In the BBC Hard Talk interview aired on January 5 January 2011, Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer, national security official to Presidents Clinton and Bush, and adviser to President Obama on Afghanistan and Pakistan announced that Pakistan is the most dangerous country on earth, it has more terrorists per square kilometer than anywhere else alongside the worlds fastest growing nuclear arsenal. He went on to advocate a selective targeting of rogue members of the Pakistani administration and Inter services Intelligence (ISI) who are supportive of the Taliban. This hard talk has become extremely urgent in the face of overwhelming awareness of the unprecedented civilian casualties that the indiscriminate drone attacks have wreaked in the last half of 2010 alone, more than the destruction caused during the entire Bush regime.
Coming on the heels of the assassination of Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Punjab, it gives added credence to the spectre of the divided house that is Pakistan, both fighting and fomenting Jihad, giving the gullible Americans a slip for all the money they pump in.
The creation of the AfPak paradigm with gun running Islamic jihadis seems all too enticing and captivating to be dismantled in a hurry. The Granta Pakistan 112 (Spring 2010) takes the AfPak concept of Pakistan, tweaks it around a little, from its pejorative ideological definition rooted in US foreign policy to elaborate a more cosmopolitan entity that has always existed civilizationally as it were. For instance, in Road to Chitral, a piece available in the online version, the charm of this model becomes all too palpable, even though it means projecting a Pakistan forever teetering on the brink of civilizational collapse, or one that is poised for selfdestruction/suicide. Azhar Abidi, the author seeks to find the year zero, when the cycle of violence began, but concludes that there is in fact no such originary moment:
Alexander the Great rampaged through Afghanistan in 330 B.C.; Genghis Khan laid waste to it in 1221. Timur (Tamburlaine of Marlowe) was drawing blood there five hundred years before Queen Victoria. After that, it was Brezhnevs turn, followed by Tony Blair and Bush, et al. Perhaps there is no year zero.
One can understand why this Afghanistan connection might be seen as offering a more comfortable historic span to the idea of Pakistan, defying as it were the shorter history by comparison, which is suggested by the birth of Pakistan as a twinned nationstate with India, where India invariably figured as the eternally more ancient and primordial partner. According to the editor, John Freeman, Granta Pakistan was meant to avoid representational traps the Pakistanis feel and that you see in the media. Like all Granta issues devoted to countries, it was meant to be a literary evocation of a place and the people, a record of their anxieties and emotions. The literary span of the magazine however does not wander too far from the geopolitical obsessions of US foreign policy, mirroring them more than refracting them. If there is refraction, it is in an attempt to claim, as with most postcolonial writing in English, a world citizenry status for themselves.
But, as Timothy Brennan (Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism, NLR 7, JanFeb 2001) explains, the bid for cosmopolitanism is not the same as internationalism. Internationalism would require the working class and its labour to be as cosmopolitan as the middle class intellectuals who are writing for this volume. It is not enough to recognize a plurality and heterogeneity. What is called for is a historicization of the material dimensions of cultural difference. The geopolitically determined status of Pakistan of course makes it very difficult for its literatti and intellectual class to flex triumphalist in the manner of their Indian counterparts, as evidenced in the Granta volume devoted to the Indian golden jubilee year in 1997. Brand Pakistan in contrast, as the ironic bunch of writers asserts in their spoof on How to write about Pakistan is precisely about the opposite effect- a horror genre, meant to scare the shit out of you. Are the writers able to historicize this turn to horror in their selfrepresentation What are the terms in which they outline the inequalities between the marginal ethnic and tribal populations (the bulk of the writings in this volume are about subaltern others) and their own selfethnography, the bridge between the two constituting the preferred mode of writing institutionalized in Granta?
The anthology format of Granta is an ironic platform, both meant to introduce fresh talent with the suggestion of raw, untapped resources, as well as to nudge the writers towards an idea of literary openness which is nevertheless prefabricated. To be published in Granta is to be in league with Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. How can writers fight the urge to violate these literary protocols given the severe temptations of cultural and economic capital inscribed therein To an extent, the writing that we savour in Granta is both new and a mimicry of the new, super conscious of its radical newness. However, the emphasis on the radically new is not so much about the content, but seen in terms of style and more pertinently, the methods of selffashioning. In so far as the literary talents are mostly taken from the world of English writing, the contributions take on a commodified quality since the English linguistic and literary market commands the highest price. In Uzma Aslam Khans Ice Mating, the male protagonist becomes conscious of the diminishing of his pleasure in his lovers body the moment she (a second generation Pakistani in the US) starts taking pleasure in the crosscultural (read unequal) love situation. Also he realizes that he is disturbed by her identification of Pakistan as her past, when it holds no memory for her in the way that it holds for him. The appropriation of his past then becomes the reason for their eventual estrangement. Thus it is not enough that the cover for the volume is a bright cheerful metal paint frieze done by truck and bus folk artist Islam Gull, since the history of that folk tradition only serves to enhance the cosmopolitan aspirations of the globally situated English writers. Let us see how these folk and subaltern realities have been appropriated here.
