Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The West fears that a failed or Talibanised Pakistan state could enable non-state actors to acquire nuclear wherewithal. Hence, Shaikh believes, the international community is engaged in propping up a failing state and putting a brake on needed political reforms

Pakistan’s Search for Identity

With Pakistan struggling to find its identity, regardless of any rapprochement with Delhi, there will always be a search for a substitute “Kashmir problem”. Farzana Shaikh, explains why in her latest book, Making Sense of Pakistan (Hurst Press, London, 2009).

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 10 August, 2009

Musharraf, as Pakistan’s newest military dictator, stated soon after taking over, that if the Kashmir question were ever resolved, Pakistan would have to invent another “Kashmir”. He is not the first Pakistani leader to have made such a remark, Farzana Shaikh, explains why in her latest book, “Making Sense of Pakistan” (Hurst Press, London, 2009), one of the most fascinating books written on that unhappy country which has yet to discover its soul. Indians have made the argument before, but it takes courage, insight and integrity for a Pakistani to do so.

In brief, the argument is that the battle for Pakistan was almost entirely fought by the Muslim League in what is now India and that at independence Mr Jinnah and his cohorts arrived in the new Muslim homeland as “migrants” to take over a country whose people had never truly sought Pakistan and did not fully understand what it was all about. Pakistan therefore started with what Shaikh calls a “negative identity” of being assertively not-Indian, reluctant to accept or even repudiating its Indo-Islamic history, syncretic religious tradition, culture and ethos. This hot-house plant obviously had difficulty in taking root, with Mohajirs (refugees) overlording proud Sindhi, Pathan and Baloch uethnic identities that had established traditions, languages and histories of their own.

The binding element came from resort to “Islam”, which became the “ideology of Pakistan”. By the territorial logic of the two-nation theory, J&K (being majority Muslim and contiguous) was by definition an integral part of Pakistan (though this would confound the issues of Hyderabad, Junagadh, et al). Yet the two-nation theory was not easily validated in the new homeland, which started out with a 12 per cent minority population and soon had Bangali nationalism trump Islamic nationalism.

There were other contradictions too. Was Pakistan to be an ideologically Islamic state based on the Sharia or a Muslim homeland with a minority population that was to be hostage to India’s fair treatment of its residual Muslim population? Having won Pakistan, Jinnah declared on August 12, 1947 that religion was a personal matter and that Muslims and Hindus would be equal citizens of the new state, a view that shocked his following which repudiated the thesis. Jinnah himself backtracked in January 1948 and spoke in favour of an Islamic state based on the Sharia. But then who was a good or true Muslim? When the Ahmediyas were declared a minority, Pakistan’s ulema could not define a true Muslim in evidence before the Munir Commission. With Bangladesh’s winning independence in 1971, some in West Pakistan felt ideologically liberated, being rid of a somewhat dubious Islamic excrescence. But with the two-nation theory destroyed, the Islamist narrative gained ascendancy.

Shaikh traces the further development of Islamisation. Bhutto determined to develop an Islamic Bomb that would re-establish parity with India and put Pakistan in a position to claim a certain Islamic leadership. Then Zia ul Haq forged a military-mullah alliance to stave off the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy. HUJI’s Binori Madrassa in Karachi, the LeT’s Mudrike seminary and the Lal Masjid and associated Quranic Schools in Islamabad wee products of this time. Benazir and Nawaz Sharif thereafter variously sought to curry favour with the Islamists in their competition against one another and the military. Pakistan had by now become a pan-Islamic hub of jihadi terror in places as far removed as Chechnya, the Philippines, Bosnia, Xinjiang, the Arab lands and, of course, Kashmir/India.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought everything together in favour of the Islamists. The US once again adopted Pakistan as a “frontline state” and shut its eyes to proliferation, drug trafficking, the Kalashnikov culture (which it indirectly bankrolled) and Talibanisation by Islamabad, first of the jihadis, who swarmed J&K, and then the “good Muslim” who would fight atheist communism in Afghanistan. Pakistan handed this enterprise to the ISI under men like Gul Hamid and Javed Nasir. Pushtun Afghans were favoured by it against the Tadjik-led Northern Alliance so that Pakistan would gain “strategic depth” against India and inherit its Taliban protégés once the Russians and Americans left as expected. In Pakistan’s search for identity territorially as an Islamic “state” and as an Islamic “nation” operating on a wider canvas, “parity” with India in international councils and as a nuclear power and protector played out in the new Great Game to keep India out of Afghanistan where, it was feared, its presence spelt danger to the idea and security of Pakistan. Both its nuclear and Afghanistan policies are designed as Indian equalizers.

Once unleashed, Talibanisation spread back into Pakistan. Musharraf was forced to change tack after 9/11 and more surely brought to heel in 2002. But despite US pressure, he limited his fight first to the al Qaeda and then to the Afghan Taliban. Mounting opposition to him at home saw him cosying up to the Islamists and he was instrumental, through the military, in building up the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of the religious right, which took office in the NWFP and Balochistan after the 2002 elections thus paving the way for the Talibanisation of Pakistan which is the monster that is now devouring the state

The Army has not been free of Islamist tendencies as recent conspiracies have shown. Both have fed on one another. The West fears that a failed or Talibanised Pakistan state could enable non-state actors to acquire nuclear wherewithal. Hence, Shaikh believes, the international community is engaged in propping up a failing state and putting a brake on needed political reforms, and thereby buttressing the military, for fear of its consequences. This, at a time when a new civil society in Pakistan - the media, artistic community, writers, historians, the legal community and human rights activists – see the need to move away from perennial confrontation with India and over Kashmir and return to the country’s real roots which lie in its cultural heritage of a syncretic Indian Islam.

Sections of Indian opinion too are veering round to a similar view that would reorient Delhi’s policies towards Pakistan. This calls for a paradigm shift that we should foster and not repel.

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