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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Moving beyond 1947

Article in Weekly Pulse on 23rd March 2015

Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Trains upon trains pulled in the Lahore Railways Station with mutilated bodies of old men and women, children, women pregnant and young men and girls. No one was spared. A few lucky ones who were spared were those who were taken as dead; bathed in blood of those killed around them, buried in the pile of dead bodies, pretending to be as dead as their fellow passengers.  This was the standard scene of post Pakistan creation trains heading from India. Unfortunately, instead of moving forward beyond this hatred in 1947, India has chosen to stay stuck in this familiar zone. How has this choice been made, one may ask? Firstly, by illegally occupying Kashmir.  This disputed area holds great strategic importance for both India and Pakistan. The Indus and the tributaries flowing from Indus are the source of fresh water for a largely agricultural economy of Pakistan.  Controlling water by increasing or decreasing the flow can damage crops in Pakistan. This is exactly what happened soon after Independence, India had shut off the canals of Central Bari Doab. The result was damage to crops it being the sowing season. Historian Naveed Tajammal  in an article states, “The article lll of the Indus Water Treaty  binds the Government of India not to hinder the flow of the western rivers, i.e. Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, to Pakistan, and India cannot store any water or construct any storage works, on the above cited rivers, having been given total rights since march 1973, of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. We get flood surplus of these rivers which is released in case of excessive rains, which helps in recharging our ground waters levels, but that too will cease after the second Ravi-Beas Link is made. Today while we slumber,  India has started works on, the following projects; Pakal Dul 1000MW, Kiru 600 MW,Karwar 520 MW, Baglihar (eventual 900 MW),Sawalkot 1200MW (two 600mw units),Salal 390 MW, Sewa-ll 120 MW, and finally the Bursur project on the Marusudar river, which, is a major tributary of Chenab river, here the Foxland intends to build a massive water storage dam, which will control and regulate the flow to maintain levels of Pakal dul, Dul Hasti, Rattle, Baglihar, Sawalkot and Salal Hydro-projects, on the Chenab. Jhelum will be blessed by the foxland with Kishanganga 330 MW and Uri-ll 240 MW.” (Published March 6, 2012)
Kashmir has another significance for both countries and this is the existence of Silk Route. The main land connection between Pakistan and China that passes through Kashmir.   Kashmir has led both countries to war. It represents the main bone of contention between both.  No amount of superficial handling of relationships between both and by both nations can lead to continuing peace between both nations. Only an intelligent settlement of the dispute can deliver this result. In light of the existing government in India, any such settlement is unlikely. In fact, to expect any government togive away a territory it has occupied, albeit illegally will be political suicide.
Perhaps Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, gave the solution to this issue in his statement in the Indian Parliament on 7th August, 1952; “Pandit Nehru said, “Let me say clearly that we accept the basic proposition that the future of Kashmir is going to be decided finally by the goodwill and pleasure of her people. The goodwill and pleasure of this Parliament is of no importance in this matter, not because this Parliament does not have the strength to decide the question of Kashmir but because any kind of imposition would be against the principles that this Parliament holds. Kashmir is very close to our minds and hearts and if by some decree or adverse fortune, ceases to be a part of India, it will be a wrench and a pain and torment for us. If, however, the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go by all means. We will not keep them against their will, however painful it may be to us. I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir. It is not that we have merely said that to the United Nations and to the people of Kashmir, it is our conviction and one that is borne out by the policy that we have pursued, not only in Kashmir but everywhere. Though these five years have meant a lot of trouble and expense and in spite of all we have done, we would willingly leave if it was made clear to us that the people of Kashmir wanted us to go. However sad we may feel about leaving we are not going to stay against the wishes of the people. We are not going to impose ourselves on them on the point of the bayonet.” (Arundhati Roy inThe Hindu November 28, 2010) And this by the way was neither the first nor the last time he opined on the issue.
This main cause has led to a cascading fountain of negativity that has given birth to more actions and reactions that one can recount. A deep distrust of each other, nurtured and watered by the continuing existence of the dispute has stopped both India and Pakistan to move forward confidently into the future developing programmes that focus on their people not upon fear of each other.
This very fear has led India to fear that “with the “official end” of war in terror in Afghanistan heralded by the departure of US combat forces, Pakistan shall launch the jihadists in India-occupied Kashmir. Nothing can be further from the truth. One; Pakistan does not “own” the jihadists as claimed by India and two; Pakistan is facing terrorism within its borders.” (My op-ed September 24, 2013) This very fear has led to focus on the Ayni Air Base also called as 'Gissar Air Base' located 10 km west of the capital of Tajikistan-Dushanbe. Between years 2002-2010, India invested approximately $70 million in renovations, installing state-of-the-art air defense navigational facilities. The runway was further extended. This access offers immediate strategic depth in the region to India. This very fear has also led to India’s decision to maintain a strong foothold at the Farkhor Air Base; a military air base located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan. To be noted; aircrafts taking off from Farkhor could be over the Pakistani skies within minutes. 
This very fear has led to spending of funds from both sides in equipping their armies, their fleets and air forces with bigger, better machines and equipment in case needed against each other. If not anything else; to be viewed as a deterrent towards each other.  The question here would be; why must this money be spent based on the fear of each other? Why should not this money be spent on the development of facilities, healthcare and education of its people?  According to a U.N research study, “Far more people in India have access to a cell phone than to a toilet and improved sanitation. Says Zafar Adeel, Director of United Nations University’s Canada-based think-tank for water, the Institute for Water, Environment and Health: “It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet.” (United Nations University 2010)
India being the one occupying Kashmir must bear greater responsibility for this climate of distrust and hostility between both nations. It has been sixty-eight years to the birth of both nations being free from the yolk of their colonial masters. Yet they continue to live with the legacy that has only created hatred. Is that wise?
Time to take stock.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9

