The Pakistani Parliament has now passed the bill authorizing Shari'a laws in Swat - and perhaps in other territories. Punjab, according to the NYT report, United Militants Threaten Pakistan's Populous Heart is also in grave danger of going Islamic in a meta-way. Baluchistan has broken out into violence and protests since the president of the Baluch National Movement, Mir Ghulam Mohammad, was kidnapped (along with two other senior associates), shot to death and then their bodies ditched from a helicopter. The primary suspicion falls upon the military or military intelligence. That leaves us Sindh. Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan, is having a battle of the bands. More seriously, it is also been the scene for ethnic riots against the Baluchi recently.
In the meantime, the Obama administration has, to this point, authorized over 60 drone attacks for an al-Qaeda kill rate of 2%. Wonderful.
So, given all this, is there a likelihood of an Islamic Revolution in Pakistan? Is it Game Over?
Before we get there, I want to review a couple more things about Pakistan and its relationship with its constitutive parts. Swat merged with Pakistan, constitutionally speaking, in 1969. However, it has retained the status as a "Special Area" granted under the Yahya Khan One Unit proclamation of 1955. This special status was is recorded into the '73 Constitution, Article 247. According to this status, they are free to make their own laws and govern themselves. The President can, from "time to time", give some directions to the Governor but the Parliament, Supreme Court or any High Court has no jurisdiction. So, the Swat "Shari'a" deal is a capitulation insofar as Pakistan has never amended its Constitution to make the FATA territories squarely under its law. Additionally, the Swat deal seems to be the only way to curb Maulana Fazlullah. If Obama is going to talk about "good Taliban" in Afghanistan, Pakistan certainly has the right to make political negotiations to get a cease-fire. The human impact of the last 3 years on Swat valley has been intense - over 300,000 have fled.
Baluchistan, another princely state which was militarily merged with Pakistan after Partition, had no role in the federal state. After the 1955 One Unit Proclamation, the Khan of Kalat tried again to declare sovereignty. General Tikka Khan ("the butcher of Bengal") was sent to Baluchistan in 1958 under Ayub's military rule to enforce federal writ. Things simmered until Bhutto has to send more army troops against another militant uprising in the region from '72-'74. So, there is no love lost between the center and Baluchistan.
Sindh, Karachi, and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) are another beeswax. Only recently, rumors were afloat that Musharraf was cutting a deal with MQM and give them autonomy under a federated Pakistan.
Now, to return to this "question". I would argue that such a formulation of impending doom is one of the main reason Pakistan is in this mess. There is a rich vein of "Pakistan on the Brink" theorization that has dominated US foreign policy since the 50s. Back then, it was the Communist revolution, and now it is the Islamic one. This particular mind-set has propelled one disastrous policy over another for the last 40 years. We have supported dictator after dictator and stood by, silently, when civilian regimes floundered under internal economic and political crises. Once again, this question dominates the Obama policy and will restrict any real re-thinking of the Pakistan issue or re-evaluation of the regional scene. So, let's just categorically understand that:
1. There is a world of difference between "Taliban" and any given Pakistani citizen, even the most devout believer. The Taliban, strictly understood to be warlords operating with or in support of Mullah Omar, are a very particular political group. They _are_ political. They _have_political goals. They are not, in effect, a religious ideology that has the danger of sweeping Pakistan. They don't have doctrinarians or theologians. Al-Qaeda does. Taliban don't. It may seem like splitting hairs but I think it is very important to differentiate between the historically situated Taliban and the groups that have emerged in Pakistan bearing the name "Taliban". In the later case, the term is actually masking other political goals and differences that we need to be carefully attuned to. Similarly speaking, there is a world of difference between a specific political group, however broadly defined, which can be numbered in the thousands and a state of 160-plus million peoples. The people of Pakistan have demonstrated, through a number of elections over the last 60 years, that they do not want their religious leaders in political power. There is no dismissing that reality.
2. The most powerful entity in Pakistan in its national army. The second most powerful entity is its civil bureaucracy. The third most powerful are the landed and industrial elite. None of these entities are about to give it up (whatever "it" is - from nukes to bank accounts) to some ragtag bunch of jihadis. Certainly Zardari, wants to keep everything, don't you know it.
3. There is a robust, active, critical media. A media which has played a prominent role in some amazing events in civil and political theaters in the last 3 years.
So, I reject the premise in which the Swat Deal becomes a stepping stone to the "Talibanization" of Pakistan.
Second, Pakistan has always been the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan has always self-imagined itself to be a "homeland for Muslims". The question really is: what kind of a homeland? Saudi Arabia is a homeland for Muslims. It has Shari'a and a King. Malaysia is another homeland for Muslims - with a different sort of emphasis. Turkey, with its emphatic secularism, falls on the far end of such a homeland for Muslim spectrum. Where does Pakistan fit in? And where does it intend to go? I think that is the more important question. What is Pakistan to Pakistanis now? Who is a Pakistani, in effect? As I pointed out in an earlier discussion on the idea of Pakistan, there has to be a fundamental re-articulation of Pakistan as an entity, as a nation-state, within its constitutive parts. The urgency of this task is evident - there are other claimants with answers. Claimants who carry guns and who can brutalize a population in the blink of an eye. There is also the United States agenda, which continues to treat Pakistan as nothing more than a client-state. Somewhere in this pincer, somewhere between the taliban and the drone, the Pakistanis have to begin forming a sense of their whole. I am not big on nationalism and I don't think that re-imagining Pakistan as a nation is an easy task, either. (( Sometime ago, I would have loved to see a future South Asia Union - akin to the EU - where Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka found themselves in harmony with our uncle India. What a difference a war on terror makes. )) But, I am not simply talking about some ideological mumbo-jumbo that Islamabad can cook-up.
