Farzana Shaikh on the history of Pakistan

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 21.09.16

Farzana Shaikh is an Associate Fellow of the Asia Programme at the Royal Institute of
International Affairs (Chatham House) in London where she directs the Pakistan Study
Group. Her book
Making Sense of Pakistan, published in 2009 in the United Kingdom, is oft-
quoted nowadays. In the book, Shaikh makes two major claims about the history of
Pakistan. First, the struggle for the rights of Muslims oozed a negative identity for both the
struggle and the product of the struggle, Pakistan. Second, like the Pakistan movement,
Pakistan is also devoid of political legitimacy. This opinion piece intends to debate these
two points in the context of the history of Pakistan.

Regarding the first claim, Shaikh writes on page 180: “Of all Pakistan’s foreign
engagements, none has been as central to its identity as its relations with India. The
peculiar circumstances of the country’s creation very largely account for this. 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, and the greatest challenge of all has
been embodied in their dispute over Kashmir. While ostensibly a dispute over the control of
territory, any proposed resolution has been complicated by issues that touch upon
questions of national identity, the viability of national legitimation projects and conflicting
interpretation of history.”

On the point of negative identity, on page 182, Shaikh further writes: “Indeed, much of the
uncertainty over Pakistan’s identity stems from the nagging question of whether its identity
is fundamentally dependent on India and what its construction might entail outside of
opposition to the latter. This has prompted the suggestion that Pakistan is a state burdened
with a negative identity shaped by the circumstances of Partition. The League’s rejection of
‘Hindu domination’, it is argued, has since fed Pakistan’s national obsession with India.
Unable to escape the India syndrome, it has failed to craft an independent identity beyond
that which it moulded as a challenger to India.”

Taken both the paragraphs together, Shaikh says that the Muslim nationalist movement to
challenge or defy Hindu domination embedded in the Indian nationalist movement was the
source of producing a negative identity. Secondly, the struggle of Muslims of India for their
rights also earned a negative identity. Thirdly, the Pakistan movement bequeathed the
negative identity on the future state of Pakistan. Fourthly, the circumstances of partition
shaped the already existent negative identity of Pakistan. Fifthly, the same negative identity
engendered the issue of Kashmir, which is just a territorial dispute devoid of any legal or
human face. Sixthly, Pakistan is still burdened with the negative identity. Seventhly, the
inherited negative identity now shapes Pakistan’s relations with India as a challenger.
Eighthly, Pakistan’s negative identity is a major hindrance to the solution of the Kashmir

Shaikh took upon herself the task of declaring which struggle was negative and which was
positive. However, in the book neither has Shaikh articulated her understanding of the word
‘identity’ nor has she given the reasons or the criteria for donating the term ‘negative
identity’ to the struggle for the rights of Muslims. Unfortunately, the book is also silent on
the reasons that made the Indian nationalist movement leave space for the emergence of
the Muslim nationalist movement. Shaikh ignored the fact that it was the Hindi-Urdu dispute
of the 1860s in Benares that engendered Muslim nationalism, which later spread into the
rest of India.

The dispute also prompted Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan to change his stance from Indian
nationalism to Muslim nationalism. The conflict on language was more social than political to
divide society. Later, on administrative grounds, the British partitioned Bengal (1905-1911)
into two provinces, East Bengal and West Bengal, which benefitted Muslims politically and
financially in East Bengal. Resultantly, the partition was vehemently opposed by Hindu
nationalist movements such as the Swadeshi Movement. This opposition was more political
than social to divide society and make Muslims conscious of their rights in India. Against the
background of emerging socio-political division in society, the All India Muslim League
(AIML) was founded in Dacca, Bengal, in 1906.

Regarding the second claim, Shaikh writes on page 158: “Mobilising Islam in order to
substitute for the absence of political legitimacy was a legacy of Pakistan’s nationalist
movement.” Here, Shaikh says that the Pakistan movement was devoid of political
legitimacy vis-à-vis the Indian nationalist movement. Secondly, to fill the void of political
legitimacy, the name of Islam was used. Thirdly, the Pakistan movement bequeathed the
state of absence of political legitimacy on Pakistan. Fourthly, Pakistan is lacking political
legitimacy, and the void is filled by using the name of Islam.

Shaikh took upon herself the task of determining political legitimacy of a movement.
However, in the book, neither has Shaikh articulated her understanding of the words
‘political legitimacy’ nor has she given the reasons or any criteria for declaring the Pakistan
movement devoid of it. Shaikh ignored the fact that from 14 points of Mohammad Ali Jinnah
in 1929 to the Jinnah-Gandhi talks and correspondence in 1944, rights of Muslims were
projected for seeking constitutional protection. Moreover, Jinnah, who was a constitutional
expert, was requested to lead the AIML to safeguard the constitutional rights of Muslims.
Jinnah did not need any religious sentiment for exploitation to substitute for his legal
expertise. Though there were certain slogans with the religious echo raised during the
electoral campaign of 1945-46 elections, these refrains were made and used in streets by
workers; these were never raised at or responded from the platform of the AIML. If Jinnah
had used Islam to strengthen his case, there would have been issued no religious decrees
against him. The legal mind of Jinnah was stronger than the sentimental strength of any
such religious slogan.

In short, Shaikh’s narrative is handicapped by the selective exclusion of important historical
events, besides their implications, and this exposes her to misinterpret the history of

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