The South Asia Channel

Salvaging Jinnah’s Pakistan

When I catch myself wondering about Pakistan’s future, I am reminded of an old man I saw standing on the side of Mall Road in Lahore one hot summer evening last year. He stood there all by himself in the sweltering heat, dressed in a suit, holding up a sign that read: "We want Jinnah’s ...

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

When I catch myself wondering about Pakistan’s future, I am reminded of an old man I saw standing on the side of Mall Road in Lahore one hot summer evening last year. He stood there all by himself in the sweltering heat, dressed in a suit, holding up a sign that read: "We want Jinnah’s Pakistan back." Watching him stand there, I found myself swept away in a moment of deep sadness – his message resonated with my own yearning for a better Pakistan, my own deep-seated desire to believe that Jinnah’s dream of a prosperous Pakistan meant something. I later found out that the man had been involved in Pakistan’s struggle for independence. He had fought for Pakistan in 1947 and he was clinging to the belief that his struggle had not been for nothing, that Jinnah’s dream was still worth fighting for.

Today is August 14, the same day when 66 years ago Pakistan gained its independence and came into existence with the passionate words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who promised a new beginning: 

"If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make."

Jinnah’s promise of a Pakistan where caste, color, and creed did not divide people resonated after the bloodbath that had followed the subcontinent’s partition. The horrific stories that accompanied the birth of the new state have been well-documented: trains full of bloodied corpses pulling up to stations, women in some villages begging to be killed to avoid being raped by rioters, neighbors slaughtering each other, and widespread rape and killing in what seemed like frenzied madness. In all, half a million people died and 10 million were displaced, a tragedy of momentous proportions that India and Pakistan struggled to deal with.

Sadat Hassan Manto beautifully captures the sense of deep angst, confusion and dislocation that partition created in his famous story Toba Tek Singh. Old identities were thrown into question and new ones were created as people found themselves separated from their lands, their homes, and their families with siblings on different sides of the same border. To some Pakistanis, Jinnah’s words offered hope and solace in the aftermath of what became one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.

Yet the birth of the new state of Pakistan was not greeted with joy by many who found themselves, almost overnight, citizens of that state. The movement behind the formation of Pakistan was largely led by Muslims from the Muslim-minority regions of India, such as the United Provinces. This Muslim elite did not represent the views of the Muslim majority provinces that later became a part of Pakistan; in fact, the Muslim League had a very limited grass-roots presence in India’s Muslim-majority provinces. Moreover, ethnic and religious tensions emerged quickly after partition. Baloch nationlists, for example, trace some of their grievances back to these early years, arguing that Jinnah had promised autonomy to the Khan of Kalat, ruler of the princely state of Kalat, now Balochistan, but had later forced the Khan to later accede unconditionally to Pakistan. Kashmir became an issue of lasting contention between India and Pakistan, which remains unresolved to this day. Both countries also faced the formidable task of resettling the millions of migrants who had crossed the border at partition.

While Pakistan faced considerable challenges from the very beginning, especially in terms of creating a sense of nationhood out of its diverse regions, there was enough hope surrounding the new state that Jinnah could speak of looking forward to "Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world." The real tragedy of Pakistan is that a mere 66 years later, it is now labeled the "most dangerous nation" in the world rather than one of the greatest nations. But how could things have gone so very wrong in less than seven decades?

This is a question that most Pakistanis have to grapple with today. It hangs heavy in the air during the horrifying aftermath of suicide blasts, sectarian violence, confrontations between the Pakistani military and militants, and separatist violence in Baluchistan. It is a question that plagues the growing population of Pakistanis who cannot get adequate security, clean drinking water, electricity, access to education, proper health care, and affordable food. 

And yet this question resists any straightforward answers, with Pakistan’s problems often blamed on a wide variety of things, including its problematic relationship with its Islamic identity, the history of military rule, incompetent leadership and bad decisions, President Zia-ul Haq’s Islamization reforms, the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan’s geo-political insecurities (especially involving India), and the U.S.-led "War on Terror," among others. Pakistanis cannot agree on a way forward and in the absence of that, there seems to be no end to the country’s downward slide.  

"We are in the midst of unparalleled difficulties and untold sufferings", Jinnah said in the aftermath of partition, "we have been through dark days of apprehension and anguish; but I can say with confidence that with courage and self-reliance and by the Grace of God we shall emerge triumphant." These words, spoken 66 years ago, speak just as easily to the situation that Pakistan finds itself in today. Yet, will courage, self-reliance and the Grace of God help Pakistan out of its current quandary? Pakistanis like myself often find themselves wondering – will things ever get better? Is Jinnah’s dream of a utopian Pakistan just a distant relic of the country’s past, no longer relevant or meaningful in the light of harsh realities?

Maybe now, more than ever, the struggle of the ordinary Pakistani is to believe that another world is possible, even in the face of harsh realities that suggest otherwise, even when the odds are stacked against it. After all, when Pakistanis stop believing that a better future is possible, that is when they have truly given up on their country. Maybe when that old man stood on the road with his banner demanding Jinnah’s Pakistan, that’s what he was doing – holding onto a dream when the world around him seemed to turn upside down. 

Fatima Mustafa is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation and a PhD candidate at Boston University’s Political Science department, writing her dissertation on the failures of state-building in Pakistan.

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