The most crucial step is that the civilian federal state of Pakistan has to listen - really, actually, listen - to the people of FATA, the people of N.W.F.P, the people of Baluchistan, the people of Sindh and the people of Punjab. It has to provide its citizens with basic security, shelter and welfare. It needs to protect its citizens from terrorism. It needs to strengthen its civic engagement with non-governmental organizations. It needs to ensure that basic human rights and access to a basic educational system is guaranteed to all citizens. These are actions that can be taken and should be taken and they will have a far greater impact than any 1.5 billion dollar aid. The Pakistan military, and the US, must allow for this. It must enable the state, it must pressure the state to fulfill its pledges to the people. Part of that means a military operation against the Taliban (narrowly defined) and al-Qaeda (defined as "foreign fighters" in the press) in Swat and in Baluchistan. This must be under-taken by the Pakistan military.
From such a process, a major process of stabilization, the state can start to re-build. It's a tall order, I know. There are too many de-stabilizing forces. Not to mention, an open question mark over whether there is actual political will to do all this. Yet, I remain hopeful. Pakistanis - however we categorize them - have a lot of heart, a lot of soul and great fortitude. For the last 8 years, they have been paying the price of a proxy-war waged on their soil. A decade before, they suffered through another proxy-war which gave them millions of refugees and a radicalizing ideology. They have persevered. I am still in awe of the hundreds of thousands who galvanized against Musharraf and the millions who cast a vote in the election last year. We must support those many millions in taking the next step.
On the MQM, I think one has to recognize the party's strong role against Islamic extremism. Hardly a model party by any means, but Karachi is today the safest large city in Pakistan (ironic, as it used to be the one "unmanageable" city when I was growing up). And its good work in delivering improved social services and infrastructure under the current city nazim Mustafa Kamal is undoubtedly winning it greater legitimacy. On the EU-style union: not sure I follow: is your point that the likelihood of this has decreased following the "war on terror", or that your desire to see this sort of thing come to fruition has decreased following the "war on terror"? If the former, I agree with you, but I don't see why the latter should happen...
Re-imagining Pakistan is certainly no easy task -- unlike Turkey, Malaysia, etc., the historical fact that Pakistan must always contend with is the two nation theory and Partition. The reason this matters, even 60 years later, is that the basis for Pakistan being Pakistan (I mean the basis for Balochis, Pashtuns, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Sindhis, and -- this is crucial -- Urdu-speakers who are descended from immigrants from post-1947 India) is that it is the un-India. The problem this poses is an obvious one, and undercuts Jinnah's (often-expressed post-Aug. 1947) desire for a Pakistan and "Hindustan" living in peace, side-by-side. That is to say, while a cold peace (akin to Israel and Egypt) would not raise an ideological issue, a "warm" peace (as would be a pre-condition to any EU-style grouping, or even to any "soft border" arrangement as Nehru increasingly favored by the 1960s as a solution to both Kashmir and East Pakistan) raises difficult questions for the founding basis of Pakistan. Note the problem: I say "raises difficult questions", but perversely, these questions are raised for the LIBERAL or the secular Pakistani; these questions would not be raised for those who wish to imagine Pakistan as sharia state (i.e. the latter could have a warm peace with India, because their Pakistan ideology would not simply be "Jinnah's two nation theory" but would be "two nation theory as defined in terms of religiosity and religious observance" (i.e. not simply communal identity)). I don't pretend to have the answers here, but it seems to me that the sub-continental progressives I have encountered don't seem to even recognize the issue for the most part: in India, liberals often tend to equate Muslim religiosity with the two nation theory, which I feel is a misreading of the historical record; in Pakistan, even the liberals are "post-two nation theory" and accept it as a given, not recognizing that those inclined to recast the polity in religious terms have a powerful ideological weapon (i.e. the latter are analyzed only in terms of "backwardness", savagery, etc.).
Oops, meant to write above: "I mean the basis for Balochis, Pashtuns, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Sindhis, and â€” this is crucial â€” Urdu-speakers who are descended from immigrants from post-1947 India, BEING ONE NATION..." PS-- the ideological issue for Pakistani liberals would also be an easier one if India formally became a Hindu state, as Nepal historically has been. If that happened, one would not feel the need to go "Islamic" to "salvage" the two-nation theory, as the mere fact of being Muslim-majority might be enough. [Perhaps this explains why my Pakistani friends and acquaintances tend to express greater discomfort with the Nehruvian mindset than with the likes of Vajpayee or Advani: the latter folks promise an ideologically stable Indo-Pak axis (albeit a nightmarish one for those who wish to secure/maintain the Indian polity on a non-sectarian basis), whereas the Nehrus of the world immediately raise the specter of "they want to swallow us up" among many Pakistanis.] The reason this matters, and is not just abstract theorizing, is that if my analysis has any merit, then we need to question the assumptions that the Indian and Pakistani intelligentsia seems to share, most recently during the 4-5 year peace process: namely, that all will be well if the ideological issues are jettisoned, people-to-people contacts are fostered, etc. These "contacts", while I welcome them (at a personal level, anyone with family on both sides, as I have, will be gratified; more importantly, the cricket fan in me was gratified), might actually mean GREATER political anxiety if the ideological elephant in the room is not addressed...
