We Have Learned From History That We Have Not Learned From History
I am not sure if the peculiar strains which confronted Pakistan immediately on its emergence as a free state are adequately understood.
The first strain was ideological. It is a common fallacy to believe that the concept of Pakistan was formed in a poet’s dream. The poet, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, was no idle dreamer. Nor can countries like Pakistan (364,737 square miles; population 80,000,000) spring from the nebulous realm of poetry alone. Iqbal was in fact a philosopher of traditional as well as modern thought who had made a careful study of human affairs, both East and West, and focused the light of his inquiry on the causes of economic and cultural subjugation to which the Muslims of India had been systematically subjected since their first abortive struggle for independence in 1857. It was in his presidential address to the annual session of All-India Muslim League in 1930 that he spelt out the broad outlines of a plan under which the Muslims of India were led to aspire to an independent state in which they would be free to follow their own way of life.
The All-India Muslim League based its Charter on this idea and, under the leadership of Qaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, launched a struggle which culminated in the establishment of Pakistan in August 1947.
Iqbal’s thesis that in their free state the Muslims were to practice their own way of life posed an ideological problem which was not easy to handle. On one hand, there were many outside Pakistan who charged us with planning to establish an obdurate theocracy in the mediæval sense of the term. On the other, most of us within Pakistan itself were not quite clear how to go about welding our spiritual ideals into the business of statecraft. The result was a great deal of loose groping which infected our politics and our intellect alike.
Pakistan was thus involved in the paradox of almost losing its ideology in the very act of trying to fulfill it. This distraction was totally unwarranted, for Iqbal, one of the main creators of our ideology, had taken pains to define it in very clear terms: “In Islam the spiritual and the temporal are not two distinct domains and the nature of an act, however secular in its import, is determined by the attitude of mind with which the agent does it. It is the invisible mental background of the act which ultimately determines its character. An act is temporal or profane if it is done in a spirit of detachment from the infinite complexity of life behind it. It is spiritual if it is inspired by that complexity. In Islam it is the same reality which appears as Church looked at from one point of view and State from another.”
According to this concept, the State owes a singular and specific duty to its people. “The essence of Tauhid (Unity of God) as a working idea is equality, solidity and freedom,” according to Iqbal. “The State from the Islamic standpoint is an endeavor to transform these ideals into space-time forces, an aspiration to realize them in a definite human organization.”
It is this sort of human organization which Pakistan aspires to become and one of my endeavors is to clear at least a part of the way by liberating the basic concept of our ideology from the dust of vagueness and ambiguities it has accumulated over the years.
The second strain which befell Pakistan immediately on its emergence was economic. Besides more than 9,000,000 refugees who poured over the border in a state of appalling terror and distress, food fell desperately short owing to hundreds of thousands of acres of land going out of use every year on account of salinity and water-logging, a menace which still continues unabated. As much as 10,000,000 acres of good fertile land have already fallen out of cultivation on this account. Moreover, successive governments were unable to control the situation adequately, and large-scale, organized smuggling, currency rackets, black-marketing and increasingly plastic standards of honesty and efficiency brought the affairs of the country to the verge of total ruin.
The third strain–which is a continuous one–is geographical. Divided into two wings (West Pakistan: 310,236 square miles, population 38,779,000; East Pakistan: 54,501 square miles, population 42,063,000), there are over 1,000 miles of India in-between without any assured means of land communications. Air travel is heavily subsidized but still too expensive for most people. The sea link involves a journey of about seven days. There is diversity of languages, scripts and social customs. By the very nature of things, these factors are centrifugal and call for a new and bold experiment with political and administrative science to weave unity out of diversity. The situation is often difficult but not baffling, for a common ideology provides a positive base for cohesion. The firmness of this base is strong or weak accordingly as that ideology is understood and practiced rightly or wrongly.
Finally, there is the emotional factor. Till the advent of Pakistan, none of us was in fact a Pakistani, for the simple reason that there was no territorial entity bearing that name. Actually, the boundaries of Pakistan were still being drawn and re-drawn secretly in the Viceregal Lodge at New Delhi when independence was proclaimed. Never had the destiny of so many millions depended so helplessly on the arbitrary strokes of one man’s pencil. It was because Mr. Radcliffe happened to make a small dent on the wrong side of the line that over 4,000,000 inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir have been locked in a life-and-death struggle for self-determination for 13 long and dreadful years.
