Claiming Jinnah’s mantle: Musharraf joins the queue

October 2, 2010

jinnah flagThe minute I entered the elegant book-lined club in central London where Pervez Musharraf was about to launch his political career, it was clear who was to dominate the proceedings – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam, Founder of the Nation, Father of Pakistan. In his trademark peaked Jinnah cap, it was his photo alone which was hanging prominently on the platform where the former military ruler was to speak; and his photo on the little entrance ticket they gave you to get past security.

It was his spirit which was invoked even in the name of Musharraf’s political party — his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) was a deliberate echo of the pre-independence All India Muslim League, through which Jinnah created the state of Pakistan in 1947.

 It was Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947 that Musharraf cited as one of the guiding principles of the APML, with its most famous lines: ”You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Musharraf quoted a verse too from Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher who imagined Pakistan as a place where what he saw as the true spirit of Islam – equality, peace and justice — would flourish. And it was to that idealistic vision that Musharraf appealed when he promised to fight poverty and corruption, end the domination of the feudal elite, and bring true freedom and economic well-being to the poor masses of Pakistan.

Appealing stuff. The problem is that every politician does it. Everyone invokes the spirit of Jinnah; everyone promises to improve the lot of the poor; everyone says he or she is the true democrat. Musharraf — who says he will go back to Pakistan before the next election due by 2013 come what may (and that includes possible arrest and assassination) is just the latest in a long line of politicians queuing up for Jinnah’s mantle. The problem is who are we – or more to the point – who are Pakistan’s voters – to believe?

It is a problem that cuts to the heart of Pakistan’s current political turmoil. Who are the true democrats? The progressives? The representatives of the poor? The inheritors of the poetic idealism of Iqbal, and the more pragmatic constitutionalism of Jinnah who used his background as a lawyer to create a country?

Start at the crudest caricature of Pakistani politics today. On one side, you have the “forces of democracy” in the two main parties – the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the late Benazir Bhutto and the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.  On the other, you have the military which have dominated Pakistan for much of its life and which has grown ever more powerful after taking the lead in providing emergency relief following Pakistan’s devastating floods.

At its simplest level, you should be able to divide them into two camps – pro-democracy and anti-democracy.

But it does not work as simply as that. The main democratic parties are dominated by feudal elites which are accused of protecting  the interests of the rich over the poor regardless of their political platforms.  They are dominated by families who inherit rather than win political power - the PPP was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; and since Benazir Bhutto’s death her husband, Asif Ali Zardari has become co-party leader with their son Bilawal.  

The military tend to be more meritocratic – the current army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, rose through the ranks from a lower middle class Punjabi family. The army sees itself as closer to the people than many political leaders with their alleged corruption and pursuit of personal gain, and therefore the true defenders of the nation created by Jinnah. In some ways more democratic.  Yet never elected.

It was to this latter view that Musharraf was appealing when he launched his political programme promising to improve the lot of the poor.  The west, he said, was only interested in elections.  Instead it should look at how a leader performed for his people.

“A military man can be democratic, which I think I was,” he said, “a feudal man can be the biggest dictator.”

There is no easy answer to that argument. But having been forced to think about the nature of democracy after being hit by the full force of the political debate in  Pakistan when I went there to cover the floods last month, I would hazard two suggestions.

Democracy is not just about good governance, although good governance is important. It is about putting up with decisions you don’t like — and sometimes  incompetent performance — and deciding you will try to vote the government out of office in the next election. 

The current political debate in Pakistan about the perceived failures of the PPP-led government is focusing only on governance.  What would happen, theoretically, if the government suddenly discovered good governance but made decisions the army did not like?

You can make a similar argument in Afghanistan. U.S. criticisms of the administration of President Hamid Karzaifocus entirely on governance and corruption. If, theoretically, Karzai ended corruption and implemented good governance but then forged ahead with policies the United States and its allies did not like (eg on Iran, Taliban peace talks) would Washington be happy?

