Pakistan's Independence Day: A Day of Reflection
By I.A. Rehman, Dawn, August 14, 2008
FROM a day of pure joy for Pakistan’s citizens, Aug 14 has gradually become an occasion for reflection. Over the past many years, reflection has assumed the form of a somewhat worrisome reappraisal, and the room for celebration has been shrinking.
The principal reason for this is the common citizen’s perception that today’s Pakistan is not what its founders had set out to establish. Apart from the fact that the country’s map is not what it originally was and that it has not become one of the greatest nations of the world the Quaid-i-Azam had said on Aug 11, 1947 it could become, the majority has still not received the promised fruits of freedom.
The main features of the Pakistan dream were that the country would be the homeland of a Pakistani nation whose members were equal regardless of their caste or creed; that it was to be a federation whose constituent units were autonomous and sovereign; that its constitution would be what the people decided; that its form of government would be a people’s democracy and in any case it was not going to be a theocracy; that the people would be free to shape their lives in accordance with their culture and traditions. The realisation that this dream has remained largely, if not wholly, unrealised is of no consequence if the causes of this predicament are not thoroughly analysed.
Conventional wisdom identifies several occasions when the state of Pakistan got derailed but it may be more appropriate to admit that state-building efforts left much to be desired. What happened on Aug 14, 1947 was no more than the laying of the foundation stone of a new state. The task of constructing the state was not begun for many years, and later on, the political engineers proved insincere or lost their way.
The Pakistan dream was shattered during the nine years the country was governed in accordance with the Government of India Act of 1935, wrongfully christened as the new state’s provisional constitution. The damage done to the state-in-the-making under the then scheme of things has yet to be fully assessed. The unitary form of government envisaged by the Act was, over time, adopted by the ruling elite as the only possible norm and the need to raise a federal structure was ignored. This strained the fragile bonds of unity the struggle for Pakistan had forged.
The failure to appreciate the elementary rights of the provinces led to the abandonment of democratic imperatives. By the middle of the 1950s, Pakistan had become a vulgarised copy of the colonial state headed by an absolute ruler who relied wholly on chicanery and was incompetent to boot. That this system could easily be pushed over by another brand of absolute ruler, one who derived sanction from armed might and could claim slightly better service delivery, was soon confirmed.
Perhaps the greatest disservices done to Pakistan in those years were, firstly, the transformation of a fledgling democracy into a quasi-theocratic garrison state. The Objectives Resolution and the belief-related provisions of the 1956 Constitution were thought of as essential props for a state locked in a colonial mould. Further, state security was installed as the ruling deity in the national pantheon. The state could become impregnably strong, it was asserted, if it had guns in abundance even if its people went hungry, remained illiterate and became sick in body and mind. Eventually the people’s plight came to be rationalised as an unavoidable (even if unbearable) cost of freedom.
Secondly, the period 1947-56 saw the consolidation of an authoritarian mindset. The governor-general repudiated the basics of Pakistan by functioning like a viceroy of pre-Partition India. The system of one-man rule became fairly well entrenched by 1956 and it was further streamlined by military rulers, from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf. So deep has the system of one-man rule struck root in Pakistan that civilian rulers, who have been inducted as watchmen or clerks appointed to fill leave vacancies, have also tended to function as authoritarian despots who are subject neither to the constitution nor the wishes of the people. They have been responsible for convincing most people that an elected leader and a military ruler are one and the same thing.
Thus, after four constitutional initiatives and four spells of extra-democratic rule Pakistan has barely survived. It has been reduced to an anaemic polity. A federation it never became and now its status as a state has become debatable since it does not exercise a monopoly of power throughout the land — an essential attribute of a state. Yet Pakistan has the basic ingredients of a natural state. A large majority of the population apparently wishes to revive the state. The question is where does one begin?
The state cannot be constructed or reconstructed along the models tested over the past 50 years. The assumptions underlying the state created by the 1956 Constitution were knocked out by the emergence of Bangladesh. The state envisaged by the Ayubian scheme of 1962 was an illegitimate entity as it lacked the people’s sanction. The state established by the 1973 Constitution was no doubt based on a national consensus but it had a very brief life and the 1973 document, even if can be revived in its original form, no longer enjoys the nationwide support it did 35 years ago.
Gen Ziaul Haq remodelled the state during 1977-85 and in the process repudiated Pakistan’s foundational principles — democracy, parliamentary government and federalism. Gen Musharraf too has remodelled the state and shared Zia’s guilt. (One hopes there is no difficulty in appreciating the fact that each time a new constitution is imposed, or an existing basic law is radically changed, a state different from the previous one is created.)
Thus, the only viable option is to begin the exercise that should have been started in 1947 — to establish a democratic, parliamentary federation. This is the meaning of the demand for a new social contract that has lately gained considerable ground. However, besides drawing upon the Pakistan dream of 1947 it will also be necessary now to make a special effort to rule out two models — that of a garrison state and a theocracy. For this reason Gen Musharraf’s exit and an end to the insurgency in the north are essential prerequisites to the building of a state the people may be proud to own, happy to nourish and willing to die for.