PPS-- I guess the book on Pakistan as an "Indus civilization" (I forget the name, but I believe it was written by someone close to the PPP) represents an attempt to re-cast Pakistan in geographic/regional terms, not just in terms of the two nation theory. I haven't read the book, but if someone here has, would be great to hear thoughts in the context of this discussion...
On the New York Times piece yesterday, it was pretty laughable: the notion that Punjab is crumbling under a Taliban advance is pretty ludicrous to me, and to anyone who has any familiarity with how Pakistan is set up. It was also notable that the journalists did not stop to consider that the anonymous Pakistani sources being quoted might have their own political agendas: for instance, is it so hard to believe that PML(N) supporters would have a vested interest in playing up the situation in order to discredit the PPP government in the Western media? [I have no reason to believe that the sources were supporters of this or that party, but wonder if the writers even bothered to ask the question.] This ties into the wider point that is often lost in critiques of Edward Said etc. (seeing as this is the season for that sorta thing), namely that "orientalism" is not so much about the good or bad faith of the "occidental gaze", but about the fact that "oriental" is denied full personhood in one's merely ANTHROPOLOGICAL engagement with him/her. Thus, people quoted in such pieces are "a landlord", "a peasant", "a Shiite", etc. (not the sorts of categories used in, e.g., a story set in France: there we would speak of "left" and "right"-wingers, not simply of Catholics, Bretons, or people from rich families)...
My only comment to the writer is before you write something, please check the facts. For example you write Baluchistan, another princely state which was militarily merged with Pakistan after Partition, had no role in the federal state. After the 1955 One Unit Proclamation, the Khan of Kalat tried again to declare sovereignty. General Tikka Khan (”the butcher of Bengal”) was sent to Baluchistan in 1958 under Yahya's military rule to enforce federal writ. Things simmered until Bhutto has to send more army troops against another militant uprising in the region from '72-'74. So, there is no love lost between the center and Baluchistan. For your reference Mr Yahya Khan was not the military ruler in 1958. And Gen Tikka Khan was in Baluchistan during the Bhutto government n. Please check the facts, which is easy to do now a days due to google search.
Speaking of an Oriental's gaze, Sabrina Tavernise is totally hawt.
Denali: Sorry, I meant to write Ayub and not Yahya. Corrected.
It would be really useful to have an answer to the question 'What is Pakistan for?'
@Sepoy & Qalandar: Maybe this equation will make sense: Jamaat + Nawaz + PTI = Zia's remnants, now on the same ideology as of the Taliban. You never know if Nawaz is already pre-declared as their Amir for Punjab and Imran maybe the Naib (if he grows a beard). The demands for NAR's will not end. This has only begun! At this stage, words, suggestions, or drawing room talks wont make a difference, we have already crossed the point of no return. The only action will have to be a physical one and fast!
Re: "It would be really useful to have an answer to the question 'What is Pakistan for?'" Saif: This might suggest another question, namely as to why or whether Pakistan is the only country for which one should be posing this question. I think we should be careful lest we inadvertently leave an impression that other nation-states are somehow "natural" or to be accepted as "given", whereas Pakistan must always justify its existence. Certainly I do not believe any such thing: inasmuch as nation-states are ideological constructs, they are not natural and cannot simply be treated as "givens" (of course, some nations are constructed on other than an ideological basis -- Jordan comes to mind, created to accomodate a ruling family for its loyalty to the British, and to compensate it for the loss of the family seat in Mecca; but these nation-states are certainly not any more natural). A difference, however, arises because the ideology of certain nation-states is one of "naturalness." Germany is a good example: no-one ever asks what the purpose of Germany is, or what Germany is "for", because it seems self-evident to everybody that Germany is simply the homeland of all the Germans. This is the sort of nation-state that people often think of as simply a "natural" or "given" nation-state. It is anything but, as a glance at the historical record will show -- I am referring here not simply to the creation of Germany over the course of the 19th century, but about the 1945 (and post-1945) mass expulsions, population transfers, etc. that brought about a state of affairs such that ethnic Germans were removed from other countries, and moved to Germany. By contrast, while at one level France might be thought of as the homeland of the French, the state's self-image is very much tied up with the notion that it is an inheritor to the French Revolution, etc. There is thus an explicitly "performative" aspect to the idea of France: in order for France to BE France, it must stand for something other than merely the place where the French live. Stated differently, in normal times, and although both nation-states are clearly ideological constructs, only one (Germany) can plausibly pass itself off as "natural"; the other (France) seems a bit more ideological (aside: in ABnormal times, of course, the performative aspect of even Germany's ideological foundations would be revealed -- for instance, if the question were raised as to what constituted German-ness, or if group x or y was German to begin with). It seems to me that Israel, the USA, Pakistan, are more like France, and the United Kingdom, Poland, Egypt, or Iran, are more like Germany*. If so, then only the former group of nation-states feel compelled to "enact" their founding ideologies even in the course of normal functioning, and thus this question of what Pakistan is "for" can arise; but if we remember that the self-image of nation-states notwithstanding, all have "justification" issues, then Pakistan seems like less of an exceptional case. [I mentioned above that a "difference" remains: but that difference is a practical one, arising from the fact that Pakistanis, Israelis, and Americans THEMSELVES do not really see their nation-state as natural, the way Germans do; and is not a philosophical difference. The two-nation theory was an attempt to "naturalize" the discourse, but, although it tapped into the easily comprehensible notion that Hindus and Muslims are "very different", that difference couldn't easily be shoehorned into the rhetoric of modern nationalism, and an anxiety remains: the two-nation theory (and being other-than-Indian) has never come to seem as "natural" as "being German" has, and Pakistan has felt compelled to enact the two-nation theory in a kind of perpetual justification -- like the USA, Israel, and France.] *[My examples are not to be taken too literally; in a sense "France" and "Germany" are labels that I use for ease of argument, and quite possibly no nation-state is fully one "type" as opposed to another. India and Bangladesh are good examples, they can quite easily be classified in either group.]