So, prior to 1947, our nationalism was based more on an idea than on any territorial definition. Till then, ideologically we were Muslims; territorially we happened to be Indians; and parochially we were a conglomeration of at least eleven smaller, provincial loyalties. But when suddenly Pakistan emerged as a reality, we who had got together from every nook and corner of the vast sub-continent of India were faced with the task of transforming all our traditional, territorial and parochial loyalties into one great loyalty for the new state of Pakistan. This process of metamorphism was naturally attended by difficult psychological and emotional strains which we have borne in full measure–and are still bearing.
Under normal circumstances, it would have required most extraordinary efforts by the best of governments to cope with the problems which have been confronting us. But unfortunately neither have our circumstances been normal, nor did we have good strong governments; and they did not make even ordinary efforts to resolve the problems in front of them.
The founder of Pakistan, Qaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was already a sick man on the eve of his triumph. He died within about a year. His Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, who had been closest to him during the struggle for independence, fell to an assassin’s bullet in 1952. This created a vacuum in top leadership; and in smaller hands party politics became a mad scramble for power. Government after government rose and fell and within a period of five years six Prime Ministers presided over precariously balanced cabinets. The real and pressing problems of the country were ignored in this hide and seek for power.
It is now the fashion to blame the politicians outright for this mess. Yes, they were guilty of many misdeeds of omission and commission; but there is one fundamental point in which, I have a feeling, they were rather sinned against than sinning. That is, they were given a system of government totally unsuited to the temper and climate of the country.
The British parliamentary system which we inherited and later adopted in the Constitution of 1956 is largely an unwritten law and takes for granted too many prerequisites which do not really exist in a country like Pakistan. Our rate of literacy is appallingly low. Our means of communication are poor, even primitive. The rural population which constitutes over 80 percent of the total is hardly touched by the world outside the villages.
Just before independence, when Mr. Jinnah was anxious to put more and more of his party men in the Central and Provincial Assemblies of India to carry on the struggle for the idea of Pakistan, he issued an appeal: “Vote for a Muslim Leaguer even if it be a lamp-post.” People complied cheerfully; some even literally! When independence came, the gentlemen thus elected found themselves in a position of vantage to assume power in the new state of Pakistan, and the political system in their hands enabled them to keep delaying the making of a constitution for about eight years. The outgoing Parliament of Pakistan had 80 seats, each member presuming to represent about a million of his countrymen for almost an indefinite period. Even under the Constitution of 1956, a member of the Provincial Assembly was required to be elected by more than 100,000 voters. Now this is the type of electoral college which just cannot work in Pakistan–or for that matter in any country where conditions like those of Pakistan obtain, as they do in many newly independent countries of Asia and Africa. An average villager with little or no education has no means of gaining any personal knowledge about a candidate who is mixed up in a population of 100,000 or more, spread over a large area without any advanced means of communication and contact. Votes cast under these circumstances cannot but be vague, wanton and responsive to fear, coercion, temptation and other modes of misguidance. This is exactly what had been happening in Pakistan. Whenever elections were held, they could be easily manipulated to return candidates with power to influence, money to bribe and nuisance value to coerce. Conditions such as these reduce the practice of democracy to a farce.
But this does not dismay us. Nor should it be taken to imply that we can do–or wish to do–without democracy. The revolution of October 7, 1958, was not aimed against the institution of democracy as such. No, it was only against the manner in which its institutions were being worked. There are two main reasons why we in Pakistan cannot but adhere to a democratic pattern of life and government. In the first place, as Muslims, we are brought up on two basic ingredients of democracy, namely, equality and fraternity. Anything to the contrary would be the negation of our spiritual faith and practice. And, secondly, we have to fight a long and arduous battle for progress and development in which every man, woman and child of Pakistan must participate to the fullest possible extent. Democracy provides the only healthy and dignified way for arousing the willing coöperation of people and harnessing it to a sustained national endeavor.
We must, therefore, have democracy. The question then is: What type of democracy? The answer need not be sought in the theories and practices of other people alone. On the contrary, it must be found from within the book of Pakistan itself.
To my mind, there are four prerequisites for the success of any democratic system in a country like Pakistan:
1. It should be simple to understand, easy to work and cheap to sustain.
2. It should put to the voter only such questions as he can answer in the light of his own personal knowledge and understanding without external prompting.
3. It should ensure the effective participation of all citizens in the affairs of the country up to the level of their mental horizon and intellectual calibre.
4. It should be able to produce reasonably strong and stable governments.
The scheme of “basic democracies” which has been launched in Pakistan is designed to meet most of these fundamental prerequisites. Under this scheme, the two wings of the country have each been divided into 40,000 constituencies with an average population of about 1,000. Every constituency elects one representative by universal franchise. In such a small and well-defined field of choice, voters of the meanest intelligence cannot go far wrong in putting their finger on the right type of candidate.
