Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

Jinnah to Osama,
the search for a soul

How Pakistan became a warrior state, lost its identity, and abandoned Jinnah who attempted too late to protect secularism.

New Delhi, July 2014

Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi enjoyed close times too

The suave Jinnah and the khadi-robed Gandhi enjoyed closer times too. Jinnah hoped to restore a secular foundation after Pakistan was created, but he was sidelined.

WHILE India has been invaded from the northwest, the northeast and from the coast, it is the northwest passage that has historically been the main strategic gateway through which conquerors and caravans have entered. Alexander was an early visitor. It is perhaps easy to see why this should have been so. India was long a source of pepper, spices and fine calicoes for Greek, Roman and Arab traders and regarded as a fabled land of wealth and wisdom lying athwart both the Silk and Spice routes. Hsuen Tsang, Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta and other travellers wrote of its wonders. To those living in the arid or cold deserts of West and Central Asia, the well watered plains of India seemed most inviting.

While the British conquered India from the sea and fought off the Portuguese, Dutch and French for supremacy, it was Russian penetration from the Northwest that it most feared. The Great Game was played out along the wild, tribal marches of the Northwest Frontier and the High Karakoram. The nature of the Great Game changed after the second world war, when containing communism became the prime Western agenda.

BG Verghese

BG Verghese

Jinnah's very first address to the new Pakistan constituent assembly totally repudiated the two-nation theory as false and untenable. But the twist in the tale is that it was Jinnah who was repudiated by his people and died embracing the two-nation ideological curse

As the second world war wound down, Britain wondered how it might dispose of India should irrevocable differences between the Muslim League and Congress force partition. The British "breakdown plan" favoured creation of two Muslim-dominated Anglo-US allies in the northwest and northeast of the subcontinent to halt the march of communism. Both would have preferred to partner the larger and more resourceful India; but Nehru's non-alignment and seeming Soviet-Chinese tilt was suspect. Pakistan, staunchly Islamic and in need of support against what it saw as a larger, permanent and ideological Indian enemy, readily fit the bill. It was also strategically placed, especially as guardian of the passes to Afghanistan and beyond.

No surprise then that Pakistan soon became a staunch ally, a "frontline state", a strategic partner and a base of operations for the West in containing communism and controlling the emerging oil wealth of Iran and the Arab lands beyond. Ideology, rooted in faith and geography, endowed Pakistan with a strategic value on which its leaders traded. T V Paul, ("The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World", Random House,) sums up this geo-political asset as a "strategic curse". A feudal, emigre-led people divorced from its historical, geographical and cultural roots to embrace a wholly negative non-Indian, non-Hindu identity, became a rentier state, trading its strategic utility for military and economic assistance.

Jinnah's very first address to the new Pakistan constituent assembly totally repudiated the two-nation theory as false and untenable. But the twist in the tale is that it was Jinnah who was repudiated by his people and died embracing the two-nation ideological curse.

Indians, however, would do well to remember that it was Veer Savarkar, the Hindutva leader, who in 1937 spoke of Hindus and Muslims as “two nations”. In his presidential address to the 19th session of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha in Ahmedabad in 1937, Savarkar stated, “India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main, the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.” He sought to explain away the reference but Guru Golwalkar, who succeeded Hegdewar as head of the RSS in 1937 reaffirmed it in other words. Golwalkar was vehemently opposed to the concept of a secular Indian state. In “We, Our Nation Defined”(1938), he stated that “the non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizens' rights".

These pernicious theories were consistently fought in India and stand rejected by the law and the constitution, unlike in Pakistan where state patronage clearly persists. Yet there is danger in reactive responses.

