Pakistan at 69: Perceptions, Prescripitions, and Prognoses (Column Bookends)

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Whither Pakistan? The country, which turns 69 on Sunday, is far from being in a viable state. Vicious terrorists of various stripes not only run free and lethally but are increasingly taking on the state, tensions persist with both immediate neighbours as well as a prime ally, economic growth is stymied and there are many other challenges.

But when did things get this bad? Was it after the North Waziristan operations? the Lal Masjid siege? Joining the fight against Al Qaeda? the Afghan jihad? Or even before?

Opinion is divided among among participants, analysts and commentators, both domestic and foreign, not only on the when but also on the why and how and who – and the way out, if any? Varying answers to these questions are easily discernible in a range of books on the subject that have come out this year.

Among the first was a posthumously-published prognosis by a veteran journalist. In “A State in Denial – Pakistan’s Misguided and Dangerous Crusade” (Rupa Publications, 240 p, Rs. 500), B.G. Verghese not only sought to find what lay at the root of Pakistan’s persistent animus against India but also how it could be overcome for a lasting reconciliation. He also advocated some radical solutions, including in Kashmir itself, which he emphasised was not the “core problem” and “can be shared” – which unfortunately seems difficult in these days of highly possessive nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border.

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South Asia politics and security expert Christophe Jaffrelot, whose “The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience” (Random House India, 688 p, Rs 799) last year dealt with the country’s curious paradoxes and suggested the world change its approach towards it from bailing it out to help it to reform and become self-sufficient, followed it up this year by “Pakistan at the Crossroads: Domestic Dynamics and External Pressures” (Vintage/Random House India,. 376 p, Rs 699) in which he and other noted scholars deal with a range of issues ranging across the polity, society, economy and security.

Be it Aqil Shah (on civil-military relations), Philip Oldenburg (on the judiciary’s political profile), Shahid Javed Burki (on the economy), Mariam Abou Zahab (on the turbulent northwestern frontier), Sana Haroon (on Pakistan between Iran and Saudi Arabia) and Jaffrelot himself on relations with the US under Barack Obama,there is a thread that the political leadership is understanding that the main security threats may come not from India but are internal, though this may not be the reading of the army – the key stakeholder and still keen on proxy influences and liable to diffrentiate between good and bad militants.

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And if Lal Masjid was the trigger, then one less-known fact — of the Chinese pressure that led to the crackdown – is brought out in Andrew Small’s “The China-Pakistan Axis – Asia’s New Geopolitics” (Vintage/Random House India, p 345, Rs 399) which also underscores the significant relation between two unlikely allies.

Most of these works contend Pakistan’s travails with radical Islam due to its involvement in the ‘jihad’ against the Soviets in Afghanistan but in an updated version of his 2006 work “Pakistan – Between Mosque and Military” (Penguin, p 463, Rs 599), envoy to US-turned-academician Husain Haqqani questions this and holds that “Islamization, though pursued in earnest under General Zia ul-Haq’s military regime (1977-88) has been a cornerstone of efforts to consolidate Pakistan’s national identity for much longer”. And as he shows, all its leaders, political or military, even if pro-western, have – all unsuccessfully – tried to “manage” militant Islamism, for nation-building function while hoping it would not destablise internal politics or relations with the West.

And Haqqani sees a way out by chaging the focus of the Pakistani state from ideology, through self-correction, allied to pressure from allies like US and especially China.

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Not offering any solutions but just trenchantly and incisively recodring all that is wrong is veteran Pakistani journalist Khaled Ahmed. In “Sleepwalking to Surrender – Dealing with Terrorism in Pakistan” (Penguin Random House India, p 470; Rs 599), which mainly comprise his articles for Newsweek and the Indian Express from 2013 to 2015. stresses how the Pakistani state has, in the last decades or so, lost ground to non-state actors (and their extreme terrorist manifestations) and still counts on proxy wars despite suffering from two on its own territory.

And a tantalising glimpse into how close India and Pakistan came to solving the Kashmir issue in the early 1980s is revealed by eminent Indian diplomat M.K. Rasgotra in his memoirs “A Life in Diplomacy” (Viking/Penguin, p 400, Rs 699), while his colleague Prabhu Dayal in “Karachi Halwa” (Zorba Books, p 204, Rs.199) presents a view of Pakistan in the days before the troubles but when the trends were dimly visible.

Hopefully by this time next year, any new crop of works will have more positive tidings.

(14.08.2016 – Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at <javascript:_e(%7B%7D,’cvml’,’[email protected]’);> )

–IANS

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