October Issue 2013
Attempting to find the ‘genetic defect’ of Pakistan — the world’s lone nuclear-armed, Muslim nation — is bound to trigger controversy and ruffle many sacred feathers, especially at a time when the country seems to be imploding under religiously-motivated terrorism, the expanding tentacles of Islamic extremism and the ever-decreasing writ of the state. Pakistan’s sure and fast slide into anarchy and chaos, and the inability of state institutions to deal with the crisis, raises some fundamental questions: Why has Pakistani soil become so conducive for religious extremists? Why has political Islam become such a divisive force? Why are the worst forms of atrocities and injustices being committed in the name of Islam? Why is the ‘mighty’ state unable to confront the existentialist threat to its unity? Why are the concepts of an inclusive democracy, pluralism and modernity viewed with such hostility and suspicion? What are the factors that prevent the country from building a consensus on key issues such as the role of religion in society, democracy and the constitution?
Veteran journalist and media person Babar Ayaz has tried to find answers to these questions and many more in his first book titled: What’s Wrong with Pakistan? One may agree or disagree with his thesis, but he has boldly challenged the popular historical narrative about the origin of Pakistan and painstakingly pointed out the internal contradictions of the freedom movement, that are responsible for pushing the country into the vortex of Islamic extremism, violence and terrorism. The author argues that the way successive rulers — be they civilian or military — ran the affairs of the country after Independence, supported a string of fundamentalist causes and non-state actors and used religion to achieve short-term domestic and regional goals, has only added to the woes of the country.
The author has backed his case with meticulous research as well as personally conducted interviews and anecdotes that make the book highly engaging, readable, provocative and, at times, shocking. It offers a different perspective, which one does not find in official history and academic books taught at our educational institutions as Pakistan Studies.
Some of the conclusions drawn by the author remain subject to debate and further discussion — such as the portrayal of the Pakistan Movement totally as a communal movement, discounting the role of Congress leaders in preventing any understanding with the All-India Muslim League. But, perhaps, that was not the ambit of this book. Ayaz remains more focused on trying to find the answer to how the use of Islam as a slogan for the creation of a state and the two-nation theory impacted the post-Independence politics and social order of this nascent state. The overt and covert religiosity of the Pakistan Movement, led by a secular leader like Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, according to the author, proved to be the fundamental flaw of the country, which he describes as a “genetic defect.”
“The religious extremism and terrorism that Pakistan suffers from are a logical outcome of the communal politics of the pre-independence movement,” says the author in the opening pages of the book.
“What most politicians, who usually have short-term gains in sight, do not understand is that the ‘end’ does not always justify the ‘means’; the same ‘means’ that are used to achieve an ‘end’ mostly tend to dictate the subsequent ‘end.’ Pakistan is today being consumed by the religiosity that was whipped as a ‘means’ to achieve a separate homeland,” he further writes.
The thesis might be seen as a direct assault on the country’s ideological foundations by most Islamists and conservative elements who are battling to convert Pakistan into a theocratic state through the imposition of their own, harsher brands of Islam. The author’s argument that the two-nation theory and the war-cry of Islam eventually allowed the conservative elements to dominate the popular narrative in Pakistani politics, rather than the liberal and educated Muslims, who initially served as the backbone of this movement that aimed to ensure the political and economic rights of the Muslim-majority provinces of United India. Ironically, as the author has rightly pointed out, the Pakistan Movement garnered its initial and most ardent foot soldiers from those provinces where Muslims were in a minority. That was only one among the many internal and inherent contradictions of the Pakistan Movement.
In retrospect, history is a discipline which is open to interpretation and reinterpretation. None of the arguments can be deemed as final as often, in hindsight, one may gain a fresh perspective as new facts come to light. But, more importantly, one can witness the outcome of those make or break decisions in a constantly, evolving and changing society.
Part II of the book delves into the post-Partition world of Pakistan in which the dream turned sour in the initial days of Independence. It is a sorry tale of the abuse and exploitation of East Bengal, the confrontation of the centre with Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists, and the benefit which Punjab’s ruling classes reaped in the first two decades of Independence.
“The total government expenditure in 20 years (1950-70) in Pakistan was US $30.95 billion, out of which West Pakistan extracted the lion’s share of US $21.49 billion meaning over 69 per cent, while East Pakistan, despite having 55 per cent population, was doled out only US $9.45 billion, which was just 30.45 per cent of the total,” writes Ayaz.
