Friday, 3 May 2013

When Pakistan's ideology was on trial

The Hyderabad tribunal

Saturday, June 07, 2008

This June it will be 33 years since the trial of the leadership of the National Awami Party (NAP). Thirty three years ago the NAP was banned and its leader Wali Khan was tried on a number of charges. One of the most serious charges, in the words of the court, "the claim of the NAP and its leaders that the Pakhtoonistan movement was merely seeking renaming of two provinces was held to be totally untenable." The court observed that the NAP leadership was "actually demanding secession in the name of autonomy by carving out a new province and demanding complete self-government with only three subjects left to the centre."

Moreover the court observed that "to say that Pakistan did not consist of one nation but several nationalities, each having ethnic, cultural, social and political differences, was to deny the very basis of Pakistan, and if along with the right of self-determination for each nationality was demanded, then it amounted to a demand for the breakup of Pakistan, destroying its integrity and setting up of several independent states within Pakistan. The concept of nationalities was opposed to the fundamentals of Islam which preached that the entire Muslim Millat was one nation under one Khalifa. "

Thirty three years down the twisted lane of political history, how do these charges hold up?

The first part of the charge related to a condemnation of the assertion that Pakistan did not consist of one nation but several nationalities each having ethnic, culture, social and political differences. "This assertion, in the opinion of the court, was considered to "deny the very basis of Pakistan." However, isn't it a fact? If in 1975 Wali Khan could be tried for this assertion that Pakistan is an amalgam of various nations--i.e. Sindhi, Punjabi, Seraki, Baloch and Pathans-- then why in 2003 Mir Zafarullah Jamali was not tried for the same assertion? For the-then Prime Minister is on record to have stated that "We are a nation but we have five different national groups amongst us."

Thus acknowledging and even asserting clearly that the Pakistani nation is a combination of five different nations who each have hundred of years of history, culture and richness of language in their own right. Pakistani nationhood is only sixty one years old. Pakhtoon and Sindhi nationhood for instance is hundreds of years old.

Such assertions are dismissed rather hurriedly as "merely nationalist rhetoric." However, research has shown that it is not so. The Friday Times ran a series of interviews in January-February 2004 which asked young middle-class, professional Pakistanis as to what it meant to be a Pakistani. The results were interesting. Respondent after respondent declared, "Being a Pakistani is not only being a Muslim. Our identities are more multilayered." Another respondent claimed: "For me, my identity is first being from Lahore, secondly being a woman, thirdly being a doctor. All these things mean more than merely saying I am a Muslim in Pakistan." Another respondent declared: "I don't believe in nation states. I define myself through my interests and not through my religion." Another respondent declared: "I define myself more as a Pathan, following the religion of Islam living in the Pakistani area of South Asia." The respondent further went on to point out that for him nation- and religion-based identities are fluid as he could change his religion and his nationality, but not the ethnic group that he hailed form. Even if he converted to Christianity and got US citizenship, he would still remain a Pathan following the religion of Christianity living in America. He declared, that the fact that he wanted to live in Pakistan as this was the only place that he could call home was a choice that he exercised.

In democratic societies choice is always there. India's former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani told author Stanley Weiss the following story. At a high-level Pakistan-India meeting, President Pervez Musharraf looked at his Indian guests and said, "I was born in India and after partition my family settled in Karachi, the capital of Pakistan's Sindh province. Thus my parents exercised a choice. Why not let the people of Kashmir decide whether they want to continue to be a part of India or not as a matter of choice also?" Mr Advani during his address to the august audience retorted, "I was born in Karachi and after partition moved to India. Why not let the people of Sindh decide whether they want to be part of Pakistan or not also today?'

In Pakistan, a nationalist, whether s/he is a Pakhtoon, Baloch, Sindhi or Seraki is perceived by the government to be anti-Pakistan. The reason for this is that perhaps being Pakistani is overwhelmingly getting to mean that you need to aspire to Punjabi values with only a smattering of values from the "small provinces," as they are called. However, has anyone considered that perhaps the nationalist is being more true to Pakistan than the government gives him/her credit for? From the nationalist perspective, Pakistan is a federation and therefore the identity of Pakistanis as well as the State of Pakistan depends on strong and peacefully co-existence amongst the nationalities residing in the area.

The second charge against them was that allegedly in the name of autonomy they were "demanding self-government with only three subjects left to the centre." However, wasn't this the first tenet of cooperative federalism?

Two years ago a national citizens' group, the Liberal Forum Pakistan, conducted dialogues on various aspects of federalism and provincial autonomy during the year. These dialogues arranged by LFP's district chapters, in collaboration with the Friedrich Neumann Foundation, were attended by national, provincial and local political leadership, as well as active citizens' groups and the media. While the perspective at these dialogues varied and have been documented in a report titled "Federalism in Pakistan: the liberal perspective." What is important to mention is this: At all the dialogues the consensus was that we need to re-examine the functioning of federalism in Pakistan

One of the recommendations of the national dialogue on federalism was also that "the powers of the central government must be minimised in an attempt to devolve more and more powers to the provinces."

It is important to note that although there were a number of suggestions, not a single individual at the dialogues expressed a wish to opt out of the federation. Thus, it shows that there is a need to openly engage with the federating units over the question of a viable federal system in Pakistan. Open dialogue with the units is one of the most important steps that can be taken. It is better than military means, or labelling those who raise their voice for provincial autonomy as traitors. The understanding of the federating units is that it was agreed that Pakistan would be a federal state. In a federal state, the federating units have full provincial autonomy with more subjects under their control with the central government having the minimum but vital powers. Generally the subjects at the centre are finance, defence and communications. These were the subjects that the banned NAP and its leader were advocating that the Central government should have thirty three years back.

The trial of Wali Khan and the banning of the NAP actually is a testament to the fact that Khan Sahab and the party he headed were ahead in their political ideas. The irony that it has been 33 years since the demand for a name for Pakhtoonwha (the NWFP) should not be lost. It is also ironical that devolution of power, more provincial autonomy and a lean centre are part of all political parties manifestos today. Thus, the charges of 1975 are the aspirations of all parties of 2008.

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