Pakistan and Bangladesh played each other in the final of the Asia Cup at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium situated in Dhaka on March 22. Either the organisers of the tournament or divine planning has managed to deny us one of the most piercing historical ironies of recent times, mind you only by a day, though. I wonder how many of those who were to deliver speeches on March 23 thought about the matter while they prepared for them while simultaneously being enthralled by the thoroughly-absorbing encounter, especially the brilliant and valiant performance of the Bangladesh team. At the risk of sounding pedantic, the Lahore Resolution (later christened or perhaps more precisely Islamised as the Pakistan Resolution) was presented in Lahore by the Sher-e-Bangla, Fazlul Haq on March 23, laying out the foundational ideological principle of our existence, namely the two-nation theory. The “Pakistan” not mentioned in the resolution did in fact contain Bangladesh. It requires a certain type of constitution to banish these sorts of ironies and speak about the two-nation theory, Iqbal and fortress of Islam, and do it fiercely with a straight face in a rehearsed and uninterruptible manner, often pretending as it is the first time it is being said.
Conventions of civility usually demand that Bangladesh and fall of Dhaka etc. not be brought up, at least not in any detail while indulging in this yearly ritual of hyper-nationalism. The sentiment of evasion is indeed understandable since it would make the argument for the two-nation theory a lot less certain and the occasion would suddenly seem not as momentous or invigorating, certainly not as joyous. And you know who really wants to ruin a public holiday. Yet some of our leaders and ‘public intellectuals’ go for high stakes, and bring up Bangladesh to substantiate the two-nation theory and how it actually proves the theory etc. As a general rule, there is no arguing with this level of stupidity. However, it needs to be tackled not only to resist having any temptations of nostalgia but also because it is not only false, it is also cruel and insensitive. December 16 is a day which understandably the Pakistan state wants to pass quickly every year; genocides do not make for easy recollection even by the perpetrators. A national state-level apology to the sovereign people of Bangladesh for the crimes committed requires no intricate argument; it should be done since it is clearly the decent thing to do. An added benefit would be that it might provide us an opportunity to reflect upon the validity of the two-nation theory and if it has outlived its utility or not. The frontiers of the two-nation theory are being severely tested in Balochistan right now, basic physics might be of some assistance — things that do not bend are more likely to break etc.
The crashing of planes in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, was a tragedy in more ways than is sometimes immediately obvious. In the historical sense, the major casualty was Salvador Allende and his legacy. Salvador Allende’s elected socialist government in Chile was overthrown by Pinochet backed by the United States government, and Allende preferred death over surrender on September 11, 1973 and what followed was undiluted reign of terror and violence in Chile. Yet 9/11 will now universally signify the tragedy in New York, and the slightly apologetic prefix ‘other’ will be necessary when talking about the 9/11 of Allende’s unmatched courage and death. I bring this random cruelty of history up because another incredibly brave comrade of Salvador Allende, Bhagat Singh’s legacy faces a similar challenge in Pakistan. Bhagat Singh was executed on the 23rd of March, 1931, at what today is an unmarked location in Shah Jamal, Lahore. One would think that in the present times of anti-imperialist sentiment at an all-time high, someone in Pakistan would make recourse to our greatest fighter of imperialism, or at least take a moment to pay homage to him on his death anniversary. Those who glibly and without embarrassment use the word ‘Shaheed’ for religious fanatics might benefit from a study of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s brief and glorious life and find out the elevated bar he sets. The reason for the reluctance to bring up Bhagat Singh is singular and obvious, he was not a Muslim, for removal of doubt he was an avowed Marxist-Leninist atheist.
However, the refusal to intentionally not acknowledge Bhagat Singh’s valour is also unintentionally a slight on Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Mr Jinnah was at his finest when he was the only one who spoke in defence of Bhagat Singh’s prison hunger strike in the Central Legislative Assembly on September 12 and 14. It might be useful to produce some of Mr Jinnah’s words, “The man who goes on hunger strike has a soul. He is moved by the soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime… And the last words I wish to address the Government are, try and concentrate your mind on the root cause and the more you concentrate on the root cause, the less difficulties and inconveniences there will be for you to face, and thank Heaven that the money of the taxpayer will not be wasted in prosecuting men, nay citizens, who are fighting and struggling for the freedom of their country.”
In a country where almost nothing seems to be justified without finding an excerpt of Mr Jinnah or Iqbal, how many times have we heard these words reproduced, certainly not enough. The words are clearly incisive, yet what makes them exquisite is that they were spoken to the face of Imperial power in the defence of a true fighter. The moral clarity of Mr Jinnah has learning value for how to resist imperialism and oppression. The 23rd of March without any talk of Bangladesh and Bhagat Singh is just a holiday, I hope you caught up on lost sleep.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2012.