Salman Rushdie’s literary genius is only too evident, but his skill as an analyst on Pakistan is, perhaps, an under-appreciated aspect of his intellect. As academic Ashutosh Varshney points out in a slim volume Midnight’s Diaspora, Critical Encounters with Salman Rushdie, in his 1983 book, Shame, Rushdie wrote “Pakistan may be described as a failure of the dreaming mind… perhaps the place was just insufficiently imagined.”
The same year, scholar Benedict Anderson was arguing his case for the nation being an ‘imagined community’. In an interview with Varshney, Rushdie, whose family migrated to Karachi from Bombay after Partition, makes no bones about his dislike for Pakistan, but his insights into a country, following the Mumbai terrorist strikes, are too important to ignore.
Rushdie has this to say about Pakistan’s political structure, “That’s the tragedy of Pakistan, that when you get rid of a general, you get a civilian politician who is corrupt, and then you get another general and then you get another corrupt politician and then you get another general…” Today, both the people of Pakistan and India are paying the price of this disaster of a political structure.
The Pakistani State cannot live up to its responsibilities towards its people, neighbours or the rest of the world. Seven years after joining the “war on terror”, it remains schizophrenic towards jihadi terror. How long will it take for Pakistan to get its act together and live in relative peace with its neighbours? The unequal tango between the military and the civilian leadership continues to dominate the country’s political scene.
As American admirals continue to talk to Pakistani generals to get small jobs done, it matters little whether the ten terrorists who left Karachi’s shores were citizens of civilian or military-ruled Pakistan. Or that its civilian and military rulers have both failed to provide Pakistanis with basic education, healthcare, housing and electricity.
On the issue of nationhood, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, argues that since their nation’s creation, Pakistanis have “felt compelled to defend their nationhood and to constantly define and redefine their identity”. This identity crisis can be likened to the psychosis of the unwanted child who is informed at an early age that his birth was unplanned, unwanted or an accident — or, even worse, a mistake.”
In his essay, Varshney examines the possibility of Pakistan’s regeneration. Pakistan’s Indian obsession, in his view, has become utterly self-destructive. He adds “For peace in the sub-continent, Pakistan needs to re-invent the nature of its anti-Indianness… this idea for peace recognises Pakistan’s structural need for an adversary for national cohesion in the foreseeable future, but it also seeks to link that need to mass welfare.” Rushdie, on the other hand, is quoted in Haqqani’s essay as saying, “If you ask me, I don’t think Pakistan has a long-term chance of surviving.” It’s apparent that Pakistan needs to quickly begin the process of regeneration. Its ‘friends’ fighting the ‘war on terror’, need to take a long, hard look at their strategy since 2001. For India, the stakes are very high, as the Pakistan’s terror machines continue to do it the maximum harm.