Archive for the ‘Pak Identity Crisis’ Category

The article below superbly describes the weakness of Pakistan as a concept and the serious problems arising from that weakness.

Pakistan cannot be regarded as a normal country with a strong, independent, historical identity. Rather, given its recent creation, artificial nature, ethnic frictions, and sectarian tensions, it is better understood as a space in search of an identity. An identity is being provided at present – albeit, on a temporary bases and with diminishing impact – by a negation of India and a concomitant promotion of Islam… which creates its own negative consequences. The former traps Pakistan into a confrontation with its neighbor that it can ill afford economically, militarily, or diplomatically. While the latter prevents Pakistan from confronting the very Islamic forces out to destroy the state itself.

[Pakistan’s Existential Challenge; Bret Stephens; Wall Street Journal; May 12, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

About Iran, Henry Kissinger once asked whether the Islamic Republic was a country or a cause. About Pakistan, the question is whether it’s a country or merely a space.

Today, Somalia is a space not even pretending to be a country. The result is destitution, piracy and a sanctuary for Islamic jihadists, but little by way of ideas for how to change things. Historically Afghanistan has always been a space, defined mostly by its power to repel: The Obama administration would be smart to take this into account by keeping its expectations for nation-building low. Whether post-invasion Iraq is a country or a space remains a question, though it seems to be leaning in the former direction.

As for Pakistan, we’re about to find out.

The world took note… when a Taliban advance brought it to within 60 miles of Islamabad. But that offensive was less intrinsically distressing than the seeming nonchalance with which Pakistan’s rulers, current and former, surrendered sovereignty to Islamic extremists, first in the tribal hinterlands and then in the Swat Valley.

What kind of state simply accepts that its judicial and political writ doesn’t actually run to its internationally recognized boundaries? Three cases are typical. One is a weak state that lacks the capacity to enforce its law and ensure domestic tranquility – think of Congo. Another is an ethnic patchwork state that knows well enough not to bend restive or potentially restive minorities to its will – that would be present-day Lebanon. A third is a canny state that seeks to advance strategic aims by feigning powerlessness while deliberately ceding control to proxies – the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.

Pakistan’s odd distinction is that it fits all three descriptions at once. It is politically weak, ethnically riven, and a master of plausible deniability – an art it has practiced not only toward India, Afghanistan and the U.S. with its support for various “freedom fighting” groups but also, in the matter of the CIA drone attacks, toward its own people.

The roots of Pakistan’s problems go to its nature as a state. What is Pakistan? Even now, nearly 62 years after its founding, the best answer is “not India”: As with the Palestinians, Pakistani identity is defined negatively. What else is Pakistan? As with Iran, it is an Islamic Republic: Punjabis, Pashtuns, Kashmiris, Balochis, Sindhis and so on are only really knitted together in their state as Muslims.

No wonder the Pakistani army has been so reluctant to redeploy the bulk of its forces to the western front: To do so betrays Pakistan’s entire reason for being. Tellingly, the army only went on the offensive this month after the Taliban took aim at an army convoy.

Of course the “Islamic” state that Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah foresaw wasn’t quite what the Taliban have in mind. “You will find,” he said in 1947, “that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because this is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

That vision still appeals to a majority of Pakistanis, who have repeatedly defeated radical religious parties at the polls. But rejecting clerical politics is not quite the same thing as accepting secular ideals. It’s also hard to sustain republican hopes when the practical results – in the persons of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and current President Asif Ali Zardari – have been so consistently dismaying.

We live in an age dominated by immodest ideas of personal, national or ideological destiny, to which Pakistan has not been immune. It might consider more modest aims, like simple countryhood. And since the threat it now faces is existential, let’s put the point existentially: The alternative to that kind of being is nothingness.

The full article is available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124208442748008601.html


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The article below provides a good overview of the gradual onset of Islamization in Pakistan. It explains how: (a) the country’s origins lie in creation of a separate homeland for Indian Muslims, but not an Islamic state; (b) religion remained largely a matter of personal faith and the country was mostly secular till 1970; (c) the loss of East Pakistan in 1971 sharpened the need for a national ideology to prevent another breakup; (d) calls for Islamization began to increase with Islamists’ success in getting Ahmadis declared as non-Muslims; (e) Bhutto’s election rigging and modern lifestyle created the excuse for an Islamic-oriented opposition movement; and (f) General Zia with his coup formally embraced and implemented Islamization as a state policy.

