What’s holding Pakistan together?

By Ayaz Amir

Not Islam – this fiction was exploded in 1971, and continues to be exposed today in Balochistan. Far from being a uniting factor religion, and the uses to which it is being put, is proving to be the biggest divisive factor of all, Pakistanis killing each other in the name of sect and faith – a country created on the basis of religion floundering at the altar of religion, earnest Pakistanis forever engaged in the quest to discover what Allah’s commandments mean and what they do not.

Not democracy – which is proving to be a sham democracy, unable to sow the seeds of peace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or lessen the anger of the aggrieved Baloch, or prove a boon to Karachi, or have any kind of relevance for the down and out, the economically disadvantaged, who constitute the vast majority of the Pakistani population.

Not a common sense of nationhood – because that is something we have not managed to create, indeed the concept of nationhood never more fractured than it is today, partly because the institutions of statehood have become so dysfunctional, partly because of the march of primitive Islam, as exemplified by the Taliban, which is testing the capacities of the Pakistani state, and leading thoughtful Pakistanis to brood about the country’s future.

Holding Pakistan together, and this is a sad admission, is what pseudo-leftists like myself had trained ourselves to demonise, and with good reason because of its long list of follies: the Pakistan Army. The army we blamed, and rightly so, for many of Pakistan’s problems – East Pakistan, the cult of militarisation, the overweening power of the ISI, the unholy intervention in Afghanistan, ‘jihad’ in Kashmir, creating the god of national security and placing it at the top of the Pakistani pantheon.

But the wheel has come full circle. New realities have emerged, new dangers have arisen. The luxury of adventurism as in Afghanistan or Kashmir has gone. Pakistan is under threat and its survival is at stake and holding the gates is just one force: not Pakistani patriotism, not Pakistani nationalism – weak concepts yet to be given the shape of stone or iron – but the army.

For argument’s sake remove the army from the present equation and the national landscape becomes more unstable and more threatening, and the barbarians at the gates, many with their Trojan horses well within the gates, look that much taller.

But the army has a problem, in fact many problems. It is over-extended and chooses not to realise it. The only front relevant today, the only front which matters, is the western front where the Taliban danger looms. The eastern front with India is a phony front, a manufactured front, a front whose time is over, but for reasons rooted in the past the army’s attention, most of it, continues to be in that direction.

This is strange. The threat comes from the primitive Islamist dagger pointed at the army’s back. But the military mind continues to be obsessed by the east. Who will change this, who will undertake the army’s re-education? The shade of Clausewitz perhaps or Ares the god of war. No lesser agency will suffice because this seems to be a difficult proposition, the army stuck in its ways.

On the eastern front more than tanks and artillery what we need now are better water experts, who can read and understand the small print of the Indus Waters Treaty and argue Pakistan’s case before international tribunals. If we keep losing those arguments, as we have thus far, of what use tanks and artillery? They are not going to get us more discharges for the Neelum River or water the dry beds of the Ravi and the Sutlej. Tools of war we have deployed, to little effect. Times have changed. Tools of the mind, tools of the intellect, are what we need now. Or we are doomed if we remain faithful to the old doctrines.

The necessity of turning away from the old and discovering the new makes the continued patronage of such strategic dinosaurs as Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Muhammad all the more absurd and bizarre. These are old steeds of war which should now be put out to pasture. Their relevance, if ever there was any, is long over. The games they are good at can only damage us. So regarding these leftover pieces of ‘jihad’ the army and the ISI have to change their thinking or we lose the war on the western front which threatens Pakistan’s survival.

The war against primitive extremism has thus to begin not from the foothills of North Waziristan – this would be to get the whole picture wrong – but from the confines of Muridke and Bahawalpur and Muzaffarabad. Disengagement from here, from the fossilised remains of the Kashmir ‘jihad’, is a prerequisite for unity of aim and purpose in the west.

And there has to be a rethinking about Balochistan. Army meddling has been a disaster there, a replay of past Baloch follies. The army can’t hope to win back the Frontier, the western marches, by losing Balochistan to Baloch disaffection.

This is the challenge before the army command – the readiness to step out from the past and into the present.

I was struck by something I was reading the other night, an article on China in the New York Review of Books. This particular passage said that Hitler’s defeat in the Second World War had wiped out the arch-conservative, military-landowning class that had opposed German liberalism before the war. Then this mind-shattering sentence: “Thus, the disaster of Hitler eliminated forces that might have hindered a successful recreation of German society after the war.”

This was compared with China where the smashing of the old traditional order by Mao prepared the way for China’s modernisation. “Seen this way, Mao’s brutal interim was perhaps the essential, but paradoxical, precursor to China’s subsequent boom under Deng Xiaoping…” (NYRB Nov 21-Dec 4, 2013 – ‘Dreams of a Different China’ by Ian Johnson).

Turkey’s present-day rulers take justifiable pride in their economic achievements. These achievements and Turkey’s rise as a modern power would have been impossible without Mustafa Kemal’s revolution.

Ours is a hidebound, traditionalist society mired not so much in physical backwardness as in mental backwardness. Only a sick society living in the past would indulge in the kind of extended Shariah debates which seem to be one of our regular pastimes.

It took the greatest war in history to free Germany from its past. It took Mao’s “uncompromising nihilism” (this phrase also from that article) to break the shackles of the past and free China’s mind. What will it take to free the Pakistani mind, what nihilism of the soul and spirit before we arrive at the shores of liberation?

Maybe this war against primitivism which our sham democracy is trying to run away from is our historic opportunity to break away from the habits of the past, habits which have cost us so much and prevented us from becoming a nation, and forge a new beginning. But provided we don’t shirk this fight because without sacrifice and blood and toil there are no new beginnings.

Email: winlust@yahoo.com

Courtesy: The News

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