Pakistan is a country of contradictions and conflicting identities. It is a country that is at war with itself. A vast majority of Pakistanis are confused and most of them have no clear sense of their place in the world. The military in Pakistan has been in the driving seat since the creation of Pakistan. It is the military, which sets the direction for Pakistan. The military creates national heroes and invents villains. The military makes and remakes history in Pakistan, and often it rewrites history based on the imagination of its commanders.
The fate of Pakistan depends on the ‘wisdom’ of few generals who sit round a table and decide how the country should be governed, what its ideology should be, how it should be identified in the world, and what its internal and external policies should be. This is the military’s Pakistan and the military’s vision of Pakistan.
As opposed to the military’s vision of Pakistan, there are other visions and identities of Pakistan in the country. To some it is a secular state, others see it as an Islamic state while several political and ethic groups do not want to be part of Pakistan.
The military is the main player and decision maker in Pakistan. Others are either its junior partners or weak adversaries. Civil bureaucracy, big landowners, businessmen and traders as well as religious parties and a powerful section of the Pakistani media are the military’s constituency. They all have been generals’ bedfellows.
The Poor in Pakistan are dis-empowered. They are divided and the most of them have a confused sense of national identity. Since 1977, the military and its junior partners pitched Pakistanis against each other by using religion and ethnicity.
The military has a deep mistrust of civilians, particularly politicians. The military believes it is the only institution that can keep the country united. The military has been using Islam and Urdu language to glue Pakistan together.
Pakistan has a great potential to survive as a state. Historical and cultural bonds among the people of Pakistan are strong. The people of Pakistan have been living together long before the creation of Pakistan. They have similar religious beliefs and practice identical traditions. Pakistanis understand and communicate in common languages. Their food tastes and dress codes are similar. The shared historical experiences and common culture unite Pakistanis.
Geography and dependence on common natural resources are other binding factors. All the four provinces and the Northern Areas of Pakistan economically rely on each other. Without water from the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, the Punjab can not produce grains and other agricultural products that feed the whole country. The Baluchistan provides energy in form of gas, and it has untapped natural resources. The Baluchistan also offers some strategic depth that Pakistan needs. The port city of Karachi, the country’s main business hub, is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy.
Pakistanis are extremely smart and talented people. They are warm and loving. The Pakistanis are among one of the best skilled and unskilled workers in the world. Pakistan’s human resources are one of its strengths. It is a country that has obtained nuclear and missile technologies without having a sound scientific and technological base.
Pakistan, however, is a troubled state despite possessing the ability to be a strong and stable country. For the last few years, Pakistan has been also at odds with the rest of the world. The country has been a target of vicious propaganda that has destroyed Pakistan’s international image and the public opinion around the world has turned against Pakistan. The ruling elites of Pakistan can not counter the negative propaganda because they are intellectually dishonest. And actually they are the ones, particularly the military and the mullahs, who are responsible for the ideological illusions. Perhaps the military and its partners in civil bureaucracy and in religious circles are aware of the shallowness and superficiality of the political and ideological discourse that has been officially adopted in Pakistan.
Indeed, the ideological fathers of Pakistan and the inventors of Pakistan’s false identity feel insecure. They lack confidence. They hide behind a victim mentality and to overcome their fears they have turned Pakistan into a security state that perpetually faces threats of extinction.
Generally the military has been running Pakistan with a commando mentality where achieving a target is important. It does not matter how. In such a line of thinking, the rule of law is not a priority. From the military’s point of view Pakistan faces security threats from all sides, therefore, the country is at war and this is the war of survival. With this mindset the military acts and behaves like a paranoid mother. It does not trust anyone, and it is not ready to allow Pakistan to grow independently.
Probably that is why, to the military, the Constitution is a piece of paper, and in the eyes of generals politicians are greedy and incompetent fools. From the military’s perspective breaking a law is legitimate and violation of privacy and human rights is acceptable because defending Pakistan is a much bigger goal than building a healthy civil society.
Human life does not have much value in Pakistan because in the military’s view those who die in ‘protecting’ Pakistan—the fortress of Islam are ‘shaheeds’. The Taliban, now, justify their acts by the same logic.
Since military does not respect the rule of law, human rights or the civil society, some of its officers have been violating the law without a shred of shame or regret. Examples of General Zia-ul-Haq, General Aslam Bag, General Hamid Gul, General Asad Durrani and General Pervez Musharraf show us that some of the most senior generals of the Pakistan Army were irresponsible and reckless. Junior officers such a Brigadier (retd) Imtiaz or Major Amer followed their seniors in playing foul.
In order to provide Pakistan with a hero and an icon, the military minds of Pakistan invented a new image of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, after Jinnah had died. In his life Jinnah followed Victorian values but after death he was Islamized and was portrayed as an icon of the Islamic ideology of Pakistan.
