Need for Changing the Electoral System in Pakistan

What Electoral Systems Are

Electoral systems convert the votes cast in an election into results – the offices/seats – won by parties and candidates. The key variables are:

  • The electoral formula used (i.e. whether a plurality/majority, proportional, mixed or other system is used, and what mathematical formula is used to calculate the seat allocation),
  • The ballot structure (i.e. whether the voter votes for a candidate or a party and whether the voter makes a single choice or expresses a series of preferences) and
  • The district magnitude (not how many voters live in a district, but how many representatives to the legislature that district elects).

The choice of Electoral System is one of the most important institutional decisions for any democracy. The choice of a particular electoral system has a deep effect on the future political life of the country concerned, and electoral systems, once chosen, often remain fairly constant as political interests solidify around and respond to the incentives presented by them. However, while conscious design has become far more prevalent recently, traditionally it has been rare that selection of electoral systems be conscious and deliberate. Often the choice was essentially accidental, the result of an unusual combination of circumstances, of a passing trend, or of a quirk of history, with the impact of colonialism and the effects of influential neighbours often being especially strong.

 The Guiding Principles of Electoral System

There should be some guiding principles used for consideration when choosing an electoral system.  Some of the important principles are:

  • Representation

The basic duty for an electoral system is to translate votes into seats; to transform the expressed will of the voters into people who will represent it.  There are many views of what fair representation is – geographic representation, demographic representation, ideological or party political representation. Regardless of the view that is prevalent in each country, representation as a principle is a crucial guide when developing the most suitable electoral system.

  • Transparency

It is important that the mechanisms of the electoral system be as transparent as possible and known to both voters and political parties and candidates well in advance in order to avoid confusion and distrust in the results they produce at elections.  Moreover, the process used to determine choice of electoral system also benefits from transparency for the same reasons.  The chosen electoral system will gain more legitimacy if stakeholders have an open forum to articulate their views and arguments.

  • Inclusiveness

The electoral system will have a greater chance of being accepted as fair and legitimate if it is considered to work in an inclusive manner. This means not only that the electoral law allows as many as possible citizens to vote (including inclusive suffrage, making sure that the system is easily understandable, and assuring access for all to the polling station), but also that the mechanisms of the electoral system do not overtly discriminate against any one group in society, minority or otherwise.

Criteria for Designing/Reforming Electoral Systems

The selection or reformation of any electoral system should attempt to maximize the following objectives:

  • Providing representation

Any electoral system should accurately reflect the free choice of the voters on different counts such as geographic/regional, demographically and ideologically/political party preference.  In the Pakistani context due to First-Past-the-Post System (FPTP), sometimes the results do not reflect the true mandate of the people as political parties either are over or under represented in the assemblies.  In the 2013 general elections, PMLN obtained 32% of the total popular vote but won 48% of the total general seats in the National Assembly whereas PTI secured 17% of the popular vote but only won 10% of the total general seats.

  • Making Elections Accessible and Meaningful

Elections are fine, but they may mean little to people if it is difficult to vote or if at the end of the day their perception that their vote makes no difference to the governing of the country.  The ease of voting is determined by factors such as how complex the ballot paper is, how easy it is for the voter to get to a polling station, how up-to-date the voter list is, and how confident the voter is that his or her ballot will be secret.

  • Facilitating Stable and Efficient Government

The prospects for a stable and efficient government are not determined by the electoral system alone, but the results a system produces can contribute to stability in a number of important respects.

The key questions are

  • Whether voters perceive the system to be fair,
  • Whether government can efficiently pass legislation and govern, and
  • Whether the system avoids discriminating against particular parties or interest groups.
  • Holding the Government Accountable

Accountability is one of the foundations of representative government.  Its absence may indeed lead to long-term instability.  An accountable political system is one in which the government is responsible to the voters to the highest degree possible.

  • Encouraging Political Parties

Democracy’s long-term stability lies in growth and maintenance of strong and effective political parties.  Most experts also agree that the electoral system should encourage the development of parties that are based on wide-ranging political values and ideologies as well as specific policy programs, rather than narrow ethnic, racial or regional concerns.

  • Promoting Legislative Opposition and Oversight

Effective governance depends not just on those in power but almost as much, on those who oppose and oversee them.  The electoral system should help ensure the presence of a strong and viable opposition grouping which can critically assess legislation, question the performance of the executive, safeguard minority rights, and represent its constituents effectively.

 Current System Used in Pakistan-First-Past-the-Post (FPTP)

The electoral system currently used in Pakistan is the oldest system from the twelfth century, is the Majoritarian or First-past-the-post (FPTP) system.  It has however, not been found completely satisfactory and as such is under consideration for reforms in some countries.

In an FPTP system, the winner is the candidate with the most votes but not necessarily an absolute majority of the votes.  FPTP system is the simplest form of plurality/majority system, using single member districts and candidate-centred voting.  The voter just ticks off the name of his/her preferred candidate in his/her constituency.  The winner is simply the candidate who wins the most votes.

Advantages of FPTP

The main advantage of FPTP is its simplicity and producing winners who are tied to geographically defined districts.  The other advantages are as follows:

  • FPTP provides a clear-cut choice for voters between two main parties.
  • Most of the time, it produces single party governments despite not winning an absolute majority of the popular vote.
  • It gives rise to a clear opposition in the legislature.
  • It promotes a connection between constituents and their representatives, as it produces a legislature made up of representatives of geographical areas.
  • Voters get to choose between people rather than parties.
  • Popular independent candidates have a chance of being elected.
  • FPTP systems are simple to use and understand.