Of course, as per the author: “This gradual Islamisation succeeded in creating an aura of religiosity in everyday life. In reality, there was no necessary improvement in justice, equality and morality. Indeed, the government’s edicts split society between a public life of Islamic pieties and a private life characterised by personal gain.” Moreover, Islamization never had a chance as a national unifying force due to the fact that “unity in such a country [as Pakistan] has to come from a democratic recognition of its diversity, and not through the engineering of a single, wholesome notion of faith and nation.”

[Pious follies; DAWN; Nadeem F. Paracha; Sep 3rd, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

Islam is believed to be the basis of nationalism on which the Pakistani state was constituted, even though this notion continues to be hotly contested. Liberals hold the view that Pakistan was created for the Muslim community of India, which Muhammad Ali Jinnah treated as a separate ethnic and cultural community, rather than a strictly religious group demanding an Islamic theocracy. Either way Islam is accepted as the core social and political institution in Pakistan, giving it a special role in Pakistani society.

However, this was not always the case – especially between 1947 and 1970 – when the principal tenor of the state and society was largely secular and Islam largely remained a matter of personal faith. But the roots of what came to be known as “Islamisation” of society stretch back to the 1950s.

Islamisation as an official socio-political ideology was first introduced in public life in shape of the symbols of the state. For example, Quranic verses emblazoned on state buildings and constitutional debates about Islamic law started to emerge sometime after 1956. During that period, the leadership of the Muslim League was overwhelmingly secular and steeped in English Common Law. The party leaned towards the creation of a liberal modern society that embraced Islam’s universal principals.

On the other end of the debate, Islamic parties such as the Jamaat Islami (JI), and the now defunct Nizam-e-Islam party, argued for a state where shariah would rule. The Islamic State vs. Moderate Muslim Republic discourse hung quietly in the background throughout the 1960s. It was brought forth by the politico-religious parties during the 1970 elections. But their argument and political instruments were soundly defeated at the polls.

Things started to change after the 1971 debacle in East Pakistan. Interestingly, this was also when the force of Islam was for the first time used by the Pakistan Army when it started to patronise combative Islamist youth groups, Al-Badar and Al-Shams, mainly consisting of young JI activists and members of its student wing, the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT). These groups assisted the West Pakistan Army in attacking Bengali nationalists. One can also describe the two groups as the earliest manifestations of militant Islam in Pakistan. Notably, this was the first systematic collaboration between the army and lslamists.

The burning debate that erupted after the East Pakistan catastrophe squarely revolved around the question: what would keep that which remained of Pakistan together? Z A. Bhutto suggested populist democracy and “Islamic socialism.” His offer was of an egalitarian and modern version of Islam that he paraded as the new model for the struggling, post-’71 Muslim nation. The second ideological response to the question came from the Islamists (JI, JUP, JUI, etc.). Blaming the failures of the republic on the “flouting of Islamic principals” –  both by the rulers and their subjects – they insisted that only “shariah” would keep Pakistan together. The two models went to war in the politics of labour unions, student unions and lawyers associations.

Though the Islamists were successfully kept in check by the stronger progressive labour unions, things were tighter in student politics where Bhutto’s model was defended on campuses by organisations such as National Students Federation (NSF) and Peoples Students Federation (PSF), whereas the Islamist model was propagated by the IJT, Anjuman Taliba Islam (ATI), and Muslim Students Federation (MSF).

Then in 1973, when the second major Ahmadia riots erupted, the Islamists tasted their first major victory in the country as the Bhutto regime agreed to declare the Ahmadi community non-Muslims. Their second victory arrived in 1976-77 when – with the help of industrialists, bankers, bazaar merchants, and small-town entrepreneurs Islamic parties formed the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), and successfully agitated against Bhutto’s “un-Islamic regime,” consequently paving the way for the Ziaul Haq coup.

With the arrival of Zia, the Islamists thought they had finally found state power. Their drive for Islamic order also meant changing culture and reorganising society. For this, Zia adopted the JI’s agenda: prohibitions on drinking, betting and dancing, and encouraging the usage of public flogging. Furthermore, Zia’s aids helped him exhibit “pious” examples. Offices, schools, and factories were required to offer praying space; textbooks were revised; mosques and madrassahs multiplied; and conservative scholars became fixtures on television. These cultural shifts were all enforced through government edicts.

The worst aspect in this context was the demagogic reengineering of the country’s education curriculum. After the 1971 break-up of Pakistan and the war with India, educational discourse on nation-building in Pakistan became much more introverted. A violent, militaristic and negative nationalism, which saw enemies on every border, was reconstituted. And during General Zia’s dictatorship, religion as an instrument of homogenisation and control took centre-stage in educational policies.

