Pakistan and the Search for Identity (Part 2) – by Rusty Walker



Neither blindness nor ignorance corrupts people and governments. They soon realize where the path they have taken is leading them. But, there is an impulse within them, favored by their natures and reinforced by their habits which they do not resist; it continues to propel them forward as long as they have a remnant of strength. He who overcomes himself is divine. Most see their ruin before their eyes; but do they go on into it. – quote from German historian, Leopold von Ranke

The passage above reminds me my beloved United States blundering into the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq. But, it also applies to my thesis here of a “path leading to” a nation’s collective identity. Most countries believe themselves to be in pursuit of certain ideals and at least pretend to moral high-ground. But, in the pursuit of goals, countries necessarily work for self-interest and in doing so exhibit double standards or hypocrisy along the way. In Realpolitik this is business as usual. This is not to dismiss the ideals of virtue it is merely to accept historical fact. Motives of people, governments and military are multi-layered complexities. The prior administrations of President H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton despite a foreign policy devoted to spreading democracy, and funding for “National Endowment for Democracy,” all ended in “negotiated capitulation.” Thus, the “friendly tyrants” policy prevailed as American and European businesses were desperate to expand trade with these developing countries, who rejected human rights initiatives and with it, democracy. Even Pakistan’s U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution complaint over India’s violations in Kashmir in 1994 was tabled. Pakistan’s closest friends, Iran and China, rallied against it. Similar measures had been targeting Iran and China. 1 These are the answers to questions of broken “loyalties,” and why nations like the United States’ whose identity is one of a freedom-loving country deals, with oppressive governments.

Alignments of political parties jockeying for power are equally frustrating. The PPP and MQM coalition of the past seemed closer to their stated common interests. Alas, in domestic politics, unsavory alliances were born of hypocrisy when the PML-N and MQM, with different ideologies form a coalition for political influence. The MQM identifies itself with democracy, but has a culture of violence; 2 and the PML-N aligns with terrorists.3 The MQM leader, Altaf Hussain, after Salman Taseer murder, called for “religious freedom” (Hussain suggested a resolution for making the speech by Quaid-i-Azam to the Constituent Assembly on 11th August 1947 part of the course from nursery to Ph. D. level),4 but on other hand, arranges a coalition with PML-N who aligns with jihadists that favor the Blasphemy Law. The coalition is also one of short-term memory. The PML-N government led by Nawaz Sharif carried out a military operation in Karachi, the prime target of which was the MQM in the 1990s. In this way alleged democratic parties are sacrificed while Pakistan’s identity with democracy is compromised.

Politically, this is how identities become compromised. Internationally, a country’s identity may also be a balance of moral conflicts; not unlike the United States dependence on Saudi oil, despite the latter’s funding of Madrassas and terrorists, yet aligning with freedom fighters in Libya. Nations are a myriad of mixed and fluid alliances, all for self-interest- some for survival, some for geostrategic reasons; not always good or bad, ethical or non-ethical. Although Washington and Pakistan engages in such paradoxical geopolitics, we often fail to understand such complexities when they involve ourselves. The American people were confused when Arab countries denounced our stand against an aggressor in the Gulf War. Despite Arab League support, the 1991 war was largely condemned by Islamic countries as Western government intrusion in an Arab matter. Pakistanis will reproach America for not being consistently pure in its motives, while their own government is consistently inconsistent in its relationships, with the U.S. and its own internal politics. It is largely forgotten that in Afghanistan there were “only two governments that recognized the Taliban Government,” namely, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.5

As Will Durant wrote, “There are few real villains in history.” Such, concepts as purity some would like to demand of nations, even naming one, “The Land of the Pure.” No land is pure.

Part of this essay is the common narratives that impede Pakistan’s ability to accept its own responsibilities and thus come to terms with its identity.

Continued from Part II-Complaint of US pressure:

2. “During the Cold War the US administration coerced General Zia to fight their proxy war that shouldn’t have involved Pakistan.”