Perhaps, then, the first step toward answering the sorts of questions that sepoy, Saif, and I have raised, may be taken by advancing a kind of modesty of national purpose. That is, should we explicitly recognize the contingent nature of all nation-states, and thereafter try and build on a national ideology based purely on the fact that history is irredeemable? We got here however we got here,* and the question is how are we to proceed from here-- perhaps that is what sepoy's idea of "justice" points to: one might never be able to get rid of all the ideological baggage, or even to sweep it under the rug, but the national energies should be harnessed in the service of something different -- not an idea (such as a reigning ideology) but a relation ("justice"; how people are to be treated, etc.). By definition, this sort of thing cannot be a new founding idea, but it can be the horizon one looks toward... *[Austria, anyone?]
"Sometime ago, I would have loved to see a future South Asia Union - akin to the EU - where Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka found themselves in harmony with our uncle India." There's SAARC (http://www.saarc-sec.org/), and there have been several steps they have taken (don't refer to the website for them, since it is suckily anemic), but it's slow coming. At the moment, it seems to me that the biggest reward South Asians reap from being a part of SAARC is getting discounted tickets and admissions for entering museums, historical sites, etc. I haven't probed too deeply into their economic plans to see if Papa Indiaji is the badda man on the block, though.
Well, the two-nation theory got murdered in the fields of East Bengal and nothing will resucistate it now, I think. The problem is that imo, Pakistan was clearly imagined as a homeland not just for Muslims but for South Asian Muslims and this has led to a bitter relationship with India and created internal problems. IMO these are the two main challenges that any drastic re-imaginging of Pakistani nationalism will require. As Q points out the problem with having a secular state as opposed to a Hindu one is that implicitly it undermines the whole rationale for having a separate Muslim state; which is why I can well imagine that the Advani-Vajyapayee ilk of Hindu nationalism is easier to reconcile for ardent Pakistani nationalists (the deluded ramblings of the Akhand Bharat crowd amongst the saffronists notwithstainding) than the secular Indian one. There needs to be a break with this vision of Pakistan because quite simply it isn't accurate and will not be accurate from a regional perspective. Religion alone cannot form the basis of nationhood in our region. The other internal problem is also serious. The twin aspects of this is the role of the Army-Bureacracy--Judiciary nexus that ran Pakistan for so long along with the dominant proprieatary feudal and industrial classes; without any real reform or redistribution of political and economic power downwards and secondly the concentration of political power through the state in the hands of Punjab and the Punjabis. Effective federalism and decentralisation of power; which allows other states and ethnic groups to have an equitable stake in the state and the resources generated by the Public sector and the economy is a must. This is the lesson that canbe learnt from India, anways, which has been able to incorporate irredentism when giving it a share of power (Tamilnad, Assam, Punjab) with some success and failed miserably where it has not (Kashmir, Northeast). I too had fond hopes of some sort of United States of South Asia confederacy at some point in the future for the erstwhile successor states but this is less likely; in my view at least partly because of Indian instransigence regarding smaller neighbours and the inability to realise that being the regional dominant power means that one cannot expect quid-pro-quo to be the nature of biltaral relations with smaller neighbours. This unrealistic attitude, combined with either internal meddling or unaccomodative stances is what turns SAARC meetings into ones where most of the smaller states align themselves together against India. More maturity and far-sightedness is needed from the Indian side for this to become a possibility otherwise it will simply become an exercise in hegemony.
"it seems to me that the biggest reward South Asians reap from being a part of SAARC is getting discounted tickets and admissions for entering museums, historical sites, etc." Admissions for entering each other's countries and objects/places of interests, I should have explained.
"This unrealistic attitude, combined with either internal meddling or unaccomodative stances is what turns SAARC meetings into ones where most of the smaller states align themselves together against India. More maturity and far-sightedness is needed from the Indian side for this to become a possibility otherwise it will simply become an exercise in hegemony." I completely agree with criticisms generally about Indian hegemony in South Asia, and the angst many feel against the Indian goverment's interference. Governments, however, have been more or less willing to cooperate with India in many different aspects. This is not to say that the relationships are all that equal between India and the others, but I also know that in some cases, countries like Nepal and Bhutan often depend on India (and vice versa) for economic reasons. So I don't think the climate is all that entirely hostile as your comment paints it here; I tend to think that the worst government relations between India and anyone else is the Indo-Pak one (also, I really like many people discount some of the positive steps that have been taken by the two countries, though they do not represent a large and radical change. Take for instance the moves to open up commerce between the Pak and Indo Kashmirs. There are other examples; and I am willing to say that some of these "positive" overtures often turn out to be mere gesture. But still.)
Re: "Admissions for entering each other's countries and objects/places of interests, I should have explained." Um, at least in India, other desis freely pass themselves off as Indian (including US, UK citizens, etc.) -- it is dicey at the Taj Mahal, but generally a pretty safe strategy :-)
Yeah, in India it would be easier. But in Nepal an Indian couldn't pass his/herself off as Nepali unless he/she spoke in Nepali; if in Hindi, then it was obvious that it was an Indian or non Nepali diasporan (or if someone like yours truly spoke an odd mix of Nepali, Gujarati, and Hindi).