This gradual Islamisation succeeded in creating an aura of religiosity in everyday life. In reality, there was no necessary improvement in justice, equality and morality. Indeed, the government’s edicts split society between a public life of Islamic pieties and a private life characterised by personal gain. This dichotomy between public and private has become Zia’s legacy.

Since 1971, the state, military and the politico-religious parties have insisted on enforcing a convoluted, myopic and singular ideological mindset – “Islamic state” – in an otherwise multi-sectarian, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. This insistence created, on the one hand, various sectarian and ethnic fissures, and, on the other, a psyche that is extremely vulnerable to paranoia along with an almost schizophrenic patriotism.

Unity in such a country has to come from a democratic recognition of its diversity, and not through the engineering of a single, wholesome notion of faith and nation.

The full article is available at: http://blog.dawn.com/2009/09/03/pious-follies/

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As a North American citizen who grew up in Pakistan, I have always believed that one of the best means of evaluating perception of one’s country and co-nationals is an analysis of foreign visa policies. Indeed, visa policy is  one arena where the proverbial rubber meets the road: the difficulty of obtaining a visitor visa is inversely proportional to the degree of trust and respect accorded to a people. In the extreme cases, countries can simply enact a blanket refusal to grant visas to citizens of a particular country; this is what Netherlands has recently done to Pakistan.

The article below is telling in four regards: (a) the serious safety concerns of Western countries about their consular staff in Pakistan that has forced them to relocate visa offices abroad; (b) the dramatic increase in difficulty of obtaining visas to Western countries, especially those regarded as “Friends of Democratic Pakistan”; (c) the pathetic treatment meted out to Pakistanis by their so called “brotherly Muslim” countries, such as Indonesia and Kuwait; and (d) the increasing reluctance of China – still regarded as the greatest of Pakistan’s allies – to accept Pakistani citizens.

In brief, the current visa regimen is a wakeup call for Pakistan’s Establishment to improve the country’s image in international circles by making genuine policy changes at home as well as to realize the foolhardiness of fostering public belief in Ummah (ie. “community” of Islamic nations) at the expense of national self-reliance and self-pride.

[Pakistanis make new visa history; DAWN; Murtaza Razvi; 8 October, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

Consider if the following scenario rings a bell: Long queues of visa seekers outside foreign missions in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore; public hue and cry at inadequate facilities in the make-shift waiting areas; foreign missions at pains to improve the amenities, sheepishly raising visa processing fees after duly informing the public in the national print media. Then, when your turn finally came at the counter, a few intimidating questions were asked before you were told, “You’re lying”, and refused the visa, while granting the right to appeal with additional documents required with the application the next time round. Unsuspected applicants were not grilled at all and politely told to come back in the afternoon to collect their passports with the visa stamped.

This was the norm throughout the mid-1980s and the 90s. Before that most countries, except our best friends-in-need in the Gulf, stamped your passports upon arrival at a port of entry. And now the rude update: most western foreign missions have scrapped their consular sections altogether; a few have just retained a scaled down presence in Islamabad only. Of those that do, most do not wish to see you enter their premises; they require that you file your application along with a long list of documents, including bank account/property ownership details, proof of travel and health insurance, medical test reports from designated laboratories only, etc. with a courier service provider. You are told not to bother calling the embassy to check the status of your application as they dont have enough staff to handle such queries.

There’s no telling if or when you will get your visa. The wait can be excruciating and long. Others, including the UK, have relocated their consular sections outside Pakistan, where the wait is even longer. Even getting a visa does not mean a smooth sailing at the entry point. You are likely to be grilled further when you land at a foreign shore. Most require you to have a transit visa even if youre landing in their country to change planes without having to go through immigration.

This more or less is the norm with most countries President Zardari has decorated as “Friends of Democratic Pakistan”. Those outside the FoDP have enacted their own rules. Take Indonesia, for instance. Jakarta has scrapped all tourist visa for Pakistanis applying to visit Indonesia from a third country where they may be residing for a few months. An applicant needs a personal guarantor who must go in person to the ministry concerned in Jakarta to explain why he/she may be inviting a Pakistani to Indonesia. The same guarantor is then required to be present at the port of arrival. Only Pakistani and Iraqi nationals are extended this special courtesy by the brotherly Muslim nation. The rest can come and go as they please. Cambodia also requires a personal guarantor for visiting Pakistanis.