Jinnah had his own contradictions. He had a love and hate relationship with the West.
Towards the end of the 19th century he went to England at a time when Britain was going through significant social and political changes. Centuries-old British traditions and beliefs had been replaced by liberal political ideas. Jinnah was inspired and attracted by those changes. He was mesmerized by the British system. While in Britain, Jinnah adopted English manners, he drank alcohol, ate pork and wore English dresses. He liked and copied the English culture but at the end of the day he was a colored man.
The 19th century Britain was deeply racist and class differences were conspicuous in the British society. The English would never accept an Indian as an equal. They would not offer him true respect. Jinnah and other Indians in Britain were from an uncivilized culture and were perhaps viewed as inferior human beings. Indians could copy English manners but the master race was too proud of its history and culture, and with its place in the world.
Jinnah learned the lesson. His ego and his intellectual pride were hurt in England. Upon his return to India, Jinnah joined the All Indian Congress Party and campaigned for the Indian independence. But in his heart Jinnah was not comfortable. He was not at peace with his Indian identity and, perhaps, he never felt at home in India.
Unlike Jinnah, Gandhi was a part of the Indian soul. He understood his country, its people and their culture. Gandhi attracted the Indian masses because of his charismatic leadership and his understanding of the public psychology. Gandhi dressed like them, he spoke peoples’ language, and he would cross boundaries of race and religion to appear as a true Indian.
On the other hand, Jinnah had a different personality. He was reserved and closed. He was serious and composed. He was honest and sincere but at the same time he was an intellectual with an aristocratic touch. Jinnah was impressed with the late 19th century liberal British political thoughts and he liked Victorian manners. He was a true gentleman but of a different skin color. Jinnah was a misfit in India but he was a misfit in Britain, too.
May be it was Jinnah’s deep identity vacuum and inner crisis of his place in the world that when he joined the All India Muslim League, he turned his dilemma of identity into his greatest strength. He offered a new solution and his solution was the search for a new identity, a separate identity, for himself and his fellow Indian Muslims.
Eventually, he found his identity in form of Pakistan. But once he achieved his goal he saw a larger problem. What kind of country Pakistan would be?
In his addresses just before the creation of Pakistan and after the independence, Jinnah tried to explain what his new country was about. His love for the liberal Western political thought led him to say that Pakistan would be a modern state, which would treat all its citizens equally regardless of their faith, race or creed. And yet the same Jinnah, in his other speeches, pronounced Pakistan a place to experiment Islamic rules and values.
Jinnah died without resolving the identity paradox. He lived with a dichotomy and he died with a dichotomy but Pakistan still faces consequences of Jinnah’s paradoxes.
The military rulers of Pakistan have re-invented Jinnah that fits the military’s vision of Pakistan. Under this vision, some truths can not be brought to the light and troubling questions are avoided. The result of such a discourse is that everybody, from ordinary people of Pakistan to the media and politicians, live dual lives and follow double standards. For example, corruption is common among government servants and other segments of the Pakistani society but the most corrupt pretend to be most patriotic Pakistanis and true Muslims. Many drink alcohol but also do not miss Friday prayers. The majority of Pakistanis follow Arabic rituals without understanding the language and the Arabic culture. They are sensitive about their Pakistani identity and yet they adopt and follow foreign cultures and identities.
Pakistanis leave Pakistan and even take citizenships of other countries but then they create ‘little Pakistans’ abroad. In Britain, Pakistanis are the only community who are more engaged in Pakistani politics than the British. Pakistani political and religious parties have their branches and offices abroad. Pakistanis have left the country and have adopted foreign nationalities and yet they are part of the peculiarities and hypocrisies of the Pakistani society.
The above behavior is a sign that we Pakistanis have a problem related to identity. Many of us have an inflated superiority complex and at the same time we are also victims of a misplaced fear about our identity. As a society and as people Pakistanis are not calm and relaxed. There is no real sense of belonging and not a single purpose over which all Pakistanis can agree. This makes Pakistan at war with itself and with other cultures.
Indeed, Pakistan needs fundamental changes in direction and in its political and ideological discourse. Such a change will not be easy. It requires a very big vision and broadminded approach. Pakistan is sucked by violence and intolerance. For a meaningful change, the military must give up its obsession with building and controlling the Pakistani society under an identity that is based on fear, hatred and false pride. Secondly, the military and the civil society should stand up to religious pressure groups and must not bow to their blackmailing. The change in Pakistan should start from the cleaning of the education system and this alone is a huge task.
The current Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, has brought some positive changes with regards to the military’s involvement in politics and under his leadership the military seems to have taken a back seat but it is not enough. The military should not be completely excluded from Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs but it should sincerely let the civilian leadership to steer Pakistan out of its current state. The military can have advisory role. Pakistan needs peace not an agenda of an expansionist super power.