"I guess the book on Pakistan as an “Indus civilization”...represents an attempt to re-cast Pakistan in geographic/regional terms, not just in terms of the two nation theory. I haven't read the book, but if someone here has, would be great to hear thoughts in the context of this discussion" I can't seem to track down the website at the moment, but I came across one that portrays- or explains, rather--Pakistan as a "natural" entity springing from the Indus civilization; there were several lines that straight out said Pakistan is not an artificially constructed nation and it did not begin in 1947, but that it has existed all this time, and it is the 'natural' homeland of Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhis, etc. Interestingly, it bases this theory mostly on archaeological findings and ancient history regarding the Indus valley, but somehow managed to cleanse it of its pagan (?) origins; when it did discuss it, it launched into an abrupt tirade against the caste system, etc. Buddhism was given a better review (which reminds me, Buddhism seems to acquire a lot more genuine interest than Hinduism does from the Pakistanis I know. Not that this is bad, just an observation). "from the fact that Pakistanis, Israelis, and Americans THEMSELVES do not really see their nation-state as natural, the way Germans do; and is not a philosophical difference." I am not sure about this. Israelis DO try to stake their nation-state as "natural" (as the highly politicized interplay of Biblical studies, archaeology, and genetic studies testify), and some Israelis are driven by their sense that the State of Israel is natural (which then justifies the colonialism and landgrabbing), and Anglo Americans may recognize that their ancestors came from Europe, but that doesn't stop the wave of 'nativism' that is apparent amongst some Anglo Americans, and the sense that America IS their natural nation-state. And tied into this, it's interesting how much the lens of Partition and its religious politics can shape this discussion about what it means to be "Pakistani", what the "purpose" of Pakistan is and should be, as if Pakistan is the only plagued by its relative infancy, and its religious, regional, and linguistic politics, with respects to, say, other countries. Lest we forget, India too is a very recent nation-state, and it also has been borne out of arguably artificial constructs, like language, ethnic background, land, religion (in India's case, the nation-state myth has been that India has been home to various religions, both ancient and recent) and which has thrown together a bunch of disparate groups and vivisected other once-cohesive communities. So have the other nations in South Asia, and it is precisely this very recent formation of these countries that has led to struggles, clashes with the "Center," etc. So IMO, many other nations have gone through similar battles (including nation-states older than India and Pakistan). But India has somehow managed to come up with a pluralist vision/myth (even if this is contested by others); Nepal is on its way and claims to want a similar set up to accommodate its immense diversities. Some other nation-states in South Asia (like Bhutan, Sri Lanka, to a lesser extent the Maldives) have been less successful in forging a diversity narrative (NOTE: the existence of this pluralist myth does NOT mean that it is reality, that it is successful, or even accepted by segments of the population. See India as a case in point). Not sure if I am making sense (brain has been muddled after a 6 AM to 7PM day), but just wanted to throw my thoughts out there.
Sepoy: "There is a world of difference between “Taliban” and any given Pakistani citizen, even the most devout believer. The Taliban, strictly understood to be warlords operating with or in support of Mullah Omar, are a very particular political group. They _are_ political. They _have_political goals. They are not, in effect, a religious ideology that has the danger of sweeping Pakistan. They don't have doctrinarians or theologians. Al-Qaeda does. Taliban don't. It may seem like splitting hairs but I think it is very important to differentiate between the historically situated Taliban and the groups that have emerged in Pakistan bearing the name “Taliban”." 1. I agree there is a HUGE difference between a devout believer and Taliban, and moreover differentiating between the various groups. But I do not know how condusive--as important as your distinction is regarding the fact that they are a political group lacking religious doctrines/theologians. AQ may have that, but they are also a political group and have political aims like the Taliban. Most importantly, it is disturbing how some will justify or try to assess the Taliban's actions in Pakistan based on the Koran. What I'm trying to say is that the problem IMO is not so much as a Taliban takeover (or the fear of it), but the fact that every single thing is sometimes susceptible to validation or refutation of what is "acceptable" in Islamic doctrines, regardless of whether we are talking about positive principles (democracy, allowing diversity, fraternity, and so on) or Sharia laws which have negative components to it--and this goes for seemingly innocuous phrases like "This is not Islam" when certain punishments are meted out according to the Sharia. Like does it matter that whether flogging is an acceptable "punishment" for "improper" behavior according to the Sharia? Maybe it is sanctioned, maybe it is not; that is not the point and it's besides the point, but some other folks think otherwise. I don't have any smart answer on how to fix this except to say massive educational reform, changing the dialogue on a national level where religion is slowly removed from the equation and the focus is more on instituting and practicing several common principles (like socio-economic betterment, blah blah).
Totally random, but Sepoy, did you ever come across a book written in the early 1900s arguing that Native Americans were in fact Hindu, and the tortilla was offered as evidence? I had stumbled upon it at the great Univ. of Chicago library and flew through it in one sitting.
Not seen the book, but have heard the theories, yes.
There's plans for a SAARC university. Ya'll will have to go to Delhi for that. http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=171247. Then there's the SAARC Educational Academy (http://www.saarcacademy.org/ourvision.htm). Apart from having a bunch of summits and review meetings, SAARC is also SUPPOSEDLY cobbling up inter-regional tourism stuff, along with economic regional trades of course. Give it time, and SAARC may be something of a cohesive force akin to the EU.
