A Head-on Collision with Hawks

Originally published as my weekly BAAGHI in Daily Times on Monday August 29, 2011

If you have any doubt about the stagnation of positivist thought process, decadent intellectual honesty and utter defeat of reason in Pakistan, try speaking your mind against any established collective belief and you are there. I did that and am now facing the music. Abuses of all kinds, allegations of being a traitor, accusations of being a foreign agent, advices to leave Pakistan and go to India (our favourite ‘enemy’) and last but not the least, naked death threats. As they say in Punjabi, “Jinaan khaadiyaan gaajraan, tid ohnaa de peerrh” (those who eat carrots, should be ready for stomach-ache). Not that I was not expecting a backlash but what amazes me is the utter inability to even understand the crux of nonconformity let alone sticking to the terms of engagement.

It started with a talk show on a private TV channel where I was invited as a panellist to supposedly discuss the recent debate about the Two Nation Theory, which a segment of extreme right wing activists think was recently rubbished by Mian Nawaz Sharif on August 13 while addressing a group of Indian and Pakistani delegates in Lahore. Although in his speech Mian sahib never even spoke about the Two Nation Theory, many of us did not shy of appreciating his stance on relations with India and building his argument on the cultural similarity between the two countries. Even in my last column on these pages, I had praised him and defended his extremely pragmatic and rational stance, which I think he and his party should be proud of.

Here comes the problem. Mian Nawaz Sharif in a sagaciously political manner and I in a raw and brash manner pinched hard the protagonist of state-propagated history — the Two Nation Theory. A section of ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis are always quick to brand you as ‘anti-Pakistan’, ‘Pakistan-loathing’ ‘armchair analyst’ and do not waste any time in advising you to quickly leave Pakistan. In my case, it was spiked with aggressive death threats. One wonders in this not-so-pleasant journey of more than six decades, where did we leave sanity? If anyone has been affected the most by terrorism and violence emanating from religio-political radicalisation, it is the ‘educated’ middle class in urban Pakistan. Yes, the same class that is now spearheading our voyage towards intellectual annihilation and violent destruction.

The hugely misunderstood and misreported raison d’être of Pakistan, in my humble opinion, is the root cause of most of the problems and contradictions we are facing right now. It is high time to address that and at least make an attempt to move towards the right side of history by giving our young generations one last chance to say it with confidence and aloud: we Pakistanis need to exist on our own rather than being always ‘relative’ to another nation. However, there is a remote possibility to see it happening in my lifetime or even in my daughter’s lifetime.

The unnecessarily overhyped Two Nation Theory has been constructed in the minds of Pakistanis of almost every class (one feels relieved that most of rural Pakistan does not give a hoot about such historical distortions) as the foundation on which Pakistan stands. Any slightest movement on this issue and the country would, God forbid, fall like a deck of cards. That is precisely what bothers most Pakistanis when someone dares to speak out for a revision in the broader benefit of Pakistan itself. Little do we worry about the irony the foundations of such a wonderful country are put on nothing but a ‘theory’!

Every textbook account of the creation of Pakistan starts with a mention of the Two Nation Theory as the basis of partition. One randomly picked up textbook from the Punjab Book Board states the theory as: “Muslims and Hindus are two separate nations from every definition; therefore Muslims should have a separate homeland in the Muslim majority areas of India, where they can spend their lives according to the glorious teachings of Islam.” Do you smell something? You could be right if you say it initially made the basis of a movement that culminated in reorganisation of the map of the Indian subcontinent due to various other factors covering what is not possible to debate in this limited space. The evolution of Muslim ‘community’ of India into a Muslim ‘nation’ entailed many ebb and flow, which were rooted in the quest for power sharing, political and social rights for the community and a convoluted anxiety foreseeing a submissive position under the majority community (Hindus).

Once the country was created, holding on to the notion of ‘separate nation’ status in fact endangers Pakistan’s existence. In 1971 we lost half of our country due to our stubbornness on denying an important national identity based on their culture and ethnicity, in sheer hangover of the Two Nation Theory. If we still describe ourselves as a separate ‘nation’ from our own Hindu, Christian, Sikh and other religious communities and justify building borders based on this ‘separation’, just imagine what exactly we are saying. What we are saying is, every community other than Muslims is justified and entitled to demand a separate country even today. Mindless adherence to historical political expediencies without any readiness to rethink and revisit them is going to push the country towards permanent destabilisation.

Separation of communities based on religion divided our flag into two distinct parts, probably in the hope that we would be able to internalise all coalescing communities in mainstream Pakistan. What actually happened is very disturbing. The white part not only gets subsumed socially but is also hated upon, neglected and undermined amidst hollow slogans of ‘Islam gives equal status to minorities’. Another syndrome that is going to pose a potential threat to the existence of Pakistan is ‘I am a Muslim first’, which has engulfed young Pakistan — especially the urban classes: upper, middle and lower middle. When we should all have a strong bonding with our own soil and national identity, we are looking towards an identity that does not describe Pakistan in entirety. Being a Muslim might be a pride for us, but making it our first and foremost identity definitely undermines national interest.

Another topic that came under discussion in the said programme was how the panellists look at the future countenance of Pakistan. Secular, was my answer, which created ripples in the social media. It is disappointing but not surprising that the word ‘secular’ is perceived in Pakistani society as a dirty one (I will be discussing it next week on these pages). For now, I am particularly happy on my head-on collision with a hawkish right wing panellist on this most difficult issue of the ‘theory’ we insist to base our reality on. It is most probably a stone in a pond of stagnant water — expected to generate a lot of stink but it will go a long way in positioning Pakistan to start its journey towards sanity, peace, responsibility and prosperity. The debate must go on.