Here, certain other oddities also come to mind: Brotherly Islamic countries like Kuwait, for instance, can impose an extended, complete ban on visa to Pakistanis from time to time. Holland has followed suit of late. The Islamic Republic of Iran can require you to know your azaan, prayer and a few compulsory ablutionary rituals, the significance of certain suras and terms used in the Quran, etc. A visa officer was furious when a friend sought a tourist visa, and was told that Iran had no night clubs so they didnt want any dirty tourists going there. The “Country of the Imam of the Time” only accepts God-fearing, pious pilgrims to its many shrines. Syrians, on the other hand, can be equally furious if you ask for a tourist map or information. “Only Zionist terrorists require a map of Syria!” you can well be told. China, with whom our friendship runs deeper than the Indian Ocean and higher than the Himalayas, has an equally menacing visa regime for the increasingly Muslim Pakistanis.

The full article is available at: http://blog.dawn.com/2009/10/08/pakistanis-make-new-visa-history/

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I cannot emphasize enough the importance of identity for an individual as well as a nation. In fact, identity has been so central to human existence throughout history – whether in the form of religious, cultural, ethnic, racial, mythical, martial, and/or political beliefs – that we take it for granted. It is part and parcel of our natural existence. Moreover, national identity – which is very much a component of the individual identity of every citizen of that country – is forged over a protracted period of time.

To my mind, a people’s ability to shape its future is greatly influenced by their collective identity as it alone determines national perspectives, priorities, and policies. Consider the political evolution of North and South America. Both were settled at the same time, but by two distinct people… with very different identities. The English had a history of rule-of-law, representative democracy, and public accountability while the Spaniards were used to an absolute monarchy with limited public responsibility. As a result, none of the South American countries developed a governing culture of responsibility towards and accountability to the public. Even Spain – the original conquistador – didn’t become a democracy till around 1975!

Coming to the Subcontinent: (a) India may have been born as a modern state in 1947 but it is heir to a civilization going back thousands of years. The identity of modern India is very much rooted in that rich civilizational history; (b) Pakistan was carved out of India in a most bloody manner. Its identity is thus based on a rejection of its Indian heritage and a celebration of the necessity of Partition. As Jaswant Singh stated memorably in his biography of Jinnah: “Our ‘past’ has, in reality, never gone into the past, it continues to reinvent itself, constantly becoming our ‘present’.”

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Given my numerous posts on Pakistan’s identity crisis, I think it is important that I propose a definition of identity as well as explain its evolution.

To me, national identity is the sum total of religious, cultural, political, social, philosophical, mythological, and ideological beliefs. An individual’s identity consists of a set of beliefs specific to that person; national identity is a part of it. In particular, an individual’s identity is to a considerable extent molded by his upbringing, education, traits, interests, and experiences. With identity thus defined, we have to acknowledge the role of time as national and personal identities are not static. Moreover, evolution of a personal identity can be far more rapid than national identity, given appropriate growth opportunities.

Still another important point to keep in mind is the convergence of core beliefs [ie. core identities] among closely related racial, religious, and/or cultural groups. European nations are a prime example. Spaniards are now as much a sponsor of liberal, representative democracy as the English…even though they were late by several hundred years. As another example, the EU – despite its tremendous diversity – is very keen on preserving “European civilization” (loosely defined as the bequest of ancient Greece and Rome) from “outsiders”, especially of the Islamic and non-white variety. Hence the consternation among Europeans at Turkey’s potential admission to the EU.

As a concrete example of evolution of individual identity, consider my case. I was born and raised in Pakistan before coming to the US for college. My educational, professional, social, and cultural experiences in my adopted homeland have had a deep impact on me. For example, despite the rational and tolerant nature of my parents, it was only when I started living in the United States did I begin appreciating a liberal, secular, and progressive society. The amazing diversity of the American society has helped me develop a cosmopolitan outlook and I have also internalized American values of freedom of expression, rule of law, creativity, and respect for hard work.

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As is well documented in history, the overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims are Hindus who converted to Islam. (In my opinion, most of the conversions were for economic reasons). So, it is not surprising that vestiges of Hindu heritage are to be found in the Muslim names:  Malik, Butt, Rana, and Chaudhry are just some of the better known examples.

Having said that, please note that such names are not viewed as “Hindu” in Pakistani society (despite their obvious Hindu origins). Rather, they are  regarded as part and parcel of “normal” Muslim names among various ethnic and cultural clans in the country. For example, Chaudhry is common among Punjabis while Butt is prominent among Kashmiris.

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I believe Pakistan has an entrenched conspiracy theory culture that prevents discussion on required policy changes and implementation of necessary corrective actions. Unless this conspiratorial mindset is checked, the country has absolutely no hope of saving itself from certain ruin.

