Setting the record straight

February 14, 2016

Farahnaz Ispahani narrates the Pakistani part of the story of religious minorities

Setting the record straight

Religious minorities is a vital South Asian issue and it needs a serious study in the context of post World War II.

Farahnaz Ispahani has narrated the Pakistani part of the story and has boldly crossed some red lines. Her ancestor Haji Hashem came to Bombay from Persia in the 1820s. It was a time when two thirds of India was ruled by the British colonialists while the remaining one third comprising Punjab, Kashmir and the tribal areas had independent governments.

The Lahore Darbar was ruled by a Sikh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Gujranwala. He ruled for 50 years in a Muslim majority area. Ranjit Singh had numerous Muslim Punjabis, Pathans and Kashmiris in his court but the colonial masters commissioned a propaganda campaign against his rule based on anti-Muslim and anti-Pathan malice.

The British succeeded in annexing the Lahore Darbar on March 29, 1849. Many people fought against the colonial masters in successive wars irrespective of their religion and ethnicities including Muslims and Pathans. Even the Afghan King Dost Muhammad Khan’s brother and son fought against the new masters. But those historical events are not a part of our curriculum. Ironically, the use of religion remained a part of colonial policies from 1849 till 1947. During this period, Ispahani’s ancestors established themselves in business not only in Burma and Calcutta but in England too. Her grandfather, Mirza Abol Hassan Ispahani, was among the loyal associates of Jinnah. At the time of partition, MAH Ispahani shifted his business to Chittagong. He served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK for the first seven years, a period in which the Pakistani political elite started shifting its loyalties towards the US.

Farahnaz Ispahani grew up in Karachi, Dhaka and London and she is married to Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US who was removed after infamous memo scandal and rightly felt betrayed. Ispahani has worked with VOA, ABC News, CNN and MSNBC. A former parliamentarian, she has worked as a public policy scholar in a Woodrow Wilson Center project "Protecting Religious Minorities in Pakistan" (2013-14).

As per the author "The book is an analysis of Pakistan’s policies towards its religious minority populations, as well as an attempt to set the record straight about why Pakistan was created and where it moved away from Jinnah’s modern pluralist vision to that of a purely Sunni Islamic nation". It is also argued that "Pakistan was carved out in 1947 to protect the subcontinent’s largest religious minority. It was conceived as a Muslim-majority, albeit secular, state that would set an example for India on how to treat its minorities".

She pinpoints that after the death of its founder, the political, social and religious leaders proclaimed it Islamic State, drumming up a national narrative of Islamic victimhood. In defence of her case, she has written seven chapters and discussed issues of religious minorities in the context of demography, nation building, militarism, national identity, Islamisation, militancy, global jihad and sectarianism in Pakistan.

She is bold enough to have moved beyond the infamous Zia era and discovered roots of intolerant policies even in pre-Zia era’s civil and military governments. In her interview to NDTV with the learned Indian journalist Barkha Dutt, it was said that Pakistan had 22 per cent non-Muslims in 1947 which is reduced to 3 per cent only. Neither the learned journalist nor the scholar explained that the major reason of this drastic fall was the dismemberment of Pakistan (December 16, 1971) rather than the policies of the state.

Ispahani rightly pinpoints that after the fall of Dhaka, minorities in Pakistan became weaker while the Islamists got strengthened but she could well have mentioned India role in this dismemberment.

It is not desirable to publish research works without index and citations. On page 32, the author writes that "Pakistan inherited 1/3rd of British India’s military, and Liaqat’s government devoted 75% of Pakistan’s first budget to pay for its maintenance". Similarly on page 70, she reveals that in the Second census of 1961, the percentage of Hindus had fallen from 20 per cent (as recorded in the 1951 census) to 12 per cent. There is no reference for both the statements.

After the Allahbad address and Lahore Resolution of 1940, the question of Muslim majority provinces overshadowed all other issues. Hussain Imam, MLA from Bihar and a tested friend of Jinnah, had in an interview explained that when they had accepted Lahore Resolution, transfer of population on the basis of religion was not under consideration but they thought that they would get whole of Bengal and united Punjab. That way, they would also have huge non-Muslim minority and presence of huge minorities across the borders would act as a balancing factor for protection of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in both countries.

All India Muslim League was not the only supporter of Muslim majority provinces. President of Indian National Congress Punjab Mian Iftikharuddin and Rajagopalachari, another prominent leader of Congress were pioneers in raising that issue in April 1942 in the Congress. The author has also ignored the vital question of Communist Party’s support to AIML and its demands since 1943. We have to understand this phenomenon in the post-1940 scenario. It was Congress that not only rejected the last plan to unite subcontinent (Cabinet Mission Plan) but also exerted pressure to divide Bengal and Punjab on communal basis.

Punjab was the worst victim of that unprecedented transfer of population on a communal basis. Regarding the minority question (ethnic or religious), both Iqbal and Jinnah were on same page and supported diversity in many ways.

According to the author, deviation from secular agenda began with the Objectives Resolution of March 1949. After discussing the Munir-Kayani report and the anti-Ahmadiya riots (1953), she moves straight to militarism and national identity questions and cites some editorials of a leading English newspaper. She neither mentions the long assembly speech of Sir Zafarullah Khan in favour of Objectives Resolution on March 12, 1949, the report of the committee of fundamental rights and matters related to minorities accepted by the assembly (1950), absence of communal restriction on head of state in the first draft of Constitution (1950), mushroom growth of anti-communism or report of commission for women 1954 headed by first Chief Juctice (retd) Mian Abdur Rashid.

In the next pages, she boldly talks about the "untouchable" Second Amendment of 1973 constitution but fails to link it with demographic changes and new diplomatic pressures in the post 16-December Pakistan. She rightly criticises Ziaul Haq and Taliban but does not mention the effects of fundamentalist rule in Iran after 1979 and US/Western support of Islamists during the Afghan war. She supports democratic continuity in Pakistan and criticises the double game of Gen Musharaf after 9/11 but, unfortunately, her narrative ends at 2008.

Purifying the land of pure
Author: Farahnaz Ispahani
Publisher: HarperCollins, India, 2016
Pages: 254

Setting the record straight