Pakistan and March 23

Published: March 23, 2015
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs

March 23 is a significant date for Pakistan in two respects. In 1940 on this date, the All-India Muslim League moved a resolution in its annual session in Lahore that demanded the establishment of a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India. This substituted the Muslim League’s earlier demand for constitutional guarantees in a federal system for the protection and advancement of Muslim identity, rights and interests. In 1956, on this date, Pakistan’s first constitution, approved by the second Constituent Assembly, was implemented which declared Pakistan to be an Islamic Republic with a parliamentary system of government, incorporating all the basic features of a democratic political system. For a couple of years, March 23 was celebrated as Republic Day. However, the 1956 constitution was abolished as a result of the first military takeover on October 7, 1958. This date then began to be observed as Pakistan Day or the Pakistan Resolution Day.

If we return to the events that took place on March 23, it is not difficult to discern that the high ideals that inspired people in 1940 and 1956 have been lost to a great extent over time. We hear speeches and statements and read articles on or around this date expressing commitment to these ideals but their substance and spirit is conspicuously absent in political and societal processes as well as in the day-to-day affairs of the people of Pakistan.

The Muslim leadership in British India did not start with the demand for a separate state. Its primary objective was to secure Muslim sociocultural identity, rights and interests. Initially, the Muslim elite thought that this objective could be achieved through separate electorates, constitutional safeguards and guarantees, and adequate representation of Muslims in governmental institutions, jobs and elected bodies. They also demanded the establishment of a federal system with provincial autonomy in the hope that the Muslim majority provinces will be able to govern them in accordance with their political and societal ideals and aspirations.

The Congress party adopted a dismissive attitude towards these Muslim demands. The fear of being overwhelmed by an unsympathetic majority in the name of democracy led the Muslim League elite to review their support for a federal system in India and they moved on to demand a separate state. However, as late as 1946, the Muslim League was willing to work with the Cabinet Mission Plan, which would have established a loose Indian federation. This offer collapsed because the Congress party was not willing to accommodate the constitutional conditions laid down in the Cabinet Mission Plan because its leadership thought that these would strengthen the Muslim League’s demand for the establishment of Pakistan.

Pakistan was thus established to provide a secure cultural, political and economic future to the common people within a democratic framework that was also inspired by the ideals of Islam. Pakistan’s experience suggests that the political leaders failed utterly to secure the future of the common people in the post-independence period. Instead of establishing a democratic political order that created a sense of political participation and socioeconomic justice among the diverse populace, the dominant elite established a highly elitist model that served the interests of the dominant political and bureaucratic-military elite and the affiliate affluent section of the populace, like the feudal, tribal chiefs and industrial magnates. The dominant elite adopted a self-serving policy for the use of state resources and patronage. They adopted those development projects that gave them monetary gains through legal and illegal means. The development projects that had a large scope for such money-making were implemented on a priority basis rather than those that addressed the immediate problems of the common people. The net consequence of such a skewed development strategy was that the gap between the rich and the poor increased. The major victims of such policies were the common people. The neglect of the issues of human and societal development increased poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment and socioeconomic deprivation.

Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments are more interested in high-profile, publicity-oriented projects like quality highways and motorways and related construction projects, distribution of laptops to students and offering of bank loans at concessional rates to buy transport vehicles. A major part of the benefit of such projects has gone to the ruling elite and their affiliates. This produces prosperity for the middle, upper middle and upper classes at the expense of lower middle and lower classes. There is a serious neglect of education, healthcare, drinking water and civic amenities in Pakistan, which affects most adversely the lower middle and poor strata of society, who cannot afford to use private sector educational institutions for their children and private sector hospitals for medical treatment. This has accentuated inequalities that resulted in alienation of the common people from the current democratic system. Pakistan has democratic structures but there is a deficit in their quality. Such a political system cannot command voluntary loyalty of the people.

The current democratic system is becoming irrelevant for the common people because it has failed to ensure good governance and has not delivered essential services to them. The growing alienation of the people has weakened the political support of the PML-N’s federal and provincial governments that are securing their political future by conceding ample space to the military in governance, maintenance of internal security and fighting terrorism and extremism. The current democratic order is living on borrowed time mainly because of the blessings of the military top brass.

The civilian political leadership cannot create a credible civilian alternative to the military’s enhanced role without ensuring good governance and improving the quality of life for ordinary people. The government’s policies need to assign the highest premium to the welfare of the common people in a concrete and consistent manner if the celebrations on national days are to be made meaningful for ordinary Pakistanis.

