A Thought Provoking Article

In the crowded field of “South Asian Analysts”, many of whom have excellent credentials — like managing to be born in Pakistan or better still, having managed to visit Pakistan within the past five years — how does one get noticed? By writing thought provoking articles of course! And “thought provoking” gentle readers, is synonymous with “contrarian”. Or for the clueless, “thought provoking” means to vehemently disagree with accepted wisdom. But “thought provoking” articles should be written with care. What you disagree with doesn’t matter as much as when you disagree with it: Timing is everything!

“So how long should I wait, and what should I wait for” you ask? Fikar not. The wait is usually a couple of weeks and the incident can be one of: Ahmedis getting massacred, Shias getting shot, Interior minister declaring that he will kill Blasphemers with his own bare hands, MNAs going underground for proposing amendments to Blasphemy laws, murderers getting garlanded or Judges running away to Saudi Arabia (you get the idea). That is the right opportunity for you to bust out your column “Why Pakistan is still largely a moderate country”.

Many have done this, and many more will do this in the future. To save time and effort for everyone, I present for your gentle consideration: The “Pakistan is a moderate country” column generator!! The formula itself is very simple: Riveting opening sentence, intriguing provocation of thought, religious mumbo jumbo, meaningless statistics, blame Zia, guilt out the west, demand money, cashmere or both.

So here it goes. The opening sentence should be riveting (choose one)

Pakistan is

  1. A country usually mentioned in the same breath as the Taliban.
  2. Viewed synonymously with Osama Bin Laden.
  3. Thought of as a cesspit of Blasphemy laws, Coups, Nuclear weapons and Jihadis

Most people will be tempted to end the article right here.

But dont!! Brave analyst, you should plod on!! Don’t forget that we aren’t stating facts, we are disagreeing with them! The second sentence should turn the premise around and be thought provoking (choose one):

But could it be

  1. That Pakistan is in fact a moderate, secular democracy founded on rule of law?
  2. That the problems commonly associated with Pakistan started only as recently as 1947?
  3. Nothing but propaganda by Zionist-RAW-CIA controlled western press? 
  4. That the problems facing Pakistan are completely misconstrued?

Now these two sentences set up the right platform to stake your credentials as a Pakistani. “But I don’t know anything about the core cultural zeitgeist of the country!” you say? Not to worry. Nobody reading your column does either. The trick is to act confident and informed (choose one):

  1. The religious violence in Pakistan is perpetrated by a small minority of Wahhabis while the bulk of the country follows the Berelvi sect of Islam known for its tolerance and plurality (Please DO NOT mention that Qadri was a Berelvi).
  2. Most people visit the graves of mystic saints who were clean shaven.
  3. The call for prayers co-exist with vibrant cultural scenes in Karachi, with girls in tight jeans under their shuttlecock burkhas, art festivals, book readings (inside well fortified, double cavity searched British consulate, but it is best not mentioned here).

Next is the time for some statistics (choose one)

The so-called conservative Pakistanis:

  1. Overwhelmingly vote for secular parties with less than 10% voting for religious parties.

Where are my choices you ask? YOU MORON!! YOU DONT HAVE A CHOICE!! THIS STATISTIC SHOULD BE MENTIONED IN EVERY ARTICLE ARGUING THAT PAKISTAN IS MODERATE!! Now that we are past statistics, go on to blame Zia (choose one):

It was Zia who:

  1. Started a process of Islamization of the society
  2. Declared Ahmedis to be non-Muslims*
  3. Stopped PTV anchors from dressing up stylishly in sarees

Next is guilt trip!

And Zia was co-opted by the west for their Jihad against the Soviets. (To be mentioned in every article)

The next is the clincher

So what should the west do?

  1. They should support the fledgling democracy in Pakistan with adequate economic support.
  2. Strike a grand bargain involving Cashmere for peace in Afghanistan to demonstrate their seriousness among ordinary Pakistanis.
  3. Encourage close economic linkages with the west through a liberal visa regime, relaxed trade quotas and co-operation in the nuclear field.

(Choose ALL of them).

So putting it all together, here is an example of “Pakistan is a moderate country” column I put together:

Pakistan is a country usually mentioned in the same breath as the Taliban. But could it be that Pakistan is in fact a moderate, secular democracy founded on rule of law? The religious violence in Pakistan is perpetrated by a small minority of Wahhabis while the bulk of the country follows the Berelvi sect of Islam known for its tolerance and plurality. The so-called conservative Pakistanis overwhelmingly vote for secular parties with less than 10% voting for religious parties. It was Zia who started a process of Islamization of the society. And Zia was co-opted by the west for their Jihad against the Soviets. For a safe and secure future of the world, the west should support the fledgling democracy in Pakistan with adequate economic support. Strike a grand bargain involving Cashmere for peace in Afghanistan to demonstrate their seriousness among ordinary Pakistanis and encourage close economic linkages with the west through a liberal visa regime, relaxed trade quotas and co-operation in the nuclear field.

