Overcoming Pakistan’s national-security narratives.
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]akistan doesn’t know what to do with the Taliban who say they are ready for war as well as for talks. Normally when combatants talk, there is peace. But that is expressly not promised by the Taliban. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif helplessly mimicked them on Aug. 19, when addressing the nation. The Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, says don’t talk to them, but Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Imran Khan actually scored victories in the 2013 elections after pledging talks with the Taliban, asserting that it’s not “our war.”
Sharif is hamstrung. He thought he could normalize with India to relieve pressure on the national economy. Maybe he even thought he would buttress his unrealistic approach to the Taliban by reaching out to India, relieving stress on the eastern border to be better able to take on the Taliban more thoroughly instead of trying to fight internal and external enemies at the same time. He was wrong.
The Army will not accept normalization with India no matter what, as stated by numberless retired military intellectual-clones issuing ultimatums on TV channels, regurgitating the maunderings of ex-ISI boss Hamid Gul and ex-Army chief Gen. Aslam Beg, knowing that a more realistic General Kayani would be hestitant to break the mold of his Army’s “national security” brainwash.
Our national-security doctrine tells us when to feel secure and when to experience fear. This has been ingrained in the Pakistani population by the nation-state and its foundational narrative. All nation-states have a foundational narrative based on what may be called the “painful birth” syndrome. Each nation joins its people together by creating collective fear, and it begins with the story of the birth of the state amid bloody conflict.
Most states come into being like that. The question is who caused this painful birth? In the case of Pakistan, the answer is easy: India. This makes it easy to designate an enemy external to the country against whom it becomes essential to unite. Nationalism further consolidates this contrived “unity” through fear by manufacturing an identity hostile to the designated enemy. Since war unites, a defensive war is promised against this national “other.” But as a revisionist state challenging the status quo, Pakistan has a hard time convincing the world it fights defensive wars.
Some nations wisely abandon the national narrative to look for other cohesion narratives, as for instance the Americans, whose early nationalism was built around the birth of a nation made painful by Britain. Pakistan is still wallowing in its India-as-enemy national narrative expressed in its textbooks. An innovative prime minister must feel lonely facing up to an Army chief backed by the country’s indoctrination by textbook.
If it is any use, Babar Ayaz has written a book against the national narrative, What’s Wrong With Pakistan? (Hay House India, 2013), going against the tenets that there were two nations in India; that national poet Iqbal’s vision of a nonsecular state was valid; that Jinnah’s “centralizing” anti-provincialism was correct; that Pakistan’s wars with India were started by India; that Bangladesh was created by India and not by Pakistan’s neglect of East Pakistan; that apostatizing Ahmadis was needed and morally justified; that Shariah was mandated even if it curtailed women’s rights and the rights of non-Muslim minorities; that jihad was compulsory rather than worth avoiding; that use of jihadist militias was justified to attack enemy India in asymmetric war; that the West as led by America is an enemy of Islam; and that anybody seen as opposed to the ideology of Pakistan must be penalized.
Ayaz asserts: “On the one hand, [Pakistanis] talk of Jinnah’s secular Pakistan, and on the other they praise Iqbal’s idea where religion and the state should not be separated … They have failed either to deliberately or unwittingly understand that the modern nation-state is much different in essence from what Iqbal proclaimed.” Negating the national narrative, Ayaz states: “Historian Ayesha Jalal has concluded that Jinnah did not want a separate Pakistan when he campaigned for autonomous provinces within the framework of a Union. His was the secular view which had nothing to do with Pan-Islamism. According to her, Jinnah wanted a Pakistan and a Hindustan, which could jointly take stands in the hostile world. She is right to conclude that Pakistan happened because Jinnah had no control over other forces and thus Pakistan was the strategic collapse of Jinnah’s strategy.”
On why India’s Muslim elites favored Pakistan, Ayaz writes: “One of the major factors for supporting the Pakistan demand was that the feudal class of Bengal, Punjab, and Sindh could see the red herring of land reforms in the socialistic manifesto of the Congress [party].” The Muslim politician was not really inspired by Islam.
Today, Pakistan’s plight tends to prove what Prof. Hans J. Morgenthau of the University of Chicago said in 1956: “Pakistan is not a nation and hardly a state. It has no justification in history, ethnic origin, language, civilization or the consciousness of those who make up its population. They have no interest in common save for fear of Hindu domination … West Pakistan belongs essentially to the Middle East and has more in common with Iran or Iraq than with East Bengal. East Bengal, in turn, with a population which is one third Hindu, is hardly distinguishable from West Bengal which belongs to India.”
Pakistanis say Bangladesh was created forcibly by India. But take a look at the disparities allowed by Pakistan between the two wings: “The total government expenditure in 20 years, from 1950 to 1970, in Pakistan was $30.95 billion, out of which West Pakistan extracted the lion’s share of $21.49 billion, meaning over 69 percent, while East Pakistan, despite having 55 percent of the population, was doled out only $9.45 billion.”
Ayaz’s book answers the question often asked in Pakistan: If East Pakistan was wrongly created, why didn’t it relapse into India after 1971? The answer is because India didn’t try to annex it. One conjecture could be that perhaps Curzon’s partition of Bengal was right; and if Bengalis had evolved together in secular Bengal they could have achieved coexistence. Today the rise of Islamism, despite Bangladesh’s Supreme Court’s reversal of constitutional ideology is a more durable partition.
Pakistan mishandled East Pakistan by misunderstanding its language-based nationalism; it mishandled the next province Sindh also for the same reason. Refugees expecting to find Islamic cement instead faced the linguistic barrier and Karachi evolved an explosive chemistry of ethnic identities: “After the advent of immigrants from India, the population of Karachi swelled to over 1.13 million, which led to the Urdu-speaking population to become 50 percent in 1951 from a mere 6.3 percent in 1941. The major influx of immigrants, over 1 million, came to Karachi between 1947 and 1952; thereafter the flow slowed down,” writes Ayaz.
He adds: “According to a 1998 survey, the demographic break-up by language is as follows: Urdu 48.52 percent; Punjabi 13.64 percent; Pashto 11.96 percent; Sindhi 7.34 percent; Baloch 4.34 percent; Seraiki 2.11 percent, and the rest 12.09 percent.” (Fairness is reflected in the fact that Ayaz is himself a migrant from Bombay who came to settle in Sukkur in upper Sindh.) Pakistan failed to vault over this cauldron of identities; if there was any other gum binding the provinces it was washed away by the creation of One Unit Pakistan.
Wars bind a nation, but since Pakistan lost all of them, the state was held together with textbook fibs about the following bouts of jihad: Kashmir in 1948; Operation Gibraltar in 1965; the “conquest” of the Bengalis in 1971; the Afghan insurgency from 1978 to 1989; the Kashmir insurgency from 1990 onward; and Kargil in 1999. Defeat is normally more instructive than victory, but all of Pakistan’s defeats were reinterpreted as victories through the instrumentality of takeovers as surrogate internal victories.
Ayaz’s book delivers its concluding coup de grace: “Pakistan’s national-security policy is schizophrenic—one part of the strategy is to fight the militant Islamic groups who challenge the writ of the establishment, the other is to support the friendly jihadists who can be used against other countries when needed. Most TV anchors and columnists, instead of condemning terrorism, follow the official line and are apologists of terrorists in the name of anti-Americanism and an imaginary war and conspiracy against Islam.”
From our Sept. 6, 2013.