VIEW: Pakistan’s quest for national identity
—Ahmad Faruqui Pakistan can only proceed forward by taking concrete and irreversible steps to change the strategic culture of Pakistan and making it a modern and secular democratic state. There is no reason to chase the impossible dream of creating an Islamic state.
Any such move will merely prove divisive Almost 60 years after its independence, scholars continue to debate Pakistan’s national identity.
But what Pakistanis make of it is more important. My conversations with scores of Pakistanis during the past few years have revealed not one but four definitions of national identity. These are: a state for the Muslims of South Asia, an Islamic state, a secular democratic state, and a garrison state.
There is no consensus over the vision of the founding fathers.
Some say the founding fathers wanted Pakistan to be a democratic state while others say they wanted an Islamic state. Jinnah’s early death in 1948, followed by the murder of his chief lieutenant, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, in 1951 ensured that the vision of the founders died with them.
It did not help that in due course of time, a cunning man seized the mantle of power. A former civil servant turned Governor-General, Ghulam Muhammad, deposed the democratically elected prime minister, Khwaja Nazimuddin, in 1953.
This act was carried out in concert with the army chief, General Ayub Khan. It was a coup in all but name.
The Cold War took centre-stage internationally that year, as Dwight Eisenhower moved into the White House and made John Foster Dulles his Secretary of State. In August 1953, the CIA carried out a coup in Iran, deposing a democratically elected premier and replacing him with the Shah. In 1954, Pakistan began to receive large amounts of US military aid and signed the SEATO treaty to stop communist advances in Southeast Asia. In 1955, it signed the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO) directed at containing the Soviet Union.
These moves strengthened the Pakistani military at the expense of other institutions and facilitated Ayub’s coup in 1958.
Pakistan signed a mutual defence agreement with the US in 1959. Three more coups would occur in the next four decades. Each coup-maker ended up serving American interests — Yahya provided Nixon an opening to China, Zia confronted the Soviets in Afghanistan and now Musharraf is fighting Al Qaeda.
This procession of coups has fragmented Pakistan’s national identity, giving it all the confusion of a man having a mid-life crisis.
In some ways, nations are like people. As Newsweek commented recently, they have ‘bodies and spirits, sinews and desires’.
Let us examine the four visions of national identity more closely
The first vision is based on the two-nation theory of statehood.
At the time of Partition, 400 million people lived in India of whom 100 million were Muslims. After Partition
, two-thirds of the Muslims based themselves in Pakistan, making it the world’s largest Muslim state. Today, this vision is a historical relic, since there are about twice as many Muslims in India and Bangladesh combined as there are in Pakistan.
The second vision is that of an Islamic state
. During his 11-year rule, Zia sought to create this state without success.
The irresolvable problem is that there are multiple interpretations of what an Islamic state is.Whichever brand of Islam comes to power, it seeks to impose its vision over the rest. Indeed, there is nothing to prevent radical groups from taking over and imposing a Taliban-style rule or a Tehran-style theocracy. Clearly, neither outcome would be desirable.
The third vision is that of a secular democratic state.
Elected leaders would form all national policies, defence and foreign policy, as well as economic, financial, social and political. The government would reflect the will of the people. This vision has been implemented at various times with limited success. It has failed largely because a strong military has not allowed elected civilians to evolve independent defence and foreign policies.
The fourth vision is that of a stratocracy, a state run by the military.
This vision survives because weak politicians give the army the perfect excuse to overthrow the civilian system
under the Law of Necessity propounded by Hans Kelsen. This line of thinking has even made inroads among the educated middle class, which is convinced that without the stick of the military, the nation degenerates into anarchy.
Thus, the men on horseback are welcomed as a blessing when they come galloping out of the barracks to restore law and order. For decades, their war cry was that the country was in danger of being invaded by the big external enemy on the east. Now, they want to protect it from internal extremists — who are in many ways the military’s own brainchild.
It is time that Pakistanis gave up their grand historical ambitions and learned to live with a more realistic vision and a simpler dream. The first two visions are not feasible and need to be discarded.
The fourth vision should also meet a similar fate since it leads nowhere. The major threat to Pakistan’s national security comes from a strategic culture based on intolerance. The process of debate and free competition of ideas that revitalises and reinvents identity in democratic countries is absent.
Pakistan can only proceed forward by adopting the third vision
, taking concrete and irreversible steps to change the strategic culture of Pakistan and making it a modern and secular democratic state. There is no reason to chase the impossible dream of creating an Islamic state.
Any such move will merely prove divisive, as was amply demonstrated during the Zia years.
A lot depends on what happens in 2007
, when Pakistan turns 60 and holds general elections. Those elections should allow for the rule of law by pushing forward the development of civilian institutions. But this can only happen if Washington, which has supported the Pakistani military’s frequent interventions in politics, insists that the elections restore sovereignty to the parliament, exclude the military from politics and grant full independence to the judiciary.
The army should ensure that fair elections are held and return to the barracks. It should stop intervening politically under any conditions. If elected leaders pursue bad policies, they can and should be removed through parliamentary processes. If they break the law, they should be prosecuted in courts, not removed by a coup. Strong and incorrupt civilian leaders will not emerge under the shadow of military strongmen.
Military rule, by masking weaknesses in governance, stifles the growth and development of civilian institutions. This cure is worse than the disease. Moreover, by its recurrence, it perpetuates the notion that Pakistan is a collection of warring tribes that are held together by force.
Dr Ahmad Faruqui is director of research at the American Institute of International Studies and can be reached at Faruqui@pacbell.net http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default...4-9-2005_pg3_6