The Idea of Pakistan

Posted on March 27, 2009. Filed under: Public Square | Tags: , , |

Here’s a primer on a country that is already incredibly important to American affairs in South Asia, and the world for that matter.

You can attempt to understand the very idea of Pakistan and it’s existential qualms at Chapati Mystery, as they commemorate Pakistan Day 2009.

On March 23rd, Pakistan celebrates “Pakistan Day” to commemorate the Muslim League session in Lahore in 1940 at which Muhammad Ali Jinnah most crisply articulated a “Muslims are a nation’ ideology.

Jinnah builds upon twinned arguments: First that Muslims as a community had politically divergent goals and their historical specificity was inarguable. It was a strictly communitarian reading of history that forcefully argued away all notions of co-habitation, without once citing an example.

But, more interesting, was how he differentiated Muslim community in India from all other … [with the] notion of a “Muslim India within India” as a distinct polity.

Indeed Pakistan was set up to be the anti-India (not secular; unity not in diversity, but in Islam) as well as the home of South Asian Islam, distinct in its way to other Muslim countries. But those existential ideals, being religious because secularism “will not work”, and therefore forcing the populace to unite under one religion, has not turned out so great for the country.

We stand 62 years after independence with Pakistan a largely incoherent nation.

The disconnect between the government, the army, the people, the tribes and the militants has meant that they can neither unite under the two-state solution (Pakistan as the theological alternative to India), especially with a number of local insurgencies either to free themselves from the government (Baluchistan) or to become more radical (Swat). The two-state solution also unnecessarily makes Kashmir a bigger issue than it actually is, obscuring other more important problems between the two countries.

But uniting under Islam is also becoming problematic as the government and others try to fend off radical Islamism, and turn the public tide against the militants that are sometimes seen as fighting the good fight against America.

Still, that doesn’t mean everything’s all bad.

If one is to pick a unifying theme in these contrary forces in Pakistan’s short history, then Justice and the Rule of Law would be of singular importance. The movement, so-called Lawyers Movement, which was triggered in March 2007 is, by far, the most important and most successful in Pakistan’s history. It managed to remove Musharraf from military and civilian power, forced elections and, now, re-instated the Chief Justice. It is, I think, a singular opportunity to for Pakistan to undertake a serious re-consideration of its self-conception.

Will Pakistan, in the coming days, attempt such a re-working of its foundational ideology? Or are the centrifugal forces too strong by now? Has the moment to “solve Pakistan” already faded? I certainly hope not.

It is now simply another country in South Asia. It can lay claim to inheriting the Mughal (Muslim, I may point out) Empire, but so can India. It can claim oppression at the hand of the Brits, but so can India.

Without simplifying the issue, it’s almost as if it’s India-lite, the way Canada is to America.

Actually, scratch that, Nepal is our Canada, Pakistan is our Mexico. (Burma our Cuba, Bangladesh our Colombia?)

I haven’t oversimplified things with ridiculous analagies at all, have I?


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2 Responses to “The Idea of Pakistan”

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I think you draw on interesting themes on Pakistani identity; however you fail to pull on the historical nature of Muslim separatism with the fall of the Mughul Empire and followed by Hindu nationalism. Some thought to be sure.

This post is interesting, however, I admit as American born citizen I am pretty rusty on the historical events surrounding the Subcontinent. Nonetheless, I am doing my best to learn and make up for that.

From what I can gather, it seems as though India and Pakistan have shared many similar experiences throughout their their history. It also seems that religion is holding Pakistan’s government back and that this problem is more complex from separating church and state. Finally, it seems that India has almost a responsibility or vested a interest in keeping stability in its neighboring nation.

I look forward to learning more about these issues. Also I would love to here your thoughts on what would be the best resolution for this region. Best of luck!

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