Was Pakistan sufficiently imagined before independence?

Published: August 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

Pakistan and India celebrate their Independence Days on August 14 and 15, reviving the memories of the struggle for independence, the partition of British India and the creation of Pakistan. New research helps understand the complexities of these events, especially the establishment of Pakistan as an independent and sovereign state. If we examine the books and articles written by American, British, Indian and Pakistani historians and analysts, we can talk of 10 to 12 explanations, and their variations, for the making of Pakistan. The official Pakistani perspective emphasises what is described as the two-nation theory as the basis for the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims.

Pakistan’s inability to develop a viable political system in the post-independence period has led many to explore the causes of this failure. Some attribute this to the inability of the country’s political leadership to formulate a consensus on political institutions and processes for coping with post-independence issues. Others trace the roots of the post-independence woes to the pre-independence period, pointing out the nature and dynamics of the Pakistan movement, particularly the confusion over the role of religion and the failure to articulate the detailed contours of the post-independence political arrangements. The demand for a separate state evolved gradually. What led the founders of Pakistan to shift from their demand of a federal system with autonomy for the provinces to the demand of a separate state? Did they think of a separate homeland to protect the civilisational identity, rights and interests of the Muslims of British India from the onslaught of an unsympathetic majority or did they want to recreate a puritanical Islamic state as a replica of the state in the earliest period of Islamic history? Did the founders talk of an ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and define it the way it was articulated after General Ziaul-Haq embarked on creating a fundamentalist Islamic state, with emphasis on religious conservatism and militancy? There are no final answers to these questions. However, an emotionally charged debate continues in Pakistan on these issues even after 68 years of independence.

In his recent work, Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in late Colonial North India (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Venkat Dhulipala makes well-researched and insightful comments on the emergence and popularity of the demand for Pakistan in the final decade of colonial rule in India. The author uses official documents, private papers, records of political organisations, newspapers, books and articles to focus on hitherto neglected dimensions of the demand for Pakistan. These issues included the debate in the United Provinces (UP) on the idea of Pakistan, the ulema who opposed and those who supported the demand for Pakistan, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and others, the Congress reaction to the Lahore Resolution, the debate on Pakistan in the Urdu press during the 1940-47 period, economic defence of Pakistan, the Muslim League’s guarantees to religious minorities, its political tactics, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani and the demand for Pakistan, Dr B R Ambedkar’s thoughts on Pakistan, and the question of the relationship between Islam and Pakistan.

The author acknowledges the central role of the Quaid in the initiation of the demand for Pakistan and the mobilisation of support for it among the Muslim elite and the common people. He rejects the notions that Pakistan was the product of the divide and rule policy of the British or that it was a “parting kick” by them to Indian nationalism. He also expresses strong reservations over the argument that Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was a bargaining strategy “to acquire for the Muslims political equality with the numerically preponderant Hindus in an undivided post-colonial India” (p121). He maintains that the idea of Pakistan may have lacked clarity in the initial stages, but with the passage of time it got “clarity, substance, and popularity in the public sphere” (p123). The book rejects the view that Pakistan was not sufficiently imagined by the champions of its cause. Pakistan was imagined in northern India as a “sovereign Islamic State, a New Medina, as it was called by some of its proponents. In this regard, it was not just envisaged as a refuge for the Indian Muslims, but as an Islamic utopia that would be the harbinger for renewal and rise of Islam in the modern world, act as the powerful new leader and protector of the entire Islamic world and, thus emerge as a worthy successor to the defunct Turkish Caliphate as the foremost Islamic power in the twentieth century.” (p4).

It is a historical fact that Jinnah employed Islamic idiom and discourse only after his return from London in 1934, and especially after 1937, in the formation of Muslim political identity and popular mobilisation. He was inspired by the ideals of socio-economic justice and equality in the teachings of Islam and thought these ideals could be reconciled with a modern democratic state system. Jinnah advocated a modern constitutional democratic state that sought ethnic inspiration from the teachings of Islam rather than the establishment of a puritanical and religious Islamic state. He upheld the principle of equal citizenship for all, irrespective of religion or caste, and a state that remains segregated from religion.