The Pakistani Identity

Article in The Dawn (Supplement 23rd March 2015)
This is a cross post.

Yasmeen Aftab Ali
Pakistan continues to suffer from its birth convulsions since 1947, unable to determine a common bond of identity, with other Pakistanis, across the board. To understand the dilemma, one must have a clear understanding of terms involved. The simplest meaning of identity can be defined as a distinctive character marking an individual, group of individuals, an ethnic group, a nation. Most Pakistanis however, remain confused to this date regarding their identity. Some measure it by religion, others by culture, yet some use other varied markers.  Each of these markers are used in exclusion of other elements involved; a fatal mistake.
The first seed of the split was sown when the speech of Quaid-e-Azam for 11th August 1947 was censored by Chowdhery Muhammad Ali. The only paper to publish it uncensored was The Dawn. Chowdhery probably did not agree with the Quaid when he stated, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the State…. Even now there are some states in existence, where there are discriminations, made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days  when there is no discrimination, no discrimination between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”
Little did Jinnah know that the identity that had emerged as a strength in the  pre-partition era would be damaged, molested and torn apart by divisions created by different vested interest groups. It was this understanding of a pluralistic society that gave birth to Pakistan; yet today we stand, in 2015, trying to piece together what exactly that identity is. The identity is not based upon religion to the exclusion of rights of those not following the religion of the majority. The excerpt shared above of Jinnah’s speech stands testimony to that.  Also standing testimony to this thought process is the Chapter of Fundamental Rights of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, as does Article 19 that deals with Freedom of Expression and Speech and states thus:
“Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.”
The term citizen denotes every person holding the citizenship of Pakistan irrespective of the caste, creed or religion. If I may add: exactly as promised by Jinnah.  Freedom of expression is deemed to be a basic human right, that includes; freedom of thought, freedom of press, freedom to express oneself in arts, poetry, architecture, crafts, lifestyles, dressing, eating, culture, music, sculptures, professing one’s faith,  so on and so forth. Every citizen of Pakistan has the right to freedom of expression; also an integral part of the constitution, in line with Jinnah’s philosophy. Pakistani identity therefore, does not offer this gift to members of one religion while excluding others. Nor does it offer an advantage to one sect within the religion to the exclusion of another.
Some promote the theory that there are at least six distinct ethnic races in Pakistan ie the Pathans, the Punjabis, the Baluchis, the Sindhis, Kashmiris  and the Urdu Speaking. They opine that since these ethnic races have a cultural heritage spanning centuries, therefore the Pakistani Identity (whatever it may be) takes a back- bench and has thereby failed to develop. This, as put forth by them; includes not only cultural differences but also difference in language spoken by them. Lack of a common language base is promoted as a major dividing factor by these theorists.
Let me submit here, that nations geographically and demographically bigger than us, have had more cultural diversity in terms of ethnicity than we can imagine, yet they have managed to emerge as one nation. One such example is the US. The US Census Bureau map shows the ancestry of its 317 million people of which Germans are by far the largest with 49,206,934 people. This is followed by the African-Americans. Then there are roughly 4.5 million Irish people settled in the larger cities of the US including New York, Boston and Chicago to name a few. The English-Americans are also sizeable in number. Those claiming a Mexican ancestry are said to be at 31,789,483 in number. Yet, this does not stop any one of them from thinking and acting only as Americans.
