By Saket Suman
New Delhi– The Pakistan of today may be “overwhelmed by unsavoury perceptions of it”, but according to the country’s leading cultural critic, Nadeem F. Paracha, its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisaged “a diverse country” where a Muslim majority engaged with other faiths in various spheres to construct a “dynamic” society and state.
Paracha’s latest book, “Points of Entry” (Westland/160 pages/Rs 499), talks about a Pakistan beyond the usual and in an email interview with IANS, he contended that the country would have taken a different route had Jinnah lived for another five years.
“Unfortunately, Jinnah passed away just a year after Pakistan came into being. I am absolutely convinced that had he even lived for another five years, Pakistan’s political trajectory would have taken a different route,” he said.
Jinnah served as the leader of the All-India Muslim League from 1913 until Pakistan’s independence on August 14, 1947, and then as Pakistan’s first Governor-General until his death on September 11, 1948.
After Jinnah’s demise, said Paracha, who is associated with Pakistan’s largest English language daily Dawn, the quality of leadership in the country’s ruling party, the Muslim League, was, at best, “mediocre”.
“But in the 1960s and 1970s we did manage to produce some quality leadership in the shape of Ayub Khan and Z.A. Bhutto. Both were visionaries but for one reason or the other they failed to stem the rot that had begun to set in the day Jinnah passed away.
“They tried to reorient the country’s post-Jinnah trajectory but couldn’t. That’s why we ended up losing our eastern wing, East Pakistan, and then set the scene for the rise of a reactionary dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. This dictatorship completely retarded the country’s social and political evolution,” he said.
In the book, he points out that after 1971 more and more Pakistanis of different ethnicities have become conscious of their communities’ histories and many diverse political, religious and social elements have continued to inform and find their voice in what one can now define as “the culture of Pakistan”.
Asked to elaborate on this emerging culture, Paracha said that the culture of Pakistan is now increasingly being based on the idea that it is a “Muslim-majority country but one that is not monolithic”.
“It is a diverse entity. This was always understood by the masses who stuck to their own respective ethnic traditions and histories,” he said.
He explained that over the last few decades Pakistan has managed to integrate its population.
“They do not have to hide or shun their ethnic identities to become integrated. Once upon a time the state did try to enforce a holistic and monolithic idea of Pakistani nationhood. But this ended up offending certain ethnic groups — some of whom even rebelled against the state.
“This is not the case anymore. Those who believe they can exploit ethnic fissures in the country are doing so on a rather archaic understanding of Pakistan. There was every likelihood of the country splitting on ethnic lines till the 1970s, but in the last 20 years or so, things in this respect have changed,” he claimed.
Paracha, who has earlier authored two bestselling books on the country’s social history, further said that a Pakistan beyond the usual is very much there. “We live it every day,” he maintained.
But the perception of it now being “some godforsaken land of mad fanatics” is not entirely wrong as well, he said.
“The thing is, every country has its share of nuts, and so does Pakistan. But, unfortunately, in the last 30 years or so, some of these nuts managed to become part of mainstream politics and society. Yet, the inherent social and political dynamics of Pakistan are such that despite the gradual rise of religious extremism, Pakistan did not become another Iran or Saudi Arabia.
“It did not stop Pakistanis from electing a woman prime minister. Twice. It does not stop them from continuing to demand more democracy. It does not stop women from going out to work, drive their own cars, and now even taxis and rickshaws. The state does not force them to wear a hijab or burqas. If some do, then it is their own choice. It does not stop Pakistanis from having a good time.
Paracha urged caution for his Indian readers, saying: “I can see a similar quicksand now developing in India, and, to a certain extent, in the US. I’d urge caution.” (IANS)