Proper Security and Serves the Minorities Right in Pakistan

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Pakistanis are not spoken of as a minority in other lands – a US citizen of Pakistani origin is a US citizen, not a member of any minority – but in Pakistan it is different. A Christian here, or a Sikh or Hindu, is a minority citizen as per the constitution and he is made to feel that way through every nuance of mood or feeling in what, in our more exalted moments, we claim to be a fortress of Islam.

With such a fortress the Islamic world's perilous condition should come as no surprise. Although, come to think of it, if the United States is the pre-eminent gendarme of the Muslim world, the protector of its kingdoms and emirates, and even republics such as ours, doesn't it deserve this title better than anyone else?

Another irony to savour: the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has a back problem and he must go to the US for treatment. We possess faith, and lots of it. Others possess knowledge and the power of its application. Yet our self-righteousness remains undiluted.

Fortress of Islam or not, no one can deny our claim to being Islam's loudest loudspeaker. There may not be anything remotely Islamic in our collective ways, Islam after all being another name for a just republic, but there's no one to beat us when it comes to lip-service. No temple, no sect, could have louder adherents. If hypocrisy ever stood in need of a higher centre of learning – a centre of excellence, so to speak – the place to discover it would be here.

Pity the innocence of our founding fathers. Did they have no idea of what they were playing with, the ghosts they were resurrecting, of the holy mess in the name of ideology that we, the denizens of the Islamic Republic, would make of their legacy?

In his Aug 11, 1947, speech to the Constituent Assembly, Jinnah realised that Islamic rhetoric had gone too far. That is why he tried reversing the tide by setting out a secularist vision for the state he was founding. Read the speech again in its entirety – it should be worth anyone's while to do so – and all doubts on this score will vanish.

But his was a lone voice in the wilderness. And much as we may make of that speech, it had no decisive or lasting impact. The idea it sought to frame was taken over, virtually hijacked, by forces earlier opposed to the creation of Pakistan. With Jinnah soon gone there was no one powerful enough to stop them as they went about putting the stamp of their own twisted ideas on the ethos of the new state.

This was Jinnah's tragedy, yet to be recognised openly as tragedy in the historiography of Pakistan. His hour of victory, the creation of Pakistan, was also the moment when his dream began to unravel. The state he had meant to found – there being nothing Jamaat-e-Islami or revivalist about it – was not the state that was coming into being. The dream and the emerging reality had begun to diverge.

The new state was predominantly Muslim but in it were also a sizeable number of people of other faiths and persuasions. There was a large Hindu population in East Pakistan and, leaving other faiths aside, substantial Christian communities, well-settled and educated and relatively well-off, in our major cities.

After the horrors let loose by the ill-planned partition of Punjab had subsided and relative calm had set in, there was a chance on the part of the new state to create an open and liberal society, based on reason, even if loosely defined, rather than dogma. Apart from anything else, this would have given a measure of security to the minorities that had decided to remain in Pakistan and make it their home.

But such was the rising chorus of faith-driven rhetoric, and this became very clear during the debates in the Constituent Assembly over the Objectives Resolution, that the minorities started feeling unsafe. The Hindu elite in East Pakistan felt they had no future in Pakistan and started leaving for Calcutta. Working class Hindus remained but we did not have to worry about them either when East Pakistan, much to our anger and amazement, became Bangladesh. The Muslims of Bangladesh did not convert to Hinduism but they had proved that religion alone was not a panacea for every problem and that, in any case, it had not been enough to keep Pakistan together.

If that was the end of our Hindu problem, over the subsequent years we also managed, to a large extent, to solve our Christian problem. There are working class Christian communities in every city of Pakistan and may they remain there until the end of time, adding richness to our collective existence.

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