Disadvantages of FPTP

  • It excludes smaller parties from ‘fair’ representation, in the sense that a party that wins approximately, say, 10% of the votes should win approximately 10% of the legislative seats. In the 1993 federal election in Canada, the Progressive Conservatives won 16% of the votes but only 0.7% of the seats and in the 1998 general election in Lesotho, the Basotho National Party won 24% of the votes but only 1% of the seats. This is a pattern observed repeatedly under FPTP.
  • It excludes minorities from fair representation. As a rule, under FPTP, parties put up the most broadly acceptable candidate in a particular district to avoid alienating the majority of electors. Thus, it is rare, for example, for a black candidate to be a major party’s nomination in a majority white district in the UK or the USA.
  • It excludes women from the legislature. The ‘most broadly acceptable candidate’ syndrome also affects the ability of women to be elected to legislative office because they are often less likely to be selected as candidates by male-dominated party structures.
  • It can encourage the development of political parties based on clan, ethnicity or region, which may base their campaigns and policy platforms on conceptions that are attractive to the majority of people in their district or region but exclude or are hostile to others.
  • It exaggerates the phenomenon of ‘regional fiefdoms’ where one party wins all the seats in a province or area. If a party has strong support in a particular part of a country, winning a plurality of votes, it will win all, or nearly all, of the seats in the legislature for that area.
  • It leaves a large number of wasted votes that do not go towards the election of any candidate. This can be particularly dangerous if combined with regional fiefdoms, because minority party supporters in the region may begin to feel that they have no realistic hope of ever electing a candidate of their choice. It can also be dangerous where alienation from the political system increases the likelihood that extremists will be able to mobilize anti-system movements.
  • It can cause vote-splitting. Where two similar parties or candidates compete under FPTP, the vote of their potential supporters often get split between them, thus allowing a less popular party or candidate to win the seat.
  • It may be unresponsive to changes in public opinion. A pattern of geographically concentrated electoral support in a country means that one party can maintain exclusive executive control in the face of a substantial drop in overall popular support.
  • Finally, FPTP systems are dependent on the drawing of electoral boundaries. All electoral boundaries have political consequences: there is no technical process to produce a single ‘correct answer’ independently of political or other considerations. Boundary delimitation may require substantial time and resources if the results are to be accepted as legitimate. There may also be pressure to manipulate boundaries by gerrymandering or bad apportionment. This was particularly apparent in the Kenyan elections of 1993 when huge disparities between the sizes of electoral districts—the largest had 23 times the number of voters the smallest had—contributed to the ruling Kenyan African National Union party’s winning a large majority in the legislature with only 30 per cent of the popular vote.

 

FPTP in Pakistan Context

Every election for National and Provincial assemblies since 1970 has been under FPTP system.  Low turnout has marred elections in Pakistan.  Only three elections under FPTP system produced voter turnout above 50%, i.e. 1970, 1977 and 2013 whereas the voter turnout in other years has varied from 35% to 45%.

The consistent pattern of low turnover indicates that vast majority of voters are apathetic or alienated from casting their votes, as they believe that their votes will not make a difference on the results.  Besides the need for major procedural and operational reforms in conducting elections by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the electoral system requires substantial overhaul.

It is highly disturbing that the winning parties have only gained 15% to 20% of the total registered voters.  Another 20% to 25% of voters voted for other parties while 55% to 65% did not bother to vote.  A party winning only 15% to 20% of the total votes gets to rule the entire 100% of the population is ridiculous.  The electoral system should reflect the true mandate of the people and only those with genuine majority support should rule the country.

Under FPTP system in Pakistan, it appears to have promoted regionalism and tribalism at the expense of nationalism.  The results of 2013 general elections clearly show the regional, ethnic and linguistic fault lines existing in Pakistan today.  Sadly, there are no true national parties serving as a catalyst for national unity and integration.

Recommendations for changing Electoral System-Moving towards Proportional Representation

The current First-Past-The-Post system needs to be scrapped and Pakistan should move towards some form of Proportional Representation (PR) system.  With any electoral system, PR has advantages and disadvantages.  The main advantages of PR are that it produces legislatures that are a truer reflection of voters than a plurality/majority system like FPTP and it encourages parties to campaign outside their home turf.  However, the major downsides of PR are that it leads to coalition governments that can result in legislative gridlock and instability.  In addition, the parties’ leaderships may become too strong, as they would determine the candidates who appear on the lists.

  • Pakistan should adopt a mixed electoral system similar to Germany. In Germany, half the seats are determined on constituency basis using FPTP while remaining half are allocated based on PR as per parties’ lists.  The general seats in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies in Pakistan should be determined the same way.
  • Just like in Germany and Turkey, to attain seats on PR basis, there should be a minimum threshold. For Pakistan, achieving a minimum of 5% of the total popular vote in order to be awarded seats in National Assembly and likewise for provincial assemblies.  This measure is to exclude fringe groups and to discourage regionalism.
  • Half the general seats in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies are determined by existing FPTP system. The size of the constituencies would logically increase and thus the ECP would need to redefine the geographic boundaries.
  • The remaining 50% of the general seats in the National Assembly (NA) and provincial assembles would be determined by PR system. Each party would submit candidates’ lists for both NA and provincial assemblies.  The voter will have two choices to make for NA and provincial assemblies, one ballot to choose preferred candidate of their constituency and second ballot to choose their preferred party list of candidates for PR seats.
  • Allocation of both women and minority-reserved seats should also be done on PR basis.
  • Bye-elections for any vacancies, occurring after the elections and during the tenure of the elected Government, in the members elected through the FPTP system should be held as per the present system i.e. through inviting new nominations for the vacant seat and holding elections under the same First-past-the-post system.
  • Any vacancy occurring in the National Assembly or provincial seats elected under PR system should be filled through nomination by the political party, which happens to lose that member.
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THE IMPORTANCE OF VOTING IN LOCAL BODY ELECTION ON DECEMBER 5th

“To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.” Louis L’Amour

Local government is the foundation of basic democracy in any democratic country and has the most significant impact on the daily lives of all citizens.  Local government is mainly responsible for the delivery of basic services such as water, waste disposal and infrastructure and so it is vital that the residents of Karachi actively participate in the election process and voice their concerns to the candidates of all parties.  However, the most important responsibility of the people is to vote on Election Day in order to choose the right candidates to represent them.  As citizens of a developing democracy, the most powerful thing we own is our vote and so, we need to use it wisely and judiciously.