Please submit your “Pakistan is a moderate country” in western press!!

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*It was actually ZAB who declared Ahmedis to be non-muslims, but remember that we are disagreeing with facts here, not stating them!

Pakistan and Indonesia are Different Countries

The perceptive Sadanand Dhume in his article “A Model for Pakistans Revival” draws parallels between Pakistan and Indonesia, and uses the dramatic transformation of Indonesia as a reason for optimism and the way forward in South Asia. Dhume cites the current stability and prosperity in Indonesia and points out:

Consider the parallels between yesterday’s Indonesia and today’s Pakistan. Sukarno’s Indonesia was the region’s problem child: unhappy with its borders, tilted toward an authoritarian power (China), and infested by a totalitarian ideology (communism). Today Islamabad pursues so-called strategic depth in Afghanistan and won’t quite abandon obsolete ambitions in Indian Kashmir. It leans toward “all-weather friend” China even as its economy stagnates and radical Islam eats away at society and the state.

 While at first look the similarities are uncanny, the example cited is not remarkable: If one wants to cite examples of poorly governed countries with poor economies turning around, there is South Korea. If you want the example of a Muslim country which turned its economy around, it could be Saudi Arabia in the 60s and 70s. An example of a Muslim country without oil achieving this feat could be Turkey. Essentially what I am arguing is that such a parallel between Pakistan and Indonesia does not quite capture the very basis of all that ails Pakistan: Her identity which will cause a perpetual instability in the eastern border and her geography which will cause a perpetual instability in her western border. On the subject of Identity:

Commentators who wish to explain Pakistan’s seemingly irrational behavior—Supporting the destabilization of Afghanistan and her affinity towards China*—frequently attribute it to Pakistan’s security anxieties vis-a-vis India. This is not an accurate explanation: Nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles have ruled out India-Pakistan wars of the magnitude which cleaved Bangladesh away from Pakistan. Therefore, possibility of conflicts which challenge the existence of Pakistan itself is ruled out and in this sense the conflict has stabilized. Then why does Pakistan still pursue avenues which give it strategic advantage over India? The only possible explanation would be the pursuit of India’s defeat rather than the pursuit of any guarantees of Pakistan’s survival. This is because:

Pakistan views herself as the ideological progeny of the Mughal empire, with an unfinished agenda of conquering the subcontinent. Abandoning this endeavour would mean accepting the eventual supremacy of India (simply due to her demographics and geographical area) which would be interpreted (in Pakistan) as the defeat of the religion itself. This is unthinkable. Furthermore, abandoning this identity of Pakistan is unthinkable. This is the first “circular” conundrum.

This is essentially what sets the India-Pakistan conflict apart from seemingly similar conflicts, and can end only with the ideological collapse of one of the adversaries — in this sense it resembles the US-Soviet cold-war conflict (which ended with the collapse of the USSR) than the Turkey-Greece or Egypt-Israel conflict (where the adversaries realized the futility of conflict and the economic advantages of peace). This is the first objection that I have towards Dhume’s prescription: Convincing Pakistan of the benefits of peace and working with her to de-radicalize her society and re-structure the economy to bring stability, would have as much success as attempting to talk the Soviet Union out of the Cold-war, by convincing the Soviet Union to abandon communism.

The “Convincing Pakistan of the benefits of peace” part is an order of magnitude harder than what US has achieved in Indonesia and elsewhere. In the pursuit of this “Convincing” strategy, US has failed in an even more dangerous way: She has armed Pakistan (to address the “insecurity vis-a-vis India” thesis), which will eventually serve as a catalyst for more conflict (due to the “defeat of India” pursuit) rather than less conflict.

The second part of Pakistan’s problem is her Geography. The land that is Pakistan today, has neither been a viable entity nor had peace with Afghanistan except during periods of economic linkages and power projection from the Gangetic Plain. Astute observers of history will not fail to notice the fact that:

Peace between Pakistan and a strong Afghanistan is possible only with a strong Pakistan-India military alliance. In the absence of this alliance, peace is possible only with a destabilized Afghanistan. However an Afghanistan under perpetual Pakistani hegemony is possible only with strong economy in Pakistan, which is impossible without strong economic linkages with India. This is the second “circular” conundrum.

Ergo, Pakistan is not Indonesia. Therefore, any solution to create stability in the region will not have “Sell the idea of economic prosperity to Pakistan” as the first step. If anything, Pakistan is the Gordian Knot, which can be cut only by a revolution inside Pakistan first — that too a revolution of the good kind. But this is no reason to abandon optimism. Being the optimist that yours sachly is, I will wait till the region collapses into a rubble and then rebuilds itself into a stable and viable entity.

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*Pakistan shares no common grounds or linkages with China on the basis of race, religion, values or geography (except of course the tiny strip of a perilous highway). The single point of convergence with China is the shared hostility towards India. Even there, both countries disagree about the magnitude of hostility. While China is content with an India that cannot drain her resources through economic and territorial challenges, Pakistan wishes to bet her very survival towards besting India.