Instability and Resilience
Penguin Random House India in association with Caravan Magazine hosted Christophe Jaffrelot for the book launch of his majestically scholarly work, The Pakistan Paradox at India International Center on Lodhi Road, New Delhi on June 4th. The chief guest for the evening was Honourable Vice President of India, Shri M Hamid Ansari. Shri C Raja Menon was in conversation with the author.
The Pakistan Paradox is a book beyond contemporary Pakistan. It brings to light a detailed account of the 1940s – a decade that shaped Pakistan – and explains both sides of the history, both pre and post-partition. The real history of this period is yet to be written, the author said.
Origins of Partition
Initiated by a group of select Urdu-speaking Muslims who wished for a state to govern, today Pakistan suffers the divisive forces of various separatist movements and religious fundamentalism, even conflicting version of Islam. It’s current state is very indicative of the hurriedness with which the then leaders carried out their actions. The debates that were conducted then at the elite levels, needless to say, failed to take into consideration the voice of the community.
The notion of parity that existed in the 1940s was clear-cut. It was assumed then that Congress voiced for the Hindus who were then the majority and Jinnah and his party for the minorities. Jinnah wanted a nation for his people and people from other minorities. Communal identity took more precedence than social identity then.
But now, looking back at the decade, we can’t help but think that the Partition was a grave mistake, Christophe said. The region of Sindh – back then and even now – have had no separatist movements whatsoever. Who really wanted it then?
Now, a small entrenched elite continues to dominate the country’s corridors of power, and democratic and legal institutions remain weak. The 1940s predetermined Pakistan’s trajectory into the future.
The second part of the book focuses on the civil-military relationship as they exist in Pakistan. It is unclear here who the flag bearers of democracy are: is it the civilian population or the military?
They had been times in the past when Pakistan experienced a golden age under a benevolent dictator. Then there were also times when a certain section of the civilian population rose up in a blaze of rebellion and set up a system totally undemocratic by modern standards. There had also been short moments of unity.
In modern day Pakistan, the regime is democratic – there are elections, there is a legitimate influence from the media. But the poor are till resigned under the military. There is a huge societal demand for authority, but none capable enough to take the lead. None there that don’t weigh the country down to the extremes.
A Crosshair on the Future
The Pakistan Army is so entrenched in the fabric of Pakistan that it can’t help but play a part in the shaping of Pakistan’s future. The reason for this is surprisingly strange – it is economic.
Pakistan Army is an industry, Christophe said. It has got lands and companies beyond the immediate realms of military needs which during the peak of Cold War attracted both the US and the Soviet Union. It was a perfect haven for a rapid expansion to the Indian subcontinent. It was US who eventually succeeded, but at a cost. The militarization of the Middle East has given rise to Islamic extremist forces who still continue to wreck havoc in the region.
Oblivious to all this is India, whose mutual ignorance with Pakistan in spite of their shared history and legacy has the subcontinent in a state of political checkmate with neither side having any considerable advantages. With the announced withdrawal of US, Pakistan has no option but to rely on China, thereby tightening the rope around India’s neck – The Kashmir.
The political blindness that covers the subcontinent has prevented either country from seeing the isolated, yet substantially influential, forces of resilience taking form in Pakistan. The Army is one of them, Christophe says. The second is the Judicial System, and the third is Media. These forces have had tremendous impact in the recent years, Christophe pointed out, but the end result might not be a full fledged democracy. Even if it is, it will only come at a time when even Prime Ministers don’t matter.
Another concern, not within the context of the book or the evening’s discussion, but one that Christophe believes will be a catalyst that either makes or breaks Pakistan, is the ecological condition of the terrain there and the looming water problem. It is not very clear what would happen then, but what is clear is the fact that Politics would always matter in Pakistan and the future is ours to make.