Mj Akbar

The home of jihad

M.J. Akbar says the legacy of Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, has been squandered by his Islamist successors

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Muhammad Ali Jinnah, aristocrat by temperament, catholic in taste, sectarian in politics, and the father of Pakistan, was the unlikeliest parent that an Islamic republic could possibly have. He was the most British of the generation of Indians that won freedom in August 1947. As a child in the elite Christian Mission High School in Karachi, he changed his birthday from 20 October to Christmas Day. As a student at Lincoln’s Inn, he anglicised his name from Jinnahbhai to Jinnah. For three years, between 1930 and 1933, he went into voluntary exile in Hampstead, acquired a British passport, set up residence with his sister Fatimah and daughter Dina, hired a British chauffeur (Bradley) for his Bentley, kept two dogs (a black Dobermann and a white West Highland terrier), indulged himself at the theatre (he had once wanted to be a professional actor so that he could play Hamlet) and appeared before the Privy Council to maintain himself in the style to which he was accustomed. He wore Savile Row suits, heavily starched shirts and two-tone leather or suede shoes. Official portraits in Pakistan present him in a more ‘Islamic’ costume, but the first time he wore a lambskin cap and the long Indian coat known as sherwani was on 15 October 1937 when he presided over the Lucknow session of the Muslim League. He was 61 years old.

Despite being the Quaid-e-Azam, or the Great Leader of Muslims, he drank a moderate amount of alcohol and was embarrassingly unfamiliar with Islamic methods of prayer. He was uncomfortable in any language but English, and made his demand for Pakistan — in 1940 at Lahore — in English, despite catcalls from an audience that wanted to hear Urdu. His excuse was ingenious: since the world press was in attendance, he said, it was only right that he speak in a world language. The brilliant lawyer was never short of a convincing argument.

He married a beautiful young Parsi girl, Ruttie Petit, child of a wealthy non-Muslim Bombay business family who was disowned by her parents for marrying outside her faith. Ruttie wore fresh flowers in her hair, silk dresses, headbands that sparkled with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, and smoked English cigarettes in ivory holders. The marriage frayed, but it produced a daughter, Dina, who loved her father but was more reticent about the nation he created. Dina stayed back in India, and must have been the only Indian to wave a Pakistani flag from her balcony on 14 August 1947. In an incident poignant with Wodehousian overtones, Jinnah, who wore a monocle as a young barrister, recalled his first ‘friction with the police’ to his biographer, Hector Bolitho (Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan, John Murray, 1954). It was during an Oxbridge boat race: ‘I was with two friends and we were caught up with a crowd of undergraduates. We found a cart in a side street, so we pushed each other up and down the roadway, until we were arrested and taken off to the police station ...[and] let off with a caution.’ It was the only time Jinnah went to jail. In contrast, the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who gave up Savile Row for unshaped homespun cotton, spent half the years between 1920 and 1947 in a series of British prisons.

By 1940 Jinnah knew what he wanted — Pakistan. What was debatable was why. The slogan that divided India was simple: ‘Islam is in danger.’ As a proposition, it was absurd. For the believer a faith is true precisely because it is imperishable. A Muslim can be in danger, but not Islam. However, if Muslims were in danger from Hindus, then they needed security and safeguards in those regions where they were in a minority, like central India. Instead Pakistan was created on the western and eastern flanks of the subcontinent, where Muslims were in a majority and if anything the Hindus were in danger.

The logic for the creation of Pakistan had, therefore, to be blown up from saving Muslims to saving Islam. The ‘defence of Islam’ needed a fortress and Pakistan became that fortress. Ironically, the religiosity of Gandhi helped sustain Muslim League suspicions. Gandhi fantasised about a ‘Rama Rajya’ in united India, a dream kingdom of the Hindu warrior-god Rama, where every citizen had equal rights and so on and so forth. Jinnah argued that this was just a deceptive term for the Hindu rule that he feared. The demand for Pakistan was accompanied by the rhetoric of a simulated jihad. A jihad is valid if Muslims are denied the right to practise their faith, or against the invasion of a Muslim’s homeland. And so Muslims were warned that in post-British India mosques would be destroyed and the call to prayer forbidden, and they must resort to violence if necessary to protect their separateness. A typical pamphlet, circulated after the Muslim League announced a ‘Direct Action Day’ on 16 August 1946, said, ‘The Bombay resolution of the All-India Muslim League has been broadcast. The call to revolt comes to us from a nation of heroes ...The day for an open fight which is the greatest desire of the Muslim nation has arrived. Come, those who want to rise to heaven. Come, those who are simple, wanting in peace of mind and who are in distress. Those who are thieves, goondas (thugs), those without the strength of character and those who do not say their prayers — all come. The shining gates of Heaven have been opened for you. Let us enter in thousands. Let us all cry out victory to Pakistan.’ The themes are immediately recognisable, with Heaven, as usual, playing a prominent part.