Ten such constituencies form a Union Council in the rural areas, and this elects its own chairman from amongst the elected members. Provision has also been made for nominated members to ensure, where necessary, the representation of special interests, like women, minorities, etc. In towns and larger municipalities organization follows a similar pattern.
The elected chairmen of Union Councils and Town Committees represent their areas on the next tier of administration, namely, the Thana Council, which covers the entire area under the jurisdiction of a Police Station. From this stage, this system of associating the chosen representatives of the people with local administration travels upwards covering all intermediary tiers, like tehsils, districts and divisions, up to the provincial level. This is designed to ensure a full sense of coöperation between the official and elected agencies at all stages of public administration.
The first elections to basic democracies were held last December and I feel the results were quite heartening. The average percentage of votes cast was 67 percent by men and 42 percent by women. Those elected included 14 percent university graduates, 78 percent literate and 8 percent illiterate members. They came from the real hard core of the country, the majority of them being middle-class and lower middle-class agriculturists, lawyers, medical practitioners, businessmen, retired government servants, workers and artisans.
One great lesson which these elections brought out was that, for the first time in Pakistan, it seemed possible for an average citizen to seek election purely on his or her personal merit without the help of any financial, social or political backing. Also for the first time, the elected candidate finds himself in a position to participate effectively and directly in the affairs of the country as they exist immediately around him.
The Union Councils and Town Committees have been given a wide charter of duties and responsibilities ranging from local self-government to national reconstruction and development. Besides this, I am looking to this gigantic instrument of mass representation to achieve three other pressing objectives. First, to help throw up a fresh supply of local and national leaders. Second, to serve as a two-way traffic post between the government and the basic core of the people and to bridge the gulf which under the best of systems is bound to exist between them in countries where education is limited, distances are large and modern facilities for reaching the masses are not universal. And, third, I would personally like this body of 80,000 elected representatives to serve as the electoral college for the Parliament and, possibly, for the President. This is only my personal view, for I do not wish to pre-judge the recommendations of the Constitution Commission which is at the moment seized of this and other allied problems.
The Constitution Commission of Pakistan, consisting of eminent judges, lawyers and other interests, was set up in February this year and has been entrusted with the following terms of reference:
“To examine the progressive failure of parliamentary government in Pakistan leading to the abrogation of the Constitution of 1956 and to determine the causes and the nature of the failure;
“To consider how best the said or like causes may be identified and their recurrence prevented;
“And, having further taken account of the genius of the people, the general standard of education and of political judgment in the country, the present state of a sense of nationhood, the prime need for sustained development, and the effect of the constitutional and administrative changes brought into being in recent months, to submit constitutional proposals in the form of a report advising how best the following ends may be secured: a democracy adaptable to changing circumstances and based on the Islamic principles of justice, equality and tolerance; the consolidation of national unity; and a firm and stable system of government.”
I trust that toward the end of this year we shall be in a position to determine the broad shape of our future constitutional pattern. I would like to move as fast as possible, but there are many in our country who look askance at this haste. Some of them fear that politicians may return and mess things up once again. Others suspect that reforms and innovations introduced under the Martial Law may backslide and that the development program may slow down with the return of normal conditions.
These misgivings are understandable, but I do not feel they are well-founded. The former politicians are no problem to us now or in the near future. We have taken good care to spare them the usual tragic fate of those overtaken by revolutionary upheavals. On the contrary, we are content to treat them as a big joke, just as they turned a perfectly sound country into the laughing-stock of the whole world. When they are confronted with skeletons collected from their cupboards, most of them wisely prefer to retire from public life for five to six years rather than face the risk of open trial. This saves a lot of dirty linen from being washed publicly, and decent folk prefer this quiet exit of errant politicians.
As regards the suspicion that the return of constitutional rule might undo or retard the progress of reforms launched under the Martial Law, this again is an unreal fear. These reforms were long overdue and have been fully and unequivocally acclaimed by the people. No future government dare retard or obstruct them. The only prerequisite is that the government should be strong enough to resist the pressure of vested interests which have been hit hard by some of the reforms. This, I am positive, the new Constitution must ensure.
Moreover, when circumstances such as our revolution concentrate power in the hands of one person, it is his bounden duty to pass that power on to a more broadly based system without avoidable delay. Individuals are fallible; but institutions stay. That is why I am in such a hurry to ensure the induction of a suitable constitutional system without any loss of time.
While the Constitution is still in the making, there is time to complete the reforms already in hand or give a start to those which are still under contemplation. The meaning of all this activity is to prepare the ground for the growth of a happy and healthy life which, after all, is the end-product of all human endeavor.