The 1956 constitution adopted the modernist Muslim version of the relationship between the state and Islam. However, the orthodox and fundamentalist ulema stood for a religion-based fundamentalist Islamic state. This worldview of the ulema was not adopted as official policy until General Zia assumed power. Since then, the Pakistani state projects a fundamentalist and conservative, religion-based identity. The notion of New Medina, as articulated by the author, meant different things to different supporters of Pakistan. The Objectives Resolution was hailed as a document that fused modern state power with Islam. However, the same Resolution was used by General Zia to promote religious orthodoxy and fundamentalism.

It is true that there was more enthusiasm for Pakistan in Muslim-minority provinces, especially in UP, and that the bitter experience of the Muslims during Congress rule in these areas (1937-39), turned them towards the demand for the division of India. However, had there been no Muslim-majority, territorially contiguous provinces in the northwest of British India and a large Muslim population in Bengal, there was very little likelihood that Pakistan would have been established as a sovereign state.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th,  2015.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (22)

  • Yasin
    Aug 23, 2015 - 10:56PM

    And the answer is?Recommend

  • Sheikh Saa'di
    Aug 23, 2015 - 11:27PM

    Was Pakistan sufficiently imagined before independence?


    Was it?

    Or, Not?

    Still clueless.Recommend

  • madhu
    Aug 24, 2015 - 1:35AM

    The intelligent author is correct. The main flaw of the partition was that it was not planned properly. They should have given enough time for all muslims of the sub-continent to safely reach pakistan- and all hindus and non-muslims to reach india – this should have been done under international supervision. Not so haphazardly that millions died on their way- and still left behind so many of their co-religionists behind. Now india has 200 million muslims. and bangladesh, -pakistan have almost 200 million muslims each. India has about 1 billion hindus. With the muslims divided into three zones- this makes little sense . And one of the main reasons for the constant strife. Recommend

  • Shuaib
    Aug 24, 2015 - 4:31AM

    It doesn’t matter.

    I remember reading Nelson Mandela’s book, in it he said that he was not worried about what would happen or should be done after they gain independence/get enfranchised. The point is that our Quad most likely never thought of it himself.

    What I can say is that I’ve spent over 8 years thinking of it and my conclusion is:

    i) Make our institutions independent
    ii) Weed out corruption in our institutions
    iii) DO NOT DERAIL the system
    iv) After this enact capitalist-socialist policies which benefit the masses

    PS: Please vote for me when I stand.Recommend

  • ahmed41
    Aug 24, 2015 - 7:25AM

    These are all the ” ifs ‘ of history in hindsight.

    Can we not move forwards to nurture the economy and social progress of the peoples of South Asia ?

    What has happened can not be changed. Recommend

  • Aug 24, 2015 - 9:27AM

    We are still dizzy about the relation between state and religion. Liberal group of intellectualists give the precedent of Jinnah’s speech of 11 August. While other group of intellectualists give the reference of objective resolution. There is great antithesis between the Jinnah’s speech and objectives resolution. After 68 years we couldn’t determine whether state would secular or religious state.Recommend

  • SAC
    Aug 24, 2015 - 9:31AM

    A single quote is enough for the clarity of you mind
    “We should have a State in which we could live and breathe as free men and which we could develop according to our own lights and culture and where principles of Islamic social justice could find free play”

    I don’t understand how you can question the vision of Pakistan? If you cannot put some positive point, you shall stop writing on such public forum.Recommend

  • Usman
    Aug 24, 2015 - 4:25PM

    Now this, is an article worthy of praise. How hastily have Indians and misguided Pakistani sifted history under the carpet, history that clearly points to the fact that Pakistan was envisaged as a leader of the Muslim world, as a shining democracy in the South Asia, no matter how long it takes, Pakistan will get there and is now closer to getting there than ever before.Recommend

    Aug 24, 2015 - 4:25PM

    Pakistan was a bargaining position till 1946 cabinet mission plan as historically recorded. The ulema in UP might have their hocus pocus ideas, but i still believe as Quiad and muslim league accepted the Cabinet mission plan to remain a united India and only went back to partition after Congress went against it proves beyond doubt that no plan was there . notions of having hyderabad semi independent so many princely statas. It was fluid situation till british put a date . Recommend

  • Abacus
    Aug 24, 2015 - 6:51PM

    Here we go again…..justifying the existence of pakistan. 68 years old and still insecure Lol!!!Recommend

