Friday, May 27, 2011

Pakistan: The Myth and Reality of Pakistan in Crisis

Maleeha Lodhi | Credit:

By Shastri Ramachandaran*

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

MUMBAI (IDN) - Maleeha Lodhi, former editor of two leading Pakistani dailies, scholar and twice ambassador to the U.S. and the UK, was not on the list of insiders whom I very much wanted to meet during a recent visit to Pakistan.

I had heard about her from Indian male journos -- the sort with hardly a kind word for high-profile Pakistanis, especially successful women -- who had met her while in Washington and London. Their snide remarks made me more interested in her views on the terrorist situation, the India-Pakistan dialogue, the challenge of Afghanistan and the worsening U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Therefore, the disappointment was greater when she could not be reached during the eight days that took me to Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Pakistan-held Kashmir and Swat where we met a legion of people, mostly civilian and army officers, for their views on Pakistan’s internal and external problems.

However, there was a consolation: a copy from our hosts of Lodhi's new book 'Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State' (Oxford University Press). The book seeks to erase the impression of Pakistan as a country of religious fanatics with a variety of terrorist groups mid-wived by the army and the intelligence service (ISI) and with the aid of venal politicians, a country that is either a failed state or on the brink of collapse.

Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State asserts that beneath these exaggerated realities are a resilient people, a robust civil society and vibrant culture, and that driven by faith in Pakistan's future, those with the vision and will can extricate the country from the traps in which it is caught.

The contributions by some of the best minds concerned with reclaiming the Crisis State, which Lodhi has edited, would be gleefully relished by Indians with a particular mindset: it reinforces everything they believe is rotten in the state of Pakistan. Yet the pieces in the book do not reinforce the conviction of many in India and the West that Pakistan is hurtling towards certain doom.

The authors agree that Pakistan is a mess now, "a weak state with strong society"; they also agree, by and large, with the world's perception of what led to this 'crisis state', but not in the doomsday scenarios painted. They believe that given capable leadership, Pakistan can overcome its problems, "re-imagine its future" and chart a new course.

The authors are insiders -- experts, academics and state functionaries from diplomacy, strategic affairs and the army -- well-regarded for their knowledge and insights. They are all liberals out to challenge the negative image of Pakistan in the world at large and banish the national mood of pessimism and despair. Just as Pakistan's internal conflicts are a cause and consequence of its external problems, so also the way the country sees itself is influenced by the way the world sees it.

Historian Ayesha Jalal's outstanding contribution focuses on Pakistan’s obsession with (Islamic) ideology making it blind to history, and why it is unable to make sense of the present and move forward on the basis of its strengths. She quotes Saadat Hasan Manto's taunt that "we know neither how to live nor how to die" and tries to provoke Pakistanis to bestir themselves to strive for a better future.

The 'newsy' bits in what Lodhi and others have to say about their own successive governments and of Pakistan being a U.S. client state against its own interests throw new light on old issues. There are different viewpoints and arguments, from those who want Pakistan to rid itself of its obsession with India and India-centric security concerns to those inspired by a larger South Asian vision. There are others who assert that with Pakistan and India being competitive, peace and harmony will forever elude the subcontinent.

Whether the arguments are pro or anti-India, for or against the U.S., or over Pakistan's obsessions with nuclear security and Islamic ideology, there is agreement on the need for a democracy where civilian supremacy reigns; or, at least, a healthy civil-military balance and not a militarised establishment as at present.

Second, most contributors agree that the only pragmatic course open to Pakistan is a civilian-driven, moderate approach at home, towards India, in Afghanistan and in its relationship with the U.S.; a course that doesn’t intensify conflict at home, in the region and abroad, based on an security paradigm different from the one embraced by the army.

The views and perspectives in the book, including of the venerable Akbar Ahmed and bestselling novelist Mohsin Hamid -- are bound by the conviction that "the impetus for change and renewal can only come from within".

The contributors are standard bearers of hope, optimism, peace, democracy and co-existence -- from and for the people of Pakistan. If this was a manifesto, Lodhi may well have ended by saying that the people of Pakistan -- as long-suffering victims of a weak and villainous state -- deserve sympathy and support, not hate, threats and intimidation. (IDN-InDepthNews/26.05.2011)

*This article was first carried by The writer, who recently travelled to Pakistan at the invitation of the Government of Pakistan, is a former Editor of Sunday Mail and has worked with leading newspapers in India and abroad. He was Senior Editor and Writer with China Daily and Global Times in Beijing. For nearly 20 years before that he was a senior editor with The Times of India and The Tribune. Besides commentaries on foreign affairs and politics, he has written books, monographs, reports and papers. He is co-editor of the book State of Nepal.