AS Pakistan’s problems multiply, publications on Pakistan receive a corresponding boost. Never before have so many books on the country hit the shelf. Hence an author has to come up with something really new to justify writing about the country. Not many can do it and that is why many books appear to be a rehashed version of the same old story. Seen from that perspective, Babar Ayaz’s book, What’s Wrong with Pakistan?, might at first glance appear to be a narrative of Pakistan’s history that one would take up with a yawn. But once you start reading it, you find a freshness of approach to the issues that have nagged historians for many years. More so, Ayaz’s focused style makes this book a compelling read. One may also call this a brave book. Ayaz minces no words in spelling out exactly what has happened in the subcontinent since the ’40s, which reflects poorly on the political judgment and strategy of our leaders who spearheaded the freedom movement. He is not afraid to call a spade a spade even when it runs against the current of conventional opinion. But so convincing is he that you are forced to listen and also agree with him. The underlying thesis of What’s Wrong with Pakistan? is simple but profound. After the uprising of 1857, two strands emerged in the Muslim politics of India. On the one hand were the ulema who were inspired by Shah Waliullah and looked towards Islam to create a framework for their political, social and economic life. The other strand was led by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and it turned to modernism to improve the life of the Muslims. Both these strands remained aloof from the majority Hindu community. The Muslim League turned to the religion card when it failed to win many seats in the Muslim majority provinces in the 1937 elections. It was thereafter that the two-nation theory was conceptualised to identify the Muslims as a separate nation and demand a separate homeland for them on that basis. “Pakistan was born with a genetic defect. Religious extremism and terrorism that Pakistan suffers from are the logical outcome of the communal politics of the pre-Independence movement (sic),” Ayaz writes. Ayaz goes on to demonstrate that initially Jinnah’s emphasis was primarily on the political and economic rights of the Muslims. His Fourteen Points did not focus on religion and he stressed provincial autonomy to safeguard the socio-linguistic identity of the people of different regions. Once Pakistan was created “the founders of Pakistan conveniently betrayed the basic objective of the whole movement,” he says. Instead of provincial autonomy, the state centralised all powers and the rhetoric that the Muslims of India were one nation swept aside the fact of Pakistan being a multi-ethnic and multi-structural society. The fear factor — Islam in danger — was used to impose the rule of a centralised state. Thereafter it became conventional to use Islam as a political tool. That, according to Ayaz, is what is wrong with Pakistan. All its ills can be traced to this malaise. The author is candid in showing how Jinnah too used religion for political ends and spoke of the “renaissance of the Islamic culture,” “deriving inspiration and guidance from the Holy Quran” and the Constitution “embodying the essential principles of Islam.” And all this was said by Jinnah, a highly secular man whose lifestyle was not at all orthodox. In fact, the author asks if Jinnah was intellectually dishonest. He gives no answer but concludes that he became victim to his own propaganda that was used to mobilise Muslim support. Similarly, Bhutto also played with religion, going to the extent of declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims. Later Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation policies made religion a key force in Pakistan’s politics. Thenceforth, was it surprising that extremism, militancy and jihad came to dominate all aspects of life in Pakistan? Throughout the book, Ayaz draws the reader’s attention to the fact that all the wrongs that can be identified as the underlying cause of Pakistan being a failed state can be attributed to the use of religion in politics. Ayaz identifies these ills as the failure to carry out economic reforms, a questionable defence strategy, the secession of East Pakistan, the tight-rope-walking in foreign policy, a high population growth rate, poor health status and failure in delivery in the education sector. In places the connection between these failures and extreme religiosity is stretched too far, especially when Ayaz himself admits that religious parties have never won more than 10 per cent of the votes cast in an election. Even the madrassahs account for a small percentage of student enrollment. Ayaz fails to explain this seeming contradiction. But it cannot be denied that the parties that do not have an Islamic nomenclature are also exploiting religion quite blatantly. The fact is that many factors are at work in this sorry situation. Failure of governance, corruption, lack of motivation, and above all, the failure to impart education of a high standard to the people have contributed to the malaise that has overtaken the country. More effective policies in the social sector could have, to an extent at least, neutralised the regressive impact of religion as it is interpreted here. The message of the book is a powerful one and one hopes it will be heeded. It contains a plea for a secularist approach, a change in foreign policy by seeking friendly relations with India, economic reforms and preserving democracy.
The reviewer is former assistant editor at *Dawn and writes a weekly column for the newspaper*
What’s Wrong with Pakistan? By Babar Ayaz Hay House, India ISBN 978-93-81431-59-7 364pp.