Sepoy: "Not seen the book, but have heard the theories, yes." What I ask myself is whether I should laugh or cry in the face of such theories. And what if these theories are....true?
"We have a different mentality than the Taliban," said metal-head Sharik Ahmed. "They play with guns. We play with instruments." Oh but would more humans think thusly . . .
[...] First came Jehan’s post. Then came the same old responses. And then came the always eloquent, objective, and always respected Chapati. [...]
Via Pickled Politics, I came across this article on the Taliban forcing Sikhs to pay jizya: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=20094\16\story_16-4-2009_pg7_3 Sepoy, things ain't looking good. Don't know how much more pervasive and widespread these Taliban antics/tactics are going to get, and while I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of "OMG, Pakistan is going to become a Talibanate soon!" these kinds of things are worrisome.
On the all-important question of nationalism, how can one omit discussion of this most extreme of cricketing rivalries? http://blogs.cricinfo.com/thebuzz/archives/2009/04/france_v_england_in_cricket.php
Desi Italiana: Glad you raised the points you did in the last paragraph of comment #20; I can empathize, as I too have felt a similar frustration (i.e. the point isn't "this isn't Islam", because the bandying about of this hackneyed phrase risks both, a collective evasion of any responsibility (the category called "Islam" need never be examined, because everything unpleasant is simply defined out of it); AND even the perpetuation of all sorts of conspiracy theories ("it couldn't possibly be Muslims who bombed this mosque"). [On that second point, and tangentially: I was struck by the slippage of one to the other when I heard a BBC news report in the wake of a suicide attack at a mosque near a NATO supply route -- the BBC interviewed a local official, who was understandably upset, and kept saying (in response to a question as to what the local people were saying about the attack), that "those who have done this are not Muslims." I felt I had no way of knowing what he was referring to, i.e. whether the Taliban/Al Qaida-types were evil folks beyond the pale of Islam, OR whether the perpetrators were India, US, Israel, etc.] It is the prestige of the notion that there is only one correct interpretation of Islam that must be questioned -- the liberals who say "x is not Islam" are not undermining the prestige of this notion, because they are reinforcing the notion that there IS one correct notion. On that terrain, the liberals/seculars etc. will never be able to compete with the seemingly greater "authenticity" of the bearded ideologues. That being said, we will also have to face the obvious: the liberals/secular-types simply lack the cultural credibility to make this argument. Someone like me, who is not at all religiously observant, cannot make this case. And the legacy of colonialism is such that the "metropolitans" do not even share a language -- of faith, and to a large extent even in the literal linguistic sense -- with those who have for the most part been mere "subjects" of the colonial order, and its nation-state heirs...
Forgive the slight tangent: check out today's Time piece/video about the "Home Life Law" in Afghanistan - yikes . . . http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/world/asia/16afghan.html?emc=eta1
Brilliantly written, properly explained and sensible analysis. My praise for you? I'd send a copy of this to Obama even before I send my own articles from MAG, News or from http://imran.com/media/blog/ or any other writers' opinion pieces. All the best. Imran Will Your Life's Work "Live, Forever"? http://neternity.org
The piece in today's NYTimes was better than most of the recent ones: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/world/asia/17pstan.html
This is not to say that the relationships are all that equal between India and the others, but I also know that in some cases, countries like Nepal and Bhutan often depend on India (and vice versa) for economic reasons. So I don't think the climate is all that entirely hostile as your comment paints it here; Well the problem here is two-fold. Just to respond to some of your comments though; Bhutan is a special case, given that we have effectively made it a protectorate and it has to defer to Delhi on Defence and external relations. Nepal too is constrained by the fact that almost all the major transit route for trade go through India and these can be sht off effectively isolating Nepal in economic terms from the outside world. Something that was done in the latem 1980s much to Nepali consternation and the 1950 Friendship treaty has caused no end of irritate to Nepalis politicans. No major Nepali party from the NC to the Maoists is well disposed towards India and Indians shouls ask why this is the case. Similarly, one can think of Bangladesh where it took only a few years for Mujib to become anatagonistic towards India and where today no major politician can be afford to be seen to be "soft" on India. This despite the instrumental role India played in its creation. OF Sri Lanka I will not speak, since the IPKF fiasco says it all. Our MEA mandarins tried to seel the intervention to restore Gayoom in the Maldives as a successful forieng policy venture but now it seems we were propping up a corrupt and unpopulas dicatator. Though the only good thing to come out of this is that Maldives is one of the few countries we have very good relations with and where visa restrictions for Indian citizens have been abolished. Part of the problem is tha natural 'big brother' pehnomenon and the fear of being swamped by a bigger and more powerful neighbour. Part is also down to the fact that all SAARC countries have borders with India and not with each other; so disputes naturally tend to take on a Indo-centric affair. however, Indian policy which could have alleviated or addressed these fears has not done so. Instead we have pursued a policy of what some scholars have called 'relation control' whereby we have sought to influence, usually indirectly, the internal regimes of neighbouring states and asserted our dominance over them. In negotiations instead of realising that quid-pro-quo are not suitable basis of biltaral relations when such large power imbalances exist; we have insisted on the facade of equal treatment on a range of issues. When there is an attempt to break this pattern and go down a more enlightened route such as the "Gujral Doctrine" it is vilifed as somehow selling out Indian interests. This short-sighted approach has reinforced prejudices and fears of Indian policies and intentions instead of diffusing them. We need to distinguish between the state, the nation and the people at large. I would say while there is a lot of regard and good feelings for Indians as a people amongst neigbouring peoples; there is much less so of India as a nation or Indian nationalism and as regards the Indian state and its policies there is downright hostility. This is a state of affairs that needs to be changed.