Pakistan, an "Islamic State", was born to defend Islam and the "ideological frontiers of Islam". But it is even today unable to define the true Muslim: not Ahmediyas (banned), Shias, Sufis, Aga Khanis, Nurbakshis; not even Sunni Barelivis but Wahabis, Deobandis, jihadis, the Taliban and such medieval fanatics whose goal is to establish a new Caliphate. The defence of Islam and its borders and integrity against a malign India, the permanent enemy, has reduced Pakistan to a garrison state where a military-mullah nexus has assumed control. The army, aided by the Inter-Service Intelligence agency or ISI, together constitute a state within a state with vast, agrarian, corporate, financial, administrative, diplomatic and security tentacles.

Between 1960 and 2012, Pakistan received some US$73 billion in economic and military assistance, US$30bn of this from the United States alone. Yet, an over-militarised, garrison state, can find itself developmentally debilitated. In a population fast approaching 200 million, there are only 2.5m registered taxpayers. Defence appropriates the largest slice of the budget, with additional unaccounted amounts going into developing and augmenting nuclear arms, including tactical weapons.

Paul notes that the peoples' critical faculties have been dulled by tendentious and poisonous textbooks and ideologically-oriented madrassas whose products preach from pulpits. Jinnah, Bhutto and Zia led Pakistan down the slippery slope of Islamisation and militarisation, unabashedly aided by the United States that has been totally unmindful of the tremendous collateral damage to world peace and stability caused by its devious policies and the ‘War on Terror’. Paul estimates that around 35,000 jihadis from 45 countries trained in Pakistan to unleash mayhem prior to 9/11. It is today a country at war with itself, and a menace to others.

Paul's conclusion: Pakistan's transformation will only take place if both its strategic circumstances and the ideas and assumptions that the leading elite hold change fundamentally.

Paul's is only one of a whole series of refreshingly candid books on Pakistan being published by domestic and foreign authors about what they describe but do not quite name as a failed state. "The Pakistan Military in Politics: Origins, Evolution. Consequences" by Ishtiaq Ahmed (Amaryllis) is an example. Few are sparing of Jinnah who spoke of Pakistan as a Sharia State as far back as in November 1945 (letter to Pir of Manki Sharif, November 1945, cited in Constituent Assembly of Pakistan Debates, Vol 5, 1949, p 46).

The official story is far too naive to believe... had Osama been taken alive he would have had to be brought to justice in a trial in which some of his revelations could have proved very embarrassing. Many skeletons in the US-NATO cupboard, much duplicity, deceit and double-dealing, might have come alive

Ahmed dispels the myth that Mountbatten conspired with Radcliffe to gift India some Muslim majority tehsils of Gurdaspur to justify its award to India. In fact, he notes, this was part of the Wavell breakdown plan so as to ensure that Amritsar, at least, though not Nankana Sahib, both Sikh holy places, remained with India. He equally astutely describes sharing Indus Waters as a geo-political issue linked to Kashmir. Like others, he cites Major General Akbar Khan and Air Chief Marshal Nur Khan respectively for affirming that the 1947 and 1965 invasions of J&K were staged by Pakistan.

He too cites Professor K K Aziz's "Murder of History" and then quotes Brigadier S K Malik on "The Quranic Concept of War", with an approving preface by Zia-ul Haq. According to Malik, "The Quranic military strategy thus enjoins us to prepare ourselves for war to the utmost in order to strike terror into the hearts of enemies ..., [This] is not only a means, it is an end in itself... It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge..... ". This is chilling. No surprise then that terrorist cells have penetrated Pakistan's military and carried out attacks on its GHQ, the Mehran naval base and similar targets.

Every religion is a step towards reforming society and reflects the social and cultural realities of the time. Thus Judaism was “carried forward” by Christianity of the New Testament. Similarly Islam followed with a further message. In India, Jainism, Buddhism and, later, Sikhism, sought to reform certain aspects of the Brahmanical tradition with movements such as the Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj to follow. Syncretic trends were manifest in Sufism and so on. Orthodoxy was challenged by reformation as in Europe, leading to the Renaissance with advances in science and inquiry. Protestantism challenged doctrinaire Catholicism.