Published in The Express Tribune, March  23rd,  2015.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • ejaaz
    Mar 23, 2015 - 2:36AM

    Rizvi Sahib,
    What you write has been said a million times by now by various writers. ALL the leaders we have are from the class and background that has led us into the mess we are in. How can they provide the change you ask for? The overwhelming majority has been brainwashed by now and will not even listen to a sane leader even if we magically produce one. We have killed education for the overwhelming majority and non emotional thinking is beyond them. Unfortunately, we will have to go through reaping what our elders sowed and when we truly are sick and tired of the utter insanity around us then perhaps change will come. No one is going to come and rescue us. No one wants to take over and try to provide a rule of law to soon to be 250 million illiterate emotional passionate incapable of functioning in the 21st century people. Recommend

  • Arif
    Mar 23, 2015 - 4:48AM

    Nothing new can happen if our foundational lies are still reiterated as gospel truths. The truth is it was easy to whip up the masses in the name of religion before 1947 and the same has been done after 1947. Why cover this up?

    Take the case of China. Thier only religion is economic growth and welfare of people. The exact opposite of Pakistan.

    We need to read history from neutral sources. While Congress party leaders were developing nation building plans a decade before 1947, our leaders were solely focussed on religious identity politics. The stark example is our political discourse cares more for Muslims living outside the borders of Pakistan than living inside it.

    If we cannot understand this, we are doomed.Recommend

  • Fazal Dad
    Mar 23, 2015 - 6:56AM

    Happy Republic Day Pakistan.Recommend

  • Aussie
    Mar 23, 2015 - 7:42AM

    It is appropriate on this day to point out that the welfare of the common man, at the cost of some reduction in the privileges for the ruling elite, was not the overriding principle for the foundation of Pakistan. Our distinguished intellectuals would do the Nation a service if they can list one solitary example of such thinking during our formative years.

    Indeed Mr. Jinnah did not chose to surround himself with self-made, highly educated, independent thinkers, who could jointly develop, contest and then convey the ideological rationale for the creation of the new country. Almost all members of his team were landed gentry of feudal origins and mindset.

    As a result all suffering was assigned to the ledger of the poor, the elite only gained affluence, influence, and stature which was clearly meant to be taken away from them in an independent India.

    Having witnessed for one year the terrible suffering of the migrating poor, who lost life, limb, their near and dear ones and certainly their worldly possessions, Mr. Jinnah insisted on retaining ownership over his personal, now evacuee property at Mount Pleasant Road, Malabar Hills, Bombay, rather than gift it to the Government of Pakistan for use as its Bombay Consulate, as Liaquat Ali Khan had done with his New Delhi residence.

    I do not know what has changed for the better in the intervening 67 years.

    “Study the past, if you would divine the future — Confucius”

    — Shahid Saleem Arshad PhD SydneyRecommend

  • Question
    Mar 23, 2015 - 9:18AM

    When you still get to read articles desperately trying to justify the two nation theory after 67 years, you know something is wrong. Recommend

  • Anon
    Mar 23, 2015 - 9:47AM

    Where is China’s premier……..?Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath
    Mar 23, 2015 - 9:56AM

    Thank you Mr. Jinnah for giving us a separate nation……India.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Mar 23, 2015 - 3:16PM

    It is very easy and nice to say that orientation has to change to ensure welfare of citizens, however since Independence Pakistan has had very different priorities with welfare of citizens figuring very low. When almost half the nations Tax revenue is eaten away by the Military, there is very little left for development or welfare. The Ideology of Pakistan has been so crafted that forget about citizens, even those that represent them, the Politicians hold no real Power to even change the discourse.Recommend

  • Mar 24, 2015 - 4:04AM

    Rizvi knows nothing is happening in Pakistan for last 67 years and nothing is can ever happening in next 100 years. Recommend

  • John B
    Mar 24, 2015 - 6:51AM

    The Lahore resolution was born with sole zeal of muslims must rule Muslims, and separated subcontinent population as Muslims and non Muslims and the resolution loftily promised that non Muslims living in the Muslim majority areas will be protected. In contrast, AIC viewed the entire populace as one and promised everyone the same right with cultural and religious protection of all religions, atheists included.

    After 67 years, was anything achieved out of that resolution other than the creation of PAK and Bangladesh. Did it deliver what it promised to all?

    PAK is not even sure what does March 23 signify :- PAK resolution day or PAK republic day or anti-non Muslim day?

    A resolution day based on Us Vs Others principle will be tested time and again based on achievement of others but not on their own. The very soul of this resolution is duality and not on unity.

    So, what is PAK celebrating on March 23 And why it should be celebrated and remembered each year and for what reason? what did the PAK Muslims achieve better than the Muslims in present day India, let alone elsewhere? Recommend

  • Udaya Bose
    Mar 24, 2015 - 7:21PM

    It is specious to say that the Cabinet Mission Plan was a workable solution. The seeds of Partition albeit after ten years and a weak central government subject to veto were there to see for those who wanted to see it.
    Hence, Partition – though it unfortunately turned out extremely painful and traumatic for all those who suffered – was the viable option.
    Later developments show that the two nations have taken different paths.Recommend

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