More importantly in the context of democracy, what do most Pakistanis actually think – and especially the rural poor in whose name so much of Pakistan’s political debate is framed?  Listening to Musharraf in that elegant central London club, while his expensively suited supporters chanted “Pervez Musharraf! Zindabad!”, it occurred to me to wish we could have flown over a few of the victims of Pakistan’s floods and asked them what they wanted and what they thought about everyting that was being said.

And I’d like to have known what Jinnah thought too.



Your problem is you see everything else as lower to your religion. And that’s why you ELEVATED me to being a muslim as if being a hindu is a low grade status. I don’t mind being called a muslim as I have studied Quran and believe Islam is a great faith, but if you say u ‘elevated’ me by calling muslim then I have a problem. Had u just said “777 is a muslim becoz of him promoting peace” then I would have loved it but u went on to add “despite him calling himself a hindu”, what was the need to add this? If you don’t know then I am telling you that such statements are definitely derogatory even if u did not mean any offence. Its either that your proficiency with English language is very poor or your intentions are too political and bad.

My proposal was not at all about religion it was all about upholding the law of the land and bring justice and peace to all but you saw it from your lens of religion as usual. That’s why I say thank God India is not enlightened same way as Pakistan where every non-muslim is officially there-to-be-butchered.

And I care least about your opinion for my proposal. All I care is that whether my fellow countrymen consider it genuine and think about it with honesty. So if any Indians out there want to discuss or doubt the genuineness of my comments above then I am all up for a discussion.

And such hard-line religious angle of yours make you perfectly eligible to be an Indian Neta (leader/politician).

As I have said before also your choice of words is extremely poor. And why the hell I am back in discussion with you.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

Small corection:
“So if any Indians out there want to discuss or doubt the genuineness of my [ayodhya] comments above then I am all up for a discussion.”

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

The guy was a scoundrel to be sure.

But I am more inclined to think he was just a bumbling fool. Just look at Kargil for example. What could possibly convince educated and trained generals that such a plan would have gotten anywhere. It made neither tactical nor strategic sense.

Same for his takeover of the country. It’s something he just fell into. I really doubt that he necessarily had the intention to take over.

That said, to his credit, he did do some good for Pakistan. And he may well have been a more competent administrator than even the government in power today (mind you he had essentially farmed out Army Officers into the civil service to help him).

Over the long run though, what Pakistan needs is real democracy to take root, not a revolving door policy between the COAS post and the Presidency. Such democracy is very messy. It means sometimes accepting bad governance (just look at the USA under Bush Jr.). Whether Pakistanis have the stomach for this is debatable.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive

I hereby withdraw all my previous post to you. Sorry. we should stop it now.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive


Why do you let Rex Minor get to you? I don’t even readh his incoherent BS anymore. The guy is obviously a bigot who prefers to justify his bigotry by high-minded (and obviously biased) reading of history.

Pashtuns going to conquer all of South Asia and smash existing power structures? That’s laughable. Call me when they figure out a way to cross the Indus.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive

U r right!!

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

@Umair and others… Dividing a place for two religious buildings need not necessarily divide the people. In the same state there are many religious places where hindus and muslims have their places of worship sharing the same walls.. Mathura and Banaras are a case in point. There have been very few riots at these places… perhaps not so much because of religious harmony but because of the fact that religion is a BIGGG business and nobody wants to go out of business there. The salesmen of salvation in Mathura and Banaras realized it soon after Ayodhya episode and have not paid even the lip service to the right wing BJP’s rhetoric of so called cleansing of these places.

As for Ayodhya, temple holds the same emotional attachment to the right wing BJP as Kashmir to Pakistan leadership… they will rent out for its construction but would be the last people to want it resolved since that takes away their one and only bargaining chip. It is now for the people to see through and beyond their game.

India has had it’s 9 minutes of fame where many of them actually started to believe when their leaders proclaimed super power status. I believe commonwealth games fiasco has shown the mirror to the naked emperor. Problem is, now every kid and everyone else is saying that the emperor has no clothes, but the emperor is still not ready to look down.

Posted by Windturner | Report as abusive

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