizenjo remains to date the most comprehensive account of his life and gives history with a people’s perspective as Mir Bizenjo was one of the staunchest fighters for democratic and human rights in Pakistan. Another similar book that Dr Jaffar Ahmed compiled and edited is based on the experiences and observations of Hasan Abidi.

‘Junoon Mein Jitni Bhi Guzri’ is an ideal example of people’s history. It narrates the life story of one of the most senior journalists and poets of Pakistan. Hasan Abidi had worked for the dailies ‘Afaq’ and ‘Mashriq’, and for the weekly ‘Lail-o-Nihar’ before finally ending his working life with the daily ‘Dawn’. In 2012, Dr Jaffar Ahmed – in collaboration with the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) led by Karamat Ali – compiled and edited a collection of poetry dedicated to the toiling masses. ‘Mehnat Kashon Ke Naam Shaery’ is a marvellous compilation of the verses of over 80 poets, ranging from Wali Deccani and Mir Taqi Mir to Harris Khalique and Kishwar Naheed.

In the same year, 2012, Dr Jaffar Ahmed compiled and edited another book of people’s history in collaboration with Piler. ‘Pakistan ki Mazdoor Tehreekein’ (Labour movements of Pakistan) is a book that everyone interested in a people’s history must read. It contains nearly a dozen articles and essays from writers of a people’s history such as Rifat Hussain (1943-2012) who was a dedicated trade union worker; Nabi Ahmed, a renowned trade union leader; Karamat Ali, director of Piler; Nayab Naqvi, another trade union activist and leader; and Kamran Asdar Ali, academic, teacher and researcher on social sciences.

In addition the book also presents essays from Ahmed Saleem, intellectual, poet, and researcher; and Ali Amjad, a lawyer who dedicated his life to legal battles for labour and trade unions. With names like these, the book becomes a treasure trove of people’s history in Pakistan. Dr Jaffar Ahmed has also given us compilation of his own articles and editorials that he wrote from 1993 to 1997. That was an interesting period of Pakistan history when Benazir Bhutto was in power for the second time. These writings appeared in ‘Sunehra Daur’ (Golden era) edited by Mujahid Barelvi, and ‘Adabi Lail-o-Nihar’ by Sultan Anwar.

Academically speaking perhaps Dr Jaffar Ahmed’s most valuable contributions are his first book, ‘Federalism in Pakistan’; and his three essays published in ‘Pakistan Perspectives’, a research biannual of Pakistan Study Centre. These essays are titled: ‘Defeating Independence: Genesis of authoritarianism in Pakistan’ (1997); ‘Consolidation of authoritarianism in Pakistan’ (1998); and ‘The martial law and the administrative state of General Ayub Khan’ (2000). The four monographs form a compendium of Pakistan history with a people’s perspective, and give a detailed account and analyses of how authoritarianism prevailed over constitutionalism in Pakistan.

‘Federalism in Pakistan’ proves conclusively that the Muslim League led by Jinnah demanded as much provincial autonomy as possible in British-ruled India. They only wanted to give to the federal government control over matters such as currency, defence, foreign affairs and perhaps railways. Jinnah was a strong proponent of provincial autonomy and did not want any central interference in matters provincial. But, as Dr Jaffar Ahmed goes on to elucidate, after Pakistan came into being the central government went on an authoritarian spree and right from the beginning tried to curb and curtail the democratic and constitutional rights of the people.

Dr Jaffar writes, “A genuine federal constitution was never formed in Pakistan, and hence, though a number of constitutions were promulgated in the post-independence period they failed either to come up to the expectations of all regions or provinces, or to prevent the subsequent federal crises. The constitutions of 1956 and 1962 did not reflect the desires of all regions while the constitution of 1973, despite being accepted by a wide segment of national and regional leadership, failed to ensure provincial autonomy and promote national integration.” (‘Federalism in Pakistan’, page 42)

And even that 1973 constitution has been trampled again and again – first by General Zia and then by General Musharraf just for their personal gratification and perpetuation of authoritarian rule at the cost of all constitutional, democratic and federal norms. Though the political leadership repeatedly tried to restore the 1973 constitution, their attempts were thwarted by authoritarian forces. The last attempt to form a better federation was encapsulated in the 18th Amendment, but even that has been under threat for the past decade and the promoters of authoritarianism have been active in maligning the amendment.

In the chapter titled ‘Supremacy of Constitution’ in the same book, Dr Jaffar Ahmed writes: “Supremacy of constitution suggests that from this fundamental law of the land all public authorities should drive their powers, all laws their validity, and all subjects their rights.”(Page 47). Applied to Pakistan, we see that public authorities derive their powers not from the constitution but from somewhere else. The laws may be valid on paper but in practice, the rule of law is often violated by the same people who are supposed to defend and enforces laws. And the ‘subjects’ cry for their rights.

Dr Jaffar Ahmed’s essay, ‘The martial law and the administrative state of General Ayub Khan’ (‘Pakistan Perspectives’ Vol 5, No 1, 2000) should be an eye-opener for all those who still propagate the myth that General Ayub was a benevolent dictator. First of all the lie that the military coup was a revolution that legitimized the takeover has done much harm to constitutionalism and rule of law in Pakistan. This myth was supported by American scholars who wanted Gen Ayub to continue serving American interests in this region. Just as it happened with Gen Musharraf 40 years later.

“The coup was not a revolution as the regime that led it, as well as a number of Pakistani and Western writers had portrayed it to be. It was not engineered with the objective of departing from the pre-coup fundamental policies. On the contrary, the coup d’état was essentially conservative as it was carried out with the sole purpose to ensure the continuity and enhancement of the policies which the military-bureaucracy alliance had laid down during the first decade of independence.” (Page 60)

To be continued

Email: [email protected]

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.