Neither General Zia ul-Huq, nor any other Pakistani leader, was forced or coerced into a proxy war with Afghanistan. Pakistan willingly engaged in a proxy war in Afghanistan from the mid-1950s for good reason at the time: in order to avoid a potential geostrategic vice grip between India and USSR. This was Pakistan addressing an existential threat, notwithstanding the dire unintended consequences decades later. Still, in geopolitics unintentional consequences are the most important ones. Afghanistan PM Daoud signed a lucrative loan and development deals with Khrushchev, as Eisenhower aligned with Pakistan. Daoud was intent on creating a Pashtunistan across into Pakistan territory.6 The precedent of using rival Pashtun tribes against each other in a proxy war began. It also became extremely brutal and largely unsuccessful as every operation for control over Afghanistan has been. Afghanistan and Pakistani Pushtuns recognized no real border in the artificial British invention of the Durand line (Pakistanis and Afghans identified with each others shared language, religion, literature, culture and tribal structure,). The importance of a fighting force of extremist Muslims was immediately apparent during the first term of the first president of Pakistan. Thus, underground training and arming of Muslim proxies dates back to 1947-1948, and 1965 Indo-Pak wars. First General Ayub, then General Zia a decade later, “Pakistan benefited greatly” from the “JFK and Eisenhower administrations in the Southwest Asian Treaty Organization.” 7

ISI : Pushtun’s from the tribal agencies were trained to fight in Kashmir in 1948 and contain the Soviets in Afghanistan early on. Following the 1965 Indo-Pak war the Reagan administration in 1981 began substantial foreign aid to Pakistan. In this way the Cold War containment of Soviets actually served the mutual interests of the U.S. and Pakistan in Afghanistan. Ayub and Zia both used US containment policy to exploit American resources both for economic and military assistance. It was under Ayub Khan that the ISI began a wider and deeper use of sustaining the military rule, dealing with political opposition and undercover involvement in international interests. The end result has been the influence of the ISI in every aspect of Pakistani society, including the highest court in the land. Following the brutal, third Indo-Pakistan war, 1971 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto becomes president of Pakistan and stood for the promise of democracy after fifteen years of military rule. Still, Bhutto continued the surreptitious proxy war in Afghanistan in 1975.8 The “Afghan cell” was an ISI run strategy operation. By 1978 Zia had given Reagan his personal guarantee that Pak tabled the nuke program.9 Duplicity became the rule for any military dealings with the United States of American from then until to today, from Zia to Musharraf to Kayani.

Nations must protect themselves by creating a framework for managing future conflict. It would appear that without the benefit of hindsight, the initial “Deep State” might have been a reasonable strategy in the beginning. However, a civilian leader’s solution might have differed from a military leader’s authoritarian methodology. Subsequently, General Zia ul-Haq continued the strategy of a proxy war in Afghanistan, funding and involving ISI in laying the groundwork for his own “Strategic Depth.” The U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan can share the responsibility of development of the proxy war, but it was policy of a homegrown Pakistan militant force, based on opportunism.

The narrative of shifting blame continues;

3. “The US is responsible for the Taliban and the Afghanistan war because funding the Taliban eventually created terrorism. This is America’s war not ours.”

This is half right: While, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and Pakistan can share the responsibility of development of Mujihadeen-to-Taliban, the evidence presented above substantiates that Pakistan is directly responsible for the Taliban and jihadists in the FATA region, decades earlier than U.S. assistance. Following ISI’s twenty-three year campaign to put Hekmatyar into Kabul, after the Soviet pull-out, the ISI needed another proxy army to control Afghanistan. Decades later the ISI chose Mullah Mohammad Omar, a former low level Mujahedeen commander, to lead the “next proxy to subdue the unruly Afghanistan – the Taliban.” 10

The Pushtun warriors were assembled and trained by ISI. By the time that Benazir Bhutto inherited the Taliban which had grown to substantial size, later to metastasize into lethal groups, TTP, LeT, LeJ, Haqqani network, al Qaeda and others, she was “hemmed in by the military nemesis that had hanged her father.” General Hamid Gul, who had rigged the elections to deny the PPP the majority that it had won, admitted, “Where security concerns are overwhelming…Pakistan has been the eye of the storm….that is why again and again, the nation veers to the support of the army-even if the army acts against the political institutions.” 11

US-led invasion on Afghanistan is cited as the reason for the flood of refugees who crossed into Pakistan. The most recent (2009) census numbers  approximately 1.7 million Afghan refugees from Afghanistan, primarily in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas, with the cities of Karachi and Quetta taking their share.12 This has certainly added to the conflict in tribal lands and into major cities. Recently the UN Security Council finally put the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on the anti-terrorism sanctions list. The decision of the Pakistan Army to combat militants crossing the Durand Line was seen by Pakistan’s own jihadists as joining the Bush “War on Terror.”

