At the moment I am on my first holiday trip to Turkey — a country we often see as a ‘brother’, but from which we have failed to learn much. Since my trip was rather last minute, I came without any preconceived notions. I had of course read a lot about this region, beginning with the Roman Empire, but had yet to experience what such an illustrious heritage translated into. Broadly, Pakistan and Turkey share a similar historical trajectory — both were home to one of the world’s ancient civilisations and both have been centres of great empires and religions. Both countries also link different cultures — Turkey, the European and Islamic ones and Pakistan, the Hindu and Islamic civilisations. However, the reality of how Pakistan and Turkey synthesised their pasts and appear to tackle their futures is one of contrasts.
In the wake of our Independence Day celebrations, let me highlight one very important difference. Both Turkey and Pakistan had powerful figures as founders — men who had a clear vision of what their new country would be like. However, whereas in Turkey the republic has strictly adhered to the vision of their founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Pakistan, the vision of our founder was shunned almost immediately after his death. The results are obvious.
When a completely new country is carved out, adherence to the vision of the founder is essential, since he is the one who has a complete understanding of what the future polity would look like. In the case of Pakistan, this aspect was even more important since Jinnah was in reality the ‘Sole Spokesman’. Jinnah achieved Pakistan almost singlehandedly and therefore the input and effect of others on the creation of Pakistan was minimal. It is not necessary to recount Jinnah’s vision here, it has been dealt with by many historians and commentators, but it is useful to remind ourselves that Jinnah had hoped for a ‘country for the Muslims of India’, not a ‘Muslim country.’ This critical difference and attempts to make Pakistan the latter rather than the former, have created a lot of tension and confusion in Pakistan.
In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal reorganised the crumbling Ottoman state by putting it on a very modern footing. He separated the mosque and state, established a modern educational system, gave women full and equal rights and emphasised an essentially Turkish nature of the state. This philosophy created the modern and liberal society we see today. Also, contrary to some opinion, this ‘secularisation’ did not adversely affect Islam in the country. The population of Turkey is over 99 per cent Muslim (more than that of Pakistan) and most people are very observant Muslims. But this does not mean that they impose their religion on someone else. In Istanbul and other places, one can eat in public during Ramazan, men and women can freely mix and alcohol is widely available. What Ataturk achieved was the depoliticisation of religion — people were free to follow whatever religion or sect they wanted and the state was not going to make good Muslims out of them by edict. The liberation and happiness, and even development, that this kind of a society brings has been very obvious to me in this trip.
This liberation of religion and society from state control also gave rise to real nationalism. In my week in Turkey, I met numerous people who were truly proud of what their country had achieved and where it was going. Turkish flags flutter throughout the city, but no one thinks that is weird; rather people take it as a sign of taking pride in their country.
In this week where we have celebrated our 64th Independence Day, I wish and hope that we too take a leaf out of Turkey’s past and honour and implement the vision of our founder, Quaid-i-Azam, so that we too can be truly proud of our nation and society.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.