Friday Book Club: What Makes a Pakistani?

While politicians, diplomats and business leaders are negotiating trade deals that would grant open access to American markets, a lucrative new industry of writing books about Pakistan for Western audiences is starting to take hold. Two of these recent books were the subject of reviews this week, and provide an interesting starting point for a discussion of Pakistan ideology both for what each book said…or didn’t say…about the subject.

In today’s Friday Times, Raza Rumi reviews a new book, ‘Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India’ that explores the way the reliance on religion to define Pakistani identity has wreaked havoc with the nation’s foreign policy decisions.
Explaining Pakistan's Foreign Policy

The overall emphasis of the book is to highlight how Pakistan’s exclusive ‘ideological’ identity as opposed to a multi-ethnic nation-state cognisant of its past inhibits the formulation of a realistic foreign policy. This is a view, which many in Pakistan would empathise with especially the political parties. The book also documents the nuances and shades of policy options articulated by various political and religious groups.

This book suggests that the establishment’s attempt to use Islam as a “substitute for nationalism” has resulted in not only external wars such as Kargil, but internal wars to define who qualifies as “Muslim enough” to be Pakistani. In his review, Raza Rumi mentions the 1949 Objectives Resolution, but we can easily connect the dots between this and the way Yahya Khan characterised Bengalis as crypto-Hindus, 1974 law declaring Ahmedis as non-Muslims and present day attacks by anti-Shia groups like SSP and LeJ.

A similar observation was made by Ayesha Siddiqa in her review of a new book edited by Maleha Lodhi, ‘Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State”‘. According to Siddiqa, “The basic thesis of the volume is that there are many things which are not right about the country but that in itself does not qualify it as a failed or failing state”. This is true, of course, and it is important to recognise the progress that Pakistan is making as well as the challenges that remain. But Ms Siddiqa in her review worries that Lodhi’s volume serves as something of an unproductive whitewash, and in ignoring underlying issues surrounding ideology, Lodhi’s book fails to address the critical issue of ideology.

Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis StatePakistan’s fundamental problem is that the state defines citizenship on the basis of a citizen’s putative relationship with religion and the central establishment. This leaves out millions of non-Muslims or members of minority ethnic communities from a sense of representation. Those that choose to protest their rights like the East Pakistanis or Baluch are then brutally butchered in the name of national security. This volume chooses to focus on religion related violence. This category of violence cannot be stopped because the problem of the religiosity of the state becomes compounded with another issue of a powerful military bureaucracy, an institution which tends to use all measures including religion and violence to gain its military-strategic objectives. According to Zahid Hussain, some of the militant groups were connected with the military due to the role they played in the possible resolution of the Kashmir issue or in helping GHQ Rawalpindi deal with India.

Could it be that the bizarre handling of questions military, ideology and national identity were by design? After all, Maleeha Lodhi was appointed Ambassador to the USA following Gen Musharraf’s 1999 coup, and was awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz by Gen Musharraf in 2002. According to Siddiqa, “Maleeha Lodhi’s edited volume is one of the few books that Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations’ head Maj. General Athar Abbas recommends to his visitors”.

Have you read any of these books? If so, what are your thoughts? Are there other new books on Pakistan that you like? Please share in the comments!

One thought on “Friday Book Club: What Makes a Pakistani?

  1. U r only an imagery,
    pasinted across a wall
    how can U reflect
    when U r not even there.

    Books reflect the imagination reeking from a mind
    how can I know between a fib and a fable. The truth
    lies buried in the ashes not in the book.

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