|Farzana Shaikh's Making sense of Pakistan
Daily: Daily Times
Last year, the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) of Pakistan changed the syllabus
for the examination of Central Superior Services, and recommended new books as well.
Amongst them, for Pakistan Affairs was Farzana Shaikh’s Making Sense of Pakistan
published in the United Kingdom in 2009. This opinion piece intends to debate Shaikh’s
understanding of Pakistan and FPSC’s understanding of her book.
In the second paragraph of the introduction chapter, Shaikh writes, “This book — a work of
interpretation rather than of historical research — addresses the political, economic and
strategic implications of Pakistan’s uncertain national identity.” Not doing historical research
but writing a book on a topic embedded in the history of a country is not a point of strength;
instead, it is a point of weakness, which is quite apparent in the book. For instance, on
page 33, Shaikh writes, “Iqbal’s instinctive hostility to the idea of the nation also led him to
resist, intellectually at least, any link between a Muslim nation and a separate Muslim state
— a link that would have compromised his engagement with Islam as a ‘universal
community’, which could brook no divisions of the sort implied by national differences.
Therefore, when in 1930 he laid out his scheme for a territorially demarcated and
centralised Muslim state in the north-west of India, he justified its formation not on the
grounds that Muslims were a nation, but that ‘the life of Islam’ depended on it.”
Here lies the problem of not doing historical research but imposing one’s interpretation on
others and thereby misguiding the readers. In his 1930 presidential address at Allahabad,
nowhere did Allama Mohammad Iqbal say that the life of Islam depended on a state.
Instead, Iqbal said, “The life of Islam as a cultural force in the country very largely depends
on its centralisation in a specified territory.” Here, Iqbal alluded only to the cultural aspect of
Islam and not the whole of Islam. The cultural aspect is just one dimension of Islam.
Secondly, the words “specified territory” mentioned here meant a state and not a universal
community, as in his address Iqbal also said, “I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sindh,
and Balochistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire
or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim
state appears to me the final destiny of the Muslims at least of North-West India.” In this
way, Iqbal said that the existence of a state, whether autonomous or independent, in a
specified territory was required to preserve or flourish the cultural aspect of Islam.
Thirdly, in his address, Iqbal also said, “Indeed, the Muslims of India are the only Indian
people who can fitly be described as a nation in the modern sense of the word.” In this
manner, he not only established a link between a Muslim nation and a sovereign or
independent consolidated Muslim state but he also justified the formation of such a state on
the ground that Muslims were a nation.
Fourthly, Iqbal was not at all worried about the survival, life or protection of Islam, as in the
same address, he also said, “One lesson I have learnt from the history of Muslims. At
critical moments in their history it is Islam that has saved Muslims and not vice versa.”
Now, coming back to the first paragraph on page one of the introduction chapter, Shaikh
writes: “More than six decades after being carved out of British India, Pakistan remains an
enigma... Pakistan has been left clutching at an identity beset by an ambiguous relation to
Islam.” Here, her disregard for Iqbal’s address of 1930 is again apparent, as Iqbal had
unequivocally said that the relation between the prospective autonomous or independent
(consolidated) Muslim state and Islam would be cultural, under the auspices of European-
style democracy. This point also refutes Shaikh’s self-serving interpretation that there exists
any kind of Pakistan’s uncertain national identity.
In the domain of research, the major curse appended to interpretation is bias and the same
is quite apparent in the book. For instance, on page 180, Shaikh writes, “For Pakistan was
born not in a struggle against British colonial rule, but in opposition to the Indian nationalist
movement. Overcoming the legacy of this ‘negative’ identity has been the defining feature
of Pakistan’s policy towards India…” Here, Shaikh must be referring to the “Divide and Quit”
slogan raised by the All India Muslims League (AIML) in December 1943 in response to the
Quit India Movement launched by the Indian National Congress (INC) in August 1942.
However, in her book, Shaikh forgets to explain not only the reasons for considering
negative the slogan of Divide and Quit or its resultant effects, but also the reasons for
considering the slogan or its consequent effect an expression of any kind of identity. In fact,
Shaikh says that the positive identity for Muslims would have been in not raising the slogan
of or putting into effect Divide and Quit. In this regard, Muslims’ stance could be understood
when viewed in light of Iqbal’s Allahabad’s address of 1930, in which he had already given
two choices to the British to “secure the permanent solution of the communal problem” of
India. The choices were either doing a territorial “redistribution of British India” or
introducing such “constitutional changes” as to protect rights of Muslims. Secondly, through
the Divide and Quit preference, Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanted to save Muslims from the
British wrath in case they did not quit India.
In her yearning for thrusting the negative identity upon Pakistan as a legacy, Shaikh also
forgets to take into consideration the impact of the Congress ministries (1937-39) on
Muslims before they asked for Divide and Quit, another point of historical research. The
point is simple: If Muslims’ experience under the Congress ministries had been pleasant,
they would have not pressed for Divide and Quit. Further, if Muslims had demanded Divide
and Quit before their experience under the Congress ministries, they could have been
blamed for any kind of negativity, but not otherwise.
The FPSC needs to explain what it expects from the would-be civil servants: relying on
historical research or banking on interpretation?
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