Frontline Volume 20 - Issue 10, May 10 - 23, 2003
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WORLD AFFAIRS

Pakistan's internal dynamics

MANI SHANKAR AIYAR

The internal dynamics of Pakistan today favour an engagement between India and Pakistan, provided Kashmir is on the agenda as a priority item of discourse. Failure to resolve the question of how Hindus and Muslims are to share their common subcontinent is fraught with extreme danger.

The text of a paper presented at the Centre for Strategic Regional Studies, University of Jammu, on March 25.

Pakistan is a nation divided against itself, but united against India.

The evolution of its nationhood is a playing out in post-Partition South Asia of the dynamics of the pre-Independence Pakistan Movement.

In consequence, India-Pakistan relations remain the real "unfinished business" of Partition.

This is partly because, for Pakistan, Partition solved few, if any, of the problems of Muslim identity in the subcontinent.

And also because, for India, Partition has rendered the question of Muslim identity in the subcontinent partly a matter of external relations, if yet largely a question of the nature of India's own nationhood.

It is because the Freedom Movement did not resolve the question of Muslim identity in the larger identity of India that Partition was the price we had to pay for Independence.

And if more than a half-century after Partition, our subcontinent remains "the most dangerous place on earth", it is because we have been far less successful in tackling the external dimension of the subcontinent's Muslim identity than in determining the domestic parameters of Muslim identity within the overall framework of India's modern nationhood.

There is now a nuclear dimension to communalism: the age-old question of how Hindus and Muslims are to share their common subcontinent is now overshadowed by nuclear weaponry in the arsenals of two nations united by geography but divided by history.

The continuing failure to even attempt to resolve this core dilemma is as fraught with looming danger as the failure to resolve the dilemmas of Muslim identity in the Freedom Movement led to Partition being the price we had to pay for freedom. This time the price to be paid for continuing to leave the question unresolved could be a South Asian Armageddon.

If it was the failure of the freedom movement to understand the internal dynamics of the Pakistan Movement, which led to Pakistan, it is India's failure to comprehend the internal dynamics of Pakistan which has legitimized in the eyes of the people of Pakistan the implacable hostility shown us by the Pakistani politico-military establishment.

Of course, even as there was a major Muslim contribution to the exacerbation of Hindu-Muslim differences in the run-up to Partition and Independence, so is there a major Pakistani contribution to the boiling cauldron the subcontinent has persisted in remaining through the 55 years since Partition and Independence.

Yet, even as it was the desire to keep the Muslim community within the fold of the Freedom Movement, which distinguished the Congress position from that of the Muslim League, so must it be the desire to preserve Pakistan within the framework of a harmonious South Asia, which ought to animate our quest for reconciliation on the subcontinent.

Instead, India's Pakistan policy has largely consisted of scratching at the scabs of our wounds.

India tends to regard Pakistani hostility as being quite as immutable as the Freedom Movement came to regard the hostility of the Muslim League as immutable. Matching League hostility with Congress hostility cost us the integrity of the subcontinent. Matching Pakistani hostility with Indian hostility could cost us the subcontinent itself.

A durable peace cannot come from preening ourselves on our mindset. It must begin with an understanding of the mindset of the other side, not with a view to mocking that mindset or using the revelation to validate one's own hostility, but with a view to understanding the other side's concerns, its anxieties and apprehensions, its aspirations and imperatives; then, moving towards appeasing those concerns without yielding one's own bottomline.

I use the word "appeasing" deliberately, in all consciousness and conscientiousness, in the original sense of the word - seeking reconciliation to keep the peace - rather than the pejorative connotation given the word by Neville Chamberlain's approach to Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a monster. The people of Pakistan are not monsters. They would have been fellow-Indians but for an accident of history. If we cannot conciliate our own, whom then can we conciliate?

That said, it also needs saying that while Pakistan is, of course, a state, it is not yet quite a nation. The people of Pakistan know what they are not: they are not Indian and emphatically not Hindu. Alas, they are yet to determine who they are. After half a century of existence, they are still to forge a national identity.

Since their nationhood has not jelled, they fall back on the parameters on which that nationhood was conceived. Those parameters were, however, designed to achieve a Pakistan not born, not consolidate a Pakistan which has existed for five decades and more.