Voting is both a right and a responsibility as a citizen.  The holding of free and fair elections in which every eligible citizen casts a vote is the basic principle of democracy.  It is our responsibility to ensure that the electoral process works according to this principle so that those who seek to derail the process do not win the day.  As citizens, we have a duty to safeguard the process itself, and that does not happen by sitting on the sidelines and not voting.  As cumbersome as it may be, our participation is essential.

By not voting, you are conveying a message of “I don’t matter.”  You still have your one vote, and if you do not exercise it, you relinquish your right to have a say in the matter.  If you do not vote, you lose the power to voice concerns about the way governments act or make decisions.

Your vote sends a message, since elected officials pay attention to voter turnout.  If the electorate is inactive and apathetic, and turnout is low, officials assume residents are not concerned about issues — even important ones — so they are more inclined to do whatever they want.  When turnout is high, officials incline to be more accountable to those whose interests they have been elected to represent.

Since every party/candidate campaigns on a particular manifesto that indicates their priority, voting for local representative at Union Council and Ward can provide an indication what issues are important to the community.  Therefore, it is imperative for all political parties and candidates to clearly articulate their manifestos and priorities to the public so they can make an inform decision come December 5th.

Abraham Lincoln eloquently stated the essence of representative democracy being “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Our government is supposed to represent us.  We will not get the representation we deserve if we do not voice our preferences about who we want representing us and about the issues of the day.  A vote is a powerful form of expression and power.  Voting allows us to voice our opinions about issues that matter and if we decide not to cast our vote, that time might come when government will quit asking.

The great city of Karachi is both the economic and intellectual engine of Pakistan.  Economic activity in Karachi represents 20% of total national output, 30% of total industrial output, 40% of total financial activity and 50% of all bank deposits.  In terms of tax collection, 25% of national tax revenues, 40% of Sindh’s provincial revenues and 62% of income tax comes from Karachi.  However, what has this city and its residents received in return for the last decade?  We have received nothing except dilapidated infrastructure both physical and social, political and religious violence, poverty and unclean environment.

A serious indictment of recent past performance of governance in Karachi is the Chicago Council of Global Affairs Global Cities Index in 2012 ranking Karachi 62 out of 66 emerging cities in terms of business activity, human capital, information exchange, political engagement and cultural experience.  Moreover, in 2013, Karachi placed in the bottom ten cities, 134 out of 140 cities in the Global Liveability Index produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit.  The rating accounts for factors such as stability, healthcare, education, culture, environment and infrastructure.  These ratings clearly show the extent Karachi has fallen from its past glory of being the “City of Lights” to being a centre of poverty and violence.

I appeal to the voters of Karachi to come out on December 5th and through the ballot box elect the representatives of their choice to serve their communities and this great city with sincerity, honesty and dedication.  I urge all of you to listen to your conscientious and vote your ideals for the betterment of both Karachi and the democratic process.

“Once you don’t vote your ideals… that has serious undermining affects. It erodes the moral basis of our democracy.” Ralph Nader

Imran Khan was right: Dialogue worked, now way forward

The dialogue option that was advocated by PTI Chairman Imran Khan worked to a remarkable extent as recently it has been reported that the pivotal Mehsud Tribe has broken away from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as these Mehsud warriors constituted 75% of the fighting force of the TTP (http://tribune.com.pk/story/714264/mehsud-group-announces-separation-from-ttp).  In addition, during the last few months, when dialogue was initiated and cease fire was observed by both the state of Pakistan and TTP, there was a reduction in terrorist attacks within Pakistan, particularly in KPK and another phenomenon that was observed was infighting between various factions of TTP destroying its myth as a monolithic group.

These developments are a vindication of Imran Khan’s stance on dialogue despite the taunts among many of the so-called ‘liberal’ political parties advocating operations and certain media circles accusing him of being a Taliban sympathizer.  However, we must also give due credit to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for also sticking with the dialogue option despite opposition within their own party but were able to show some resolve due to Imran Khan’s support.

The way forward

The Government must immediately try to take advantage of these splits within the TTP and quickly formulate a reconciliation policy to have these groups aid the state and the Pakistan Military in fighting the TTP factions that don’t want peace.  Reconciliation policy needs to address genuine grievances of these groups and should initiate required human and infrastructure development in the tribal areas which has been neglected due to this War on Terrorism and apathy shown by past central governments over the last 50-60 years.

It is vital that the Government show true and decisive leadership in order to reduce civilian causalities and displacement from any future military operations launched against the TTP.  It is disappointing so far that civilian leadership is lacking since these major developments have occurred over the last few days and the Prime Minister appears aloof or occupied with other matters and cracks seem to remain between the civilian and military leadership.

I believe that Imran Khan and PTI must press the Government publically and inside the National Assembly to stop dithering and show some leadership on this issue.  For the sake of national interest, Imran Khan needs to further play his role and now cajole the Government into action and try to effectively put an end or at least significantly reduce the terrorism threat within Pakistan by reconciling with those groups who have split from the TTP as soon as possible and formulating a strategy to tackle the remainder of TTP factions even if it means a military operations is needed.