I would submit, however, that my construction of the neat, statement above ignores the messy fact that the majority of the operatives in this region were not trustworthy friends to begin with; they were not sharing a commitment to a democratic and pluralistic nation of Pakistan, in their zeal to fight in Kashmir or Afghanistan, – and were in fact Islamist/ Salafists with their own agenda, already conducting ethnic murders on the Shiites and tribal minorities in FATA prior to 9/11. General Musharraf, has “admitted that terrorist outfits were ‘deliberately created and nurtured’ by ‘past governments’ ‘as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives’ “13

Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, argues against growing evidence of influence extending deeply into political parties, establishment press, and the Chief Justice office.  Why Pasha allows a failed policy to continue is the question Pakistanis ask now. Even in the face of massacring security forces, attacking the GHQ, Rawalpindi mosque, Pakistan Navy’s airbase PNS Mehran, sectarian murders of the Hazara Shias, or Baluchs on the premise of separatists, kidnapping, and kill and dump sites, General Pasha has been rather silent on civil societies widespread and vocal suspicion of the ISI. Pasha shrugs off accusations, which contribute to the certainty that the ISI is behind the terror. One wonders if Pasha were to actually admit what is general knowledge, if there would be a collective sigh of relief, instead of anger. Then, an outline, a plan, and resources allocated for eradicating these uncontrollable militants. Wouldn’t this be a reasonable platform for eliciting the entire international community in support of a realignment of security forces reassessment of goals?

Returning to the theme of identity, there is an insistent segment of the population that adds a religious factor to the “Search for Identity” in Pakistan. It should not be glossed over, that many desire a place for an Islamic role in government and interpretations of the Quran. Can a country struggling with religious identity reconcile sectarian, secular, and religious minorities, given the legacy of the brutality of the Blasphemy Law, as just one constitutional issue of many Zia legacies? Can liberal and Western ideas together with strict Sunni adherence to Islam exist? Is Islam incompatible with liberties normally associated with democracy? According to Freedom House -freedom index- no Muslim-majority country is defined as “fully free.”

The examples of Islamic governance are more often oppressive. The Mutawwa’in, religious police, in Saudi Arabia, who come with sticks, monitor and correct people find un-Islamic even a friendly chat with the opposite sex; women must cover their entire bodies. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, women are forced to obey a dress-code; no satellite dishes allowed apparently to avoid Western television, political dissidents are often imprisoned; groups of Mullahs, or Clerics decide governance. In Afghanistan, under the Taliban women were forced to wear the burqa, and completely excluded from education and public life. Non-Islamic enjoyments such as listening to music, sports and kite flying were banned. The Taliban destroyed ancient shrines and symbols of other faiths, which were also banned. (the Bamiyan, 1500 year old Buddha statues, blown up, was heartbreaking), but these are radicals.


Could governmental-Ulema decide rule of law for a diverse muslim population in Pakistan, divided into sects and subsects, besides having significant Christain and Hindu minorities? The question of personal liberty and freedom within the context of Islamic governments is still a global debate. Proof that muslims can progress in a democracy is Turkey. Turkey appears to be evolving support for democracy and the free market as well as productive entrepreneurs under a quasi-secular governance.

If Pakistan is a balance of past and present, traditional and modernity, Islam and secularism, then it is the accommodation of all of these identities that define the nation. If a military, secular, or religious authoritarian influence is evident throughout civil society, law and order, and government the balance of those elements are disrupted. Irrespective of our separate and distinctive cultural differences we can unite in a common identity if our collective welfare is respected and we feel heard by an elected central government. Even the often maligned Western experience is a part of the Pakistan consciousness. The competition for political leadership and its inherent conflicting objectives must not confuse these identities. Adding to the complexities is the ever-present gap of haves and have-nots, the illiterate masses against the elitists, progressives, and the intellectual elite. Think for a moment of the differences between the appeal of Gandhi and Jinnah and Mohammed Ibal. 

Is it possible then, to maintain a polyglot, illiterate tribal region, largely poor and isolated, and find equilibrium and a common identity with the cosmopolitan educated in established provinces and cities? In the absence of the military authoritarian specter to which I consistently refer, the strengthening of national identity through improving domestic infrastructure by the civil government is a proven methodology. The unique identity sustained among ethnic and sectarian groups in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan are less likely to conflict with the notion a binding Pakistani national identity when they are sharing in the federal government plans for basic needs. Recently President Zardari’s amendment to the “Black Law” in FATA is a positive step for civil rights and strengthening common identities. The long overdue action starts to redeem much of the past deprivation. The PPP’s declaration to gradually merge Tribal Areas into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is to witness a renewed focus and maturing of a central government. Even in offering local autonomy, as in the states and federal government of the U.S., there can be a sense of local and federal identity working together. Regions granted autonomy in the past became disenfranchised to the exclusion of schooling, economic opportunities and valuable infrastructure. These steps the PPP are currently taking are what build loyalties and expand identities to include a national consciousness necessary for solidarity of a strong state. A powerful nation certainly needs the deterrent of a standing military, but military is not what defines a democracy. Equally important a united nation needs a strong, involved central government that sufficiently serves the people. This is not to confuse notions of “hand-outs” or an entitlement populace, with basic building blocks of educational opportunities and infrastructure.

