Iskander Mirza

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A definitive history of Pakistan

Pakistan’s best-known historian, Ayesha Jalal, is back with a new book: The Struggle For Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics. This book essentially synthesises much of Jalal’s earlier work that by all accounts is rich and comprehensive. In short, the new book presents an overview of Pakistan’s progression as a national security state, a lop-sided federation to its current existential woes fuelled by state-sponsored Islamisation. Jalal acknowledges that the country’s Islamic identity was not enough to hold it together and the continued cycles of military rule turned it into a polity that cannot provide full citizenship rights to all Pakistanis.

This emphasis on citizenship is an important perspective that Jalal has brought forth to a global reader, who views the country as an epicentre of terror and blowing itself as a jihadi state. As the premier scholar on the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jalal refers to the origins of Pakistan as a “truncated … moth-eaten and mutilated state” in the most peculiar circumstances of 1940s and the breakdown of power-sharing schemes that were deliberated in that decade. Lord Mountbatten’s ominous sentence marked the start: “As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are putting up a tent. We can do no more.” And even today in many parts of the country, the tent exists without a responsive state structure. Sixty-seven years later, Pakistan is a country of 200 million people with no local governments that can assure accountable services (including security) to its citizens.

Pakistan’s insecurity is rooted in that phase when it was widely projected that it may just collapse under the burden of its inherent contradictions. Over 40 million Muslims stayed in India; its two wings were 1,000 miles apart and the task of creating a nation-state was even more onerous given the diversity — ethnic, linguistic and religious — of the new state. Nearly 25 per cent of Pakistanis in 1947 were non-Muslims (today only four to five per cent are). The perennial debate on Pakistan’s national identity has not ended. […]

Enigma of democratic governance

Pakistan’s President Iskander Mirza (1956-58) is remarked to have said that democracy was ‘unsuited’ to the genius of Pakistani people. Decades later, similar questions about democratic form of governance are being raised in Pakistan. Take any TV show, multitude of op-eds, or more worryingly, check what the young people have to say on Facebook or Twitter. The parameters of debate remain the same.

The urban Pakistanis’ disdain for the ‘illiterate’, ‘rural’ politicians to rule the country is a running theme. More importantly, the duality of civil-military rule has generated a peculiar discourse: the weak and corrupt ‘civilians’ compromise national security as opposed to authoritarian regimes which guard ‘ideological’ and geographical borders of the country.

This is why we have seen civilian governments come and go, especially in the past two decades with charges of corruption and violation of national security. For instance, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, while dismissing Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1993, alluded to, among others, the charge of murdering General Asif Nawaz Janjua, the Army Chief. Benazir Bhutto till her last remained a ‘security risk’ even when she compromised her principles and fully supported and owned the Taliban policy of the 1990s. The grave sin of Nawaz Shairf in his second tenure was attempting to secure peace with India; and the gravest of all was allegedly plotting to kill the Army chief in 1999 by diverting his flight.

And now the ‘proof’ of this errant and traitorous behaviour is an unsigned memo sent to Americans to contain Pakistan Army. Since the matter is soon going to be subjected to an inquiry and perhaps judicial proceedings, it would be best not to speculate any further than what has been reported, or shall we say, trumpeted in the press. Prior to this, the provisions of Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid legislation (passed by the US Congress) were somehow considered to the handiwork of the civilian government. It eludes commonsense as to how can a civilian government be so powerful to influence a foreign legislature. But then, such tales require a willing suspension of disbelief.

The recent memogate saga, not unlike the past occasions, has accelerated the pace of rumour-mongering and has spurred obituaries of the civilian government. Perhaps even more than the change-rhetoric generated by the October 30 rally of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) where the memo and its alleged author Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani was named in public as an official who may have compromised ‘national interest’. Most media commentators are saying that a change is going to take place before March 2012 Senate elections and the gathering storm of opposition protests […]

February 3rd, 2012|governance, Pakistan|3 Comments