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United we fall?

February 24, 2012

National security indeed is a matter of utmost concern for our civil-military establishment policy makers; it has been so since the heady days of Ayub Khan’s martial law of 1958, down to the 1999 coup d’etat, and straight on to last year’s Abbottabad raid by US Navy SEALs to the ‘Memogate’ scandal. And there has been consistent failure on the part of the same forces which are consumed by such concerns to safeguard national security — except when it comes to civilian rule when it is seen as acting against national security prerogatives.

These in turn, since 1948, have been defined as threat from India, to threat from Bengali nationalism, to threat from Pakhtun nationalism of yore, to Sindhi and now Baloch nationalism. The two constants in this threat perception of the defence officialdom have been India and the civilian, elected governments. America, via the Afghan endgame and Balochistan, is the latest parable that has been introduced into the threat perception list.

And just what (or who) are the safeguards against these multiple existential threats posed to the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan from these varying quarters from time to time?

A non-existent Nation of Islam, a proxy army of semi-literate, trained and untrained jihadi volunteers; and a professional, nuclear-armed army sworn to protecting the state’s ideological frontiers that extend into the strategic depths of Afghanistan. This has been and is the wherewithal of our national security regime, which overrides all others, notably rule of law through democratic institutions that would invest in human capital and through it into globally acceptable and sustainable norms of economic activity aimed at measurable progress. No wonder the failures are stunning. And there will always be a popular centrifugal force, with or without help from a foreign country to undo us.

Islam as a state ideology has failed to unite Pakistanis as a nation, because religion has not done so since the abolition of the classical Muslim Caliphate, which clearly had run its course centuries ago; or else Muslims from Morocco and Bosnia to Brunei and Indonesia would form a single nation state today. Turks and Arabs would not have fought amongst themselves wars of conquest, and of deceit, respectively, the latter in cohorts with Britain and France in the 20-century; last but not least, there is not even a concept of a single Arab Muslim nation, let alone one great Nation of Islam.

This is because people will be people, and no two communities’ much loved and practised Islamic ideals really match for them to embrace an umbrella divine law under which everyone can live happily ever after. It hasn’t happened and it won’t happen for a long time. Why? Because all so-called ‘divine law’ is based on the interpretation of the divine sources by fallible, albeit great men of learning, who too could not but disagree with one another in their own historical times and spaces.

Hence the long recognised, at least, four major fiqhs of the majority Sunni Muslim creed alone. Add to them the many Shia sects and fiqhs, and you complete the picture of Muslim practices and beliefs as they exist today outside the sealed and closed minds of Pakistan’s religious ideologues. And then there are this country’s equally bona fide non-Muslim citizens, and ethno-centric communities, some as big as to qualify as successful nation states, Bangladesh being a very potent example in recent history.

What, then, can hold Pakistan together? The armed forces with a nuclear arsenal, and an unquestionable sense of patriotism that relies on a common majority faith as a basis of a nation state? Or is it a well developed human capital where everyone gets what they deserve, and everyone regardless of their religious or ethnic identity, becomes an equal stakeholder in being united as one nation? Sadly, the latter possibility cannot become a reality unless we revisit the way we have been looking at ourselves and seeking a gel in the very substance that continues to divide us.

Whilst for the proud Baloch, there can be little contradiction between being Baloch and Muslim, there are nothing but contradictions between being Baloch and a Pakistani Muslim as per the state’s prescription. Faith in Islam has not held back either our very practising Muslim security forces and intelligence apparatus or the Baloch nationalists from torturing or killing those who they believe are working against their respectively and, at variance, defined national interest.

The state must shed the burden of its imposed ideology, which parochially defines its citizens’ Islamic identity whilst making it controversial at the same time. This in turn negates the people’s respective ethnic identities and their status as equal citizens of the state. Thus, we end up with supposedly more patriotic Punjabis and Mohajirs, and now Pathans joining their ranks, united only against the revolting Baloch. In 1971 the first mentioned three communities came together to hold the majority Bengali traitors; today they’re being steered to holding the minority Baloch as being equally inimical to what remains of Pakistan.


The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.