In such an environment innovation and entrepreneurial practices begin to emerge; productivity and industry are built on sound secular educational infrastructure, not Madrassas. The Pakistan educational system currently ranks among the world’s least effective and the current physical state of public sector schools reflects these low ranks. In lessons of the recent past we have seen that given no means to build schools, tribal children went to the structure of the Taliban. What choice did they have? Educational reform needs to address public and private educational institutions. All tiers of schooling need to address a balanced unbiased, un-romanticized history, (inclusive of the reasonable dispute over Kashmir without undue hate-mongering for India, and colonial, Western, U.S. history devoid of demonization) to imbue youth with tolerance in general, and empathy for minorities, critical thinking, ability to enable discourse and inquiry and lifelong learning.

So, what is the identity of Pakistan? So far in this series, it is hard to deny that the identity of Pakistan appears to include Islam, and military with regard to ethics, and safety issues and policy decisions. It also depends upon whom you ask. To radical Muslims it is Islamist with the need for more Sharia Law; but, Islamist parties have not been elected. Pakistan is a democracy- domestically it retains an undercurrent of Muslim and secular, business-as-usual, with entrepreneurial concerns; a republic where democracy abides and provinces hash out their  local concerns- a Democracy at work – one hopes that election results in the future will be a valid reflection of the people’s choice and monitored closely to build on what we have: a collective consciousness that identifies our “Land of the Pure” as moving towards a more progressive, free and peaceful Pakistan.

About the author: Rusty Walker is an independent political analyst, educator, author, Vietnam veteran-era of U.S. Air Force, from a military family, retired college professor, former Provost (Collins College, U.S.A.), artist, musician and family man. Rusty Walker is an ardent supporter of progressive, democratic movements growing in Pakistan.

Next installment: Part 3.

1 The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel P. Huntington, p. 94; pp. 193-195).

2 “The MQM has always used its control over Karachi to gain political mileage against its rivals. The culture of violence has grown so uncontrollably in Karachi over the last three decades that all kinds of mafias now claim turf in various parts of the commercial hub of Pakistan, which overlaps with political interests. It would be interesting to know what is PML-N’s take on this unfettered use of violence for political.” Daily Times, July 08, 2011

3 The closeness of the PML-N to religious extremists and even terror elements like the SSP (Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT, now the JuD, or Jamaat-ud-Dawa, led by Hafiz Saeed), and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) are well known. In fact, Nawaz Sharif was only recently attending talks and rallies with Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the JuD and India’s enemy number one. India blames Hafiz Saeed and his JuD for the 26/11 attacks. Nawaz Sharif, while claiming that Pakistan’s India-centric military focus should be altered, immediately jumped into Hafiz Saeed’s lap: this was done within days of each other, leading the people of Pakistan to believe that the N in PML-N stands for “neurotic”.


5 God’s Terrorists, The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad, Charles Allen, 2006, p292.

6President Taraki, full of Soviet-backed bluster, visited by Zia in Afghanistan lectured Zia that the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan was part of Afghanistan (The Cold War in the Third World and the Collapse of Detent in the 1970s, Cold War International History Project.)

7 The Wars of Afghanistan, Tomsen, 2011.

8 Zia bargained with the Kremlin assuring no interference, while taking the pro-U.S. funding and training of insurgents that also served his purpose.

9 The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000, Kux, 2001.

10 The Wars of Afghanistan, Tomsen, 2011, p531.

11 Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, Jones, 2003.

12  – a good site for reference; Punjabis (42.15%) 70.7 million; Pashtuns (17.42%) 35.2 million, Sindhis (14.1%) 24.8 million, Seraikis (10.53%) 14.8 million, Muhajirs (7.57%) 13.3 million, Balochs is (3.57%) 6.3 million, Others (4.66%) 11.1 million; 1.7 million Afghan refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan. (also see, Wikipedia, Pakistan ethnic groups)




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