An archaic type of feudalism which existed in Pakistan–particularly West Pakistan–had vested the entire political, economic and social might of the country in a limited group of families. It was impossible to make any advance in any direction without first breaking this monopoly of power. Therefore, land reform was one of the first measures to be taken by the new régime. This was a major operation but it was performed peacefully and scientifically and was attended by no manner of tyranny or injustice. This is a far-reaching socio-economic change and its full impact will be felt only with the passage of time.
Other fields in which reforms have been undertaken include education, public health, fiscal systems, law courts, civil administration and the rehabilitation of refugees. The object is to get us to the starting point of development, whence we may be better able to grapple with some of the most pressing and immediate of our problems. These are: fighting the grave menace to the land of salinity and water-logging; curbing the excessive rate of growth of population; and launching the next Five Year Plan for national development, estimated to cost over 19,000,000,000 rupees (about $4,000,000,000). According to experts, these figures are not astronomical but only reasonable.
The next 15 to 20 years are going to be most crucial for Pakistan. Either we “make the grade” in this period or we do not. If we fail to make the grade, we are bound to be submerged under the tidal wave of Communism which is constantly lashing its fury all around us. Since we do not seek this fate we must move forward, and do so quickly. It is here that our eyes turn towards our friends and allies. They have already given us magnanimous aid, for which we are most grateful. But there are reasons of history which entitle us to claim still more.
During the last 200 years or so the area which is now Pakistan was subjected to foreign rule. This stunted our growth immeasurably and all this long period of time was lost to us for preparing ourselves to move with the modern scientific times. We have now to catch up with the fast-moving world–and this will require extraordinary endeavor as well as expenditure.
It was during the period of imperial rule that the British industrial development started and gained momentum with resources which to a large extent were taken from the colonial areas. The British industrial development in a way gave a fillip to the American industrial development. It is common knowledge that up to the Second World War, Britain had enormous investments in both the Americas. Most of the progress in the Commonwealth countries and Dominions was also stimulated by the British industrial development. So far as the area now forming Pakistan is concerned, its manpower was generally employed to man the British Armies to maintain and protect the Empire. For this reason, this part of the Indian sub-continent was purposely kept industrially backward so that the populace would not be diverted into other channels of employment.
Moreover, in the context of present-day world politics Pakistan has openly and unequivocally cast its lot with the West, and unlike several other countries around us, we have shut ourselves off almost completely from the possibility of any major assistance from the Communist bloc. We do not believe in hunting with the hound and running with the hare. We wish to follow, and are following, a clear and unambiguous path.
All these factors lead to one conclusion: that the English-speaking world ought to feel a special responsibility to assist Pakistan in attaining a reasonable posture of advancement. It is not just a claim. It is in fact the dictate of history.
Before I conclude, I would like to add a few words about our relations with our neighbors. I am quite clear in my mind that in order to be able to make some progress at home, we must have a long spell of undisturbed peace around us. But unfortunately our relations with India and Afghanistan have not been good. We have approached them and made every effort, without success, to get a settlement on mutually honorable and reasonable terms.
As regards Afghanistan, I really do not understand why there should be any trouble between us at all. The rulers of Afghanistan have woven so many vague and imaginary webs of grievances and demands that they now fancy they are inextricably caught in them. Somehow they suspect us and fear that a strong Pakistan would be a danger to Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, the truth is just the other way round. But we have not succeeded in bringing home this truth to the Afghan rulers. Let us hope they will see the light before it is too dark.
We have made some little progress with India in certain fields but we are stuck over the problem of Kashmir. There is some reluctance on the part of Indian leadership to move forward and discuss this problem in a spirit of realism and justice. They do not seem to realize that a running sore like this between two neighbors is a dangerous thing.
I think there is room and need for India and Pakistan to live as friends. If we cannot live as good friends, at least we should have a decent, human, neighborly relationship with each other. This is what we, on our part, are trying to develop. But this has so far remained a largely unilateral endeavor. We have had very little response from the other side. This does not dismay me. I still hope that one day realism will dawn in India too.
As a student of war and strategy, I can see quite clearly the inexorable push of the north in the direction of the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. This push is bound to increase if India and Pakistan go on squabbling with each other. If, on the other hand, we resolve our problems and disengage our armed forces from facing inwards as they do today, and face them outwards, I feel we shall have a good chance of preventing a recurrence of the history of the past, which was that whenever this sub-continent was divided–and often it was divided–someone or other invited an outsider to step in.
Written by Gen. Ayub Khan (President of Pakistan) in 1960
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