By Abdullahil Ahsan
- The writer is professor of comparative civilization at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Istanbul Sehir University. He has written extensively on the relationship between Islamic and Western civilizations.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has already embarked on his journey toward what he calls ‘Naya (new) Pakistan’. He wants to materialize Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan -- Pakistan that was envisioned by its architect. One must revisit the history of the sub-continent during the first half of the 20th century in order to grasp the spirit of Jinnah’s Pakistan. Neither Mr. Jinnah, nor the poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a nationalist in the conventional sense of the term: rather, their nationalism was based on universal values such as equality, human dignity, and justice. Initially both founding fathers of Pakistan actively participated in India’s independence movement where all Indians would be free to exercise their rights and fulfill responsibilities. However, they were quick to realize that the Indian National Congress, the main political party at the time which had been founded by an Englishman as part of his “white man’s burden” mindset, was moving toward a cast-ridden discriminatory form of nation-state where minorities would lose their dignity. They wanted an independent nation where everyone would have dignity and equality irrespective of caste, creed, color, and ethnicity.
Unfortunately independent Pakistan failed to fulfill the expectations of its founding fathers. Jinnah had appointed a Hindu (who happened to have come from a lower class) as Pakistan’s first law minister under whom he had taken oath as the Governor General of independent Pakistan. He seemed to have demonstrated that universal Qur’anic principles could be practiced even under non-Muslim leadership. He also appointed a Jewish-born Austro-Hungarian Muslim as Pakistan’s UN representative (Leopold Weiss; later Muhammad Asad) who wrote Principles of State and Government in Islam. Again, Jinnah seemed to have demonstrated universal application of Islamic principles in the newly independent Pakistan. A fairly good constitution was drafted, and it was accepted by all ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. But soon Pakistani politicians and strongmen abandoned those principles; discriminatory practices became common. Within couple of years of its adoption, a coup was staged, the constitution was dissolved by the bureaucracy and armed forces. The judiciary came out to support the action. All in all, Pakistan disintegrated within 25 years of its birth primarily due to discriminatory practices against Bengali-speaking East Pakistanis. Thus the primary challenge Khan is faced with is whether he will be able to revive the spirit of Jinnah’s Pakistan.
Analysts and experts have highlighted many imminent problems for Khan. These include economic and financial crisis, unemployment, the rise of extremism, relations with neighboring countries and with big powers, and many more. Before trying to tackle any one of these challenges, however, Khan and his team need to go through a sort of spiritual awakening. When Iqbal and Jinnah conceived Pakistan, they wanted to see it as a model state not only for Muslims around the world; they had in mind a model for humanity. Both had studied and lived in Europe for considerably long periods and deeply appreciated the crisis that the Western civilization was confronted by. They witnessed firsthand how reactionary social Darwinist nationalism (which, by the way, seems to motivate Trump) led Europe toward devastating world wars. Iqbal in particular saw Europe’s crisis through Nietzsche’s eyes and found a solution to that crisis in the Islamic ideals of universal equality and human dignity.
But despite all the challenges ahead, it is encouraging to know that Khan comprehends Pakistan’s weaknesses and is resolved to fulfill the expectations of its founding fathers. This admission is the first step in the right direction.
Khan has rightly begun by identifying the core problem: accountability. “Accountability,” he declared, “will start with me, then my ministers, and then it will go from there.” If Khan succeeds in ensuring accountable and transparent governance, he will achieve the rest without much difficulty. More than seven and a half million Pakistanis living abroad may have the potential to pour sufficient amount of cash to save the treasury. Majority of them may be low-wage earners but a very significant number of them are professionals and business personalities stationed around the world. What Khan needs is to earn their trust -- amanah -- which is a Qur’anic concept. The Qur’an teaches its followers to internalize the sense of trust and a set of other core values and sincerely put them into practice. If Khan sets an example starting with himself, followed by his ministers and then the rest of his administration, he will definitely achieve his goal. Unfortunately a key challenge ahead of him in this sense is the so-called Islamists who constantly express their love for Islam by demanding a literal implementation of the shari’ah and by expressing their love for the Prophet. But despite these “outpourings of love”, they occasionally take the law in their hands and have the audacity of committing murder in the name of “honoring the Prophet” (a few years ago, for example, the governor of Punjab was gunned down by his bodyguard in the name of honoring the Prophet). On top of these groups, there are extremists who also think that they are serving Islam by indiscriminately killing civilians. Even on the election day dozens were killed outside a polling station in the provincial capital Quetta by a suicide bomber. If Khan manages to set precedents regarding how Qur’anic values could be put into practice properly, he will not only be able to achieve a great material success by rooting out corruption and securing a cash flow from Pakistani expats, but also clarify many misconceptions about Islam both for Muslims and non-Muslims. It always takes time for anyone to gain people’s trust, and Khan will be no exception.
Again, analysts and experts are predicting that the new government will need an immediate cash flow in order to run the administration, and Pakistan again has to seek loan from the IMF, which it has done many times before. Pakistan is reported to have taken a huge loan from China in recent years as well. Khan could perhaps get a lesson on the subject from Malaysia’s Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, who last week renegotiated the terms of a loan from China. Due to Pakistan’s geo-political importance and historical relations, China might be convinced to stand by Pakistan at this crucial time in history.
Khan’s rhetoric about corruption investigations sometimes makes me nervous. Not that I approve of the corrupt practices of the two previous governments in Pakistan; what I am afraid of is that it may distract the attention of the new administration. Along with addressing economic and financial problems, primary attention should be focused on the so-called “clash of civilizations” thesis in foreign relations. One must recall President Bush’s rhetoric to induce Pakistan to join his war on terror. Khan has already indicated how Pakistan has become a victim in this fiasco and Pakistan must come out of this. Old Islamophobic elements, as has been highlighted by Edward Said in his Orientalism, have cultivated the thesis in a new form following the Cold War scenario in international politics. Unfortunately many Muslims, particularly the extremists, seem to believe that the West is their enemy. Khan, thanks to his positive image with the British aristocracy, is in a very good position to counter this thesis: there are many in both sides of the divide who, like Jinnah and Iqbal, believe in fundamental universal human values.
For historical reasons it will be difficult for Khan to achieve much progress in repairing relations with neighboring India but since he is interested in reviving Jinnah’s Pakistan, he should perhaps consider extending an olive branch to Bangladesh, which was once part of Jinnah’s Pakistan. A good gesture toward Bangladesh will have the potential to induce Afghanistan to cultivate friendly relations on the basis of Qur’anic values.
In simple terms, Khan should go slowly but steadily. The hope that he has generated among the youth is amazing, and he needs to maintain that optimism . Khan has the potential to achieve Iqbal and Jinnah’s Pakistan and represent the Ummah (the global community of Muslims) positively to humanity at large.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.