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On Shaping The History Of Pakistan

By Tahir Qazi, MD

14 August, 2010

The 14th of August 2010 marks 63rd birthday of Pakistan. On the first day of August, the Ambassador of Pakistan to the US confidently announced on CNN, “When I go back to being a professor, I will certainly teach history but right now, I’m working along with my colleagues in the US government and trying to shape history ….” The statement bears an awe inspiring elitism and intellectual arrogance.

The age of Twitter has distorted the Pakistani Ambassador’s sense of history and historic processes. Deluded into thinking that he is shaping history, he does not realize that Pakistan is bobbing in the ocean of history whose currents he does not and cannot control; to paraphrase famous remarks of German chancellor Bismark.

Nonetheless, the statement rings an odd truth about Pakistan that the history of Pakistan is mostly ‘Made in America’. Pakistani leaders have been trying to shape the history of their nation for a long time from Jeddah to London to Washington, virtually from everywhere but Pakistan.

Recent billions worth of US aid for Pakistan will advance the history of Pakistan, presumably, in a positive direction. However, one should bear in mind that US congress passed a bill, not too long ago, that tied aid to any country with the security interests of the US. It is still unclear whether the two nations will be able to successfully align their interests at this time. One may have to fathom past security relations between Pakistan and the US to see if future proceeds of history for Pakistani nation will be any different

Apart from emerging pressures of globalization, currently for international relations, nation-states lean on Westphalian system, a series of treaties in Europe in the seventeen century. Contrarily, history has witnessed that all nations have not always behaved justly or ethically and all nations have not been equal in vision, resources and ambitions. Nation-states are generally stiff competitors in mutual relations. It is the competition for securing interests that determines policies and relations. However, Francis Fukuyama asserts that one of the fundamentals of collective psyche of strong nations is ‘megalothymia’. It is an enduring but equally devastating character.

Among the powerful nations those who ventured out for variety of reasons have learned that subjugating another nation is not easy. However, powerful nations learned from history better than their cohorts. It is well understood that it is economical to leave implementation of desired policies in the hands of local aristocrats who, by definition, cannot be democrats even if they wear the cloak of democracy.

Generalization aside, Pakistan has never ensconced culturally or economically ever since its birth. Economically, it has been borrowing money indiscriminately. It is hard to assume that borrowing would not have had any strings attached. Culturally, it has tried to find identity in the Middle Eastern religion – Islam. Islam in Pakistan turned out be as sensitive an issue as ethnicity. Who is a Muslim? Nobody knows but Ahmadies are non-Muslim was the hopeless answer. Pakistan imported the national language from India but it has trodden in bewilderment on defining self-identity as animosity against India. Pakistan has fought wars against India that were dubbed as religious Jihad. Pakistan lost those Jihad-wars. Clandestine and unending Jihad in Kashmir has taken various forms according to the ambitions of an unrestrained military; not to mention brutality of military in the then East Pakistan, Bangladesh now.

The idea that India is the arch enemy of Pakistan served military very well. It did not allow open civilian discussion to sort out foreign relations. In the name of Indian threat, boundless growth of military was to become one the biggest future enemies of Pakistan. It evolved as the most powerful institution in Pakistan and perhaps it is equally true that wars with India broke out because militarism was the only available vision in the newly formed Pakistan. During this life span, military has ruled the country for half the time and controlled the politics when not directly at the helm. The bond between military and religious forces has palpable social consequences.

Islamist religious forces in Pakistan had long understood that only way to assert Islam is to take control of the state-instruments. These forces have always been lurking to avail any chance moral or otherwise. Islam availed itself to be played upon to the fullest in the hands of feudal, aristocrats and bureaucrats in an oligarchic nexus with military. Collectively, they fed religious fervor to the poor masses with help of mosque and mullah. The constellation of these players, among other things, has shaped social imperatives of history thus far.

Growth of Madrassa-system in past decades is not a coincidence. According to one estimate the number of madrassas in Pakistan was more than 40000 sometime ago. External factors aside, among the material conditions that led to the rise of madrassa-system, arguably poverty contributed a great deal. 97% of enrollment in madrassas comes from poor families for state run school system had collapsed. Madrassas offer free religious education and bear the cost of living too. Corrupt politicians and military also preyed upon raw religious sentiments, particularly among disenfranchised youth.

Culturally, Pakistan is a nation lost in search of its identity. There is not much evidence that social superstructures will change for the better any time soon because the underlying material conditions remain unchanged. Pakistan is now a failed state by every definition. Even though foreign aid has been rolling in for past many years, yet no economic, social or political indicator has moved to ring any optimistic note.

It is not very comforting to see that Pakistan, on literacy ranking, is among bottom 20 countries in the world. Pakistan shares this distinction with Afghanistan and Ethiopia among others. Investment on education in Pakistan ranks among bottom 30 countries in the world. Mounting public debt and servicing debt is the biggest expenditure followed by military budget, virtually leaving little for social development. One could actually draw a parallel between economic decline and rise of ideological fervor in Pakistan fairly easily. Vaccuum created by the failure of secular forces is filled by fanatic religious forces.

The past trends are actually a dilemma for the future history. The assumptions embedded in the above data are not much analeptic for the future proceeds. The question that comes to the fore rather vividly is this: as to what degree the past is a sign of permanence and how to be optimistic in disaffection with the past trends?

History that always moves in a certain inherited framework is free to be conceived by anyone in any number of ways. However, one cannot escape the element of time that serves as the stage where agents of history operate at a particular moment. It provides an angle to analyze the current events too.

The religious conception of history is paradoxical. Religiously motivated persons are mostly willing to sacrifice the present at the altar of history. There are large numbers of educated and uneducated people who look to the past to resolve contemporary issues or perceived problems of the future. These are psychological root of fundamentalism. It is a religiously motivated vision that does espouse contemporary solutions and is intolerant of resolution in the context of the present. But religious or ideological intolerance is hardly ever monolithic. To become violent, it has to blend with at least one or two currents of contemporary history as it did in Pakistan.

In the current milieu provincialism is rife and sectarianism drips blood of Ahmadies in mosques and Christians in churches and Data Durbar is desecrated. In the past some time, countless people of Shia persuasion have been gunned down and Karachi is still mourning the political mass murders. It is a history of Pakistan that is being written with the blood of innocent people in every neighborhood and street right now.

It is hard to change religious ideology. However, it is possible to contain intolerance, if not eliminate it altogether. The idea of changing material conditions of societies upon which ideologies operate offers the biggest hope for changing the future. This idea deserves separate inquiry; suffice to say that No-War Pact with India will help trim military spending, which is again revised upward for the year 2010-11. This step alone will ease up budgetary constraints on social spending. Establishing free trade zones with immediate neighbors and large scale student exchange program with India would go a long way.

Sermons of change cultivate only false hopes. Practical steps towards changing material relations are the only way of transforming fates of nations. In Conflict, Crises & War in Pakistan, Kalim Siddiqui concludes, “History seldom forgives those who make a habit of tolerating an incompetent, corrupt and self-perpetuating oligarchy”. Military oriented economy, inept political clout, corruption to the core and militant ideological trajectory in Pakistan have material reasons and tangible momentum at this stage of history and there is no end in sight. Hopefully, the ambassador of Pakistan to the US will reveal the secret how is he shaping the future history of Pakistan?

Dr. Tahir Qazi is a neurophysiologist, freelance writer and public speaker on subjects like religion and global poverty. He is involved in exploring ways to change human conditions. His interests range from philosophy to economics and religion to psychology. He can be reached at: [email protected]