Pakistan, in its current form, came into being on December 16, 1971. It was carved out, not from a Hindu-majority subcontinent like its predecessor, but from a Bengali-majority remnant of an ideological experiment.
The country born on August 14, 1947, which had been founded on religious nationalism and still continues to be reminisced over as a part of the current state’s history, ceased to exist following this rebirth. For, religion had failed to bind the patched-up nationalism in the two Muslim-majority realms, separated by 1,000 miles of ‘foreign territory’.
Even so, unlike any other Westphalian nation-state in history, Pakistan adopted a stance of self-aggrandisement after losing more than half of its population. Perhaps akin to the Czech Republic still calling itself Czechoslovakia or Serbia calling itself ‘Serbia and Montenegro’, or even Yugoslavia should it feel ambitious enough, West Pakistan decided to call itself Pakistan. It’s like Bismarck’s Prussia referring to itself as Germany prior to 1871’s unification or either of the two German wings proclaiming the same before 1990’s reunification. Even the mighty Soviet Union demoted itself to Russia after losing a significantly less percentage of territory and population in another similarly failed ideological experiment for nationhood.
In a way, West Pakistan’s persistence with the name Pakistan rubberstamped an arrogant idea that had caused the loss of East Pakistan in the first place: that Bengalis weren’t really a part of the Muslim nationalist movement spearheaded by an amalgamation of Islam and Urdu. Hence, by losing Bengal, Pakistan never truly lost any of its ‘essence’. And yet the reality was that by 1972 both UP and Bengal, the twin epicenters of the Pakistan movement, lay outside the state that uninhibitedly continued to call itself Pakistan. In 1972, both Bangladesh and India inhabited more Muslims than ‘Pakistan’.
Another predicament facing Pakistan post 1971 was that it couldn’t really call itself anything else. Islamistan or Muslimistan were synonymous with the word Pakistan anyway, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto –one of the founding fathers of the existing Pakistan –further clarified that in the 1973 Constitution.
While vows to ‘never forget’ 1971 reverberated in ‘Pakistan’, little effort was made to clarify what exactly it was that wasn’t to be forgotten. ‘Not forgetting’ tragedies is as easy as it is painful. It’s the causes leading up to them and the ensuing lessons that need to be constantly remembered. Historically we haven’t found forgetting these lessons too difficult a task, since we never quite learn them in the first place.
The first lesson that 1971 should’ve taught us was that Islam shouldn’t be used to define nationhood, and should be separated from state, for it blatantly breeds Muslim supremacism which evolves into takfir. Bhutto’s Pakistan did the opposite by not only allowing its Constitution to decide who is and isn’t a Muslim (exhibit A of takfir) but also by hankering after Pan-Islamism, vying to woo the Arab states that were toying with West in the 70s. It is those ‘strengthened’ relations with the Arabs that eased funding for radical Islamism in Pakistan in the coming decades.
he second obvious lesson from 1971 was that nationhood can’t be defined by antagonism towards other peoples. While 1947’s Pakistani nationalist identity was ‘not-Indian’, it had evolved to ‘neither Indian, nor Bengali’ by 1971. But for a state that put the cart of statehood before the horse of nationalism, finding a common national identity outside of Islam was still a work in progress.
It was during this time, much before US saw them as potent anti-Soviet tools and after their brethren had been unsuccessful in Kashmir in the 60s, that Pakistan began pumping mujahideen into the north-west, seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan vis-à-vis India. One of the reasons why a two-winged Pakistan had captured the imagination of the state’s rigid security machinery was because it allowed the country to ‘flank’ India, in turn gaining two-way strategic depth. The nascent post-1971 Pakistan became paranoid about going from being the ‘flanker’ to the ‘flankee’ should India establish its presence in Afghanistan.
It is that paranoia, superiority syndrome, and religionist zeal born after December 16, 1971, perpetuated equally by the Islamist Zia regime, the ‘moderate enlightened’ Musharraf regime – and the spoof of democracy in between – wherein we can trace the origins of December 16, 2014.
We’re constantly reminded to #NeverForget the APS attack, with innocent children’s horrific murders being advertised without any self-reflection. That it was state-sponsored jihadism perpetuated for decades in mosques and madrassas all over Pakistan, that has spawned a cancer that is killing us from within, hasn’t even been officially acknowledged, let alone dealt with. The suicidal idea of taming a jihadist monster to hunt for specific prey, has neither been recognised as suicidal, nor abandoned in the corridors of power. The reality that jihadism preys on any and every form of Muslim supremacism is yet to be accepted.
While the 1947 Pakistan was founded on a skewed demographical idea that deemed Muslims of the Muslim-majority provinces more suited to statehood, than the Muslims of the Hindu-majority provinces left behind in India, the 1971 Pakistan was created after ‘democrats’ of West Pakistan believed that Muslims of Bengal were inferior ‘in quality’ if not ‘quantity’ as Bhutto constantly reminded everyone.
It is the same supremacism that manifested outside Hafeez Centre, Lahore this week, in calls for Ahmadiyya apartheid, the logical corollary of the Second Amendment to the 1973 Constitution and Ordinance XX of 1984.
Before the APS attack the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had unleashed their Muslim supremacism by reciprocating the Pakistani Constitution and excommunicating the Pakistan Army for launching the operation Zarb-e-Azb. They wrote in their pamphlets and spoke to their supporters to say that Army officers, and their children were murtadeen. It was these children we lost in numbers we had never imagined we would count, before we encountered December 16, 2014. It is precisely this false supremacy, and the horrors it brings to our door, which we must ‘never forget’.
As long as such religious supremacism is explicitly, or implicitly, a part of the Constitution and educational narrative, actual lessons from 1971 or 2014 would never be learnt. Until armed jihad and radical Islamism is named and shamed, without any dillydallying, #NeverForget will remain a meaningless hashtag and a constant insult to APS victims.
It doesn’t take long for the idea that a ‘Muslim is superior to a non-Muslim’ to evolve into a murderous debate to decide who is a better Muslim. That’s what happened in Dhaka. That’s what happened in Peshawar. Let’s never forget that.