With his vast experience of economic journalism, spanning over four decades, Ayaz weaves political and economic aspects while narrating the story of Pakistan.
“East Pakistan was their undisputed market of over 50 million people. It was because of the loss of this colony that Pakistan had to devalue its currency by 135 per cent in 1972, and as a result its textile and consumer industry had a great fall,” he writes on page 63 of the book.
Balochistan — the country’s most mineral-rich but underdeveloped province — has also been transformed into a festering wound due to what the author describes as the colonial mindset of successive Pakistani governments — be they civilian or military.
Sindh and the North West Frontier Province, which finally got its new identity as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under the Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s recent rule, also remained at loggerheads with the centre, which is dominated by the elite of Punjab with Urdu-speaking immigrants as their junior partners in the initial days of post-Independence Pakistan, Ayaz argues.
But after the dismemberment of East Pakistan, the real threat to Pakistan, according to the author, came more from political Islam rather than the challenges posed by the nationalists, who gradually lost the momentum or were absorbed in the power structure of the country.
Part III of the book deals with issues of exploitation of Islam for narrow political ends, especially under the dark days of General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law which witnessed an unbridled growth of mosques, madrassahs, fundamentalist organisations and extremists who were dubbed as “holy warriors,” that not only waged wars in Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir, but also targeted Shia Muslims, Ahmedis and other religious minorities including Christians and Hindus. A whole chapter is devoted to the draconian laws, branded as “Islamic laws” under General Zia, underlining their strong anti-women bias — from the Hudood Ordinances to the Law of Evidence and the Islamic inheritance laws. The controversial Qisas and Diyat laws, which allow murderers to go scot free against compensation or forgiveness granted by the heirs of the victims, introduced a dichotomy in the country’s legal system.
While discussing the growth of seminaries, the author points out that “even if 50 per cent of the madrassah graduates adopt the above-mentioned profession, and the rest go back to join their parents’ farms or businesses, the system is producing one mullah for every 225 Pakistanis every year. It is in sharp contrast to one nurse for over 3,600 persons, and one doctor for some 3,400 persons.”
The equally important Part IV of the book discusses the dominance of the army in Pakistan’s politics and the pivotal role it has played in patronising and harbouring Islamic fundamentalists and extremists as its proxies for both domestic and international politics. This controversial policy has boomeraned as the Al-Qaeda-inspired local and foreign militants have taken on the very institution which nurtured them for decades.
“No civilised country breeds and nurtures militant groups within its own boundaries. Pakistan has been doing it as an extension of its national security policy. Once non-state militant groups are allowed to grow and used against any other country in the name of religion, these private armies are bound to dictate the policies of the state,” writes Ayaz.
The heavy price Pakistan is currently paying at the hands of these militants of different hues and shades because of this flawed and ill-conceived policy is an unpleasant, truth.
While Part V of the book analyses Pakistan’s foreign relations, arguing that they have been tailored to fit the national security fears, the final part of the book builds a case for a secular Pakistan as the only step forward for the country.
“Pakistan is not early twentieth-century Turkey, where a Kemal Ataturk could rise to abolish the ‘caliphate’, which was a symbol of a temporal and divine world. But it can take a break from its stated religious national narrative and move towards the secularisation of society based on reason and a scientific life stance — the process that has been started by Bangladesh,” Ayaz writes in one of the closing chapters.
However, the author has refrained from calling Pakistan a failed state, as many analysts would like us to believe. Instead, Ayaz says that it is a ‘borderline case’ and is not yet a failed state. The only recipe to treat its ills according to the author, “is to separate religion and politics” to prevent the impending catastrophe. For this to happen, the state has to reinvent itself and fight and defeat its many self-created demons — the topmost among them remains religious extremism. Are the ruling classes listening? This remains a key question as the country struggles to keep on track its fragile democracy, which offers a glimmer of hope, according to the author.
What’s Wrong with Pakistan? is a bold, candid and sincere effort to identify the festering ills of today’s Pakistan and suggests some urgent solutions to prevent the country from what Ayaz calls “sinking inch by inch, day by day” in a quagmire.
The book is an important addition to the raging debate about the past, present and future of the country as it struggles against its own self-created nemesis — the Islamic extremists and militants.
Amir Zia is a senior Pakistani journalist, currently working as the Chief Editor of HUM News. He has worked for leading media organisations, including Reuters, AP, Gulf News, The News, Samaa TV and Newsline.
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