NEW YORK: Pakistan’s defence forces, particularly the Army, should be blamed for the poor relations that the country has with both India and the United States , feels the son of slain former Pakistan Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Aatish Taseer says that as far as relations with India are concerned, Pakistan, its administration, both civil and military, have been obsessed to the point of hysteria right since before the partition of the subcontinent.
Aatish opines that the rejection of India, its culture and past lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan, and therefore, cannot be treated merely an academic question.
He claims that right from the time when Pakistan’s Poet Laureate Allama Iqbal mooted the idea of a state in which India’s Muslims would realize their “political and ethical essence in 1930, and realized that dream in 1947, he was quite clear that the old pluralistic society of India, with its composite culture, would be discarded.
Initially, despite the partition of British India, it had seemed at first that there would be no transfer of populations. But violence erupted, and it quickly became clear that in the new homeland for India’s Muslims, there would be no place for its non-Muslim communities.
Pakistan and India came into being at the cost of a million lives and the largest migration in history. In Aatish’s view this shared experience of carnage and loss is the foundation of the modern relationship between the two countries. But in Pakistan, the partition had another, deeper meaning. It raised big questions, in cultural and civilizational terms, about what its separation from India would mean.
In the absence of a true national identity, Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India. It turned its back on all that had been common between Muslims and non-Muslims in the era before partition. Everything came under suspicion, from dress to customs to festivals, marriage rituals and literature. The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination.
Had this assertion of national identity meant the casting out of something alien or foreign in favor of an organic or homegrown identity, it might have had an empowering effect. What made it self-wounding, even nihilistic, was that Pakistan, by asserting a new Arabized Islamic identity, rejected its own local and regional culture.
In trying to turn its back on its shared past with India, Pakistan turned its back on itself. Aatish believes that Pakistan’s existential confusion made itself apparent in the political turmoil of the decades after partition.
The state failed to perform a single legal transfer of power; coups were commonplace. He says that in the early 1990s, a reversal began to occur in the fortunes of the two countries. The advantage that Pakistan had seemed to enjoy in the years after independence evaporated, as it became clear that the quest to rid itself of its Indian identity had come at a price: the emergence of a new and dangerous brand of Islam.
As India rose, thanks to economic liberalization, Pakistan withered. The country that had begun as a poet’s utopia was reduced to ruin and insolvency. The primary agent of this decline has been the Pakistani army. The beneficiary of vast amounts of American assistance and money– 11 billion dollars since 9/11.
Aatish believes that in the decade just passed, the Pakistani army has led the U.S. in a dance, in which it had to be seen to be fighting the war on terror, but never so much as to actually win it, for its extension meant the continuing flow of American money.
All this time the army kept alive a double game, in which some terror was fought and some–such as Laskhar-e-Tayyba’s 2008 attack on Mumbai–actively supported. The army’s duplicity was exposed decisively this May, with the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
It was only the last and most incriminating charge against an institution whose activities over the years have included the creation of the Taliban, the financing of international terrorism and the running of a lucrative trade in nuclear secrets. This army, whose might has always been justified by the imaginary threat from India, has been more harmful to Pakistan than to anybody else. It has consumed annually a quarter of the country’s wealth, undermined one civilian government after another and enriched itself through a range of economic interests, from bakeries and shopping malls to huge property holdings.
Taseer is the author of “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands.” His second novel, “Noon,” will be published in the U.S. in September.-Online