Hence, their fractious polity. It is this, at bottom, which has led to dominance over the people of forces, which are neither representative of the people, nor responsible to them. And hence too Pakistan's proven inability to fashion a constitution or persist with a constitutional consensus. To rule Pakistan, authority comes not of the people but over the people. Consequently, the aarmed forces of Pakistan will always be the dominant political force in Pakistan, center-stage on occasion, behind the scenes always.

That will change - or, more accurately, could change - only when, and if, Pakistan's society and polity succeed in resolving the contradictions inherent in the Pakistan, which arose as an off-shoot of the failure of the freedom movement to conciliate the Pakistan Movement. For, as Chaudhury Khaliquzzaman, leader of the Pakistan Movement in the United Provinces remarked, "Pakistan was our destiny, not our choice".

Thus, the internal dynamics of the Pakistan which came through before it was thought through is, in essence, a dialectic between the multiplicity of theses and antitheses which characterise Pakistan's society and polity. That dialectic is still to lead to synthesis.

First, while Islam unites Pakistan, Islamisation divides it. The widest and deepest rift valley in Pakistan is the divide between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority. Since the Fiqah Hanafi of the Sunnis is quite as sanctified as the Fiqah Jafaria of the Shias, every move to "Islamise" Pakistan widens the divide and generates tensions. What communalism is to India, sectarianism is to Pakistan.

It is a sectarianism fed by a joint Sunni-Shia antipathy to the Ahmediyas or Qadianis, scorned and scored as apostates. The other Muslim minorities - the Ismailis, the Khojas and the Bohras - are on the fringes of the polity and, therefore, left unimpeded in the pursuit of their business interests. The non-Muslim minorities, such as the Christians and Zoroastrians, the Hindus (largely in Sind and pockets of Baluchistan) and the handful of Sikhs, are, by and large, left to their own devices because they neither seek, nor would be permitted to espouse or promote, any dilution of the essential "Islamic" nature of Pakistan's state and society. But the Sunni-Shia divide surfaces whenever religious fundamentalism is sought to be made the bonding adhesive of Pakistan's nationhood.

Islamization also exacerbates tensions between those who wish to see Pakistan modernize (that is, globalise, that is, westernize) itself into a 21st century state and those who believe in all sincerity and with considerable zeal that Pakistan was created to remould it nearer the 7th century ideal of the Arab desert. The reformers and the fundamentalists are thus pitted against each other: the former have the advantage of overwhelming numbers, the latter the authority of the Book.

Overlaying the religious divide is the regional divide. Punjab is so dominant - demographically, economically, politically, even linguistically - that resentment is rife in the smaller provinces: Sind, Baluchistan and, to some extent, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). At one time, the running battle of identity with Bengali-speaking East Pakistan obscured, to some extent, the internecine regional rivalries within West Pakistan. But with East Pakistan breaking away in 1971 to emerge as Bangladesh, Punjab has become the focus of resentment of the smaller provinces.

To this has been added the disillusionment of the Urdu-speaking muhajir from India, largely resident in Karachi and other urban centres of Sind. His forefathers were the true founders of Pakistan and were the dominant social and political group till Ayub's coup of 1958. Their influence waned over the next decade or two and was finally extinguished when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto triumphed. Disillusionment has bred alienation, so much so that the MQM is virtually secessionist.

Resentment at Punjabi domination is not amenable to argument or even political accommodation. Thus, apart from Nawaz Sharif, all leaders of the country in post-Bangladesh Pakistan - military men or politicians - have been non-Punjabi: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was from Sind; Zia, an East Punjab migrant; Benazir Bhutto a Sindhi; Junejo and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi both Sindhis; Pervez Musharraf a Muhajir; and Jamali, the present Prime Minister, a Baloch.

Indeed, even before Bangladesh, both Yahya Khan and Ayub Khan were Pathans; and their predecessors, for the most part, either Frontiermen, or immigrants from India, or Bengalis. Yet, such is the domination of Punjab in numbers, economic strength, military positions, the civil services, Parliament (when intermittently elected), literature and culture, that the dominance of Punjab is assumed, even when not established.

