The Quaid: Pakistan’s Tom Paine or Thomas Jefferson?
By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
Pittsburg, CA

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 espoused.
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.

 

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