The Objectives Resolution and the Enduring Question of Minority Rights in Pakistan

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:50 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham)
Neeti Nair, University of Virginia
The creation of the state of Pakistan in 1947 was sudden and unexpected. Several details including exact boundary lines, the accession of princely states within the territory of Pakistan, the division of the extant British Indian army, the choice of a new national flag and appropriate national anthem, had to be worked out. The framing of a Constitution was among the foremost challenges facing the new state. In less than three decades, Pakistan would have as many Constitutions; common to all of these was the Objectives Resolution.

Passed in 1949 by the first Constituent Assembly, which was also Pakistan’s first legislature, the Objectives Resolution highlighted the vexed question of the state’s relationship to Islam, and its responsibilities towards its Muslim and non-Muslim citizens. The Resolution sought to enable Muslims to live their individual and collective lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Although promising minorities their religious freedom, the Resolution seemed to suggest that the foremost responsibility of the state of Pakistan was toward its Muslim citizens. The passage of the Objectives Resolution was contentious (not one non-Muslim voted for it): yet, the Islamic order it was supposed to herald was frequently invoked in debates and events that transpired during the drafting of the first Constitution. The Resolution was made the preamble to the 1956, 1962, and 1973 Constitutions, and later made an enforceable part of the Constitution in 1985.

My paper will trace contemporary debates on the making and reception of the Objectives Resolution, emphasizing the perspective of Islamists and constitutionalists who tried to expound upon the place of minorities in the new state. As each decade threw up new challenges, the Objectives Resolution was invoked to provide a definitive resolution to the state’s relationship with Islam and non-Muslim minorities, a task it was necessarily ill-equipped to perform.