Then there is the economic dimension. The political class is drawn by and large from the immensely wealthy feudal class, landlords on a scale unknown in India since the integration of the princely states and the land reforms of Jawaharlal Nehru.

The rivalries of these chieftains bear little upon the lives of the people. Bhutto was the exception. He touched a responsive chord but his feudal ways led to his downfall. Democracy, even when allowed, has not in a quarter century been about Power to the People. Therefore, when available, it is welcomed for its excitement and entertainment value; when not available, it is not much missed. There is no massed demand for the restoration of democracy. That is the cry of out-of-work politicians.

So, Ayub lasted eleven years. And Zia lasted eleven years. I have little doubt that Musharraf too will last his eleven years.

An India-Pakistan policy which rests on the restoration of democracy is, therefore, an exercise in wishful thinking. Or an excuse for not having a Pakistan policy beyond deriving electoral advantage from the average Indian aversion to anything remotely Pakistani.

Political instability in Pakistan and the petering out of economic growth after the mid-sixties has had the consequence of a disproportionately large Pakistani diaspora which disproportionately influences Pakistan's internal dynamics because what there is of Pakistani democracy is mostly diaspora democracy. Tragically, diaspora democracy tends sometimes to be catatonic democracy, bizarrely out of touch with ground realities at home.

The post-1973 Gulf boom has led to a huge Pakistani working class presence outside the country. There, it interacts with the substantial Indian expatriate working class. The Gulf boom has also opened opportunities for middle-class professionals, interacting outside the subcontinent with Indian counterparts. Moreover, the politics of exile which has characterised Pakistani politics whenever there is change of government - democratic to democratic or democratic to military - has assured the presence in the Gulf at all times of a large number of practicing Pakistani politicians waiting for their moment to come. They too have little better to do than wait for others to call on them, including Indian interlocutors who choose to seize the opportunity. Few Indians, alas, do, not even Indian academics or media personnel.

Then, if not in the same numbers but still in considerable measure, is the India-Pakistan expatriate interaction, at both working class and middle-class levels, in the United Kingdom and the United States and, to a more limited extent, in south-east India. Thus, it is well beyond the shores of the subcontinent that Indians and Pakistanis discover the human being in each other. However, it is a resource and an opportunity that neither have cared much to draw upon. They should.

The last dynamic we should take into account is Pakistan's relations with the Muslim world, in relation, specifically, to India. The Pakistan Movement accepted a "moth-eaten" Pakistan because they visualised Pakistan as championing the cause of the Muslims left behind in the Dar-ul-Harb.

Indian secularism denied them that role. The Indian Muslim remained fiercely loyal to India even in times of armed conflict with Pakistan.

The pretension that Pakistan could speak for the Muslims of the subcontinent stood exposed when East Pakistan broke away. It was given the quietus when Pakistan, after the Bangladesh war, refused to play even a humanitarian role in providing succour to the hapless "Biharis" - the pejorative term applied to non-Bengalis stranded in Bangladesh and subjected to unspeakable atrocities.

Moreover, the Durand Line, arbitrarily drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893 at the zenith of British Imperialism for the preservation of British India's defence interests, with no regard for its separating Pathan from Pathan, often from the same clan and sometimes from the same family, has, since Pakistan came into being, stood in the way of a friendly relationship between Pakistan and its immediate Muslim neighbour, Afghanistan.

Also, once the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini toppled the Shah of Iran, the Pakistan-Iran relationship lost its sheen to both Sunni-Shia rivalry as also to theological contention between a zealous Iran and the more relaxed version of Islam prevalent in Pakistan.

Pakistan has, therefore, never succeeded in resolving the conundrum built into its birth as a nation that if religion is the basis of nationality, why should there be a border between Islamic Pakistan and even more Islamic Afghanistan, or between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the rather more Islamic Republic of Iran?

True, the superior English of the Pakistan Foreign Service has won them Brownie points in some resolutions of the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC), from which India stands excluded even though we are the second largest Muslim nation in the world. Yet, when it comes to the UN or other forums of international relations, Pakistan's anti-Hindu, anti-India fervour finds little reflection in any other Islamic state.

