Saeed Naqvi

Date: 9/26/2000


The unreality of Pakistan

The contrast could not have been more comprehensive. At a glittering banquet at the White House, President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee celebrate democracy and how it holds together diversity. Across the Atlantic in London, at the Acton Town Hall, the most influential leaders of three of Pakistan's provinces -- Sind, Baluchistan and "Pakhtoonistan" -- (they shunned the term NWFP) came together on the same platform, seeking independence from a Punjab-dominated Pakistan. This was the second burial of the two-nation theory. The independence of Bangladesh in 1971 was the first.

Even though the leaders repeatedly stressed their willingness to preserve a Pakistan where every "nationality" had equal rights. "But a Pakistan which was dominated by Punjab, a provincial army, ISI and mullahs in the pay of the ISI" would be shunned by other provinces, they said.

The mood for the historic meeting was set by the audience, most of them loyal to Altaf Hussain living in exile in London. "Leke rahenge Azadi" (we shall win our freedom at all costs), they chanted in unison. "Mojahir Maange Azadi! Pakhtoon bhi maange Azadi! Baluch bhi maange aazadi!'' (Mohajir, Pakhtoons, Baluch and Sindhis -- all will jointly struggle for freedom.)

The leaders on the stage were Altaf Hussain of MQM, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Baluch leader and convener of PONM (Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement), Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Chairman of the Pakhtoon Khwa Milli Awami Party, and Sindhi leader (son of the late G.M.Shah), Syed Imdad Mohammad Shah.

The Sindhi leader told me in an interview what he elaborated on the stage. "Sindh has always been and is a multireligious, multilingual, secular state." It was always a misfit in the straitjacket in the two-nation theory. "I can still show you remains of the places of worship of Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and Muslims in the same town," he continued.

Achakzai was categorical. "Either give us a federal, democratic Pakistan according to the Lahore declaration of 1940 or let us part like civilised people just as the Czecks and the Slovaks have parted." Never had the Central government consulted the Pakhtoons, Baluchs, Sindhis or the Mohajirs on any major policy issue. "Have they ever consulted us on foreign policy, for instance?" Achakzai asked. "Their policies are harming all our neighbours -- Afghanistan, Iran, Xiang Xing in China, Central Asia, India."

Mengal built up the case against "Punjabi domination" by pointing out the "atrocities" the army had committed on all "non-Punjabi" people. "Surely this is not the behaviour of a national army." Mengal thumped the lectern, "for full 53 years we have been oppressed by a provincial army." The time had now come for the final settlement. "Give us equal rights or give us our independence.

"The horrors of Punjabi action in Bangladesh made my stomach turn" Mengal remembered. "Punjabi soldiers would tell stories of how they enjoyed straffing the fleeing Bengalis." He then asked, "can this inhuman lot ever build a nation based on human rights?"

Mengal said Islamabad was showing indications of becoming alert to the gathering storm in the provinces. "Because you have shown solidarity", he pointed to Altaf Hussain, "the Punjabi elite was preparing itself for the eventuality that it may one day lose control over Karachi." That is why there was frantic activity to construct a modern port at Gwadar in Baluchistan. He warned Western investors that their investments in Pakistan were not secure. "Because we shall not ensure the security of Gwadar port or of the proposed pipelines." Let the West know that the three provinces were responsible for 90 per cent of Pakistan's wealth which had been "appropriated by Punjab." He said when "we separate" we do not expect Punjab to "give a penny." But Punjab too must know "that they will not get a penny from us." A Pakistan minus Punjab was economically viable, "a Punjab minus the three provinces would be landlocked."

But the most undiluted repudiation of Pakistan and the two-nation theory came from Altaf Hussain. He invited the audience to join him in the chant "the partition of India was the biggest blunder in human history." The audience repeated this several times. Hussain told a story how reporters from the Jang newspaper had interviewed him for several hours "without writing a single line." Reporters asked him to name his favourite poet. "And do you know my reply?" Hussain asked mischievously.

"Saare jahan se achcha hindustan hamara" (Hindustan was the world's best nation). Hussain began to sing the song. "And why not?" He asked, "after all the song was written by Pakistan's national poet, Iqbal."

This literary jugglery seemed a sort of metaphor for the unreality of Pakistan. These very leaders had once acquiesced in a Pakistan, which subsequently disappointed them. The god that failed would be a weak comparison. This was total disenchantment.

These very leaders had once acquiesced in a Pakistan, which subsequently disappointed them