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Idea Behind Problematic Pakistan

Updated: July 13, 2013 12:00 pm

The book is an in-depth study of the working of Pakistani military regime, political turmoil and the tussle between the military and the politicians, thinking of common people on Indo-Pakistan relations, and rift between West and East Pakistan culminating in the birth of Bangladesh. The 186-page book is divided into three chapters.

The writer’s principal argument is that the role of Islam in Pakistani political life has been adequately squared by its leadership, which has struggled to construct a nation based solely on religion. The contest and interplay between two rival discourses of Islam–the religiosity espoused by the ruling feudal-military elite sufficient to sustain the two nation-theory and the Islamism favoured by the religious establishment seeking to impose a doctrinaire version of Islam–according to the writer, account for the ideological incoherence in Pakistan. The tragic irony of Pakistan is that, despite being conceived as a Muslim homeland, built in the name of Islam, over six decades later, it remains a state still trapped in myths of its own making.

To be itself, Pakistan feels it must repudiate India. The US and China, though for reasons of their own emboldened Pakistan with economic and military aid. The book further reveals that if Pakistani elites’ choices and policies defy normal state behaviour, it is because Pakistan is an anomaly in the proliferation of nation states in the past century. The creative challenge before Pakistan’s leaders was to provide a constitutional niche for Islam that recognised its importance in the creation of the state while containing its influence in dictating policy. The author suggests that the lack of local roots among the first generation of Pakistani leaders including Jinnah, who had arrived from urban north-central India, contributed to their invoking of Islamic symbols to attain legitimacy and suppress regional cleavages.

Thus, after two decades of ideological ambiguities that struggled to reconcile the status of 14 million non-Muslims, the secession of East Pakistan in 1971 finally freed Pakistani rulers from discarding their secular pretensions and accelerating an overt programme of Islamisation to discover and construct a real Pakistan more oriented towards the Arabian Middle East. This decisive shift, that received vigorous support during General Zia’s regime, was associated with the introduction of a parallel

Sharia law that was perhaps the final repudiation of Jinnah’s foundational statement endorsing the legal equality of all Pakistan’s citizens. Notwithstanding the negative attitudes, the lasting friendship and amity between India and Pakistan is not an improbability. The author thinks that Pakistan has a morbid fear of India both for historical reasons and for some events subsequent to the partition of India. The sheer size of India, the Kashmir issue, steady economic growth of India and the support both military and moral that India received from major foreign countries made Pakistan nervous about her survival as an independent nation state.

The initial phase of Islamisation in the early 1980s was envisaged by Zia to ensure it remained a state-sponsored and state-controlled exercise. The writer extends his argument to include Pakistan’s foreign policy as another symptom of its internal failings. In a nutshell, it can be said that the strategic implications of Pakistan’s ill-fated quest for a national identity have been extremely destructive for the subcontinent and beyond.

By Ashok Kumar

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