Pakistan Narrative

Is Pakistan really ‘the nation that has lost its soul?’ Almost daily I am reminded of this question by the spine of a book of same title by Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan on a shelf in my   personal library.

This  country that was ‘virtually conjured by a man of indomitable will’ for giving a ‘sense of destiny’ to the Muslims of South Asia and protecting and fulfilling their cultural and civilization destiny’  in its history has been facing toughest ever challenges both from within and outside.    Since long I have not read a book that would hold a bright promise for it.   During the past many years western writers from Stephen Philip Cohen to Bruce Riedel have not only been loudly pronouncing it as a ‘failed state’ but also   writing its epitaphs.

 Most of the Western writers more particularly Americans have been looking at this strategically important country from perspective of interest of their country in the region.  Pakistan undeniably is confronted with many challenges, and how to extricate it   out of its multi-faceted predicaments has made some of the brightest minds of the country to introspect.  And the introspection has resulted in a book.  Kashmir for its history and geography cannot be delinked from the predicament of this country. I have chosen this book as subject for my today’s column.

The book Pakistan Beyond the Crisis State (Edited by: Dr. Maleeha Lodhi Published by: Oxford University Press, Karachi) is a compilation of   papers by experts from diverse fields.  Every essay in the book in fact is in itself a book that in a depth deals the subject. To say precisely it is  a compendium of seventeen books by eminent people mostly of international standing  that include  Prof. Ayesha Jalal, Prof. Akbar Ahmed,  Mohsin Hamid, Maleeha Lodhi, Shuja Nawaz, Munir Akram, Zia Haider, Ishrat Husain, Meekal Ahmed, Ziad Alhahdad, Shahnaza Khan and Moeed Yusuf, Ahmed Rashid, Feroz Hassan Khan, Saeed Shafqat, Muddasar Mazhar Malik and Syed Rifat Hussain.  The book has an insightful introduction and an introspective concluding chapter by editor Dr.  Maleeha Lodhi. In her introduction the editor very rightly writes that Pakistan story has been that of resilience. It was really born at dangerously turbulent note that had made many Indian leaders predicts its death immediately after its birth. In most of the essays the hope permeates that this country was not only going to survive its multi-pronged challenges but has the potential of emerging as a power that will be counted as determining factor for key global policies.

 Every writer has honestly debated and discussed the challenges confronting Pakistan. The weaknesses that have contributed to the messy situation prevalent in the country that has made people to look at it from the prism of terrorism have been identified without reservations.

Every paper in the book is an eye opener for the political leadership and decision makers of the country that could serve as guidelines for taking the country out of its present phase of uncertainty and morass of terrorism. These would also enable them to redraft domestic, foreign policies and unburdening the country   from the mistakes inherited from time to time from the former rulers.

History conspired against Pakistan at many a junctures failing it to grow to the vision of its founding father. Maleeha Lodi has very rightly pointed out that the ‘early death of its founder soon after its birth meant that the mantle of a towering figure was inherited by a succession of squabbling political lightweights.’ Had not the founder died when it was still fighting the trauma of partition and was in formative stage    it would have been altogether a different pedestal – perhaps stronger than many of its neighbors. His ideas for his nation state continue to have the potential of steering it towards a prosperous and a dignified nation but what is needed of Pakistanis is to ‘understand the vision of their founding father’.  The second chapter in the book titled, ‘Why Jinnah Matters’ by Dr.  Akbar Ahmed provides an insight into the vision of the founding father of the country.’ He writes,  his dream was grand one: What he wanted was nothing less than one of the greatest nations in the world, not just in the Muslim world.’ He sounds optimistic in stating that ‘even today Pakistan is greater than the reality of the country.’ Prof. Ayesha Jalal highlighting importance of history in first chapter of the book writes that without a credible history, a people cannot develop a historical consciousness, much less a national one. By devaluing history for political and ideological reasons, Pakistan has found it difficult to project a national identity that can strike a sympathetic chord with its heterogeneous people.’ Internationally acclaimed novelist Mohsin Hamid sees many  reasons for being optimistic about his country. He writes that the problem of Pakistan is not its national identity but it has allowed itself to be distracted and bogged down in the name of national identity for too long. He ends his   chapter at positive note, “A brighter future waits us if we, as Pakistan Citizens, are willing to pay for’.

The book encompasses every challenge from Tahreek Talbian to economic situation that confront Pakistan when it is at ‘cross roads of its destiny’ but I see five major subjects as main contributors to the narrative that the book builds.

These include Afghanistan, India, Kashmir, Army and interests of the West in the region. And every subject   
 Identifying five fault lines of Pakistan’ polity that have contributed to its predicament Dr. Lodi in her chapter after which the book has been   set a tone for  Pakistan intelligentsia and civil society  to do deep introspection for taking their country out of the quagmire. She incisively dissected Pakistan “clientelist politics” and how in classical style ‘governance is embedded in the notion of rewarding their ‘clients’ rather than ‘electorate as citizens.’

The book is not only a commentary on the role of army in the affairs of the state but it very subtly highlights  that how far a perennial threat from India is causing a  “siege mentality”.  “Geography and history of troubled relations with India, writes Dr. Lodi, ‘shaped the strategic culture, while greater power interests and dysfunctional geo-political strategies successively pursued by Islamabad intersected to aggravate the country’s challenges.’   Shuja Nawaz in his chapter does   not look at the role of army only through the prism of India but also from a broader perspective   of country’s geography and history. However, at the same time he writes that Pakistan proximity ‘to a large and dominating neighbor, India , shapes its foreign and defense policies and believes that tough neighborhood dictates that ‘it should maintain a strong defense establishment’. Munir Akram former Pakistan Ambassador believes that Pakistan was confronted with a ‘pervasive challenge’ from India. I consider     chapter    titled ‘Reversing Strategic Shrinkage’, by him as one of the most important commentaries on India-Pakistan relations and importance of Kashmir in the emerging scenario in the book. Pronouncing  the hostility between the Muslims and Hindus as ‘real and endemic’ he calls those who argue that with goodwill and conflict resolution, peace and  harmony  will descend on the sub-continent are either ignorant or self-serving.  He identifies seven serious strategic reversals that have contributed to Pakistan’s downfall during the past nine years. One of these includes “neutralization of the Kashmir freedom struggle, as Pakistan was obliged under US pressure, to halt cross border support to them.”

He sees greater advantages for Pakistan taking a bolder stand on Kashmir based on international principles and believes that ‘it will not escalate the danger of a conflict so long as Pakistan’s conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities remain credible. In the last chapter to the book Dr. Rifat writes  that without achieving any tangible results on Kashmir the India and Pakistan will not only remain devoid of substance but also perennially vulnerable to attempts by various kinds of spoilers to derail it.

The book contains no chapter on Kashmir but this subject runs throughout the warp and woof of the book. The book for vastness of its subject concerning every aspect of Pakistan State and challenges it faces can be recognized as bible for modern day for the policy planners of the country.  It is a must read for all those interested with South Asia Politics.

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