Leila in the Wilderness, Sins of the mother, and Mangho Pir are narratives set around the border regions with subaltern protagonists and folkloric rhythms. It is easy to weave a magic realist vein that will dignify and reconcile these suppressed ethnic and tribal lives beset by violence and superstition to the political reality of AfPak. While the reworking of the Laila Majnu story in Leila assumes a trite Bollywoodish predictability in so far as the social reality of female infanticide and female battery are captured through a childhood romance between soul mates. In Sins of the Mother, the trope of honour killing is nuanced in a different way. The debutant author Jamil Ahmed who is a civil servant in the frontier areas resists the lure of the magic realist and the mystifications of love; instead he focuses on the larger fabric of compassionate soldiers, the avenging father who condemns the sonin law for having driven his daughter to sin, and the orphaned son in the wilderness who wants to become a tribal chief, his ambition seen as necessarily tragic. Fatima Ali Bhuttos piece Mangho Pir similarly is about the sheedis, the African or Habshi tribals who form the meanest rung of Pakistani society even as they hold the keys to the sufi shrines that are most therapeutic. Far from portraying them as merely victims, she foregrounds their political and politicized identities. In contrast to the layered narratives, the two foreign journalists (Jane Perlez on Jinnah and Declan Walsh on the frontier states) invariably create a portrait of the frontier as manned by typical landed aristocrats educated in Cambridge, but totally following the atavistic principles of the tribal badlands, their Pashtunwali or Pashtun code of honour forcing them into fraternal wars with the Taliban forces. Most telling is the way the focus of the foreign journalists lingers on the ruling class, since this is their only source material. If the drone attacks are mentioned at all, it is only to explain their instrumentalization by the internecine wars.
But Lorraine Adams along with Ayesha Nasir in The Trials of Faisal Shahazad, the Times Square wouldbe bomber, takes the gaze neatly away from the internal stew of the calamitous frontier, and turns it upon the imperial subjects who have been doing so much of the controlling. Thus the subprime housing mortgage crash becomes a very urgent motivation in the intensification of the terror scheme. Evidently, it is the only piece in the Granta volume which disturbed New York reviewer Issac Chotiner to dub it a glib reduction to American foreign policy. Implicit and internal critiques can be handled and approved, especially those like Shamsies and Hamids since their cosmopolitanism always comes with an element of selfincrimination. Even Basharat Peer sounds a cautious note in his incrimination of the Indian state, echoing the despair of the expatriate in the title he gives to his piece namely Kashmirs Forever War. He can be forgiven for developing cold feet over his inclusion in an anthology on Pakistan. But what do we make of his understanding of the peace process in early 2000s as an unproblematic intervention by American and British diplomatic efforts
Butt and Bhatti, a story of love in its full banality and violence by Mohammad Hanif is able to capture the homology of Pakistan as overdetermined and at the same time, does it in such a way that the landscape and people in the story are not easily recognizable as being in Pakistan. Both the protagonists have western/Christian names, the hospital is a neutral space. The colonels colony is paradoxically the only marker of a postcolonial state. It would be hard to find a colony in a metropolitan country.
The crisis of masculinity in a nation which is driven by machismo and the honour ethic is thus returned to again and again by the different writers, even as they occupy foreign lands and seek to possess foreign ladies. This return of the national via the route of a besieged masculinity within an overarching cosmopolitan framework thus provides simultaneously a delightful and horrific impasse. At the same time, identifying it and talking about it provides a cultural escape route. In other words, as Brennan might say, a modern consciousness compensates for an actual backwardness. It is a worldview in which, while the nation is declared obsolete, the state is progressively strengthened in all its repressive and policing measures; a world in which there is unprecedented mobility of capital, but the strictest restriction on the mobility of labour. It seems that for the most part, Granta Pakistan succumbs to the imperial charms of a cosmopolitan or transnational vision where differences are going to substitute for equality. In this vision, we can have a diffused antiAmericanism, unrooted in any national boundary, since that national offensive can only begin to look like a Taliban or AlQaeda formation. But the antistate resistance movements of lawyers, womens groups and students is grounded and possible only within those very same national frontiers. There is no trace of this oppositional and valuable nation within the pages of this Granta!
Nandini Chandra is Assistant Professor in the Department of English,University of Delhi.