I owe the following quote to an excellent new book by Husain Haqqani, who has served as adviser to more than one Pakistan government, was ambassador for his country to Sri Lanka and is now a visiting fellow at Carnegie (Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005). He quotes from a speech made by Jinnah in 1946 to the Pathans of the Frontier: ‘Well, if you want Pakistan, vote for the League candidates. If we fail to realise our duty today you will be reduced to the status of Sudras (low castes) and Islam will be vanquished from India. I shall never allow Muslims to be slaves of Hindus.’

The difference between ‘Islam in danger’ and ‘Muslims in danger’ is not academic. Shift the logic to a contemporary context. If Muslims, a minority in Britain, are in danger, then it is possible to work through the democratic and legislative framework to redress real or imagined grievances. (The Lebanese political system is structured around the possibly valid premise that everyone is in danger from one another.) But if Islam is in danger, then the conflict becomes a transnational world war in which an underground station in London becomes as legitimate a battlefield as Tikrit, and the appeal of an Osama bin Laden burrows its way more potently into receptive minds in Leeds.

George Bush and Tony Blair did Osama bin Laden a huge favour by extending the war against terrorism, sponsored by the Taleban in Afghanistan, to Iraq and giving it a more apocalyptic dimension. Why was the reaction to Afghanistan muted, and that to Iraq explosive? Most Muslims saw Afghanistan as a legitimate war. Iraq is perceived as bitter colonialism in addition to being an insult and a challenge to Muslims.

‘Shock and awe’ was a taunt waiting to be answered. Part of the Pentagon’s contempt lay in the memory of Arab armies fleeing from battle against Israel in 1967. This contempt extended to the people. The irony of course is that a dictator’s repressive and morally illegitimate army was never going to pick up the challenge, for Saddam Hussein’s tyranny had no support outside the thin band who benefited from it. Saddam Hussein was no danger to the West for more than one reason. As long as he was there, Iraq could only be a weakling. The Pentagon had no plans to deal with shadow armies that would rise in the name of nationalism in Iraq, and in defence of Iraq across the world.

Bush and Blair lost their legitimacy in their lies, and have become symbols of injustice in the minds of Muslims across the world. Young Muslims in Leeds or Karachi or Sharm el-Sheikh are convinced that the terrorists of 9/11 provided an excuse for the subjugation of key Muslim nations and the control of resources like energy. The intellectual basis for this conflict was laid long before 9/11: a provocative thesis like The Clash of Civilizations was published seven years before 9/11.

Bush and Blair went to Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden. If the Taleban had handed Osama to Bush, perhaps there might have been no invasion of Iraq. (This is what Pakistan believed and advised the Taleban to do.) Four years after 9/11 Osama is still alive, possibly in Pakistan.

I argued in The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity (Routledge, 2002) that Pakistan had become a terrorist haven for reasons beyond the control of its present ruler, President Pervaiz Musharraf. The conventional Anglo-American view is that this is a regrettable consequence of the heavily financed jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, whose most famous by-product is Osama bin Laden. But the reason that Pakistan has become a safety net for individual cells as well as organised, regimented movements like the Taleban has deeper roots. The Sunday Times reported on 24 July that villagers in Chak 477 in Punjab, Pakistan — where the suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer’s family emigrated from — held a hero’s funeral for him despite the absence of his body, and chanted slogans like ‘Tanweer, the hero of Islam’. Among the mourners were members of a banned organisation, Jaish-e-Muhammad, which normally reserves its havoc for India. The ideology of such villages was not created by Afghanistan. Osama is in Pakistan because of this parallel ideology; the ideology is not there because of him.

President Pervaiz Musharraf is sincere in his efforts to fight terrorism, and has narrowly escaped two assassination attempts because of them. His problem is the state within a state, with its own infrastructure and resource base (occasionally supplemented by Pakistan’s famous intelligence agency, the ISI, which handled all the arms and cash during the Afghan jihad and now monitors the Kashmir jihad). So how did Pakistan turn from an Islamic republic to a fortress for Muslim extremists?

Jinnah had a second epiphany after the birth of his new nation. He rediscovered the self that he had left behind in Britain, the secular, democratic barrister who had, ironically, once bitterly accused the ever-prayerful Gandhi of dragging religion into politics. In his first speech to the nascent constituent assembly, on 11 August 1947, he told Pakistanis, ‘You are free, free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places 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.’

It was a speech he could have made as governor-general of India. It is a speech cited repeatedly by George Felix, author of Christians in Pakistan: The Battle for Justice, who campaigns for the cause of Pakistani Christians from exile in Britain. Felix has unreserved praise for Jinnah and unreserved anger for his successors.

The alternative view of Pakistan was best articulated by a cleric who considered Jinnah ‘unIslamic’. Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi (1903–79) founded the Jamaat-e-Islami (the Islamic Congregation) in 1941 to instil an ‘Islamic way of life and morality’, and then to use his cadres to ‘seize power by the use of all available means and equipment’ to establish ‘Islamic rule’. His prescription for Pakistan was unambiguous: Pakistan belongs to Allah, and therefore must be ruled by Allah’s law and governed by the saleheen, or the pious ones.

