by: Yasser Latif Hamdani
The problem with Ishtiaq Ahmed’s book is that it is written with clear mala fide intent. The book is based on the premise that Majlis-e-Ahrar, Gandhi, Nehru and the author himself are the heroes across time and space fighting against absolute villainy and evil. The chief villain of this retelling of the story of partition is Jinnah of course but there is also the Ahmadi community, which is vilified unnecessarily and is entirely out of place in a book about a political figure who was not even an Ahmadi. Ishtiaq Ahmed makes a lot of hullabaloo about how Ahmadis were backed by the British because Ahmadis were allegedly extremely loyal to them and how they celebrated every victory, especially the British victory in First World War I. He does not give any source credible or otherwise for this claim except a regurgitation of myths by Majlis-e-Ahrar and other anti-Ahmadi parties. Majlis-e-Ahrar in turn is described by him as “Liberal Nationalist Muslims” and “Liberal Free People’s Party”. This is an extraordinary claim when one considers that Majlis-e-Ahrar- led by Ataullah Shah Bukhari- was and continues to be a rabidly sectarian organisation.
There is a very obvious reason for Ahmed to engage in these mental gymnastics which for the sake of revealing his conflict of interest he should reveal earlier. His own father was a card-carrying member of the Majlis e Ahrar and was named “Mujahid-e-Awal” by Ataullah Shah Bukhari himself. How does a party of rabid sectarian fanatics become a party of “liberal nationalist Muslims” is something only Ishtiaq Ahmed knows, but we see a developing trend? Ishtiaq Ahmed says that Ahmadis considered Shias and Sunnis heretical and subversive to their faith and therefore it would never be tolerated in a state that was based on Two Nation Theory. Both of these claims are untrue. His claim that Ahmadis considered Shias and Sunnis subversive and heretical is nothing less than a dog whistle, given his own connections to Majlis-e-Ahrar – the party which he calls Free Liberal Muslims’ Party. It is unclear if Ishtiaq Ahmed’s particular hatred for Ahmadis comes from his own family background or if it is because Ahmadis stood with Jinnah, who Ishtiaq Ahmed hates with a passion, losing all balance and any sense of impartiality.
The main thesis of Ishtiaq Ahmed’s book is that Jinnah was the epitome of all things evil and it was this evil, a veritable Mephistopheles, standing against the angelic Gandhi and Nehru and their concept of a United India milk and honey. Ishtiaq Ahmed deliberately misreads the Two-Nation Theory. The Two Nation Theory never said Hindus or Muslims could never live together. It said that Muslims and Hindus were two nations but nations that could coexist side by side in a consociational solution, either in one country or two.
Ishtiaq Ahmed has another axe to grind especially with certain Pakistani liberals. He is extremely dismissive of the point of view that Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a secular state. Jinnah’s 11 August speech is put down to his desire to fool the Indian state into keeping their Muslim minority and not expelling it into Pakistan. Much is made of Jinnah’s speech to bar association – which by the way is misquoted by Ishtiaq Ahmed perhaps deliberately- to show that Jinnah wanted an Islamic state based on Sharia. What Jinnah had said was that a democratic state is not in conflict with Sharia and Muslims had always believed in democracy.
The fact that Jinnah dropped references to God in the oaths of office in Pakistan finds no mention nor does Jinnah’s repeated pronouncements against theocracy. These are conspicuous by absence because it does not fit the neat good v evil narrative that Ishtiaq Ahmed is so invested in. So weak is Ishtiaq Ahmed’s case that he refers to a TV program by Kamran Shahid where OryaMaqbool Jan claimed that the only institution Jinnah created after partition was the “Islamic Research and Reconstruction Department” by “showing a document”. Orya Maqbool Jan had presented a document to this effect.
He showed the document from Punjab Government in Lahore. Perhaps had Ishtiaq Ahmed had bothered to actually look at the sources instead of watching TV he would have realised that Jinnah had nothing to do with the said department and that nothing of the sort exists in Jinnah Papers? When unable to deal with the facts that sit uneasy with his narrative, Ishtiaq Ahmed says that while Jinnah might not have mentioned Islam in his 11 August speech and used his prerogative to appoint Jogindranath Mandal and Zafarullah Khan as ministers in Pakistan’s first cabinet, there was no elite consensus on this.
This is followed by his incredible claim that there is no freedom of religion in Islamic heritage. One does not need to be religious to see the paucity of this argument. The history of Islamic Empires and political sovereignty are replete with instances of the highest standards of religious freedom. Ottoman Empire was one of them where a multicultural milieu coexisted under Muslim rule for 600 years. The great paradox here is that it was secular Turkey that drove out its Greek minority and reserved 30 odd high earning professions for Muslims to the exclusion of Greeks, Jews and Armenians in 1932 and the definition of a “Turk” was limited to “Anatolian Muslims”. This is not to undermine the great efforts of Kemal Ataturk in secularizing and modernizing Turkey’s Muslims but only to underscore that the world is not black or white and that secularization of Turkey came with a reduction of minorities to 0.08 percent from a sizeable 30 percent under Islamic Ottoman Empire.
The book has been written to pander to certain sections both in India and Pakistan and one need not say who they are. Certainly, Orya Maqbool Jan will be pleased to see his name amongst credible sources quoted in a book that otherwise contains references only to Ishtiaq Ahmed’s own books and works, extensive as they may be. So here we have a book that relies on no archival materials and instead on second-hand sources and Television. At one point we even have former president Yahya Khan bemoaning partition and saying that without partition “we would have been a strong country”. Thus even the butcher of Bangladesh is a reliable interlocutor in this extraordinary book. I leave it to the reader to decide how forgiving one can be just because Ishtiaq Ahmed is a political scientist and not a historian. Has the book ended forever the debate on a partition? Not by a fair margin- say a mile. All it has shown is that mala fide intent can produce books that stand as an example of how not to write a biography. Move along, there is nothing new to see here.