RE: Today's NYTimes Taliban piece - Yes, I found the discussion of the class/landed/landless element well drawn out.
The ideological component also accounts for some of the friction: i.e., it is not just Pakistan where the proximity of India leads to political anxiety. because all of the post-colonial borders in the sub-continent do not track etnic divisions, etc. cleanly, all of the successor-states have some kind of anxiety about India, making poor relations that much more likely. Thus, Nepal cannot help but wonder about the "logic" of Nepal in a world where India has more Nepali-speakers than Nepal does; and Bhutan cannot be indifferent to the fate of Sikkim; and Bangladesh perhaps faces the most problematic ideological issue of all: vis-a-vis the idea of Pakistan, Bengali nationalism is the bulwark, but that very same bulwark becomes the ideological fifth column vis-a-vis India/West Bengal (aside: that is why I do not agree that the two nation theory was killed in 1971; rather, it has led to a fascinating oscillation for Bangladesh, between the poles of "secular identity" and "two nation theory". This is an under-analyzed perspective, but one that fascinates me: Bangladesh is the one country in South Asia that is simultaneously "like" India as well as Pakistan, or at least so it seems to me as a provisional matter); with Sri Lanka, of course, the problem is two-fold: India has to be "pro-Tamil" because of its own Tamil population, and "anti-Tamil" inasmuch as a successful Tamil separatist movement would cause grave concerns for India vis-a-vis Tamil Nadu...
Ok. I've been waiting until I had time to give this post (posts?) its deserved attention. About people saying “this is not Islam” I really think people need to get to a better dialogue on such issues. Sure, you can say it's not Islam. But that doesn't change what happened and the fact that some other people might disagree (vehemenantly). People can't cling to what is/isn't Islam because 1st, who cares, that's beyond the point, or, at least, only a part of it, and 2nd that's not going to solve the real issues. On the topic of Sharia, I think it has to be approached in a totally different way. I think that using the Qur'an to map out a society, with human rights, civil liberties, and a democracy, is wholly feasible. Now, I am not a fan of much of the shari'a that has been created and maintained in many countries, but I think an open dialogue about sharia in Pakistan and what it could mean might be beneficial. I think a reformed sharia could work in Pakistan, not that I think that that's the best solution but a solution. Many people would feel more comfortable with the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim state. Now this goes back to what sepoy said — what kind of Muslim state is Pakistan? Well, many thought, a home land for South Asian Muslims. But there are so many problems with that — Islam could have been wholly accepted as just another part of India if many didn't view it as a conqueror but as another part of India's tapestry, like the Parsis. But it did, and some say Hinduism as a formal school of religious thought was formulated as a response to the foreign incursense of powerful Islam (I don't think I'd go that far). SO there has always been that unsettling factor — But the fact remains, India IS secular and not every Pakistani IS a Muslim or Sunni for that matter. And this goes back to the question of how logical it is to create a nation on the basis of religion or ethnicity (Israel anyone?) I have always had an aversion to nationalism (when I was much younger, I thought I'd give up my citizenships — but then I realized the absurdities involved), but the fact is that Pakistan is a nation and a nation needs to have some sense of what it is. I think that people (and by people I'm referring to Pakistanis) should strive to put an end to sectarianism (Kerala anyone?) while recognizing those differences and either embracing or tolerating them. The hard part — as always — is taking a hard look at the past and realizing the lies that almost all nations have been partly built on. In Pakistan's case, this deals with partition and coming to terms to what it was — an artificial, hasty, ill-thought out, world-changing event. This is hard for all nations to do — I'm still waiting to see a great film about American slavery but that kind of national baggage is uncomfortable for people tied into identity politics. I think that Pakistan needs to recognize and come to terms with its diversity while recognizing that all Pakistanis do share some common culture and that can propel and stronger national image. I am, on the whole, against the whole concept of nationalism, but we humans have got to make do with what we have. So Pakistan still does have a common culture, even though it's a tapestry of culture. This might sound lame, but I think reinforcing that tapestry and weaving it together is something that should be undertaken. There's still the question of India. Qalander made a good point talking about people being able to play the religious/idealilogical card if they take partition as a given. I think it's important to have a growing dialogue about the mistakes and assumations made during partition and in such idealoguey (Romila Thapur anyone http://www.amazon.com/Early-India-Origins-AD-1300/dp/0520242254/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240028393&sr=8-1 ?) to realize how people in South Asia got to where they have now. Conrad said that there's the natural big brother mentally with India, and I think that the consolidation of whatever national identity is possible can help curtail those feelings (though that is a problem). Desi Italiana also mentioned India and how it passes itself off as plural — it may not be plural now, but it's going to have to be if it wants to prosper and Pakistan is going to have to be if it wants to survive However, I think that there's a deeper problem. I think that it lies with corruption, education, and equality — Amartya Sen made a good point in an essay on nuclear weapons — some people in Pak or India talk about nuking the other without even realizing what it really means to use a nuclear weapon, like most people don't. He cites an article Arundhati Roy wrote (The End of Imagination) and said that people can't fully comprehend such destruction and that many of these are the very people their govs have not done enough for (jobs, etc). As long as there is misery, there will be dissent, and when there's dissent, there's the possibility of terrorism. Pakistan has to unify (which it does in varying degrees) but more importantly the government has to take care of these problems — stop landgrabs, put the military under the government, reporters should root out gov corruption, I don't know, it all sounds impossible for any country. But improvements have been made in some areas (like civil protests against Mussharaf) but there needs to be more and they need to happen fast. (By the way, I'm not calling for Sharia law, but think that a reformed form of Sharia could work in Pakistan. And there will be South Asian Union — just not in out lifetime.)
