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Why Haqqani believes it is necessary to reimagine Pakistan

Only then can it find peace with its neighbours and stop being viewed as a falling State

analysis Updated: Mar 30, 2018 12:38 IST
General Zia, the architect of the Islamisation of the Pakistan army(Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

For those of us who attempt to understand Pakistan fairly and objectively and not through the lens of Indian prejudice, Husain Haqqani’s new book Reimagining Pakistan provides an unrivalled wealth of detailed analysis. His starting point is simple. “Seventy years after its birth, Pakistan is a volatile semi-authoritarian, national security state, which has failed to run itself consistently under constitutional order or rule of law.” His book is an attempt to answer why this is the case. “The answer”, he says, “might lie in understanding Pakistani nationalism and the sentiment it has generated and sustained.”

Perhaps because it broke away from the rest of India, Pakistan has sought to define itself as ‘not India’, disowning any similarity or linkage. Thus, as Haqqani says, “Islam, hostility to India and the Urdu language were identified as the corner stones of [its] national ideology.”

However, this Islam-based ideology has had serious implications for the sort of country Pakistan became. This is because the emphasis on the centrality of Islam not only distinguished Pakistan from Hindu India but also denied other identities in terms of region, language and religious sect. It propelled the country to turn its back on South Asia and seek to identify with the Middle East. It also drove the need to create a false history that would stretch back the origins of Pakistan centuries beyond 1947.

Worse, this deliberately contrived national ideology left no room to answer critical questions that Pakistan faced at independence. How Islamic was this country meant to be? What does an Islamic state in the 20th century actually mean? What should be the balance of power between the central government and the provinces representing different ethnic groups? And must Pakistan be eternally hostile to India? When these unaddressed questions created insecurity, the response was to further push the country into the embrace of its self-defined Islamic ideology.

Not surprisingly, in these circumstances, the military, “the only fully functional institution inherited by the country … [at its] founding”, soon took centre stage. The army’s “disciplined and well organised structure”, its moral standing above petty politics and its “ethnic homogeneity” differentiated it from the squabbling politicians and civil servants, who ruled after Jinnah’s death. And soon the army defined itself not just as the protector of Pakistan’s borders but, more critically, as the protector of its ideology.

In turn, the army took further the ideological reliance on Islam. As Gen. Zia, the architect of Islamisation put it, this was Pakistan’s raison d’etre. If Islam was not central to the idea of Pakistan “we might as well have stayed with India.” As a consequence, Haqqani says, “Pakistani officers [started to] consider the most regressive clerics patriotic because … they would never make common cause with Pakistan’s external enemies … liberal and secular thinkers, on the other hand, [became] permanently suspect.”

The loss of East Pakistan only further entrenched this Islam-based nationalism. “Instead of lessening [the] reliance of religion as a factor in politics … [it] moved Pakistan towards a closer embrace of ideological nation building.” The more Pakistan floundered, politically, economically or in terms of its own internal regional conflicts, the more it stressed on Islam to keep the country united.

Haqqani calls this Pakistan’s “long trek of folly”. Today, so far has it gone that Pakistani text books carry the following ludicrous sentences:

“Pakistan came to be established for the first time when the Arabs under Muhammad bin Qasim occupied Sind and Multan.”

“By the 13th century Pakistan had spread to include the whole of northern India and Bengal under the Khiljis”.

There are even times when the deliberate fashioning of Pakistan as an Islamic state took on comic proportions. Under Gen. Zia, urinals in public bathrooms at airports and train stations were banned “on the grounds that urinating while standing is a violation of Islamic norms”!

More contemporaneously, the reliance on Islam as its national ideology also explains Pakistan’s attitude to jihad and terror. And this is unlikely to significantly change until Pakistan redefines itself. For now, as Haqqani puts it, “Pakistan has ended up earning for itself the reputation for being home to the world’s angriest Muslims.” And his conclusion is blunt: “Pakistanis have proven to be their worst enemies.”

This is why Haqqani believes the reimagining of Pakistan is necessary. Only then can it “find peace with itself and its neighbours and stop being viewed by the rest of the world as a troubled state, a failing state or a crisis state.”

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Mar 30, 2018 12:38 IST