Manipulating the Pakistani narrative

The problem with crowdsourced information is that those most ready to engage and with the most time to do so get to control information online
There are three crossroads in its pre-1971 history where Pakistan could have become the kind of inclusive, modern democratic state Pakistanis could be proud of. The first occasion was in 1958, had the general elections been allowed to take place under the 1956 Constitution. A pro-west elite feared the rising left in Bengal too much to allow it to win elections, which it most likely would have. Hence, we were inflicted with the Ayub-led military dictatorship by an unthinking civilian president, Iskandar Mirza. The second moment was in the presidential elections of 1964-1965. Fatima Jinnah — the combined candidate of most of the democratic parties — was wholeheartedly supported by the people of East Pakistan and had it not been for the rigging in the west, may well have beaten Ayub Khan decisively.
Finally, it was the 1970 elections whereas the clear winner, the would-be father of Bangladesh, Mujibur Rehman, begged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to join a common cause against the military establishment. General Yahya Khan — more adept at dividing than ruling — managed to turn the two popular leaders of Pakistan on each other. Had there been a PPP-Awami League in 1970-1971, a modern, democratic and secular Pakistan would have emerged. In such a Pakistan Ahmedis could not be declared non-Muslims for one thing. It was this Pakistan, Jinnah’s Pakistan, which was laid to rest in 1971. Those who like to blame all of Pakistan’s ills on its founding should take note. A united Pakistan under the kind of democratic dispensation that slowly but surely was emerging would have been an exemplary country in this region, far ahead of India or any place else.
The alienation and separation of Bangladesh should have given our military establishment pause. It did not. Unlike the West Pakistani populace by and large, having been part of the popular struggle for Pakistan, Bengalis were not easily blackmailed in the name of Islam, which is what the regime increasingly did in the late 1960s and decisively under General Yahya Khan. He unleashed on Pakistan with full fury Abu Ala Maududi, the man who his predecessor, Ayub Khan, had described as a “dog” worthy of “lynching” and “an enemy of Islam”. Maududi, who had been a bitter opponent of Jinnah and the making of Pakistan, now set about infecting Pakistan with his own series of untruths and lies, mostly about the ideology of Pakistan. Maududi, with the encouragement of the state, went about with his abrasive propaganda against the Awami League in the main and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as well. The idea was to emphasise the Islamic identity of Pakistan as a nation building exercise. Bengalis rejected this blackmail and went on to build their separate destiny, which they have done better than us.
Having lost its majority and with it the idea that it was the Muslim homeland in South Asia, the Pakistani establishment leaned heavily on the newly discovered Islamic ideology, with mania reaching a fever pitch in the 1980s under General Ziaul Haq. What was then limited to an exercise of re-writing history and textbooks in the country has now become an industry of its own, with autonomous actors carrying out the policy of their own accord, offline and online but especially online, which is the wave of the future.
A prominent example of this today is the crowdsourced encyclopedia, Wikipedia, taken to be the gospel truth by our semi-literate internet using population. It is clear that our deep state is obsessed with controlling information and moulding it to fit its narrative. On Wikipedia, a number of ‘users’ and ‘editors’ have been planted to ensure that only Pakistan’s official stance or the Nazaria-e-Pakistan is reflected in the pages on Pakistan. Consequently, the pages on Pakistan’s history read like a secondary school Pakistan Studies textbook. Even Jinnah’s famous August 11 speech is censored with Jinnah’s page — a featured article — making no reference to it at all. All alternative views on Pakistan’s constitution, role of religion and federalism are stifled by this group. The problem with crowdsourced information is that those most ready to engage and with the most time to do so get to control information online. Without any safeguards this is a dangerous proposition. If one were to venture a guess it would be that these manipulators of the Pakistani narrative on sites like Wikipedia and others are operating out of some nondescript building in Islamabad’s G sectors. The people behind Wikipedia have no idea what has hit them and anyone who raises a voice against them ends up getting his own contributions reverted. Freedom of speech is non-existent on Wikipedia when it comes to Pakistan.
There are of course non-state manipulators of knowledge as well. Take for example Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) activists on social media. They have been circulating an invented quote attributed to Jinnah that promises Pakistan to become a laboratory of Islam. Mr Jinnah is supposed to have made this comment speaking at Islamia College, Peshawar on January 13, 1948. It is fake because Jinnah was in Karachi on this date, not Peshawar. He did speak in Peshawar’s Islamia College on April 14, 1948 but his speech contains no reference to a laboratory of Islam. Yet, over time, this fake quote has come to be accepted as the truth by people, having made its way into textbooks as well. Countless such fabrications are being invented in Mansoora and being slipped into discourse on the Pakistan Movement and Jinnah. The refrain that Jinnah said all sorts of things to all sorts of people has come out of this, making Pakistan’s incorruptible and upright founder of the nation sound like a hypocrite.Unless and until Pakistan is able to revisit its narrative with more realistic self-analysis, it is bound to keep going in circles and repeating its mistakes. No matter how you look at it, the Pakistani federation is not strengthened by the foundational myth that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, primarily because it was not and secondly because the foundational myth has failed to paper over real differences and constitutional issues that need to be reckoned with in order to build Pakistan as a true federation.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address

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