Pakistan’s elite was not particularly pious. Jinnah’s successor, Liaquat Ali Khan, had the lifestyle of a landlord rather than a priest, and warned civil servants about Maududi. Officers like Field-Marshal Ayub Khan, who would rule for a decade, detested him. But one need worked in Maududi’s favour. The identity of a nation created to save Islam from danger had to be Islamic. The Objectives Resolution moved in the Constituent Assembly by Liaquat Ali Khan in March 1949 committed the nation to life in accordance with the requirements of Islam. When the constitution was adopted in 1956, the country renamed itself the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.

‘The secular elite assumed that they would continue to lead the country while they rallied the people on the basis of Islamic ideology,’ writes Haqqani. This was true across the decades. It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who preferred caviar and whisky to bread and water, who ‘nationalised’ Christian schools and colleges on 1 September 1972, made Islam the official state religion on 10 April 1973, and banned alcohol.

His successor, General Zia ul-Haq, who privately attributed his successful coup against Bhutto on 5 July 1975 to divine help, was a man without doubts. He believed that Islam was the basis of Pakistan, otherwise why had it not stayed with India? He attributed all the weaknesses of his country to leaders who had deviated from the faith. Since, as he pointed out, he could import wheat but not moral values, it was his job to institutionalise such moral values as he considered necessary. Unsurprisingly, the Jamaat-e-Islami joined his government and at various points held influential portfolios like information, power, production and natural resources. He ‘Islamicised’ the economy, turned a large number of madrasas into jihad factories, and victimised women. The real mistake that America made was not the support it gave to Osama during the war against the Soviet Union but the indispensable backbone it provided to Zia. Washington used Zia to defeat Moscow. Zia used Washington to turn Pakistan away from the Jinnah vision towards the distortions of Maududi fundamentalism.

When Zia was a young officer in the British Indian cavalry and the Pakistan armoured corps, he chose to pray in his free time instead of drinking, gambling and dancing, which other officers preferred. Musharraf belongs to the free-spirited military school. He believes in Pakistan without believing that it should become a puritan state, which is why he has periodically to reinforce his credentials among the puritans. While admonishing Blair for blaming Pakistan during a television address, he told his countrymen, ‘I am not a scholar but no one should, either, doubt my Islamic integrity.’ He said that he had gone to Mecca six times and on one supreme occasion the ‘door of forgiveness’ had been opened to him. Musharraf is cynical enough to bait a traditional enemy like India with terrorism, but appreciates the limits of this dangerously counterproductive strategy.

But Pakistan’s problem is no longer India. Pakistan’s problem is the legacy of the man who defeated Jinnah, Zia ul-Haq, an inheritance visible in Chak 477.

Zia was careful. He was the perfect host to every visiting British MP and American senator but shared his vision with only the committed. One such confidant was the Pakistani journalist Ziaul Islam Ansari, who sketched it out in his Urdu book General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq: Shaksiat aur Karnamay (Zia: The Person and his Achievements, Jang Publishers, 1990, quoted by Haqqani): ‘Pakistan ...self-sufficient, stable, strong ...[would provide] strength to Islamic revivalist movements in adjoining countries and regions ...[from the Far East to] the region encompassing the area from Afghanistan to Turkey, including Iran and the Muslim majority states of the Soviet Union in Central Asia.’ Zia believed tha t by turning Pakistan into an Islamic state at the lower rungs of society through legislation, and using the collateral benefits of the Afghan jihad, he could create an ‘Islamic regional block that would be the source of a natural Islamic revolutionary movement, replacing artificial alliances such as the Baghdad Pact. This would be the means of starting a new era of greatness for the Muslim nations of Asia and Africa.’

How Zia would have enjoyed the Iraq jihad! A jihad is sustained by a conviction of injustice; and there is no injustice greater than foreign occupation. This is what gave the Afghan jihad its resonance; the claimed social benefits of Soviet intervention (including equality for women and education for girls) did nothing to ameliorate the anger. Iraq, oppressed by a brutal but secular dictatorship, has slipped into a transition phase which Zia could only have dreamt of. A state within a state is challenging the occupation. The government is divided between the few who might be sincere in their friendship for the West and the many who are happy to shield their anger with duplicity. Bear in mind that the Shia jihad in Iraq has not even begun in any real sense; but that is a different story, waiting to be told. Those who seek democracy in Iraq forget that democracy will not come without independence. An occupation will breed war, not democracy; and only democracy can provide the popular leadership that can make the state within a state irrelevant. President Musharraf’s problem is not his sincerity, but the fact that he presides over a system that has not yet found the space for democracy.

The first British civil commissioner for Mesopotamia, as Iraq was still known at the end of the first world war, was Arnold Talbot Wilson, formerly of the Bengal Lancers, a Tarzan sort who once saved his fare on the ship home by working as a stoker. When he failed completely against the Iraqi insurrection that began in the month of Ramadan, 1920, he was recalled. The British Foreign Office, ever ready with a phrase, nicknamed him the ‘Despot of Messpot’. It is a phrase that might so easily dominate the political obituary of Tony Blair.

M.J.Akbar is editor-in-chief of the Asian Age.