Thus, no one, not even most Pakistanis, see Pakistan anymore as the sword arm of Islam on the subcontinent.

These unresolved conflicts in the Pakistani psyche and polity lead many Indians to imagine that it is only a matter of time before Pakistan disintegrates under the weight of its own contradictions. This is a seriously flawed perception.

For whatever their internecine dissensions, there is no dynamic in the direction of disintegration, except on the fringes of the polity and that too expressed mostly in diaspora frustration. Pakistan has weathered the storm of its initial decades. It is here to stay.

Like many other countries, including to some extent our own, the fact of being a state is the bulwark protecting disputation over the nature of Pakistan's nationhood from spilling over into the dismantling of the state. The argument over nationhood, acute as it is, can be and has been contained within the framework of the Pakistani state. Therefore, the dissolution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is simply not on the cards.

There are also those who believe we can take advantage of the internal divisions and bickering in Pakistan to drive a wedge between Pakistani and Pakistani. This too is a seriously flawed perception. Any interference by India in their internal affairs, covert or overt, real or perceived, serves only to unite all Pakistanis. Indian hostility rallies Pakistanis to their flag. They are not about to return to the bosom of Mother India.

However, provided they are reassured that India is not engaged in a hostile take-over bid of their country, the people of Pakistan, by and large, are ready to normalize relations with India - but not till the issue of Kashmir is resolved. And the Pakistani establishment recognizing this seeks to legitimise its authority, as both Zia and Musharraf have done, by demonstrating to their people that Pakistan can work with India on normalizing relations - but subject to the issue of Kashmir being resolved.

Thus, Kashmir is to 21st century India-Pakistan relations what separate electorates and weighted majorities and provincial grouping were to the tussle between the freedom movement and the Pakistan Movement. We won freedom by remaining firm, but suffered vivisection by remaining rigid. It is by remaining firm on larger goals but flexible on lesser issues that we might still win the peace through dialogue and interaction. I any case, is there a viable alternative to dialogue?

For the pursuit of dialogue as the path to reconciliation, the lessons of the history of Independence and Partition are instructive.

So long as dialogue was possible, as it was from the founding of the Muslim League in 1906 to the Lucknow Pact of 1916, a Muslim identity could be reconciled with an Indian identity.

When Gandhi championed the Khilafat cause, especially till the repudiation of the Khilafat by the Turks themselves after 1922, the Muslim identity was subsumed in the Indian identity.

In the late 1920s, there was a short-lived revival of hope when the Swarajists under Motilal Nehru began work on an alternative constitutional order to the one being drafted by the Simon Commission but, eventually, the Nehru report drove further away those elements of the Muslim community who put community before nation.

That element constituted such a small minority of the Muslim community till the elections of 1937 that the Congress chose to put Leaguers in their place when provincial governments came to be constituted. The consequent widening of the Congress-League gulf led to the "Pakistan" resolution of 1940.

However, notwithstanding the failure of the Jinnah-Gandhi talks in 1944, even in 1946 the "Pakistan" resolution was more a bargaining chip than an irreducible demand. Pakistan was, in truth, suddenly born when Mountbatten offered to pre-date Independence provided the League and Congress both accepted that their differences were irreconcilable within a united India.

There are those both in India and Pakistan who regard India-Pakistan differences over Kashmir as being even more irreconcilable than Congress-Muslim League differences over an undivided India. They may be right. On, the other hand, they may be wrong. We will not know till we give dialogue a chance. Alas, while both countries are unremitting in their preparations for defence, they are hesitant and intermittent in their preparations for dialogue.

In the view of this paper, the internal dynamics of Pakistan favour an engagement between the two countries provided Kashmir is on the agenda as a special and priority item of discourse. If we have the self-confidence to engage in a dialogue on those terms, then persistence might yield its own rewards.

However, the fact is that we are shying away from uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue. That must change. The internal dynamics of Pakistan permit of a dialogue. Do the dynamics of the Indian polity permit of its commencement? That is the moot question.


Mani Shankar Aiyar, MP, was Consul-General of India in Karachi during 1978-82. His book "Pakistan Papers" was published in 1994.

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