Ayesha Jalal’s latest work is a reflective account of Pakistan’s contemporary history and the nascent effort by its citizens to reimagine Pakistan, free from military dominance and as a ‘more resilient federal union’. Much of Jalal’s account of Pakistan covers the skewed civilian-military balance within its state structure. Lord Mountbatten likened Pakistan’s creation to putting up a tent, not a permanent building nor a Nissen hut. ‘The proverbial tent’, writes Jalal, ‘has been metaphorically transformed into a sprawling military barrack.’
The Army’s dominance of Pakistan’s polity has been such that since the first coup in 1958, military dictatorships have ruled Pakistan for three-fifths of the next 56 years. During the remaining period, elected leaders have increasingly worked within margins determined by the Pakistan Army, especially in respect of Afghanistan, China, India, the United States, and the management of Pakistan’s strategic assets, which include favoured terrorist groups used as sub-conventional instruments to redress its perceived military weaknesses. The Pakistan Army is indeed responsible for much that is wrong with the country today, including its reputation for double-dealing, making Pakistan simultaneously ‘a victim and a springboard of the terror networks,’ according to Dr. Jalal. It is an army that manufactures its own enemies.
The Army’s dominance over civilian institutions, adds Jalal, was facilitated by ‘an insecurity complex based on fears of Indian hegemony.’ It is difficult to dispute her symptomatic description of modern day Pakistan, such as its ‘state sponsored Islamization,’ or as its reputation as ‘the epicenter of Muslim terrorism.’
Where Jalal falters is in suggesting that these flow from ‘the relentless collateral damage of the US-led wars against the Soviet Army and Al Qaeda,’ and that it was American funding of Islamist groups that gave the Afghan ‘jihad’ a global character, as if Pakistan made no contribution to it. She also attributes Pakistan’s ‘difficult postcolonial transition,’ to ‘an international system shaped by Cold War rivalries.’
On the contrary, Pakistan joined the U.S.-led military alliances in response to its own overtures and in its perceived interest. It was a willing partner and beneficiary of the Cold War alliances. A Pakistani military delegation conveyed to American counterparts in Washington in 1951 the country’s willingness to defend the Middle East, opening the doors to the sale of U.S. military equipment to Pakistan. A few years later, when Ayub Khan could not convince Eisenhower of India’s aggressive intent against Pakistan, Khan suggested that the United States must provision its military because the country to Pakistan’s West—Afghanistan—was not Muslim enough and could not be expected to stand up to the Sino-Soviet communist menace. Pakistan took sovereign decisions to enlist in SEATO and the Baghdad Pact and, post-2001, in Operation Enduring Freedom as a major non-NATO U.S. ally.
‘Pakistan is a visibly perturbed and divided nation,’ writes Jalal with anguish, with its people struggling with choices ‘ranging from an orthodox, religious state to a modern, enlightened one.’ According to her, it got entangled in ‘a fundamental conundrum’ concerning its Islamic identity soon after Independence.
By dissociating this, however, from the origins of Muslim nationalism in India, she skirts the causal connections for Pakistan’s predicament and its inability to define itself in any way other than as the Boolean opposite of India. Zia-ul-Haq’s contention that Islam was the sole reason for Pakistan’s creation might be simplistic. Equally so is Jalal’s view, insisting that Mohammed Ali Jinnah was seeking a united India, in which Muslims could live with equity, honour and dignity. ‘The demand for Pakistan’ she contends, ‘was intended to get an equitable, if not equal, share of power for Indian Muslims in an independent India.’ By way of evidence, she cites the ‘conspicuous omission’ of any reference to either Partition or Pakistan in Jinnah’s Presidential address at the Lahore Session of the Muslim League on 22nd March 1940, when the resolution for the establishment of a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India was passed. She then quotes Jinnah as publicly stating that it was the Hindu press that ‘fathered the word Pakistan upon us.’
