Pakistan’s Tom Paine or Thomas Jefferson?
By Mohammad Ashraf
Stephen P. Cohen in his book, “The Idea
of Pakistan”, on page 28 writes about the
Quaid: “A brilliant political strategist
and speaker, he was Pakistan’s Tom Paine
and George Washington. He was not, however, a
Jefferson, a theoretician or deep thinker”.
The comparison is interesting, though slightly
misplaced. It is apt, but not absolutely appealing.
The Quaid was, undoubtedly, Pakistan’s George
Washington. History tells us that even in the
absence of George Washington, also popularly known
as the Father of the Country, America still would
have got its independence, as there was present
a back-up team of the wisest men, known as the
Founding Fathers of the Nation, totally infused
with the spirit of founding a new nation on the
map of the world, and thoroughly qualified to
handle the challenges the new country was to encounter.
The Quaid, on the other hand was not so unfortunate
as there in a sense that without him there would
have been no Pakistan. He alone made Pakistan
happen. He, undoubtedly, was the George Washington
of Pakistan minus George Washington’s luck
to have a galaxy of luminaries surrounding him,
or have a lease of life he had to serve the newly
born nation for eight years and provide it with
the kind of able direction and patronage a fledgling
nation so direly needs.
The two-term Presidency of George Washington gave
the newly born United States of America three
such gifts as would outshine all its subsequent
victories and moon landing feats it performed
in its history of 215 years. His first gift was:
The principle of civilian control over the military.
The surrender of Charles Cornwallis on October
19, 1781 before the combined American and French
forces whose commander-in-chief was none else
but George Washington himself, would easily have
entitled him to a life-term of the job, but no.
It is just after a year or so that in 1783, he
prepared to present himself before the Congress,
and formally resign his commission as commander-in-chief.
By doing so, he established an enduring precedent;
his most selfless and precious gift to a budding
nation, which being that it would be the civilian
president who would control the American military.
The dividends this great nation reaped are too
obvious to warrant any definition.
Hasan Abbas, in his book, “Pakistan’s
Drift into Extremism”, in Chapter 2 page
26, describes a water-shed incident that occurred
in 1949 that had “a huge impact on the military
and political history of Pakistan, but is often
ignored by historians”. The incident reported
was the plane crash at Jungshahi which had on
board the designated next commander-in-chief of
Pakistan, Major General Iftikhar Khan. According
to General Sher Ali, the history of Pakistan would
have been different if General Iftikhar Khan had
become C-in-C of the Pakistan Army, because he
would never have allowed the army to be used for
political purposes and would never have used his
position as a doorway to political power.
History became different when Gen. Ayub Khan rose
from the rank of a lieutenant colonel to a four-star
general in only four years to be appointed as
C-in-C in 1951. (The Story of Soldiering and Politics
in India and Pakistan, 1978, pp. 116, 126, by
Maj. General Sher Ali Khan). In the entire history
of Pakistan army, perhaps there has been only
one incident in which a general repeated what
George Washington had so willingly done for his
nation some 215 years back. Toward the end of
1949, as General Gracey’s term of office
neared its end, he tapped Major General Akbar
Khan, the senior-most Pakistani officer, to take
over. But General Akbar refused the office on
the grounds that the job was beyond his competence
- an admission never made by any Pakistani army
officer again, though many were eminently qualified
to make it, writes Hasan Abbas on page 33 of his
book. The military’s involvement in politics
has produced the kind of Pakistan we have today.
Comparisons only make the differences distinct.
George Washington’s second great gift to
a newly born nation was his principle of two-term
Presidency. When a grateful nation unanimously
elected him as its first President in 1789, it
would have been very logical for him to empower
himself as much as he could because the presidency
then was not a bed of roses. He did not do so.
He established the authority of the new civil
government, crushed the Whisky rebellion, and
introduced many financial programs suggested by
Alex Hamilton. After two terms, when the nation
offered him a third term, he declined it stoically.
Through this personal example he set an enduring
precedent which lasted until 1940 when Franklin
Roosevelt defied it and ran for the third term.
Politically the Quaid was also essentially democratic,
and was a man of law and a champion of civil and
human rights. It is quite logical to deduce that
he would have done the same as was done by George
Washington, namely, limiting the term of the chief
executive of the country to a specific tenure,
as he was definitely against any kind of king-ship
appearing under different names, and definitely
he would have established the principle of civilian
control over the military had he been blessed
with George Washington’s life span. India,
in our neighborhood, did well because of this
principle well established by the Quaid’s
archrival, Pandat Nehru.
George Washington’s third gift of remaining
neutral, not isolated as far as possible, would
essentially have remained a cardinal point of
the Quaid’s foreign policy. Neither he,
nor Gandhi, Nehru and perhaps Patel, ever foresaw
or imagined that after partition these two new
countries would horn-lock themselves in perennial
enmity and hostility towards each other.
Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan and
later in Kashmir has many a lesson for those who
are willing to open their minds and learn something
positive from the past mistakes.
That as a brilliant political strategist and speaker,
the Quaid was Pakistan’s Tom Pain…,
not, however, a Jefferson, a theoretician or deep
thinker, is where the analogy and comparison needs
adjustment. I would call Thomas Paine, America’s
Edmund Burke, and much more, a man of great ideas,
a rare visionary, a prophetic dreamer, an 18th
century Socrates and an American Voltaire. Few
people in human history would match the strength
and variety of ideas that he possessed. If Voltaire
made the French people think, Thomas Paine made
the American war of independence a success by
dint of his ideas. “These are the times
that try men’s souls”, this quotation
from his pamphlet, The American Crisis, most beautifully
and tersely sums up the beginnings of the American
Revolution and his own life.
