Identical themes, diverse conclusions

Amit Ranjan is a Research Scholar in South Asian Studies division of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at amitranjan.jnu[at]gmail.com. Reviewing two books on Pakistan, he says that these books are complementary to each other; if one offers thesis, the other is antithesis.

Amit Ranjan

For almost a decade now Pakistan is in all sorts of trouble. In one decade, it has witnessed strong military rule, a powerful civil society movements, assassination of a popular political leader, regime-change and coming up of democratically elected government and rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups. All these developments in a single decade are absolutely unexpected experience for any country.  Putting these developments in Pakistan in a perspective, two books were published at the fag end of 2011. One was edited by Maleeha Lodhi, a career Pakistani diplomat, who has successfully led Pakistan in various diplomatic missions and due to her profession she has seen Pakistan from inside and has been part of various policy making process, especially on foreign policy issues. Another book was edited by Stephen P Cohen, an academic guru and a South Asian expert and scholar. His academic credentials cannot be questioned and his in-depth research on South Asia is being respected and accepted by all.

The title of the books tells a lot about the ideas contained in them. Maleeha Lodhi’s book ‘Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State’ while Stephen Cohen’s book’s title is ‘The future of Pakistan’. For Maleeha Lodhi and others Pakistan is not what it is being projected by outside forces, especially by the foreign media. It has its unique features and is going to have great future, while for Stephen Cohen and his list of contributors Pakistan is passing through difficult phase, in case it does not mend its way of functioning then it has a grim future. Though both books are different in conclusions, they still are like Siamese twins and are complementary to each other. Broadly, both the books focus upon issues of nationalism, Islamic radicalism, failed institutions and role of external powers.

Historically, Pakistan as a nation was imagined by the migrants (popularly called Mohajirs in Pakistan) who raised the demand for Pakistan in early 20th century. The areas which constitute present day Pakistan became active with the demand for new nation-state only during the wee hours of British rule. That is also Balochis and Pathans of NWFP (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) were not very enthusiastic about formation of Pakistan. After formation of Pakistan the primordial identities dominated over the national identity and first mohajirs then Punjabis started dictating their terms over the newly formed states, while others had abysmal representation. Today Pakistan is fractured among various ethnic communities, sects and regions. Violence in name of primordial identities is increasing.

External forces have played crucial role in Pakistan. Since its birth in 1947, it has never had good relationship with India. Due to which Pakistan allied with USA and other forces to deter India. Though, at that point of time, given India’s strong conventional power, it was natural thing to do so, but later on it became a pawn in the hands of USA. It has witnessed decades of military rule and even during the civilian regime, Pakistani army remains powerful by creating fear psychosis in the minds of people. It spent heavily on army and defense sector. The mushrooming of Islamic fundamentalist forces is due to encouragement provided by General Zia to fight US war against the Soviets. Afterwards the unemployed mujhaids became pawn in the hands of the Pakistani agencies that were used to fight proxy war against India. Some of them turned more radical and started targeting USA and Pakistani Army. Pakistani society has not accepted them, which can be evidenced by looking into percentage of votes they gets in elections. In 2002, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, MMA, an alliance of eight groups, secured 11 percent of votes, which is highest percentage a religious group has secured. But that election was a state-managed by the military regime under General Musharraf, which wanted to get them elected to enhance its power.

Hence, Pakistan today needs to find out its root and Pakistanis have to give up their primordial identities in favour of creation of a national identity. This is only possible when the dominant province and community-Punjab sheds its arrogant attitude and let others to become a part of nation-building in Pakistan. Also Pakistan has to take steps to improve its relationship with external world especially with India. Recent developments like Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to India and General Ashfaq Kayani’s statement on need for Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are welcome steps. However we have to move with caution because whenever the two countries have moved toward establishing good relationship some untoward incidents happened. The onus lies on India to reciprocate Pakistan’s gestures. Finally the terrorist groups have to be dismantled and there must be political and military will to fight them. Till these groups remain active it is difficult for Pakistan to move forward.

The contributors in both edited books have all these things to say in detail. Both books are must to understand Pakistan. They are thesis and anti-thesis to each other.

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