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Is it our war or not?

Pakistani media is replete with discussion about the war in the tribal areas and the response of the militants in the form of suicide bombings and armed confrontation as in Bajaur, Darra, Hangu and Swat or the Marriott bombing in Islamabad. It is being said that the war Pakistan is fighting is actually America’s war and has been thrust on us. Secondly, it is also said that if Pakistan was not advancing US interests there would be peace. Thias is an absurd type of reasoning based on a partial reading of history. The real cause of instability is the absence of an analysis of the process of identity formation in Pakistani since 1947.

     Our problems did not begin in 9/11 or with the invasion of Afghanistan by the US. They began much earlier with the efforts of a religiously driven lobby to undo the original concept of Pakistan which has been under attack since Independence in 1947. The argument that it is not our war is in effect another effort to fix our identity within the radical camp. What type of a nation we will finally turn out to be is the real matter under contest. It has divided Pakistan, pushed us into unrealistic foreign policy options with India and Afghanistan and created fighting militias in our midst. In the process we have made our country dysfunctional. The state is hardly able to provide security, justice, empowerment or human development. That is the reason that it is not winning the battle for the hearts and minds of Pakistanis.

      The idea for a separate Muslim state in India was used as a negotiating lever to derive more benefits from both the British Imperial rulers and the Hindu majority. The proof lies in the conduct of the Muslim League. Had the formation of a separate nation been a goal before 1946, the Muslim League would have mobilised and prepared itself for the establishment of a separate nation. No preparations were undertaken. Compare this with the work done in the mobilisation and preparation by the Indian National Congress.

      However, the rapid collapse of Imperial rule in India forced the birth of Pakistan and many of the basic decisions relating to the new nation were never taken. However, the establishment of a religious state in the region was neither in the mind of the Quaid-e- Azam nor Allama Iqbal, its architects. The pressure of the Islamists manifested itself immediately after the death of the Quaid when Prime Minister Liaquat Ali moved the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on March 25, 1949. This resolution was in contradiction to the Quaid’s idea of a modern, democratic and a secular state. The resolution would not have been moved if the Quaid had been alive. The resolution made Pakistan an Islamic state when it said that sovereignty rests with Allah and not with the people of Pakistan.

      The first challenge to the state occurred in 1953 with the anti-Ahmedi disturbances in Lahore. It led to the imposition of martial law for the suppression of the riots. The report on them has two telling observations. First, it found that if the disturbance had been treated as a pure law-and-order problem and not tied to political considerations, one district magistrate and superintendent of police were enough to quell them. Secondly, it said that tying political ends with law-and-order problems is a policy which will kill democracy. How prescient.

        Since 1977, when Gen Zia-ul-Haq took power, Pakistan underwent rapid identity transformation, and amongst other questionable decisions his government undertook to join the Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union on behalf of the US. In doing so we changed the very basis of our nationhood. We began to propagate an Islamic identity not confined within national boundaries. It created a supra-revolutionary identity. There were two important results of this decision. First, by supporting Jihad we allowed the creation of private militias with close links to our military. Militias became legal and corrupted our ability to maintain order. Secondly, when we entered the larger international stream of Islam we severed our sub-continental cultural links; communities which had been living together for centuries now became intolerant of one another. This encouraged sectarianism and divided the nation.

Our conversion to a Jihadist model also affected our foreign policy. Like Janus we became two-faced. On the one hand we obeyed the rules concerning conventions relating to conduct as a nation state. On the other, we developed a dark side which enabled our establishment to use the Jihadis as force multipliers! It had other undesirable effects. For example, during Zia’s time we even launched a raid into Soviet Central Asia. Toleration of Islamic evangelicalism began to alter the pragmatic basis of foreign policy involving India and Afghanistan. For instance, at the time of the US attack on Afghanistan and the defeat of the Taliban in Kunduz in November 2001, Gen Musharraf had to request President Bush to be allowed to retrieve Pakistani advisors who were stranded there through special C-130 flights.

        Had we been pragmatic, we would have kept our doors open to Ahmed Shah Masud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, and thus not been left isolated in the reconstruction of Afghanistan today. Incidentally, Masud had once visited Islamabad in 1980s, begging to be helped, but was snubbed. Yet we are nowadays arguing quixotically that the failure to let Pakistan influence Afghanistan was a US failure!

       After the November 2001 US attack on Afghanistan, when the Taliban and Al Qaeda crumbled, members of the two groups escaped to Pakistan. Gen Musharraf thought it fit to categorise militants into good and bad ones. The good ones were given refuge in Waziristan and some were settled in Bajaur. The result of that bad decision is staring us in the face; these “guests” are now destroying and killing our youth; yet we say it is not our war.

        Pakistan did not get into the terrible state because of 9/11. The seeds were sown on March 25, 1949. We not only encouraged Jihadism but by changing the laws and school syllabus we opted to become an Islamic orthodox state. We ended up creating an Islamic generation which is now guiding the nation’s destiny as professionals. In all honesty, aren’t we ourselves responsible for the mess that has been caused so far?

       By permitting the creation of militias based on religion we made it difficult for ourselves to implement the writ of the state. As a result we have made the Pakistani state dysfunctional. The habit of obedience has broken down. The justice system doesn’t operate in the face of coercive power of the Jihadis; courts give judgments that cannot be enforced. Governance has almost collapsed. Direct taxes as percentage of total taxes are barely 8-9 percent of the aggregate total. These are all signs of a weakened state.

       Should we accept defeat? Not at all. Despite the enormous human cost, with most of the dead on both sides being Pakistanis, the tide has turned. It is another example how by dealing with such problems as law-and-order issues we can meet the challenge and re-establish the state. It clearly suggests that if Pakistan is to survive it must shun Jihadism, end proxy wars, build peace with India and ban private armies. We must rebuild a Pakistani identity based on our local culture. It is for these reasons that I say that the existing conflict is not America’s war but ours. Let us get the narrative straight and begin the task of re-establishing national priorities. 

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