Pakistan: Courting the Abyss

Pakistan

A lot has been written on India-Pakistan relations in the past seventy years. It would be tempting to think that everything that needs to be said on this topic has already been said – but as Tilak Devasher illustrates in this book, like any other nation, Pakistan is a perpetual motion machine of political and economic forces that is alive and evolving even today. In his introduction, Tilak states that this book is neither a comparison between India and Pakistan nor is it about Indo-Pak relations. He does point out that given the State’s genesis, its story and identity is inextricable from that of India. His assertion that this book “is essentially about Pakistan” was the biggest reason that I decided to read it.

The first section of this book describes the Pakistan Movement and its impact on the sociopolitical environment of the newly-created state. The second section, aptly titled “the Building Blocks”, describes the ideological gymnastics of Pakistan’s founders that sowed the seed of what we see as Pakistan’s greatest problems today. These two sections, meticulously researched and heavily annotated, draw on personal papers, contemporary commentary, and the accounts of multiple credible sources to draw up a detailed narrative of the foundation of Pakistan. Tilak describes the feeble attempt by Pakistan’s founders to carve out a national identity by unifying diverse ethnicities under Islam. He suggests that this drumming up of fervor was a hypocritical manipulation of the populace by the landed Muslim elite, who would not have survived politically without support from the British. It appears that this short-sighted tactic is the root of what ails Pakistan today. Tilak traces the anti-Hindu fervor of the country’s early days as it hardened into the anti-India and anti-Hindu Nazariya-i-Pakistan – the Pakistani world-view. For a person looking for an informative source on the forces that led to the creation of Pakistan, these two sections deliver impeccably.

The third section of this book, The Framework, dwells on how the Pakistani Army developed its strong influence on public life, and how it runs a parallel administration and an influential power base despite the Civilians who occasionally play government. Interestingly, Tilak touches on the opportunities that the Civilian Governments could have exploited to wrest control from the military, but failed to do so.  This section also contains a detailed analysis of how the military treats militant groups as “strategic assets” and in the process has been riding a tiger that it cannot dismount. Continuing the narrative of the first two chapters, Tilak points out how the military’s raison d’etre is rooted in Pakistan’s hostility with India, and how it has institutionalized this hostility and made it a part of the nation’s identity.

The fourth section, extends the narrative of how the tactical Islamization that started with the Pakistan Movement has festered into the religious extremism that plagues today’s Pakistan. While Tilak uncovers the depth of Islamization through the network of Madrasas, he points out that a large number of extremist fighters have actually been produced by the Public School system. This frightening statistic is an indicator of how deep Islamization and its anti-India and anti-west currents are playing out in contemporary Pakistani society. This section is an implicit warning to Pakistan and its neighbours – that there exists a deep supply of potential extremists that are likely to explode past its borders given the appropriate trigger.

The fifth section of this book – the WEEP analysis touches on water, education, the economy, and population. One chapter dwells on the impending water crisis – something that most agrarian economies are facing in the 21st Century.  The chapter on education is an extension of the earlier analysis of Madrasas and the ineffectual public education system. Unfortunately, it appears that no emphatic efforts at reform are foreseen in this space. The chapter on Economy highlights the obvious deficiencies of any military-centric economy. The chapter on Population, pointing to a Demographic Time Bomb rounds of this section.

The sixth section touches briefly on Pakistan’s relations with the USA, China, India, and Afghanistan.

Personally, the seventh section – Looking Inwards was the most hard-hitting. Tilak introduces this section as “the Lament of Pakistanis whose writings reflect the pain and anguish at the state of affairs in Pakistan and the trajectory of its future”. This section comprises quotes of social, religious, and ethnic issues that plague Pakistan today.

Overall, this book is a highly informative and engrossing read. Tilak delivers on his promise of a Book About Pakistan. For anyone wishing to form an informed opinion on the beginnings of Pakistan, the first two sections are a strong enough reason to buy this book. For others, wishing to depart from the shallow picture of Pakistan as a political and military opponent, this book will help build an insightful and nuanced understanding of the complex and dangerous sociopolitical forces that are writhing within the country.

To the Thinking Indian, this book is also a warning. It illustrates a 70-year view of how the inflammation of communal passions contributed to a failed terrorist state. It points out how foreign powers exploit fledgling states for their own strategic goals and then abandon them to their own devices. With the current state of affairs in India, where religious identity is being tied strongly to national identity – we risk making the same mistakes that the architects of the Pakistan Movement made 100 years ago. In addition, India’s increasing scarcity of vital resources and a similar demographic buildup require reform and investment on a war footing to avoid the problems that Pakistan now faces.

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