the Editor: Akhtar
March 21 , 2014
March and the Advent of Spring
March heralds the advent of spring. It breeds hope, it nurtures the creative impulse, it sustains the drive for a wholesome change.
March 23, 1940 marked a singular development in the life of the Muslims of India. They converged in droves from all parts of India on Lahore, a city cherished for its winding canals, magnificent mosques and graceful buildings, its gardens and roses, where arts and crafts bloomed, where Persian influence led to the development of a Mughal school of miniature paintings and a new architectural style. A city that served as a cultural hub of Muslims.
It was a defining moment. They heard their leader Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's voice resonate in the sprawling Minto Park:
"Mussalmans are a nation according to any definition of nation. We wish our people to develop to the fullest spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people.”
In 1916, Mr Jinnah was hailed as the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity by none other than Sarojini Naidu – the nightingale of Bombay. What transpired in the intervening period to lead to this change of heart?
The Pakistan Resolution of 1940 and its subsequent adoption by the Muslim League was an answer to the Indian National Congress's consistent attempts to deny the Muslim community a religio-political entity of their own.
The controversy began on September 18, 1936, when Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru claimed:
"The real contest is between two forces - the Congress which represents the will to freedom of the nation, and the British Government in India and its supporters who oppose this urge and try to suppress it. Intermediate groups, whatever virtue they may possess, fade out or line up with one of the forces ...The issue for India is that of independence. He, who is for it, must be with the Congress and if he talks in terms of communalism, he is not keen on independence."
Nehru's two-force dictum was not a stray declaration. In response, Jinnah declared: "I refuse to line up with the Congress. I refuse to accept this proposition. There is a third party in this country and that is Muslim India... We are not going to be camp followers of any party." This stance gained concrete formulation during the historic October 1937 re-organizing Session of the Muslim League at Lucknow, which served as a launching pad for the Pakistan Movement.
Seventy-four years later, the stock-taking continues to reappraise the past in the light of the present. For some, on the eve of March 23, 2014, the winter of despair continues to linger on; for many, a spring of hope has arrived.
Dismal governance today, along with larcenous leadership, has bred despondency. Particularly worrisome is the wanton killings of fellow Shia Muslims and minority groups as well as suicide bombings termed haram by Islam. But these are solvable issues. Americans today salute Lincoln for saving the union; they don’t retrospectively blame him for the damage inflicted on America by others.
In contrast, there have been a string of successes. The nation did produce a Nobel laureate physicist in Dr Abdus Salam (his later bigoted mistreatment is an indefensible blot). It had the wherewithal, despite severe limitations in resources, to become the world’s first Muslim nuclear power. It houses a world-class military institute in the shape of the Command and Staff College at Quetta, which has produced four British military chiefs including World War II hero, Field Marshal Montgomery. In its short history, Pakistan has had the unique distinction of being world champions in hockey, cricket, squash, and snooker. With all its limitations, Pakistan remains the Muslim nation with the most democratic freedoms in the world.
Lately, there has been a major transformation of the landscape of our universities under the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Six of Pakistani universities are now ranked among the top 500 of the world. Our international research publications have soared from about 600 in 2002 to about 8,000 in 2012, bringing us ahead of India in terms of research publications per million people.
Some successes stand out: While a Muslim emperor built the Taj Mahal as testimony of his enduring love for his empress, a Muslim scientist built another magnificent structure in Pakistan in the post-independence era to demonstrate his abiding interest in scientific enquiry. The emergence of the grandiose laboratories in the idyllic surroundings of Nilore did not go unnoticed. Commented a prestigious American weekly: “... If the Mughal emperors who had built the Taj Mahal were alive today they would have rubbed their eyes in wonderment at the architectural beauty of Pinstech ...” In due course, the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology - PINSTECH - was to become famous not just for its architectural beauty but its world-class research undertakings. Dr I H Usmani had placed Pakistan on the nuclear map. His budding corps of scientists and engineers zestfully learnt the art of drawing energy from the heart of the atom. Today, Pakistan’s aging reactors, as well as the new ones, continue to operate safely under international safeguards.