  • someone
    Aug 24, 2015 - 7:34PM

    So it took a book from Indian author to tell you that Pakistan was sufficiently imagined. Recommend

  • Shiv
    Aug 24, 2015 - 8:17PM

    Whatever may have been the vision for Pakistan, unfortunately what the new country lacked efficient acumen to execute it. Apart from Jinnah, there were hardly second rung leaders who could lead the movement. This is typical of all Muslim regions and their ruling class since Islam came into being. Right from the Shia Sunni conflict to the events in the Islamic world today, things are the same. They are unlikely to change.
    Quite possibly Indians today would be happy Jinnah came out with the two nation theory, and unhappy that the job was left half done. And that means Kashmir to Pakistanis, and to the Indians the 200 million Muslims who still live in India. Could the two be bargaining chips? Logical, isn’t it?Recommend

  • hzr
    Aug 24, 2015 - 9:38PM

    They can do so now and plan for safe exchange.Recommend

  • Pnpuri
    Aug 24, 2015 - 10:17PM

    People are different for the reason of 1 religion (in case of Islamic and Christian countries it can be sect) 2 language 3 ethnicity ( Indian Punjabi preferring living with Muslim punjabis from Pakistan in foreign countries as they share language and food habits) (North Indian Hindi speaking versus South Indian non Hindi speaking divide ; Muslims and Hindu from North gang up against non Hindi speaking South.) 4 tribal aspirations and 5 caste. Pakistan was desire of educated Muslims of Uttar pradesh who felt deprived of power being a minority. In pre-partition Punjab unionist party enjoyed power and chief minister was Muslim. Intellectual Muslims of Bengal felt that they would enjoy more powers. But once Pakistan formed, it became west versus East and ended in to formation of Bangladesh. But it had an effect on west Pakistan, which was united against East. but post 1971; it became Punjab vs. sindh vs. Baluchistan vs. Khyber pakhtunwa vs muhajirs . Probably people of present day Pakistan except muhajirs were not ready for a Pakistan . Original inhabitants never suffered from minority complex at anytime.Recommend

  • Plal
    Aug 25, 2015 - 3:20AM

    As author says Pakistan came about because contiguous Muslim majority areas in north-west and Bengal in British India but this was demand of Muslims from other area i.e UP– in such a situation how can it be even conceived that it was well thought out effort to create Pakistan.What about creation of Bangldesh and passing of Objective Resolution against fierce opposition from minority much before Zia came to power in Pakistan,which left minority helplessRecommend

  • Melange
    Aug 25, 2015 - 3:03PM

    I think another factor that wasn’t taken into consideration at all at the time of partition is that the land was not split proportionally with population. In spite of having much lower population, the new country occupied an extent of land that was hugely disproportionate to its requirement.Recommend

  • Ruby Sen
    Aug 25, 2015 - 11:01PM

    I have always been wondering why did so many Muslims choose to stay behind in India even though their heart beats for Pakistan, My only wish is that ALL MUSLIMS in India, irrespective of the region or community must immediately leave for their country – Pakistan!

    Till then it is pointless…Recommend

  • S Zafar Iqbal
    Aug 26, 2015 - 11:21AM

    Is Pakistan sufficiently imagined now?Recommend

  • ahmed41
    Aug 26, 2015 - 6:36PM

    @S Zafar Iqbal:

    ” Is Pakistan sufficiently imagined now? ”

    The answer : Perhaps it is ; but the process of that imagining has turned nightmarish, thanks to Zia-ul-haq. Recommend

  • S Zafar Iqbal
    Aug 26, 2015 - 8:11PM

    @Ruby Sen:
    This is exactly the mindset that triggered the movement, which eventually led to the creation of Pakistan. Recommend

  • BlackHat
    Aug 26, 2015 - 10:02PM

    It doesn’t matter anymore if Pakistan was sufficiently imagined or not. That is history. The need of the hour, if it is possible at all for us, is to imagine more than sufficiently a splendid, prosperous and a happy South Asia (SAARC)! It calls for us to be mindful of history while at the same time have a vision of the future. It calls for minds beyond borders.Recommend

  • ahmed41
    Aug 27, 2015 - 7:43AM


    One couldn’t agree more with you , Sir .Recommend

More in Opinion