The fundamental tenets of Islam are set out in the Shariah, representing the words of the Prophet as recoded in the eighth and ninth centuries. Almost as revered are the Hadith or sayings of the Prophet as set out by his contemporaries and closest companions. But aware of the dynamism of society, the Prophet himself provided for Ijtehad or innovative interpretation of the scripture to suit the requirements of changing times.

It was the creative use of Ijtehad that led to the flowering of Islamic civilisation and science in the following centuries. This liberalism was in time challenged by fundamentalists and traditionalists who circumscribed resort to Ijtehad resulting in the current crisis in Islam and the rise of jihadists, some of whom read the Holy Koran as Zia-ul Haq did to glorify war and a warrior state in Pakistan. In so doing, Pakistan has resiled from the rich tradition of humanistic Islam practised in the Indian subcontinent though which the winds of the world have always blown.

Finally, the fairy tale spun by Islamabad about Osama bin Laden's long and cosy sojourn in Pakistan over many years, latterly in the garrison town of Abbottabad from where he was finally taken out by US Naval Seals in 2011. This showed up the Pakistani establishment as a bunch of complete fools or liars, probably both. The American role is also dubious. In one commentary the New York Times reporter, Carlotta Gall, comes closest to confirming that the US had information that the ISI knew the whereabouts of bin Laden. ("The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-14", Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

The official story is far too naive to believe. In blaming everybody, the Commission of Inquiry blamed nobody. No heads have rolled. The truth has once more been quietly buried. The Commission’s Report provides a convenient exit for all the dramatis personae: civil, military, intelligence, and the US. Had Osama been taken alive he would have had to be brought to justice in a trial in which some of his revelations could have proved very embarrassing. Many skeletons in the US-NATO cupboard, much duplicity, deceit and double-dealing, might have come alive. For Pakistan, a mysterious “they” were guilty but “we” are okay. Pakistan milked its strategic importance for the US in its War on Terror in every way. It used it as a cover to cosy up to the Taliban, furthering A Q Khan’s nuclear gamesmanship, cultivating jihadis for cross-border terror in India, and blackmailing the US to pay more and yet more for its perfidy.

It is perfectly possible the Commission’s findings are in order and singular incompetence all down the line was indeed responsible for the incredible farce enacted. Yet, can a more diabolical hypothesis be altogether discounted without deeper scrutiny? This is that the Pakistani’s knew or got to know where Osama was hiding but played along with him as a possible lever against the US and finally connived with the US which was by now ready to have him eliminated in a manner that might suit all concerned, with no questions asked. In other words, Abbottabad could have been an extravaganza carefully contrived and executed and televised as high-drama to lay to rest what remains an untold story. Everybody benefits.
This again was the case in the UN inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as told by its chair, the Chilean diplomat Heraldo Munoz (“Getting Away With Murder” Norton, 2014). Munoz details how the Commission’s work was thwarted and obfuscated by the Pakistani authorities at every stage and evidence destroyed.

Pakistan remains steadfastly in denial. It has once again gloriously lied to itself and to the world on the Osama episode. Its real enemy is truly within. Malala Yusafzai, who wanted education for children like herself, cannot return to Pakistan; and babies who are given polio drops to live, must die. Truth hurts. But it is the ultimate balm. And the way of Ijtehad beckons to steer Pakistan out of the morass into which it has sunk.

See a collection of writings at / Veteran columnist, developmental journalist, author, and Magsaysay Award winner, BG Verghese started his career with the Times of India and was later Editor of the Hindustan Times (1969-75) and the Indian Express (1982-86). He was Information Adviser to the Prime Minister (1966-69), a Gandhi Peace Foundation Fellow for some years after the Emergency and Information Consultant to the Defence Minister for a short period during 2001. He was later with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Verghese passed away on 30 December, 2014, his pen busy right until the end.

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