It is a matter of honor to have the Quaid compared
to him, but the comparison does not stick well
beyond the streak of secularism that thinly exists
between the two. Even there the Quaid was not
as secular as Tom Paine was. Look what Thomas
Paine’s most beautiful creation, the Age
of Reason, did to him. It was a piece of literature
produced by him while in French prison, and like
any other writings produced in jail, it was remarkably
bold, ahead of its time, and was thought-provoking.
(It happened in our sub-continent too, the best
that came from such luminaries as Abul Kalam Azad,
Gandhi, Nehru, Mohammad Ali Johar, Maududi and
Faiz, to namely only a few, was produced when
they were in jail).
After the publication of the Age of Reason, Tom
Paine overnight became the most defiled person,
and quite a few even called him a lunatic, others
labeled him an atheist. Throughout most of his
life, he was a failure in the mundane sense, and
lived off the gratitude and generosity of others.
His writings and ideas did inspire a nation because
he knew well the art of communicating his ideas
of revolution to common farmers as easily as to
intellectuals. But ideas did not feed him well.
Undoubtedly, he was the first to give the idea
of a world peace organization, like the UNO we
have; he was the first to give the idea to have
an organization to look after the poor and the
elderly, the sort America has today, namely the
Social Security benefit scheme; he was the one
who spoke staunchly against slavery when most
Founding Fathers owned slaves. Wonderful ideas
make people look at you in awe, but radical ideas
often land you in unforeseeable trouble, too.
Paine was not for evolution or gradual changes;
he was for total revolution and radical changes
in the society. The nation that worshipped him
in 1776’s after the publication of his Common
Sense in which he offered a strong defense of
American Independence from England, and his pamphlet,
The American Crisis (1776-83) in which he inspired
the fighting soldiers convincing them that the
cause for which they were fighting was noble,
and which was read by more people then than today
that watch the Super Bowl, that very nation after
the publication of the Age of Reason began to
shun him and neglect him just because he had expressed
some highly provocative views on Christ, Bible,
Revelations, Christianity and on other religions.
As a result, he was derided in public, and was
abandoned by his own friends. And when he died
on June 8, 1809 in New York City, a very few people
could muster up some courage to attend his funeral.
In later years, England, his motherland which
had once charged him for treason, woke up to discover
that he was their brightest son, and in this zest
for owning him, it even lost what had remained
of him, his few ashes while transferring them
from America to England. The Quaid, therefore,
hardly matches the life-sketch of Thomas Paine.
Both were diametrically different; one a radical
revolutionary, the other a cautious and calculating
planner; one a great but failed person; other
an epitome of worldly success; one a dependent
on others, other the costliest attorney a colonial
India could ever produce; one a catalyst behind
the creation of a great nation; other a sole architect
of a country. In certain ways, Tom Paine appears
closer to Allama Iqbal than to the Quaid, but
here too, the comparison seems far-stretched.
“He, the Quaid, was not, however, a Jefferson,
a theoretician or deep thinker”; here, too,
the comparison held by Stephen P. Cohen appears
somewhat misplaced. The Quaid in all likelihood
seems closer to Jefferson (1743-1826), than to
Tom Paine. Jefferson became the third president
of the United States of America (1801-9), while
Tom Paine, notwithstanding the force of his ideas,
remained a failed person throughout. Jefferson
advocated the separation of church and state and
believed in religious freedom. The Quaid also
refused to be associated with any movement that
had a religious taint and condemned such an act
when Gandhi attempted to join the Khilafat Movement
in plain words: “It was a crime to mix up
politics and religion the way he had done”.
His address of 11th August in which he outlined
the policies of the new government with relation
to religion and politics, assuring all, especially
the minorities that there would be religious freedom;
and that the mode of rule for the country would
be democratic, had an echo of the same message
that was given by Jefferson to his new nation.
What distinguished Jefferson from Hamiltonians
was his championing the cause of States’
rights and agrarian interests; the Quaid also
believed in giving maximum autonomy to the provinces.
Remember, how in united India where Muslims were
in majority in only four out of a total of 11
provinces, he magically gave new meanings to the
word minority, and interpreted it as a nation.
The Quaid and Jefferson, both were very successful
men of law and both had earned a name in this
field. Jefferson was a delegate to the Continental
Congress held in 1775-76, and was the one who
drafted the Declaration of Independence. Among
the galaxy of Founding Fathers, Jefferson is the
most versatile as he is well remembered for his
faith in the capacity of people to govern themselves
through their representatives. The Quaid also
believed in the power of people, and in their
birthright to elect their own representatives.
The Quaid was the spirit and mind behind the Muslim
League, though he was not its father; Jefferson
was indeed the father and the founding leader
of the democratic-Republican Party. Both led a
very successful and accomplished life. The comparison
ends when we see the progeny’s attitude
towards the ideals and ideas these great men had
The Americans acted upon them by incorporating
them in letter and spirit in their constitution
and prospered; we made slogans of them and paid
only lip-service to them, and regressed. On the
tombstone of Jefferson at Monticello we read the
inscription he himself had ordered: “Author
of the Declaration of American Independence, of
the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom,
and Father of the University of Virginia”;
on Quaid’s Mausoleum, we just say Fateha,
hardly read what is inscribed on his tomb-stone,
and remember him as the Father of Nation, doubting
in heart whether he was justified in seceding
from India and creating a new homeland for Muslims.
The Americans repent too, for not having started
the struggle of their independence from their
British cousins a little earlier.