If the civilian leadership doesn’t act then the COAS General Raheel Sharif may need to act on his own.  He should attempt reconciliation with the Mehsud Tribe and other groups that have split from the TTP and convince them to bury the hatchet and help Pakistan Military in fighting the TTP.  General Sharif can make a strong case that he is not part of the Musharraf/Kiyani legacy of the last 12 years and start a new page of cooperation.

A positive development took place on June 6 when 65-member Jirga of Uthmanzai-Dawar tribes met Corps Commander Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan to allow tribal leaders to expel foreigners and restore peace.  They were given 15 days to do this and if they fail, the army will step in and launch an operation.

It’s still important to win hearts and minds to wean more factions and public sympathy away from the TTP.  Quick and decisive action by all stakeholders is the need of the hour especially in the aftermath of the TTP attack on Karachi Airport. As Imran Khan categorically stated in clear terms, talk to those who want to reconcile and fight those who attack you.  The question arises why the Prime Minister is not leading from the front? What is constraining him from taking action?

Quaid’s August 11th Speech and Misaaq-e-Medina

The creation of Pakistan on August 14, 1947 is a historical moment not just for people of the Indian sub-continent but in terms of modern Islamic history as Pakistan was the first nation-state to be established on the basis of religion, namely Islam.  However, after 66 years of existence, Pakistani society remains divided over the character of the state that the Father of Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisaged for Pakistan, either an Islamic/Muslim state or a secular state.  Many proponents of both sides of the debate refer to many quotes of the Quaid to support their respective positions.  The main evidence that liberals and seculars provide that Quaid desired a secular state was his August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.   However, I believe that Quaid’s August 11th speech was in line with basic Islamic principles and traditions that have been practice since the time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him), in particular the Misaaq-e-Medina (Constitution of Medina).  Many scholars believe that the Misaaq-e-Medina was the first written constitution and formed the basis of the first Islamic state.

Brief Background and Description of Misaaq-e-Medina

In the Prophet’s (Peace and Blessings be upon him) last years in Mecca, a delegation from Medina, consisting of the representatives of the twelve important clans of Medina, invited him as a neutral outsider to Medina to serve as the chief intermediary for the whole community.  Medina was experiencing chronic fighting between its pagan and Jewish population for almost a hundred years before 620.  The constant bloodshed and disagreements over the resulting claims, especially after the battle of Bu’ath in which all the clans were involved, made it apparent to them that the tribal conceptions of blood-feud and an eye for an eye were no longer effective unless there was one man with authority to give judgements in disputed cases.  The delegation from Medina gave assurances of themselves and their fellow citizens to accept the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) into their community and physically protect him as one of their own.

After emigration to Medina, the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) drafted the Misaaq-e-Medina (Constitution of Medina).  It represented a formal agreement between the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) and all of the important tribes and families of Medina (known as Yathrib at the time), including Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans.  This constitution created the foundation of the first Islamic state.  The document was formed to bring to an end the bitter inter-tribal fighting between the clans of the Aws (Aus) and Khazraj within Medina.  To achieve this, it introduced a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community—the “Ummah.”  Some scholars view the Misaaq-e-Medina as a social contract based on the concept of one community of diverse tribes living under the sovereignty of one God.

The Misaaq established the following salient rights and responsibilities:

  • Security of the community,
  • Central Authority of the Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him): Matters of dispute referred to him and no war without his permission,
  • Insistence on loyalty,
  • Warning against treachery and oppression,
  • Insistence on mutual advice and consultation,
  • Religious freedoms,
  • Role of Medina as a Haram or sacred place (barring all violence and weapons),
  • Security of women,
  • Stable tribal relations within Medina,
  • Tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict,
  • Parameters for exogenous political alliances,
  • System for granting protection of individuals,
  • Judicial system for resolving disputes, and
  • Also regulated the paying of blood money (the payment between families or tribes for the slaying of an individual in place of ‘eye for an eye’).

Quaid’s August 11, 1947 Speech to Constituent Assembly of Pakistan

Quaid’s August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan was his first one as President of this august body and maybe the most controversial.  Many liberals and secularists use this speech to support their claim that Quaid wanted Pakistan to be secular state not an Islamic/Muslim state.  However, if you read this speech, it was done impromptu as he says “I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement at this moment, but I shall say a few things as they occur to me.”

The following excerpts from the Quaid’s August 11 address are the evidence used by the liberals and secularists to support their argument that the Father of the Nation envisioned a secular state:

 If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste, or creed, is first, second, and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make…. 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. …We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State. …Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

However, reading the above excerpts, a knowledgeable person of Islamic history could easily argue that this is similar to the Misaaq-e-Medina in both letter and spirit.  One of the foremost scholars on Quaid-e-Azam, Professor Sharif al Mujahid has related Quaid’s August 11 speech to the principles and rights mentioned in the Misaaq-e-Medina.  Professor al Mujahid in an article stated the following:

 It is, however, not usually recognized that political equality in general terms (because absolutism was the rule at the time of the advent of Islam) and equality before law in more specific terms are attributes Islam had recognized long before the world discovered them as secular values. They were exemplified in the Misaq-i-Madinah, the pact between the Prophet (PBUH) and Aus and Khazraj, and in his letter to Abul Hairs, Christian priest and the accredited representative of the Christians of Najran, and in the conduct of the Khulfa-i-Rashidun. This covenant, comprising 47 clauses, lays down, inter alia, that the Quraishite Muslim, the Medinites and the Jews of Banu Auf from one community apart from other people, that the Jews shall have their religion and the Muslims their own, that they shall help each other against one who fights with the people of the covenant. Now, how could these disparate tribes characterised by differing religious affiliations from one political community unless their entitlement to equal rights, privileges and obligations are conceded in the first place. A community postulates such entitlement, and it may be conjectured that Jinnah believed that Islam concedes equal citizenship to one and all, without reference to creed, colour or race. (Jinnah’s Vision of Pakistan)

If we consider the State of Medina that came into being from the Misaaq-e-Medina as Islamic/Muslim then Quaid’s August 11 speech is not a major deviation from the great traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the early generations of Muslims.  If the liberals and secularists still argue that what Quaid said in his speech is secular then are they really advocating like many critics of Islam and Orientalists do, that Islam does not promote these values of equality, tolerance, justice and fraternity?  A look back at Islamic history shows that Islam does promote these values but if we, as Muslims today, are not practicing these ideals and values, the problem lies with us not with Islam.

