Previous LUBP Interviews
with Ayesha Siddiqa (Part I)
with Nadeem F Paracha
with Kamran Shafi
LUBP: There is a growing perception that there has been an over-emphasis on the “feudal” tag by our urban chattering class who selectively orchestrate this term as an understanding of rural Pakistan and as bait against some politicians. While the land holdings amongst the feudal elite decrease with each generation and conversely as urban political parties consolidate their land mafia groups and as this debate always excludes the army’s real estate business and land holdings, would it be fair to conclude that the our urban understanding of feudalism needs an update?
AS: Feudalism is fashionable and I would say it exists but in different form. The fact of the matter is that feudalism has morphed into a different shape. Karl Marx defined feudalism as a mode of production. The shape of feudalism seems to have changed from this perspective. According to empirical research by Akbar Zaidi the number of large farmland has reduced.
My argument is that the industrial-business elite and the landed-feudal have merged. They use land as a political capital to draw financial gains from the state and other places too. What is problematic is the behaviour. Marx never defined feudalism in political and cultural terms. We have a state bureaucracy that is feudal. Even our urban professionals have a feudal attitude.
LUBP: The incubation of jihadi sectarian militias, with Southern Punjab and now FATA serving as its primary laboratories, has been disastrous and has resulted in the massacres and pogroms against Barelvis, Christains, Shias, Ahmadis, Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan. Why is our civil society and educated youth largely silent on this issue and so clueless on the rare occasion when they address this issue? Why there is a trend in Pakistan’s mainstream media as well as blogs to condemn unknown terrorists. Why do media persona and bloggers, with very few exceptions, refrain from naming and condemning the specific jihadi and sectarian groups (Taliban, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jundullah etc) who not only execute acts of terror but also proudly own up to such acts?
AS: I believe it is fear mixed with bigotry that individual members of the media don’t name terrorists. Another possible reason is that the media is itself full of friends and clients of the jihadis. A large number of small-time journalists work for jihadi organizations or for intelligence agencies.
LUBP: Similarly, our chattering class seems deliberately obtuse on the mistreat and disenfranchisement of sub-national groups like the Balochis in particular but also the Sindhis, Saraikis and Pushtuns. What makes the narrative of our dominant group so dismissive and insensitive of the concerns of our sub-national groups?
AS: The problem with what you call the chattering classes is that they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. I don’t think that they don’t ever think about other sub-national groups.
But the fact is that they are driven by their anxiety of being left behind in the international race. For them, things could get better if it were not for Pakistan’s poor image. They don’t have the patience to think about the tension of the sub-national groups. I would argue that such thinking reflects the disparities of development in our society.
Those that have surged ahead don’t want to look back at those who haven’t for no fault of theirs. Such thinking is found all over South Asia. You must hear middle and upper-middle class Indians speak of sub-national movements.
LUBP: Has our Deep State realized the futility of using Jihadi sectarian militias as an instrument of foreign and local policy imperatives and buried the doctrine of Strategic Depth?
AS: No, the state has not realized the fallacy of their policies such as strategic depth which is not about finding safe haven, in case of a war with India, but about having confidence of having some form of strategic parity vis-à-vis the adversary. Given the fact that it is the military, which decides on matters of national security, the sense of parity vis-à-vis India is military driven. We do not think in terms of economic, social or cultural competition but only in terms of military-strategic strength. From that perspective, our sense of insecurity remains and so the deep state continues with holding on to militant groups to ward off the threat of India’s military dominance.
LUBP: Are there any ideological, logistical and organizational differences (“Good” Taliban, “Bad Taliban”, “Pakistani” Taliban, “Afghan” Taliban) between the various Taliban-affiliated Jihadi organizations (LeT, LeJ, SSP, JeM, HM) and is it possible to contain their influence and continue to treat them as our “assets”?
AS: I sometimes ask those that talk about the TTP to define the entity. It is not an organization but a network of all those people and groups that want to continue the battle against the ‘other’ at all costs. These are and have been the agents of the state at one time or the other.
Those that fight the state become the TTP or the bad Taliban while those that cooperate are the good ones. The fact of the matter is that the JeM, SSP, LeJ and LeT may have their independent organizational identity, but a lot of their members seem to drift into forming this hostile network. General Akbar Ali’s plan to take-over Kashmir in 1947/48 didn’t work mainly because it was dependent upon clarity of mind of non-state actors. Since that was not possible, we failed.
The same problem continues to haunt us even now. The military tends to draw a difference between splinters and groups with no mechanism to ensure that boys who join the groups will not eventually become part of some splinter.
LUBP: In your study for Newsline, “The Conservatively Hip” you talked about the identity crisis facing even the affluent youth of Pakistan and their drift into radical conservative trends imported into this country. How do we address this trend?
AS: The only way to save our youth is to start a new narrative which is not dependent on western liberalism but explores sources of our own civilizational liberalism. Unfortunately, our educated elite tend to be averse to liberal thinking when it comes to our own culture and religion.
We need to talk and debate to find out that secularism also has basis in our own civilizational history. Secularism is not about lack of faith but about the separation of religion from state. We are struck with a state of economic and political poverty which only gives rise to such confrontation as we see today. It’s only with a new narrative that violence could be controlled.
LUBP: Thank you very much, Dr Siddiqa.