Posted below is an interview of as well as an article by famed journalist Nadeem Paracha on Pakistan’s conspiracy theory culture.

[A nation of sleepwalkers; Nadeem F. Paracha; DAWN; November 12th, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

What else can one expect from a society living in a curiously delusional state of denial, gleefully mistaking it as “patriotism” and “concern.” It seems no amount of proof will ever be enough to dent Pakistanis’ resolve to defend the unsubstantiated, wild theories that they so dearly hold in their rapidly shrinking heads. Take for instance the recent case of a famous TV anchorman who visited a devastated area in Peshawar that was bombed by a remote-controlled car bomb. He talked to about 10 people at the scene. More than half of the folks interviewed spouted out those squarely unproven and thoroughly clichéd tirades about RAW/CIA/Mossad being the “real perpetrators” and that “no Muslim is capable of inflicting such acts of barbarity.”

A friend of mine who was also watching this hapless exhibition of the usual top-of-mind nonsense suddenly announced that he wanted to jump in, hold these men by the arms, and shake them violently so they could be “awoken from their dreadful sleepwalking state.” Pakistanis routinely continue to deny the fact that the monsters who are behind all the faithful barbarism that is cutting this country into bits are the mutant product of what our governments, military, intelligence agencies, and society as a whole have been up to in the past 30 years or so. Well, this is exactly what happens to a society that responds so enthusiastically to all the major symptoms of fascist thought. Symptoms such as powerful and continuing nationalism; disdain for the recognition of human rights; identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause; supremacy of the military; obsession with national security; the intertwining of religion and government; disdain for intellectuals and the arts; an obsession with crime and punishment, etc.

Have not the bulk of Pakistanis willingly allowed themselves to be captured in all the macho and paranoid trappings of the above-mentioned symptoms of collective psychosis. It clearly smacks of a society that has been ripening and readying itself for an all-round fascist scenario. This is the scenario some among us are really talking about when they speak of “imposing the system of the Khulfa Rashideen” or shariah, or whatever profound buzzwords adopted to explain Pakistan’s march towards a wonderful society of equality and justice? Words that mean absolutely nothing, or systems and theories either based on ancient musings of tribal societies or on glorified myths of bravado.

I felt bad for the few bystanders at that Peshawar bombing site who kept contradicting their more gung-ho contemporaries by reminding them that for months the shopkeepers where receiving threatening letters from the Taliban warning them that they should stop selling products for women and ban the entry of women in the area. One shop-owner who said he lost more than millions of rupees worth of goods in the blast was slightly taken aback when the anchor asked him who he thought was behind the bomb attack. For a few seconds he looked curiously at the anchor’s face, as if wondering why would a major TV news channel be asking a question whose answer was so obvious. “What do you mean, who was responsible?” he asked. “The Taliban, of course!”

Fasi Zaka wrote a scathing piece on the floozy response of some students who chanted slogans against the Kerry-Lugar Bill outside the freshly bombed Islamic University. He was battered with hate mail, even from those who did agree with him that it were the Taliban who bombed the unfortunate university. But these folks turned out to be even worse than the deniers. They are apologists of all the mayhem that takes place in the name of Islam in this country. Every time the barbarians set themselves off taking innocent men, women, and children with them, these apologists suddenly emerge to write letters to newspapers and try to dominate internet forums explaining the intricate “socio-economic problems” that are turning men into terrorists. Or worse – as is expected from reactionary news reporters like Ansar Abbasi – they will start giving details about the infidel targets that the terrorists were really after at the place of the attack.

Zaka told me that he got letters suggesting that the Taliban attacked the canteen of the Islamic University because “women students were not behaving and dressing according to Islam.” The state under Ziaul Haq had the Hudood Ordinance for such “loose women,” but now the Taliban have bombs for them. And mind you, those who were trying to justify the bombing in this respect at the University were “educated” young men and even women.

Recently, we also heard about a hijab-clad female student at the prestigious and “liberal” Lahore University of Management Sciences, who bagged her 15 minutes of fame by capturing images through her mobile phone of students indulging in “immoral activities” on campus. Of course, the same lady’s “concern” and righteousness ends at becoming a self-appointed paparazzi for the reactionaries, whereas it was young women (in hijabs) and men with beards who died so senselessly at the Islamabad Islamic University campus. Pathetic, indeed.

The full article is available at: http://blog.dawn.com/2009/11/12/a-nation-of-sleepwalkers/

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