Beyond August 11 Speech and Quaid’s vision of Pakistan        

In recent years, it has become fashionable to question the Partition of the Indian Sub-continent and the creation of Pakistan based on religion by our own analysts and “talking heads” on talk shows especially when it comes to commemorating March 23 and August 14.  One common argument some of these “talking heads” like to propagate that the Quaid used Islam for political purposes and to fool the Muslims of India to support Muslim League and its demand for Pakistan.  These revisionist analysts mockingly say that Quaid whenever it suited would wear Western Saville Row Suits meeting British officials, Sherwani and chooridar pyjama to appease the Muslims living in minority provinces of United India such as UP, CP and Bihar, and wear Sherwani and shalwar to appeal to the Muslims in majority provinces such as Punjab, Sindh and NWFP (now known as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa).  However, some scholars of Quaid have argued that he underwent a transformation from being a secular liberal championing Hindu-Muslim unity during the period of 1904 to 1920 to becoming the advocate of the Two-Nation Theory to champion the Muslim cause of nationhood during the 1937 to 1947 period.  During this latter phase, no doubt that his transformation from being a liberal in the British tradition to a Muslim nationalist was heavily influenced by Allama Iqbal and ulema like Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani.  Both of these men as well as the Quaid never advocated a “theocratic state” as technically Islam does not have a formal clergy like Roman Catholicism.  Professor al Mujahid describes the Islamic democracy that Quaid believed in: “Hence when Jinnah talks of the concept of a democratic type embodying the essential principles of Islam, he was giving notice that he did not mean the standard Western type or 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.” (Jinnah’s Vision of Pakistan)

To the chattering classes that say the Quaid used Islam for political purposes to achieve Pakistan and to fool Muslims as he himself was secular, would be correct if the Quaid’s public references to Islam were restricted to pre-partition India only and subsequently changed his tune once independence was achieved on August 14, 1947.  However, what accounts for the various public speeches of the Quaid’s that dealt with Islamic values and principles?  If the Quaid never used the words “Islamic state” then at the same time, he never uttered the word “secularism” either.  In his July 17, 1947 press conference, the Quaid was asked if Pakistan would be a secular or theocratic state. He responded by saying that he didn’t know what a theocratic state means.  A reporter went on to suggest that a theocratic State meant a State where only people of a particular religion, for example, Muslims, could be full citizens and Non-Muslims would not be full citizens.  The Quaid answered back with this: “Then it seems to me that what I have already said is like throwing water on duck’s back (laughter). When you talk of democracy, I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learned democracy thirteen centuries ago.”

The following quote of the Quaid during the first Indo-Pak over in Kashmir regarding martyrdom would be shocking for our modern-day liberals and secularists that he would sound like an Islamist or Taliban:

“Do not be afraid of death.  Our religion teaches us to be always prepared for death ….There is no better salvation for a Muslim than the death of a martyr for a righteous cause.” (University Stadium, Lahore, November 1947)

When Pakistan was created on August 14, 1947, we continued with the same government departments that were in existence during the British Raj, but one new department was created by on the request of the Quaid, the Department of Islamic Reconstruction.  The person appointed to head this new department was Muhammad Asad, a reverted Austrian Jew, who was granted Pakistani citizenship and issued the first passport.  The objective of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction was to formulate the constitution, law and education syllabus as per Islamic values and principles.  If Quaid desired a secular constitution, then why would he establish this department at the time of independence?

In his final public appearance before his death, Quaid-e-Azam inaugurated the State Bank of Pakistan on July 1, 1948 and in his remarks was advocating an Islamic economic and banking system to be created as a model for the rest of the world:

 I shall watch with keenness the work of your Research Organization in evolving banking practices compatible with Islamic ideas of social and economic life. The economic system of the West has created almost insoluble problems for humanity and to many of us it appears that only a miracle can save it from disaster that is not facing the world. It has failed to do justice between man and man and to eradicate friction from the international field. On the contrary, it was largely responsible for the two world wars in the last half century. The Western world, in spite of its advantages, of mechanization and industrial efficiency is today in a worse mess than ever before in history. The adoption of Western economic theory and practice will not help us in achieving our goal of creating a happy and contended people.  We must work our destiny in our own way and present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice. We will thereby be fulfilling our mission as Muslims and giving to humanity the message of peace which alone can save it and secure the welfare, happiness and prosperity of mankind.

Do all the above quotes, especially the ones after August 14, 1947 sound like a man hoodwinking the general public about his belief in Islamic values and principles for political or personal purposes?  I do not think so.  Professor al Mujahid’s assessment of Quaid’s sincere transformation towards advocacy of Islamic principles sums it up in the clearest of terms:

Jinnah was also a man who minced no words, stood no humbug, and called a spade a spade. He held political rhetoric in high disdain; he preferred political wilderness to playing to the gallery. Such a man could not possibly have gone in for an Islamic orientated discourse unless he felt that the Islamic values he was commending were at home with the values underlying modernity, that Islam was in consonance with progress and modernity. During the debate on Islam and secularism, this is a point that has lain ignored. (Jinnah’s Vision of Pakistan)

All those talking heads in the media who are practicing revisionist history regarding Pakistan and Islam and the Quaid’s sincerity are doing a disservice to this nation and adding to the confusion.  If Pakistan was meant to be secular then we should have remained part of India.  We need to get beyond this debate of Islam versus secularism and try to become one nation under the sovereignty of the Almighty Allah (SWT).  As Imran Khan rightly stated numerous times during the election campaign last year that all political parties can easily make promises to be build roads and bridges but one of the primary challenges is to build the people of Pakistan into a one nation and provide a sense of nationhood to everyone.