To suggest that Jinnah was not wedded to the two-nation theory well before the creation of Pakistan is disingenuous. When Gandhi sought to encourage Jinnah to bring all non-Congress political currents under his leadership, hoping thereby that Jinnah’s inveterate opposition to the Congress might be re-based on a national rather than a religious platform, Jinnah rejected the idea. ‘Your premises are wrong,’ he wrote to Gandhi on 21st January 1940, ‘as you start with the theory of an Indian nation that does not exist.’ Again, on 6th March 1940, in an address to students at the Aligarh Muslim University, he rejected majoritarian democracy. ‘So far as I have understood Islam’ he said, ‘it does not advocate a democracy which would allow the majority of non-Muslims to decide the fate of the Muslims.’
In his 1940 Lahore speech Jinnah underlined, in effect, that Hindus and Muslims were not destined to ever live together. ‘The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literature,’ he said: ‘They neither intermarry, nor interdine together and indeed they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions….’ He then further asserted: ‘Musalmans are a nation according to any definition of a nation and they must have their homeland, their territory and their State.’ Later the same year, in a public meeting in Karachi, he insisted that Pakistan and the Lahore resolution were not two different ideas. Neither was the resolution a bargaining counter, he told a London newspaper. It was, said Jinnah, ‘a deliberated and determined demand on behalf of Muslim India.’ There is little evidence that these statements were acts of dissimulation and must therefore be taken at face value.
Jalal rightly recognizes that Pakistan’s ‘self-proclaimed Islamic identity is yet to be reconciled with the imperatives of a modern nation state.’ The blame for the Islamization of Pakistan, in her account, lies by implication either with the Americans or with the Army.
Actually, Islamism in Pakistan was first nourished by the deportment of its political elites. It is only much later that Zia-ul-Haq took full advantage of it. The passage of the Objectives Resolution in 1950 cast Pakistan in an Islamic mould. It enjoined establishment of a framework wherein ‘the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.’ This was embedded in the Preamble of Pakistan’s first Constitution in 1956 and has featured as a basic part of every Constitution thereafter. Part IX of its present Constitution states, ‘All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam, and no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such Injunctions.’
It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who persuaded Parliament to declare Qadiyanis as non-Muslims and had the Constitution so amended. Zia’s declaration of Nizam-e-Mustafa or the Islamic system of law naturally followed, as did the application of the Islamic laws of Apostasy and Blasphemy, and the systematic targeting in Pakistan of Shia professionals and community leaders.
Blaming the Army for all the ills of Pakistan extends also to Jalal’s account of the liberation of Bangladesh. The ‘historical evidence’ for the debacle, she writes, ‘must go decisively against Yahya Khan and his senior military associates in the NSC,’ thereby whitewashing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s culpability. Finding himself in a minority in the National Assembly, Bhutto threatened to ‘break the legs’ of any People’s Party legislator attending the Assembly session scheduled on 3rd March 1971. He rejected the idea that Bengali legislators could determine the future of Pakistan and encouraged the genocidal military repression of the citizens of East Pakistan that began on 25th March. On returning to Karachi from Dhaka the next day, he declared: ‘By the grace of Almighty God, Pakistan has at last been saved.’
Trained in the western liberal tradition, Jalal reposes faith in the resilience of the people of Pakistan. Its civil society has gained strength by its courage and sacrifices. Almost 100 journalists have been assassinated in Pakistan in the past dozen years. In 2013, for the very first time since independence, Pakistan had a post-election democratic transition. Jalal believes the Pakistan Army has been compelled to ‘accommodate’ rather than ‘control’ the political process and there might be ‘a potential turning point’ in Pakistan’s ‘entanglement with terrorism.’
Pakistan’s well-wishers share Jalal’s hopes that democratic revival can alleviate its ‘extreme distress’. It is perhaps a fair assessment in her eminently readable, even if in parts flawed account, that ‘the battle for the soul of Pakistan does not yet have a clear winner.’ Pakistan’s potential transformation can help redefine both its identity and place in the world.
Jayant Prasad currently is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, and Advisor at the Delhi Policy Group.