chapter  1
47 Pages

1947

Many framings of Pakistan’s historical emergence borrow birth metaphors. Historian Ian Talbot, for instance, comments, “Pakistan’s birth was a diffi cult one which involved the immense suffering of thousands of its citizens” ( Pakistan 95). Working this metaphor hard, Talbot identifi es Great Britain as a “midwife” and India as Pakistan’s “elder sibling” ( Pakistan 95). Political Scientist Philip Oldenburg similarly uses familial language to link these subcontinental neighbors, naming India and Pakistan “fraternal twins” (1). This rhetorical tendency extends beyond scholarly treatments of the 1947 partition that drew international borders between India and the two wings of Pakistan. Jawaharlal Nehru, for instance, proclaims in his “Tryst with Destiny” speech delivered as India gained its independence, “Before the birth of freedom, we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow” (“Tryst”). For his part, Muhammad Ali Jinnah avoids the language of birthing but retains an idea of inevitability. In Jinnah’s Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly, delivered on 11 August 1947, he declares that the partition of Punjab and Bengal “had to take place” (“Constituent Assembly” 17). All of these framings share a tendency to naturalize the creation of Pakistan (and India). Presenting the transition from the idea to the nation of Pakistan as unavoidable implies the inescapability of the violence attending the mass migration in both directions across the newly created borders, a peculiar specter of death hovering over the new-born nation. At the same time, this air of the inexorable also neatly reinforces certain historiographical proclivities that mythologize the Muslim League and Jinnah, as well as position the territorialization of the idea of Pakistan as the sole intent of League politics from the start. 1

In spite of this naturalizing language, several prominent historiographical interventions attempt a counter-reading of these persistent national myths. 2 While debates over why partition happened and what Jinnah’s and the League’s intentions were have for decades swung scholarly opinion away from Jinnah’s unproblematized apotheosis, other scholars, including Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, explore “ what happened at Partition” rather than continuing to focus intently on “ why Partition happened” (244; emphasis in original). This shift in impulse entails, in part, a move toward the qualitative aspects of this historical moment and its aftermath. Farzana Shaikh announces just such a purpose in the

opening of Making Sense of Pakistan : “This book-a work of interpretation rather than historical research-addresses the political, economic and strategic implications of Pakistan’s uncertain national identity” (1; emphasis added). Shaikh’s declared intent to interpret rather than to amass historical research is an attempt, in my view, to identify the ways in which a variety of discourses re-present or endow with meaning events from Pakistan’s past. In effect, we can understand Shaikh’s approach, to think of it in terms of Zamindar’s “ what ,” as a tracing of how certain meanings reverberate through arenas such as politics, economics, culture, and so on.