Can It Be The Beginning of The End of Partition

There was reason enough for Pakistani journalists to leave the official media briefing in Islamabad shaking their heads in disbelief. What they had just heard from foreign ministry spokesperson Tasleema Aslam was unprecedented in the country's short, 59-year history.

She told the incredulous scribes that Pakistan had no claims on Kashmir, omitting to mention - and no one reminded her - what the 'K' in Pakistan stood for. 

However, the stunning announcement was not totally surprising to those who have been following recent trends. 

In fact, it was no more than a sequel to President Pervez Musharraf's earlier equally astonishing observation in an interview with NDTV's Prannoy Roy that Pakistan was no longer insisting on a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir although Islamabad continues to regard Kashmiris as the third party in the dispute. 

These dramatic turnarounds may have been meant to facilitate a positive Indian response to Musharraf's other statements on Kashmir - demilitarization, making Line of Control (LoC) irrelevant and joint administrative supervision of parts of the state. 

But there are more surprises in the new Pakistani attitude besides these path-breaking initiatives on domestic and foreign issues. 

What is perhaps most amazing is the Pakistani decision to cut out all references to the two-nation theory in textbooks although it was - till now - the raison d'etre of partition. 

Instead, the textbooks will now ascribe the division of the sub-continent to the religious and economic insecurity of the Muslims in pre-1947 India - an assessment no different from the recent Rajinder Sachar report on minorities commissioned by the Manmohan Singh government. 

Two other developments in Pakistan are worthy of note in this context of major changes in official attitudes. One is the passage of a law for the protection of women from the ambit of draconian traditional customs, a step that has aroused the ire of the fundamentalists in the legislatures and outside. 

The other is Musharraf's declaration that minorities in Pakistan have the same rights as those enjoyed by the majority - a remarkable departure from the tenets of an Islamic state that has also angered the ultra-conservatives. 

The last two measures may be in keeping with Musharraf's preference for a policy of 'enlightened moderation'. But so far as India is concerned, the dropping of the two-nation theory and the elevation of minorities in Pakistan to a position of equality with the majority have a special resonance. 

Not surprisingly, Musharraf mentioned Mohammed Ali Jinnah's vision while making these announcements. 

The founder of Pakistan envisaged a country where "you are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship ... you may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state".

Continuing, the Quaid-e-Azam had said: '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 an ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, 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 the citizens of the state." 

While Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal compared the speech with the Magna Carta and Akbar S. Ahmed called it Jinnah's Gettysburg address, the director of the Quaid-e-Azam Academy, Sharif-ul-Mujahid, thought that it was "a serious lapse on his (Jinnah's) part".

If this "lapse" becomes the Magna Carta of today's Pakistan, it will usher in a dramatic transformation in India-Pakistan relations. 

First, the adoption of the modern concept of the separation of church and state will be a severe blow to the fundamentalists in Pakistan, who thrive on the theocratic ideals of the superiority of their religion. 

Secondly, this delinking of religion from citizenship is in tune with the abandonment of the two-nation theory with its emphasis on faith constituting the basis of nationhood. A corollary to this is the forsaking of Pakistan's claim on Kashmir, whose acquisition it regarded earlier as marking the completion of the unfinished business of partition.

If Pakistan sincerely implements Jinnah's dream of citizens of all faiths being equal, which is the essence of secularism as practiced in India, then one can also understand why LoC can become irrelevant, an idea which was first floated by Manmohan Singh and has now been echoed by Musharraf. 

It follows that if an international border in one state becomes irrelevant, the borders elsewhere will also lose their relevance. 

Will such a turn of events mark the beginning of the end of partition? No one can say, but one thing is undoubtedly true. If Musharraf can push through his revolutionary idea, then there is bound to be a dramatic improvement in mutual ties. The scrapping of the two-nation theory - ironically in the centenary year of the Muslim League's formation - may pave the way for the end of Hindu-Muslim animosity, which was the basis of the theory. 

But the obstacles are obvious. First, the genuineness of Musharraf's intention will have to be tested along with his capacity to convince his own countrymen about such a seminal change in outlook. 

Secondly, the baggage of nearly six decades of antipathy between the two countries, especially between their official establishments if not the people, will have to be shed.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)   


More by :  Amulya Ganguli

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