Jinnah’s Vision of Pakistan

By Professor Sharif al Mujahid

For some years now, Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan has been a source of controversy and conflict. Much of this has however tried to cut Jinnah to fit a predetermined image. A close look at Jinnah’s long and chequered public life, encompassing some forty-four years (1904-48), helps determine the core values he was committed to throughout his political career.

This paper examines how Jinnah’s politics evolved through main phases, which, though distinct, yet merged into the next, without sudden shifts. It analyses how his liberalism underwent an apparent paradigmatic shift from 1937 onwards, and led to him advocating the charismatic goal of Pakistan, and to elucidate it primarily in Islamic terms. Finally, the Islamic strain in his post independence pronouncements and his 11 August 1947 address is discussed, and an attempt made to reconcile it with his other pronouncements.

Jinnah as Liberal

In the first phase of his public life (1904-20) three main influences shaped Jinnah’s personality and politics:

i.            nineteenth century British liberalism, first absorbed during his four-years’ (1892-96) stay in England as a student of law,

ii.            the cosmopolitan atmosphere and mercantile background of metropolitan Bombay where he had established himself as an extremely successful barrister since the turn of the century, and

iii.            his close professional and personal contact with the Parsis, who, though only a tiny community provided an example of how initiative, enterprise and hard work could overcome numerical inferiority, racial prejudice and communal barriers.

These formative influences seem to have prompted Jinnah to join the Indian National Congress. Fashioned after liberal principles and cast in their mold, the Congress was at that time pledged to take India on the road to self-government through constitutional means. Soon enough, he rose high in its echelons, high enough to be its ‘spokesman’ for its representation to the Secretary of State on the reform of the India Council in May 1914. Jinnah believed in moderation, gradualism, ordered progress, evolutionary politics, democratic norms, and above all, in constitutionalism. When the Congress sought to abandon these liberal principles in 1920 and opted for revolution and extra constitutional methods, he walked out of the Congress for good.

The constitutionalist in Jinnah led to him having a similar experience with the Home Rule League (HRL). He had collaborated with it since it was founded by Annie Besant, and joined it in a show of solidarity when Besant was interned in 1917. In October 1920 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, upon being elected HRL President on Jinnah’s proposals, went about changing its constitution and its aims and objects and renaming it Swarajya Sabha rather unilaterally. Gandhi ruled out Jinnah’s objections that the constitution could not be changed unless supported by a three-fourths majority, and without proper notice. Jinnah, along with nineteen other members resigned, charging that the “changes in the constitution were made by adopting a procedure contrary to the rules and regulations of the (HR) League.”

Throughout this period, in fact since 1897, Jinnah was active in Anjuman-I-Islam, Muslim Bombay’s foremost religio-political body. In 1906 Jinnah opposed the demand for separate electorates, but before long his opposition thawed when he realized that the demand had “the mandate of the community”. In 1910 he was elected to the Imperial Council on a reserved Muslim seat. From then on, he came in close contact with Nadwah, Aligarh and the All India Muslim League (AIML), and he was chosen by the AIML to sponsor a bill on Waqf alal Aulad, a problem of deep concern to Muslims since the time of Syed Ahmad Khan. Though not yet a formal member of the League, Jinnah was yet able to get the League committed to the twin ideals of self-government and Hindu-Muslim unity during the next three years, thus bringing the AIML on par with the Congress in terms of its objectives.

He joined the AIML formally in October 1913 and became its President in 1916. He utilized his pivotal position to get the Congress and the League act in concert, and work out common solutions to problems confronting the country. One result of his efforts was the Congress-League, Lucknow Pact of 1916, which settled the controversial electorate issue, at least for the time being, and paved the way towards a entente cordiale between Hindus and Muslims. Another result was the holding of Congress and League annual sessions at the same time and at the same place for seven years (1915-21).

It can be seen that there were three dominant strands in the first phase (1904-1920) of Jinnah’s political career. These were a firm belief in a united Indian nationhood, with Hindus and Muslim sharing in the future Indian dispensation; a sense that Indian freedom could come through Hindu-Muslim unity, and a need for unity in Muslim ranks through strengthening the Muslim League. These strands continued in the second phase (1920-37) as well; but with the years their position came to be reversed in his scale of priorities, as the Congress’s ultimate objectives underwent a radical change under the influence of Hindu extremists. Jinnah’s efforts for Muslim unity became increasingly pronounced with the years, becoming a passion with him towards the closing of the second phase.

For Jinnah, while national freedom for both Hindus and Muslims continued to be the supreme goal, the means adopted to achieve it underwent a dramatic change. If it could not be achieved through Hindu Muslim unity, it must be done through Hindu-Muslim separation; if it could not be secured through a composite Hindu-Muslim nationalism, it must be done through separate Hindu and Muslim nationalisms; if not through a united India, it must be through partition. In either case, the ultimate objective was to ensure political power for Muslims.

Jinnah’s Transformation

The period after 1937 marked a paradigmatic shift. Jinnah became identified in the Muslim mind with the concept of the charismatic community, the concept which answered their psychic need for endowing and sanctifying their sense of community with a sense of power. Increasingly he became the embodiment of a Muslim national consensus, which explains why and how he had become their Quaid-i-Azam, even before the launching of the Pakistan demand in March 1940.

