Is Pakistan Coming Full Circle?
What is happening among the Pakistan establishment currently must be regarded as extraordinary by any reckoning.
What had always been known and written about is actually out in the open from the mouths of both ends of a most visible and disabling dyarchy in the power-structure.
The elected leadership feels obliged to go public with the apprehension that yet another coup may be under way to “pack away” the civilian dispensation on behalf of an army establishment that is squarely characterized by the Prime Minister as a “state within the state.”
And, refuting the allegation that the army means to overthrow the legitimate government, the Chief of Staff nonetheless adds the caveat that “security matters” must remain paramount. To wit, the military brass believes security matters must remain its unhindered preserve rather than the concern and jurisdiction of the elected government—a curious position to take within a democratic set-up. And, clearly, “security matters” must be seen to involve most foreign policy concerns of the state.
No wonder that the Defence Ministry in Pakistan has had the abject imperative to say in court that the military establishment does not really answer to it.
This may indeed be an egregious new year wishful leap on the part of this writer, but I see within the collapsing womb of the ancien regime the promise of a desirable rebirth.
That regime has, since the partition of India and the years preceding that event, been predicated on three postulates:
--one, that Paksitan had to come into being as a theocratic state because Hindus and Muslims could not be trusted to live together in harmony in an independent sub-continent; that postulate automatically was to render religion as the chief denominator of what it meant to be a Pakistani, and to construct India into an enemy, since the preponderance of Hindus could not but be the ill-wishers of Muslims;
--two, that given this self-evident enmity with India, only the military establishment in Pakistan could be the chief guarantor of its security; and that any civilian leadership seen to be seeking a normative political relationship with India must be duly despatched in the larger “national interest” of Pakistan;
--three, that, given the larger size and resource base of India, Pakistan had to have allies that would help it withstand any ill design on behalf of a “Hindu India”; thus the early embrace of the United States of America, and security arrangements like the erstwhile SEATO.
The years have relentlessly brought to the fore the bankruptcy of all three of these originary postulates:
--the breakaway of Pakistan’s eastern wing in 1971 was first conclusive proof that religious identity could not be trusted to be the unequivocal glue holding a nation-state together; issues related to other aspects of cultural life—language, and all that goes with that—and concrete economic realities that affect the livelihood of common people came to be decisive progenitors of a new national identity. Interestingly, contrary to some speculation, the so-called “Arab Spring” can infact be seen to be precisely a phenomenon wherein diverse concerns unrelated to denominational identity, and the diversity within Muslim identity itself, are coming to reshape West-Asian and Middle-Eastern nation-states in as yet unpredictable ways;
the birth of Bangladesh, infact, carried another momentous lesson, one that a General Kayani in Pakistan would do well to pay heed to. Far from ensuring the security of undivided Pakistan, it became a chief cause of its dismemberment. The genocide unleashed by General Yahyah Khan on March 25, 1971 left the Bengali Muslims little choice but to seek a separate destiny. A lesson that ought to be kept in mind while dealing with, for example, the province of Baluchistan.
--The events since the attack on the twin towers in Manhattan can be seen to unravel the second foundational myth that the establishment in Pakistan has throughout nurtured: the chiefest enemies of Pakistan can be seen to be after all creatures of its own making. No wonder that wide swathes of the Pakistani intelligentsia have come round to the view that, one, an amicable relationship with India need not rebuke the founding idea of Pakistan, and, two, such a relationship may actually help reverse many shibboleths that have rendered Pakistan a state that constantly remains its own and the world’s anxiety.
--Lastly, a matter of equally profound reconsideration: a celebrity intellectual of Pakistan confided to this writer not too long ago that perhaps the most astute and far-reaching thing that Nehru did with the birth of independent India was to resist all pressures to link India’s destiny with that of the United States of America; and that Pakistan’s folly was to have done exactly the obverse.
Clearly, the imperialist war on Afghanistan and issues emanating therefrom one after the other have brought home with conclusive force the wisdom of that insight. No wonder that the call to disengage Pakistan from what has been its parasitical but also self-destructive dependence on the American establishment—call currently emanating most forcefully from a party on the ascendant, the Tehrik-e-Insaaf led by the ex-cricketer, Imran Khan-- should be drawing unimaginably large public support.
These unravelings ought to bear, seen from a long-term perspective, undifferentiated lessons for both ends of the Pakistani establishment, the military brass as well as the elected civilian leaderships. And, if I say Pakistan seems to be coming full circle, it is for the reason that this indeed does seem now to be happening in embryo.
Nothing could be happier news for Pakistan, for India, for the World.
It is only when the Pakistani state fully ends the ambiguity about its own character which has disabled it over decades, and becomes fully democratic and only culturally Muslim, that too along diverse intra-Muslim axes (with the dominant Sunnis recognizing the right of the Shias, the Ismailis, the Sufis, the Ahmedias, to live without fear of ostracism or oppression, not to speak of the miniscule non-Muslim minority population) with the army establishment fully on board that it can begin to exorcise the ghosts that have haunted its existence.
Given that few Pakistanis, except of course the jehadi institutions and power-structures, now believe that Paksitan is forever at risk of a forced reamalgamation by an evilly disposed “Hindu India,” the Pakistani military brass, fatally at the receiving end both of the monsters it has bred and nurtured, and of the American power elite whose hug, always questionable, has also now come to be life-threatening, must learn in double quick time to jettison myths that it has indulged and lived by, myths that no longer convince.
There is evidence that this may be happening. That its proliferated vested interests notwithstanding, the Pakistani military establishment may no longer be as zestful in seeking an end to the people’s mandate, or in propping up monsters that are now at its own throat. That, coterminously, the democratically elected leaderships may be revising their view of the Pakistan-India equation and the Muslim-Hindu binary in path-breaking ways, and, as a necessary corollary, revising also its hitherto compulsive comprador impulses in favour of greater self-assurance within a sub-continental future.
Astute Pakistani thinkers have also noted the fact that not only have Hindutva communalists within India not succeeded in any consequential way to alter the secular-democratic character of the Indian state, they have also been powerless in preventing the dissolution of the erstwhile Hindu-theocratic state of Nepal. Just as the Jamat-e-Islami in Bangladesh has failed to reconstitute Bangladesh into an Islamic state.
The frequently enough voiced call from time to time to return Pakistan to the vision of its founder, Jinnah, conveys precisely these constitutive elements—chiefly, a secular state with a tolerant and modernized Muslim majority culture that does not engage with the rest of the world only from the frenetic fear of losing the so-called pristine identity which supposedly made it a country of its own.
2012 may indeed prove a happily decisive milestone in the career of the Pakistani state and polity.