The Death of Pakistan?

By Jaswant Singh

NEW DELHI – This is a tipping point for Pakistan. Will it survive the current maelstrom of challenges – exemplified by the recent assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer of Punjab by one of his bodyguards, an Islamic zealot – or will it capsize? For the world, Pakistan’s fate is an urgent, perhaps even an existential, question.

After all, Pakistan is a nuclear-armed, terrorist-spawning regional power. The roots of Pakistan’s instability run deep. Following World Wars I and II, the European powers and the United States sat around distant tables and fabricated frontiers, giving birth to Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – and thus to most of the of the Middle East’s current ills. The region’s new map was based on the assumption that the fundamentals of “Muslim Asia” could be transformed by introducing the Western nation-state system. Instead, what formed was a region of entities that have largely failed to cohere as nations.

In 1947, the Indian sub-continent, too, was vivisected in much the same way, with a religion-based entity carved out of it: Pakistan. Of course, it is pointless at this stage to re-examine that tragic folly. The consequences of partition, however, remain: Pakistan has not yet been able to evolve an administratively credible government. Indeed, if Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, had been right that Muslims are a separate nation, Bangladesh would not have broken away from it, and the country’s relations with its neighbor Afghanistan would be free of intrigue and violence.

This brings us to the heart of the matter: the question of Islam and statehood. In his book Islam and the Destiny of Man, Gai Eaton put the matter with elegant precision: “Islamic society is theocentric…not theocratic.” This is an important distinction, for it calls into question the “validity of (the) concept of (an) Islamic state as distinct from a Muslim state.” The first, Eaton writes, is an “ideological proposition” that has “never materialized in Muslim history because no Muslim state has even been theocratic.”

Whereas the centrality of the state in human affairs is a modern, European development, traditional societies like India or Pakistan have always regarded the state as no more than a necessary evil, since large societies cannot be managed on the old tribal basis. For Muslims, all sovereignty vests in God; indeed, nothing whatever exists or can exist outside of Him. As Eaton puts it, the Koran’s insistence that “there is no god but God” can also be interpreted to mean that “there is no legislator but the Legislator.” That is why in Islamic jurisprudence, laws must be derived from the Koran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, not handed down from British or classical philosophy.

So the central issue in Islam has not been whether the state can be separated from religion, but whether society can be so separated. It cannot, which is why no Muslim state can be fully secular. Indeed, the issue that now lies at Pakistan’s core is whether it can become a theocratic state. Which brings us back to the horror of Taseer’s assassination and the strange and divided reaction to it in Pakistani civil society. Taseer’s assassination, unlike that of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards in 1984, was not a retaliatory revenge attack. Instead, the roots of Taseer’s assassination lay in the dark delusions of fanatical belief, his killing supposedly undertaken to protect the faith. Worse, many citizens, if not most, have reacted by supporting the assassin (some showering him with flower petals), while hundreds of Ulemas (religious leaders) welcomed his killing and called participation in his funeral “un-Islamic.” According to the chief of the Ja­m­aat­-e-Islami movement, “the killed is himself responsible for his killing.”

This aggressive, fundamentalist path is inexorably leading Pakistan back centuries in time. Of course, Pakistan alone is responsible for the path it chooses, but it would not have so readily adopted its current course but for the tacit (and explicit) support that the US has given it, beginning in the 1980’s to counter the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Once again, we see how misplaced Western national priorities can bring ruin on a non-Western nation.

In any contest of ideas, the extreme will usually triumph over the moderate. In Pakistan, the extremist now wears Islamic garb, and stands for the Creator, for faith, and for a theocratic order. What, by contrast, might a Pakistani liberal stand for?  Indeed, who in Pakistan is calling for a liberal, democratic country?

In the dark, congested alleys of Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, or Quetta, the yearning is not for democratic liberalism, but for the believers to unite behind the one true faith. Here, in this desire, is where Pakistan’s ultimate reckoning is to be found, not in the corridors of Washington, and certainly not on the broad avenues of Islamabad.

Jaswant Singh, a former Indian finance minister, foreign minister, and defense minister, is the author of Jinnah: India – Partition – Independence.


New Europe



~ by admin on January 24, 2011.

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