Another Pakistani scientist, at about the same time, embarked on the arduous task of establishing a world-class theoretical physics research center for Third World physicists. His efforts were fiercely contested and for some time blunted by snooty developed-country physicists who contended that the discipline had no place in bullock-cart countries: it constituted the Rolls Royce of physics and was the exclusive preserve of the developed world. The Pakistani scientist did not relent. He was not ruffled. Others joined forces. Finally, in 1964 the United Nations voted in favor of the center and the ICTP made its debut. By and by, the focus expanded from theoretical physics to other challenging disciplines - molecular biology, genetic engineering, microelectronics - and the city of Trieste tucked away in the northern part of Italy hummed with scientific enquiry, virtually a science city in the heart of Europe. When the Pakistani scientist died, the United Nations befittingly named the center he had founded as The Abdus Salam International Center of Theoretical Physics.
What is more heartening, the Pakistan middle class today appears in a mood to defy conservative stereotypes. It is on the march, Western media reports testify.
American fast-food and fashion outlets are taking Pakistan’s growing middle class by storm, defying stereotypes about a conservative Muslim country plagued by violence.
The rupee may have nose-dived, a third of the population may live in poverty and sectarian violence may be at a record high, but remarkably, consumer spending is up among a resilient elite fond of imported luxuries.
In a smart corner of Karachi, a new mall offers wealthy clientele the chance to lunch on an American burger, buy French cosmetics, shop for cocktail dresses, sip an afternoon cappuccino or wolf down a cinnamon roll!
Female sales assistants dressed in jeans and T-shirts buck the idea that “service industry” jobs are unsuitable for women, even if many of them commute to work heavily veiled to avoid being harassed or insulted. Lahore, over the years, continues to fire the imagination of writers, artists and thinkers. The 2013 annual literary festival especially brought a ‘feel-good’ factor. For two days, large crowds filled the halls of the Alhamra Art Center to listen to lilting recitals of Urdu and English language poetry, and to delight in classical dance and music.
“This lets Lahore see what Lahore is,” commented Mohsin Hamid, author of the 'Reluctant Fundamentalist' who launched his new book 'How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia'.
Mohammed Hanif, a former BBC journalist who shot to fame with his first novel 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes', discussed his latest writing on the many who “disappear” in the volatile south-western province of Balochistan.
These changes are in consonance with the vision and drive of the founder, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, whose life in the words of eminent scholar Dr Akbar Ahmed, spans different centuries, cultures and continents. He was born in Karachi in 1876, studied at Lincoln's Inn in London, practiced law in Bombay, led the movement which resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947, and died in Karachi in 1948. Jinnah was renowned for his reserve and impeccable attire. It was widely rumored that his suits were stitched in London’s Savile Row. In demeanor and deportment, he was the quintessential Victorian gentleman. He was a leader who succeeded against all odds. And he was a champion of the rule of law and a dauntless opponent of fanaticism and hate.
In his first speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, delivered on August 11, 1947, Jinnah sent a powerful message of inclusivity to non-Muslim Pakistani minorities:
"You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State . . . We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State. "
The Quaid frequently reminded his Muslim audience of this Islamic ideal of enlightenment:
"Our own history and our Prophet have given the clearest proof that non-Muslims have been treated not only justly and fairly but generously." Jinnah was confident of Pakistan’s future.
His words regarding the poor and the less privileged are particularly poignant:
"Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.”
To inspire national self-belief and self-esteem, and to stage a comeback on the international stage, it is the foremost challenge, particularly amongst the youth, to rediscover the spirit and vision which animated the Pakistan Movement and the founding of the nation. To cite the Quaid, “Let it not be said that we proved unequal to the task.”
(The writer, Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui, is the editor of Pakistan Link)