* I don't want to see a great film about American slavery because I in any way condone it, but simply because Quentin Tarrantino talked about doing one as a revenge tale and I thought it'd be a good story.
Excellent article. "If Obama is going to talk about “good Taliban” in Afghanistan, Pakistan certainly has the right to make political negotiations to get a cease-fire." Is Obama administration making any headway in regards to negotiations with the "moderate Taliban"? Last I heard of it was March 8, 2009 NY Times article and then the subsequent public rebuff by Taliban. Public rebuff doesn't mean, that there are no closed-door contacts. I think that until Afghanistan needs is resolved, it will be difficult for Pakistan to contain Pakistani "Taliban". Tariq Ali suggested last year that the way out of Afghanistan "would require a withdrawal of all us forces, either preceded or followed by a regional pact to guarantee Afghan stability for the next ten years. Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia and, possibly, China could guarantee and support a functioning national government" http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2713 Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid suggested a similar approach in a Foreign Affairs article ("From Great Game to Grand Bargain")in late December 2008. Getting as diverse a star cast as Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia and, China to sit at a table and agree on a viable solution seem like an arduous task. But what are the alternatives? A continued stalemate is unsustainable for a long period of time for the US, while a Talibanate next door to Pakistan is perhaps not the kind of neighbor Pakistan would want.
i am fascinated by this discussion mainly because at college in LUMS, it was perhaps my primary intellectual obsession. one thing i had realised was that pakistan needed to create a good identity myth, which india and all other nation states have to do, and have done. our myth is comically and tragically flawed. i think the pakistan that was imagined was one which was supposed to be culturally muslim. because there is a notable difference in people who are culturally muslim (for a vague description, c0nsider Zia Mohiyuddin and any other Lucknow type) verse people who are practicing muslims. the problem was that there was a lot of cultural difference between the urban, north indian muslims who propogated the theory, and the people who actually live in what became pakistan. at this point, most of us are aware we have an identity crisis, but no one can come up with how to solve it. i think before we construct an identity, we should all work at trying to reconnect that historical severance which happened at partition, and in 71, and under zia. we have no connection with our actual past. fucking mohmmad bin qasim has nothing in common with anyone of us, yet that's where our official historical narrative begins. it might sound silly at a forum like chappati mystery, but when revisionist accounts of partition were first taught at LUMS, there was a furore. and lots of students were profoundly influenced and actually became more invested in pakistan, even while some in the minority became really insecure and defensive. the reason being that no one had ever heard or even thought of an account of history like the one hamza alvi or ayesha siddiqa were providing. yet ironically, it made many of us love pakistan more, because at least now we had a better idea of its true reality. there is so much beauty in our shared culture, and i have repeatedly seen that when it is invoked pakistanis of all sorts become really interested. they love to hear about the artistic logic behind decorating trucks, or the dances of the sheedis, or the kafis of abida perveen, even when they lack the knowledge to understand these things. because such connections occur at an intrinsic level. ultimately, the goal is to make us better human beings, not better pakistanis, because the as has been repeatedly mentioned, the nation state is a lie. but to get to this point, of being better humans, we need to cross the point of being better pakistanis, otherwise we would all be engulfed in a delibitating crisis. PS - that book on the indus civilization is written by Aitzaz Ahsan. you all know him as the leader of the lawyer's movement.
"it might sound silly at a forum like chappati mystery," Wherever did you get that idea? After all, I have a whole dissertation on Muhammad b. Qasim and his relation to the idea of Pakistan. Do tell more about the furore.
aside: that is why I do not agree that the two nation theory was killed in 1971 Q, let me clarify myself; I would say that the two-nation theory Jinnah would see it of there being two-nations in South Asia (or British India to be more accurate) that of Hindus and Muslims and the consequent implication that each would need their own state - is pretty much decisviely dead. The reality is that there are several nationalities in the region contained within a much smaller number of states. I don't think 'Muslims' or 'Hindus' have ever formed 'nations' since both categories themselves contain conteding nationalities. How India and Pakistan as states deal with these nationalities will be an important aspect of the future.
ahh, thanks karachi khatmal, that is indeed the book I was thinking of: http://www.amazon.com/Indus-Making-Pakistan-Aitzaz-Ahsan/dp/0195778294/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240240321&sr=8-2
@ sepoy with regards to the furore, the first one happened when we were introduced to the idea that the whole freedom movement was engineered by influential muslim elites in muslim minority provinces. hamza alvi had a term for them, the salariat classes i believe. it certainly had all the mohajirs torn between confusion and pride. the rest of the students weren't too happy about the evidence that their provinces were really not interested in the idea of pakistan. and the best was the look on the mullahs' faces when they realised that maududi and co. were against partition full stop. but the best was post partition history. we were doing secessionist movements when one of the lahori girls turned around and said "but sir, why do they all hate us punjabis?" chaos ensued, as you can imagine. good fun :)
Your perspective is that of hope. But not hope in the face of reality, but reality as a hopeful one. I agree. Pakistan is surrounded by danger, yet it is in no imminent decisive danger. You may want to check out this post at the link below : http://pakistaniat.com/2009/05/03/finest-hour/
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