This shift was squarely reflected in his thinking, his posture, his platform, and in his political discourse. And of course his appearance — for his public rallies Jinnah replaced his finely creased English Saville Row suits with achkan, tight pyjamas and, to boot, a karakuli cap. He still believed in democracy, but now felt parliamentary democracy of the Westminster type was unsuitable for India because of the existence of a permanent majority and a permanent minority, which he defined in specific terms:

Minorities means a combination of things. It may be that a minority has a different religion from the other citizens of a country. Their language may be different, their race may be different, their culture may be different, and the combination of all these various elements – religion, culture, race, language, arts, music and so forth makes the minority a separate entity in the State, and that separate entity as an entity wants safeguards.

Extending this elucidation, he occasionally called Muslims ‘a nation’, stressing their distinct religion, culture, language and civilization, and calling on them to “live or die as a nation”. He even called the League flag ‘the flag of Islam’, arguing that “you cannot separate the Muslim League from Islam.

Jinnah also traveled across the other end of the political and ideological spectrum in other ways. Previously he had disdained mass politics, now he opted for mass politics. Previously he had objected to Gandhi’s injection of religion into politics, now he was not averse to couch his appeals in Islamic terms and galvanising the Muslim masses by appealing to them in a cultural matrix they were familiar with. Previously he had called himself an Indian first and last, now he opted for an Islamic identity. Previously he had strived long and hard for a national consensus; now all his efforts were directed towards a Muslim consensus. Jinnah, the erstwhile “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” became the fiercest advocate of Hindu-Muslim separation.

Jinnah had a political basis for this paradigmatic shift, through which Muslims and Islam came to occupy the centre of his discourse. For one thing, how else could Muslims, scattered as they were unevenly throughout the subcontinent, sharing with their non-Muslim neighbours local customs, ethos, languages, and problems and subjected to local conditions (whether political, social or economic) become a ‘nation’ except through their affiliation with Islam? For another, since Pakistan was to be established in the Muslim majority provinces, why else should the Muslims in the minority provinces struggle for Pakistan, except for their deep concern for the fate and future of Islam in India? Above all, what linked them irretrievably with their fellow Muslims in the majority areas except this concern?

In an address to Gaya Muslim League Conference in January 1938, Jinnah begun mapping out his new world view. He said:

When we say ‘This flag is the flag of Islam’ they think we are introducing religion into politics – a fact of which we are proud. Islam gives us a complete code. It is not only religion but it contains laws, philosophy and politics, In fact, it contains everything that matters to a man from morning to night. When we talk of Islam we take it as an all embracing word. We do not mean any ill. The foundation of our Islamic code is that we stand for liberty, equality and fraternity.

Jinnah then used this to argue the case for Pakistan at two levels. First, he invoked the universally recognized principle of self-determination. But it was invoked not on the familiar territorial basis, but for the Muslim nation alone. As he stipulated in his marathon talks with Gandhi in September 1944, the constituency for the plebiscite to decide upon the Pakistan demand would comprise only the Muslims, and not the entire population of the areas concerned. Second, he spelled out his reasons for reaching out towards the ‘Pakistan’ goal in his Lahore (1940) address in more or less ideological terms, arguing that “Islam and Hinduism… are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are… different and distinct social orders”, that “the Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literature”, “to two different civilizations”, that they “derive their inspiration from different sources of history”… (with) different epics, different heroes and different episodes.” “We wish our people”, he declared, “to develop to the fullest our spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people.”

Jinnah developed this into a definition of Muslim nationhood that was most cogent, the most closely argued, and the most firmly based in international law since the time of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. “We are a nation,” he wrote to Gandhi on 17 September 1944, “with our distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral code, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitude and ambitions; in short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life.”

He returned to this more extensively in his Id message in September 1945, saying:

“Everyone, except those who are ignorant, knows that the Quran is the general code of the Muslims. A religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal, penal code, it regulates everything from the ceremonies of religion to those of daily life; from the salvation of the soul to the health of the body; from the rights of all to those of each individual; from morality to crime, from punishment here to that in the life to come, and our Prophet has enjoined on us that every Musalman should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest. Therefore Islam is not merely confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines or rituals and ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslim society, every department of life, collective[ly] and individually.”

Jinnah’s Realisation

After independence, as head of the state he had founded, Jinnah talked in the same strain. He talked of securing “liberty, fraternity and equality as enjoined upon us by Islam” (25 August 1947); of “Islamic democracy, Islamic social justice and the equality of manhood” (21 February 1948); of raising Pakistan on “sure foundations of social justice and Islamic socialism which emphasized equality and brotherhood of man” (26 March 1948); of laying “the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles” (14 August 1948); and “the onward march of renaissance of Islamic culture and ideals” (18 August 1947). He called upon the mammoth Lahore audience to build up “Pakistan as a bulwark of Islam”, to “live up to your traditions and add to it another chapter of glory”, adding, “If we take our inspiration and guidance from the Holy Quran, the final victory, I once again say, will be ours” (30 October 1947).

As for the specific institutions of the new state, he exhorted the armed forces to uphold “the high traditions of Islam and our National Banner” (8 November 1947); and commended the State Bank research organization to evolve “banking practices compatible with Islamic ideals of social and economic life” and to “work our destiny in our own way and present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice” (1 July 1948).

For Jinnah, “the creation of a State of our own was a means to an end and not the end in itself. The idea was that we should have a State in which we could live and breathe as free men and which we could develop according to our own lights and culture and where principles of Islamic social justice could find free play” (11 October 1947). He told Edwards College students that “this mighty land has now been brought under a rule, which is Islamic, Muslim rule, as a sovereign independent State” (18 April 1948). He even described Pakistan as “the premier Islamic State” (February 1948).

Jinnah’s broadcast to the people of the United States (February 1948) is in a similar vein:

I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of men, justice and fairly play to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.

