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Pakistani Identity – Why we are where we are

Posted by :) on April 25, 2009


Source : Dawn
By Irfan Husain

A Taliban militant stands guard at a road in Buner district. - AP photo

The jihadis cannot be defeated with money alone: political will and a broad consensus backed by military might are needed. So far, there are few signs of any of this happening. – AP photo

IN the middle of Karachi stands the concrete shell of a 30-storey building. This is the structure of the Hyatt Regency hotel started in the mid-seventies, and which has remained a building site since work was abandoned in 1977.

In a sense, this hulk is a metaphor for Pakistan: a state launched with much fanfare, enthusiasm and good intentions, but which can neither be completed nor pulled down.

Any state has a number of prerequisites to function effectively: settled borders; an accord on the measure of autonomy to be exercised by the federating units; the official language; and a broad consensus on the nature and direction of the state. Another element relates to national identity. Finally, any modern state must establish its monopoly on the use and means of violence.

As an artificially created entity, Pakistan was required to define and establish these parameters. Unfortunately, it failed to do so, largely because of the long delay in forging a consensus on the constitution, and partly because of the frequent military interventions that repeatedly eroded respect for the constitution and the rule of law. Poorly educated military dictators with no sense of history attempted to come up with half-baked concepts that have laid waste to the institutions we inherited from the British.

An early problem the new state faced was the issue of borders that were left undefined by the departing colonial power. Pakistani rulers have struggled with this question, opting for military confrontation instead of dialogue and discourse. It is true that our neighbours have not been very helpful in settling the matter. Pakistani militarists have driven our foreign and defence policies, arming to repel real and perceived dangers from abroad, while creating a Frankenstein’s monster that now threatens to devour us.

As a result of this single-issue agenda, money that should have been spent on education and health was diverted into the insatiable black hole of bloated military budgets. As our population has increased without check, millions of young people remain uneducated and unemployed. Filling the educational vacuum are the thousands of madressahs, many financed by Saudi Arabia, that do not equip students for careers in the modern world. There is thus a fertile breeding ground for the Taliban and their fellow extremists to recruit foot soldiers from.

The last six decades have amply demonstrated the difficulty inherent in building a national identity based solely on religion. Talk to any conservative Pakistani today, and he will assert that as Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, the Sharia should be the law of the land. It would be futile to point out that Jinnah visualised a secular state in which all Pakistanis would be equal citizens. This lofty vision would be scant comfort to the Sikh families who have had to flee their homes in the tribal areas because demands for jaziah, the old Muslim tax on non-Muslims, were made by de facto Taliban rulers.

In order to justify the partition of the subcontinent, rulers have resorted to bewildering mental contortions. Many have tried to move our roots to the Middle East from our true origins in South Asia. This confusion is reflected in school textbooks and the media. Thus, we have young people unsure of their past, and unable or unwilling to claim their rich cultural patrimony.

The insecurity caused by the wrenching experience of Partition has seen military and civilian rulers looking to the West for military and economic assistance. For years, these anti-Communist alliances made us feel stronger than we actually were. But they also isolated us, and when the balance of power began to shift against us, the army built up a force of extremists to further its agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir. These are the militants who threaten our very survival today.

Instead of fighting them, the ruling elites continue their double game of playing footsie with the Taliban, while laying claim to billions in western aid. But the jihadis cannot be defeated with money alone: political will and a broad consensus backed by military might are needed. So far, there are few signs of any of this happening. While the Taliban walk into Buner and Dir after their uncontested victory in Swat, the army continues its policy of studied indifference, while the politicians play their power games.

The divisions in the ranks of Pakistani society over this threat are visible in the media. In a sense, this is the inevitable product of decades of brainwashing about the nature of the Pakistani state. Many people are confused about the issues underlying this crisis: having been told that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, they are now being asked to accept that the real enemy is not Hindu India, but fanatics who want to impose their stone-age rule in the name of Islam.

Such contradictions cannot be easily resolved, especially in a deeply conservative society where illiteracy is rampant. When simple, poorly educated soldiers are warned by mullahs that they will not be accorded a Muslim burial if they fall fighting the Taliban, it is understandable that they should be reluctant to go into combat. Generations of army officers have been indoctrinated at military academies into believing that India is the real enemy. It is hard for them to face reality, and reorient our defence to the west.

Since Zia began promoting Wahabi madressahs across Pakistan in the eighties, we have faced bitter sectarian strife. Anti-Shia militias have been in the forefront of the jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir, acquiring arms, training and large amounts of money in the process. These forces are now formally allied with the Taliban, and have presented their erstwhile handlers in our intelligence services with the difficult task of keeping them on our side, while simultaneously appearing to fight them.

In the long wish list prepared by the army for the Pentagon’s consideration, night-vision goggles are high in our priorities. Well-informed friends in Peshawar tell me that this equipment is on sale in the local arms bazaar, having been looted from US and Nato convoys. But if our army doesn’t want to buy the locally available goggles, could I ask them to consider fighting during the day, at least?

When you next drive past the looming shell of the Hyatt Regency, spare a thought for what might have been.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

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One Response to “Pakistani Identity – Why we are where we are”

  1. pacer521 said

    very, very interesting post.

    http://politicsdecoded.com/2009/04/25/torture-its-effect-on-the-media-and-all-of-us/

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