In countries having served time under colonial rule, English has more often than not been given a legislative status. Most African states for example, had English as their national and official language to curb ethnic disputes, which would otherwise arise from existence of multi-tribes and ethnicities.
We made the mistake of trying to impose one uniform language; Urdu from top down ignoring the multitude of local languages especially Bengali. A region where few spoke or understood Urdu. The result dear readers, was the 1971 episode. Among other reasons, effort at imposition of Urdu on a Bengali speaking ethnic race led to disastrous results. The educational policies followed by successive governments to create different classes based on language preferences namely the elite and regular (English language being mandatory for good jobs) has undoubtedly created a deep schism within the Pakistani society. We must move towards a solution, as it is high time, not remain bogged down by deterrents preventing us from achieving greatness.
To move towards that solution, we must first address the question posed; what is then a Pakistani Identity?
I believe the Pakistani Identity must be seen in a bigger context as opposed to being relegated to religious, linguistic, or similar levels to the exclusion of other elements at play.
Pakistani Identity evolved in 1947 as a political statement. It is composed of different ethnic groups and different religious groups; further sub-divided into different sects within these different religious groups. Pakistan was and is created for each one of these groups as clearly enunciated in Jinnah’s speech of 11th 1947.  
No country can develop as a nation if it negates its component parts. Translated, it means, a Pakistani Identity cannot establish and entrench itself in the psyche of its people minus the identity of being a composition of all its multi-cultural and multi-religious roots. To deny the uniformity leads to a national identity. Acknowledgement and nurturing of sub- cultures making up these layers; does. Imposition of any form that is alien will not create an identity; it will only destroy the existing one leaving one groping in the dark in confusion.  Subscribing to the thought expounded above,  Hywel Coleman, an Honorary Research Fellow of Leeds, did a research paper for the British Council in 2010 addressing the weightage awarded to English Language competency in the Civil Service Exams in Pakistan. He suggested that applicants should need to demonstrate not only competency in English language but also the language generally understood by all; Urdu as well as competency in at least one regional language.  In one stroke of brilliance, Hywel told us that though English is necessary in today’s world based on inter-linking of nations, important too is to link Pakistanis across board under the ‘umbrella’ of Urdu understood by all. He has at the same time awarded equality to regional languages as well thereby emphasizing upon the importance of one’s roots.
The Pakistani Identity is not based on one aspect alone to the exclusion of every other component involved; it is multidimensional and multilayered. It is many things rolled in one.  The objective never was that once the goal of creation of Pakistan was achieved, Pakistanis would meet out the exact same treatment to their minorities as meted out to them in undivided India. At least, that was not Jinnah’s vision. Pakistan is essentially pluralistic in its identity; a society composed of different ethnicities, religions and cultures and as such must be given the environment to nourish, gain strength and grow, learning in the process to love and celebrate their differences. Belittling or nullifying these varieties of flavor will only damage the fabric of our combined identity. Yet at the same time, one needs to understand that all are intertwined as one under the umbrella of ‘Pakistan’ and this; defines each of us!
Multiculturalism is the underlying thread that weaves the Pakistani Identity and holds it together. Emphasizing on the citizenship alone will fail to gel people from different faiths and cultures as one. Accepting and celebrating the differences, initiating serious inter-faith dialogues and appreciation of cultural flavors will create a bonding.  
Endnote: In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”(Jinnah  in February 1948 address in US)

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ Her mail ID is and tweets at @yasmeen_9