Written By: Prof. Sharif al Mujahid
Complete unanimity of views on the basics of a polity between the lender and his chief lieutenant is a phenomenon that seldom occurs. For instance, it did not in the case of Gandhi and Nehru, Soekarno and Nasir, Naguib and Nasser, Ben Bella and Boumediene. But it did in the case of Jinnah and Liaquat.
Thus, in conformity with the Quaid’s concept, Liaquat visualized Pakistan as “a State where there will be no special privileges, no special rights for any one particular community or any one particular interest. It will be a State where every citizen will have equal rights and equal opportunities. It will be a State where people will have equal privileges…”
This he affirmed on August 11, 1947 while moving a resolution for approval by the Constituent Assembly of the design of Pakistan’s national flag, adding, “As I visualize the future constitution of Pakistan, it will stand for Freedom, Liberty and Equality of all the citizens of the Pakistan State.”
And by these principles, Liaquat had stood to the end of his all-too-brief tenure. For instance, during the debate, when Sris Chandra Chattopadhyay, the leader of the Congress Party in the (first) Constituent Assembly, remarked that Pakistani nationals were only Hindus or Muslims, Liaquat checkmated him, saying, “I say we are both, I do not see any contradictions in this statement. You can be the nationals of a State, with equal rights, equal privileges and equal responsibilities and yet remain Muslims and Hindus.”
Despite mounting pressure from the extremists, Liaquat opted for a progressive interpretation of Islam, an interpretation which was acceptable even to the foremost spokesman of the Left in Pakistan’s formative years – Mian Iftikharuddin. Those who cavil at the sovereignty clause in the Objectives Resolution would do well to have a look at the actual wording and the context. It says, “Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to God Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan through the people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust…”
Whether or not, the members of the Constituent Assembly were clear on some issues, they were quite explicit in resolving that if Pakistan were to become an “Islamic democracy”, it should be by the choice of its citizens. This explains why the Resolution recognizes the people – all the people, and not the followers of any particular faith – the vehicle of the authority delegated by God to the state of Pakistan.
No wonder the Resolution speaks of or refers to “the people” in four clauses and lays emphasis on the rights of the people, the representation of the people, the prosperity of the people, their place in the comity of nations, and the exercise of power and authority by the chosen representatives of the people. Thus, the Resolution tends to be people-oriented. But this salient feature has generally lain ignored in most recent discussions on the Resolution.
As in latter day discussions, the main objection to the Resolution raised by the critics relates to the statements “that power is derived from God”, which they characterise as a “theocratic” approach. The speeches by Liaquat Ali Khan, Mian Iftikharuddin and Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar sought to clear their doubts and clarify their “misunderstanding.”
Now which religion and which people in the world do not affirm the sovereignty of God Almighty/Ultimate Reality over the entire universe? What, however, is more important is that, as Liaquat argued, “All authority is a trust, entrusted to us by God for the purpose of being exercised in the service of man, so that it does not become an agency for tyranny and the selfishness.” Moreover, “that authority has been delegated to the people and none else, and it is for the people to decide who will exercise that authority”.
Furthermore, the Resolution affirms that “the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people.” “This”, argued Liaquat, “is the very essence of democracy, because the people have been recognized as the recipients of all authority and it is in them that the power to wield it, has been vested.”
And when all power and authority are vested in the people, the question of the establishment of a theocracy does not arise. For, as Liaquat argued, “In its literal sense, theocracy means the Government of God; in this sense, however, it is patent that the entire universe is a theocracy, for is there any corner in the entire creation where His authority does not exist? But, in a technical sense, theocracy has come to mean a government by ordained priests, who wield authority as being specifically appointed by those who claim to derive their rights from their sacerdotal position…. Such an idea is absolutely foreign to Islam. Islam does not recognise either priesthood or any sacerdotal authority, and therefore, the question of a theocracy simply does not arise in Islam. If there are any who still use the word theocracy in the same breath as the polity of Pakistan, they are either labouring under a grave misapprehension, or indulging in mischievous propaganda.
In this context, a perusal of what Mian Iftikharuddin said on the occasion is both enlightening and rewarding: After felicitating Liaquat for bringing in the Resolution, the Mian Sahib said, “The objections that have been raised by the members... on this Resolution relate to the statement that power is derived from God. It has been said that it gives the constitution a theocratic approach. Sir, I assure the members... that the wording of the Preamble does not, in any way make this Objectives Resolution any more theocratic, and the more religious than the Resolution or the statements of fundamental principles of some of the modern countries of the world. We know, Sir that the constitutions of many countries start, if not with exactly the same, at least by somewhat similar words. Ireland is not the only country that I know of having the constitution which starts with somewhat similar words about God. Practically every country of the British Empire derives its authority through the agency of the King from God. It is always mentioned, the King Emperor, by the Grace of God, and, so on. The members need feel no more nervous than do the subjects of British Empire or the citizens of the Irish Free State on the wording of the Resolution.”
The more important thing, however, is that in the ideological controversy engulfing the new state, Liaquat opted for a sane, balanced and constructive approach, an approach that induced a broad consensus. And much to the consternation of the extremists, he opted for democracy as against theocracy. Interestingly, the Resolution received extensive attention in the Western scholarly circles.
To quote Professor Grunebaum, “On the theoretical level at least, as good an integration of traditional and Western ideas has been reached in this document as one might reasonably expect.” To him, the attempted bridging of the gap between the Muslim tradition and the Western idea of the nation-state deserves the greatest attention (Modern Islam). Likewise, renowned Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith has commented favourably and extensively on the Objectives Resolution (Islam in Modern History).
Finally, what Liaquat aspired to accomplish was succinctly spelled out in his address: “…We want to build up a truly liberal government where the greatest amount of freedom will be given to all its members. Everyone will be equal before the law, but this does not mean that his personal law will not be protected, we believe in the equality of status and justice…. At present our masses are poor and illiterate. We must raise their standards of life, and free them from the shackles of poverty and ignorance. So far as political rights are concerned, everyone will have a voice in the determination of the policy pursued by the government and in electing those who will run the State, so that they may do so in the interests of the people. We believe that so shackles can be put on thought and, therefore, we do not intend to hinder any person from the expression of his views…. In short, we want to base our polity upon freedom, progress and social justice…”
For those of our esteemed intellectuals who find the references to Islam in the Resolution a little problematical, it is pertinent to remember the ideological environment of the period in which the Resolution we are trying to dissect, analyse and interpret today, was formulated. It was already a bipolar world, smitten by the gathering Cold War, symbolized by the Berlin Blockade and the Berlin Wall (soon to be raised). The great ideological divide had warped simple and long familiar words (such as freedom, liberty, equality, democracy, state, sovereignty, justice, and tyranny) with ideological overtones. Hence, these concepts had to be qualified to mean what they actually stood for.
Hence, when the Resolution talks of the principles of democracy, etc. within an Islamic context, it was giving notice that what was meant was not the standard Western type nor the Soviet brand of people’s democracy, but a sort of “Islamic democracy” which, while retaining the institutional appurtenances of a democratic structure, is congruent with Muslims’ ethos, aspirations and code of morality. And, as Mian Iftikharuddin argued, “no one need object to the word ‘Islamic’”.
The writer is HEC Distinguished National Professor, who has recently co-edited UNESCO’s History of Humanity, vol. VI, and The Jinnah Anthology (2010) and edited In Quest of Jinnah (2007); the only oral history on Pakistan’s Founding Father.