In this broadcast, Jinnah, the constitutionalist that he was, refused to forestall the shape of the constitution, in order not to fetter the Pakistan Constituent Assembly from taking decisions it deemed fit. While he laid a good deal of stress on Islamic ideals and principles, he ruled out theocracy, saying “Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it. Islam demands from us the tolerance of other creeds.”

Technically speaking, theocracy means a government “by ordained priests, who wield authority as being specially appointed by those who claim to derive their rights from their sacerdotal position.” Unlike Catholicism, there is no established church in Islam; (in fact, it decries such a church). Moreover, since Islam admits of no priestcraft, since it discountenances a sacerdotal class as the bearer of an infallible authority, and since it concedes the right of ijtihad to “men of common sense”, the concept of theocracy is absolutely foreign to Islam. Hence, during the debate on the Objectives Resolution (March 1947), Mian Iftikharuddin refuted the Congress members fears about the sovereignty clause, saying that “the wording of the Preamble does not in any way make the Objectives Resolution any the more theocratic, any the more religious than the Resolution or statement of fundamental principles of some of the modern countries of the world” (10 March 1949). Thus neither Iqbal, nor Jinnah, nor any of the independence leaders (including Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani) stood for a theocratic state.

Of all Jinnah’s pronouncements it is his 11 August address that has received the greatest attention since the birth of Pakistan, and spawned a good deal of controversy. Although made somewhat off-the-cuff — he said that “I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement, but I shall say a few things as they occur to me” — it is considered a policy statement. He said:

… If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, … is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. …we must learn a lesson from this [our past experience]. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of 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 … we are starting in the days when there is no discrimination between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste, or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State…. I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.

Not surprisingly, it has elicited varied comments from scholars and contemporary journalists. One scholar has put it down to “loose thinking and imprecise wording” and a departure from Jinnah’s erstwhile position. Another calls it “a remarkable reversal” and asks “was he [Jinnah] pleading for a united India – on the eve of Pakistan?”

In dissecting this statement, there is, however, little that could lend itself to disputation. There is no problems with the dictum that every one, no matter what community he belongs to, would be entitled to full fledged citizenship, with equal rights, privileges and obligations, that there would no discrimination between one community and another, and that all of them would be citizens and equal citizens of one state. These principles Jinnah had reiterated time and again during the struggle period, though not in the same words.

It is, however, not usually recognized that political equality in general terms (because absolutism was the rule at the time of the advent of Islam) and equality before law in more specific terms are attributes Islam had recognized long before the world discovered them as secular values. They were exemplified in the Misaq-i-Madinah, the pact between the Prophet (PBUH) and Aus and Khazraj, and in his letter to Abul Hairs, Christian priest and the accredited representative of the Christians of Najran, and in the conduct of the Khulfa-i-Rashidun. This covenant, comprising 47 clauses, lays down, inter alia, that the Quraishite Muslim, the Medinites and the Jews of Banu Auf from one community apart from other people, that the Jews shall have their religion and the Muslims their own, that they shall help each other against one who fights with the people of the covenant. Now, how could these disparate tribes characterised by differing religious affiliations from one political community unless their entitlement to equal rights, privileges and obligations are conceded in the first place. A community postulates such entitlement, and it may be conjectured that Jinnah believed that Islam concedes equal citizenship to one and all, without reference to creed, colour or race.

Finally one crucial question. If it is still contended that Jinnah had envisaged a ‘secular’ state, does one pronouncement prevail over a plethora of pronouncements made before and after the establishment of Pakistan. Does one morsel make a dinner? Does one swallow make a summer? A close study all of Jinnah’s pronouncements during 1934-48, and most of his pronouncement during the pre-1934 period, shows that the word, ‘secular’ (signifying an ideology) does not find a mention in any of them. Even when confronted with the question, he evaded it — as the following extracts from his 17 July 1947 press conference indicates:

Question: “Will Pakistan be a secular or theocratic state?”

Mr. M.A. Jinnah: “You are asking me a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.”

A correspondent suggested that a theocratic State meant a State where only people of a particular religion, for example, Muslims, could be full citizens and Non-Muslims would not be full citizens.

Mr. M.A. Jinnah: “Then it seems to me that what I have already said is like throwing water on duck’s back (laughter). When you talk of democracy, I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learned democracy thirteen centuries ago.”

It is well to recall the ideological environment of the period in which the pronouncements we are trying to dissect, analyse and interpret today were made. It was already a bipolar world, smitten by the gathering cold war. 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 stand for. Hence when Jinnah talks of the concept of a democratic type embodying the essential principles of Islam, he was giving notice that he did not mean the standard Western type or 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.’ If we can use the words, ‘Roman Law’ or the ‘British Parliamentary system’ and so many other terms without shame or stint, then why not ‘Islamic’?”

Conclusion

Jinnah was the most Westernised political leader in all the annals of Indian Islam; no other Muslim political leader could match him in terms of modernity and a modern outlook. He was completely at home with the milieu in cosmopolitan Bombay and metropolitan London. He also married a Parsi girl, so unconventional for a Muslim leader at that time, though after getting her converted to Islam. During his chequered career, Jinnah came in contact with an exceedingly large number of non-Muslim leading personalities and a host of British officials, more than any other Muslim leader and had interacted with them for some four decades — before he underwent a paradigmatic shift. Jinnah was also a man who minced no words, stood no humbug, and called a spade a spade. He held political rhetoric in high disdain; he preferred political wilderness to playing to the gallery. Such a man could not possibly have gone in for an Islamic orientated discourse unless he felt that the Islamic values he was commending were at home with the values underlying modernity, that Islam was in consonance with progress and modernity. During the debate on Islam and secularism, this is a point that has lain ignored.