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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

View from Pakistan: Lessons from Bangladesh


The poison of General Zia’s bigotry has spread like a cancer in Pakistan’s body politic. Had he not emerged on the scene, it is possible that Pakistan would have taken the regular course of a confessional state to a modern, inclusive and democratic state

BRAVO! BANGLADESH has done it. It has successfully reversed the cynical Islamisation of its local General Zia. Not only is one fortified by their action that a Muslim majority nation state is capable of rolling back the Islamist project but as a Pakistani I am glad that at least some part of the former original Pakistan is now firmly allied with the principles that Jinnah laid down in his famous August 11, 1947 speech.
Bengalis have never been any less proud as Muslims than Pakistanis. Say what they may, champions of the so-called ideology of Pakistan cannot deny that had it not been for peasant nationalism in Bengal, the Pakistan movement would have fallen flat on its face. While opportunistic landowners jumped onto the Pakistan bandwagon in what became West Pakistan, it was the common man in the then East Pakistan who waged the struggle for a new nation. It may also be remembered that Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the founder of the Awami League, was also one of the founding fathers of Pakistan and that the Awami League was, at one point in its history, the Jinnah Awami Muslim League.

In 1965, when the Quaid-e-Azam’s sister rose to take on a dictator, it was again East Pakistan that rallied to her cause. And how did we pay them back? I do not wish to go into the atrocities of 1971.

One of the many steps taken by this new confident and independent People’s Republic of Bangladesh is the banning of Maulana Maududi’s hate-filled literature. Maulana Maududi is widely disliked in Bangladesh for his role against the Bengalis. There are some who object to this decision on grounds of ‘freedom of speech’. Well sirs, mind telling us where is the freedom of speech for non-Muslim minorities? It is quite like how some years ago many of our proud Pakistani Muslims defended Yousaf Youhanna’s conversion to Islam on the grounds of freedom of religion. And then someone asked, “What if he converts back to Christianity?” Silence.
What is sad, however, is that Maududi’s abuse against Pakistan and its founding father far outweighs his abuse against Bangladesh and yet Pakistan continues to tolerate Maududi’s legacy. Much of his horrendous abuse against the Quaid-e-Azam has been documented in detail. What is more, Maududi and his party openly supported usurper General Zia’s illegal military dictatorship.

The truth is that under the 1973 Constitution, a complete separation of church and the state may not be immediately possible, but if Pakistan can undo General Zia’s legacy, it will become a much better place to live in. For us, it is an urgent undertaking. We have now learnt that the dead body of Prem Chand, who died in the Margalla plane crash, was marked ‘Kafir’. Is there no end to such bigotry? Some might argue that this is because we asked for a Muslim majority state and a partitioned India. Be that as it may, it bears repeating that Jinnah tried very hard to keep Hindus safe and secure in Pakistan and his efforts paid off partially in Karachi. He also spoke of non-Muslim Pakistanis as being equal Pakistanis and having the closest association with the rest of Pakistan. Today, the minorities are marked separately as if they are less human, let alone less Pakistani.

To drive the message of equality and inclusiveness of Pakistani identity home, Jinnah appointed as his law minister Mr Jogindranath Mandal, a Bengali scheduled caste Hindu, and got Jagganath Azad, a Hindu Urdu poet, to write Pakistan’s first national anthem. Mr Azad had to escape for his life soon afterwards when things became unbearable for the Hindus in Lahore and soon after Jinnah’s death Mr Mandal was driven out. A transcript of Mandal’s signed statement is readily available on the internet. It is nothing less than heartbreaking for a Pakistani who wants to see this flag flying high.

Perhaps the founding fathers should have been more militant in their secularism given that they had gotten the state by mobilising a religious identity, like Kemal Ataturk and Ismet Inonu did in Turkey. Their Turkish nationalism grew out of the group identity of Muslims of Anatolia and Thrace and they deployed Islam to mobilise the Turks, Kurds, Macedonians and even the Arabs living in Anatolia during the war of independence in a much more blatant fashion than the founding fathers of Pakistan. Yet, after the emergence of the modern Turkish Republic, Ataturk and Inonu began to redefine Turkish nationalism in completely secular terms. Consequently, even Turkish Jews are Turks before they are Jews.

In stark contrast to Turkey, especially after Jinnah, Pakistani secularism has met with one defeat after another. We are now at a point in our history that the highfalutin articles of the constitution protecting religious freedom in Pakistan have been defeated in the courts of law. Pakistan may have ratified the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights, but in reality the application of this is impossible unless of course Pakistan’s leaders realise the urgency of the matter.

The poison of General Zia’s bigotry has spread like a cancer in Pakistan’s body politic. Had he not emerged on the scene, it is possible that Pakistan would have taken the regular course of a confessional state to a modern, inclusive and democratic state. While Islamisation was always a going concern in Pakistan since the Objectives Resolution, it was General Zia who ensured that it would always be negative and exclusionary, catering to the Maududian ideology. Pakistan must decisively roll back General Zia, taking a cue from Bangladesh, and declare all the changes inflicted on the legal and constitutional system of Pakistan from Zia’s coup to that grand explosion in the sky, null and void. This would give Pakistan a fighting chance to slowly dig itself out of the hole it has dug itself into.
Remember the war against the Taliban is a generational undertaking. It will be fought in our schools, colleges and courts for the next 50 years. Let us prepare for the battle by learning from Bangladesh. #

First published in The Daily Times, Labore, Pakistan, August 02, 2010

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer. He also blogs at and can be reached at

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