Thursday, April 23, 2009

Abdicating to Taliban

Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation.

While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea.

Religion has enormous value in our lives. Modern lives. There is an increasing gap in our lives - created and left open by 24x7 material pursuit - which must be filled by religion. However, religion has not proved to be as useful in filling the idea gaps in a modern state. Its history has mostly been divisive. Religion as the basis of a state needed the state to impose a religious identity - primarily and suppressively - on all its citizens, and that essentially contradicts, and undermines, and competes with, the idea and the identity of the nation that must be built. As we see now, Pakistan struggled to reconcile this essential flaw in its core idea.

Let's go back to history and see where the first 'existential' threat to Pakistan came from. It came from a rather simple decision to adopt Urdu as its state language. It was logical, somewhat. The language spoken in the capital of Pakistan, Rawalpindi, was Urdu. Urdu was an Indian language [the court language of the North Indian state of Awadh], which was spoken by the elite mussalmans all over the subcontinent. It was written in Arabic script. It was consistent with the idea of Pakistan as the homeland of South Asian Muslims.

The only problem was over half the people in what was then Pakistan did not speak any Urdu. These were Bengali farmers in East Pakistan, who were numerous and fought as much for the idea of Pakistan. For the Bengali farmers, the idea of Pakistan meant freedom - from serfdom to the Hindu Landlords - but it did not mean giving up their language. Of course, the Bengali middle class in East Pakistan took the lead, and it became the Bhasa Andolon, or the Language movement. The Pakistani government eventually backtracked [though after making numerous, essentially stupid suggestions, including the adoption of Arabic script in Bengali language, because the script currently used to write Bengali is derived from Sanskrit, language of Hindu scriptures]. But they created a chasm which was never bridged again, and finally the East Pakistan ceded from the union after a bloody struggle and became the independent nation of Bangladesh.

From that day, the idea of Pakistan as freedom, for millions of Muslims in South Asia, was irretrievably lost. It returned to the core idea - a Muslim homeland - and struggled with it. It was surely not the Muslim homeland in South Asia when there are more Muslims in India, living with dignity and pride [at least till we let Gujrat riots happen in 2002]. It is not a Muslim homeland when there are Muslims living in Bangladesh under a different flag and a different nationhood. It is just one of those places on earth who has to discover what it stands for.

Kashmir was a good thing to stand for. This Muslim majority Indian state is reeling under a privileged Hindu landowner class, and Pakistan, for a majority of Kashmiris, meant freedom. Afghanistan was a good thing to exist for, because one needed to throw out the godless Russian army and their agents for the freedom-loving Afghans. But, inside Pakistan, a great debate raged, often violently, whether freedom is indeed the central idea of Pakistan. It seemed not, as there was no freedom for Pakistanis themselves, and the state thrived on privileges of power and corruption.

So, it was easier for Pakistani rulers to define the state in the same old Islamic line. They had an Islamic homeland, and they built an Islamic bomb. It pursued Jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, a struggle to establish Islam, not to free those people from the tyranny of the privileged. Over four decades after Bangladesh, Pakistani rulers continued to chase the mirage of an Islamic state.

Agreed, Islam is one of the more political of the religions. But no modern state can be Islamic, as we live in a global world, and even if you don't subscribe to protestant practises, you need to reconcile with it. One needs prosperity and progress, and jobs, and Pakistan isn't any oil rich desert state which can keep bribing its 150 million people from thinking. So, the idea of the modern state and the core idea of the nation was scheduled to collide, as it did now.

Pakistan is a failed state. Ironically among failed states, it is not about government efficiency. It is that the idea of the state did not work. Even if we find an inspirational leader today [which is unlikely, given the web of corruption and privilege], Pakistan is difficult to fix. Because, there is no clear answer to what Pakistan stands for.

Hillary Clinton said - Pakistani government is abdicating to Taliban. She did not notice, they did that long time back. What do you think of a government which harboured criminals for three decades, discriminated and terrorized its own citizens, fired lawyers en mass, and built a secret service trained to recruit and equip and send terrorists to other countries? Yes, it kept the veil of a modern state, but indulged in anti-modern practises while the world watched. In the name of geopolitics, just like those old backroom colonialists, the policymakers in Western Capitals indulged in their little secret game - keep Pakistan burning.

So, Pakistan is burning now. World's problem is that it is not a Sudan or a Chad or a Congo, which can be forgotten. This is a nuclear state, right in the middle of the world's most happening region. But, then, this fix has to start from the idea of Pakistan. And, as far as we see, the world has very little to offer there.

1 comment:

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