‘Denying Diversity & Demanding Conformity: Pakistan’s Mistaken Approach to its Nationalities & Ethnicities’

The Pakistani deep state has perennially viewed ethnic nationalism and demands by Pashtun, Baloch, Sindhi and Muhajir groups as a threat to the Islamic state of Pakistan. The current Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement and the Baloch demands for more autonomy are seen as anti-national and any discussion of Pashtun or Baloch nationalism or identity is sought to be suppressed.

In a recent piece Karachi-based academic and analyst, Dr S. Akbar Zaidi writes that “one cannot mention either of them by name in our press or on television. It is as if by this silence they will disappear. The mainstream electronic media, for reasons now well understood, based on fear, ignores any reporting about recent developments regarding both national groups which constitute Pakistan. News about their large jalsas is absent from most newspapers. Even in our universities, one cannot talk about either of them in academic forums where one expects Pakistani students to be aware of, and engage with, the different constituents of their nation. After all, any notion of Pakistani nationalism, however one defines it, needs to be interrogated through its multiple variants in order to understand what it really is.”

Referring to the similarities “between the latest manifestation of Pakhtun consciousness and nationalism, and that of a Baloch nationalist militancy, are few, if any at all. Both are nationalisms of smaller ethnic or national groupings in a Punjabi-dominated ethnic state such as Pakistan, but do not share much in terms of social formation, a middle class, a history, or a politics. Both anti-majoritarian nationalisms need to be understood and addressed by mainstream actors, but both forms of consciousness differ markedly in how and why they exist, and what it is they are expressing.”

Zaidi argues for the need to understand “the sense of alienation amongst the different ethnic and national groups which constitute Pakistan — which is composed of numerous ethnicities and nationalities — majoritarian elites and institutions, such as the military, will fail to work through the country’s numerous contradictions. Marginalisation of any ethnic or national group only creates further alienation and resentment, undermining any notion of a federal state. What is often overlooked is that there is a huge difference between being anti-national, anti-state, subversive and unpatriotic. In fact, groups can be highly patriotic and, at the same time, critical of any form of majoritarian hegemony, whether institutional or from any dominant group. One could even argue that it is their patriotism which makes them question this institutional or ethnic dominance. To ask for rights granted to one social group for all others is probably the most patriotic act possible.”

Further, “The manifestation of nationalisms differs according to the stage of evolution of material forces and conditions, and usually depends on the presence, both political and economic, of a middle class. The latter, however defined, is usually at the vanguard of nationalism, where jobs, rights, guarantees and privileges are being demanded and negotiated. This is why one sees different expressions of nationalism by different ethnic and national groups, often changing over time. In nationalist or ethnic groupings which are ruled by sardars or what used to be called ‘feudals’, a non-inclusive, elite nationalism emerges which has few participants. In many ways, despite the substantial differentiation within the Baloch social formation, the older sardars, usually unrepresentative of their own people, have usurped notions of national and ethnic identity, rights and demands. Pakhtun nationalism is even more different, far more advanced and mature, in many salient ways. There are many reasons for this, not just the fact that Pakhtun political consciousness is many decades old, and has found political representation through mass-based electoral politics. This links up with the largely egalitarian society amongst the Pakhtuns, where large landholdings found in all the other provinces have been negligible. Moreover, with a growing and educated, highly political middle class, it is not surprising that Pakhtun nationalism will be the most vocal — although not necessarily the most militant — compared to any other in Pakistan. There is also the small fact that for four decades Pakhtun society and social structures have borne the brunt of war and devastation, all giving rise to demands which are deemed just.”

Ending his piece he argues that “The dominance of a single ethnic or national group, whether by circumstance or design, gives rise to a perpetual sense of a politics of inequality and brings about persistent resentment and discrimination, even if such issues are not always based on evidence or fact. Perceptions need to be addressed to make such developmental politics inclusive. Moreover, a dominant ethnic group which also manifests this dominance through other institutions, such as the military, gives rise to a further sense of alienation, and requires even more delicate handling. The recent manifestation of disenchantment in the way things are done and run in Pakistan is being articulated through the rising expression of injustice and dismissive treatment, particularly amongst the Baloch and the Pakhtuns. Specific conditions exist in both ethnic and national groupings, and this is being made clear by how their different representatives act out their frustrations with the federation and its dominant constituent. Belonging to very different social formations, the Baloch and the Pakhtuns have conveyed their concerns very differently. It is important that such demands are met with conciliatory terms which understand and address issues, rather than through the heavy hand of force. Pakhtun and Baloch nationalisms are not about to go away; if anything, they are only going to become much stronger.”

HRCP on sharp decline in press freedom in Pakistan

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Pakistan presents a sorry picture. According to the global watchdog, Committee to Protect Journalists, since 1992, over 60 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, of whom 33 were murdered. In the first four months of 2018, journalists have been targeted for kidnapping, the Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal – the Pashto language service of the US Congress funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty shut down and one of the leading media groups Geo/Jang/The New group facing pressure from the Pakistani Deep state.

In a press release on May 3, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) took “a serious view of the sharp decline in press freedom in the country over the last several months, which has coincided with the emergence of a strong grassroots movement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

The HRCP also “censured the recent escalation in press harassment and intimidation, and attempts to curb people’s freedom of expression and their access to information.”

Pointing to two incidents that stand out in this alarming pattern the HRCP noted: “The first concerns the recent ban on Geo TV. That this ban was not sanctioned by PEMRA, the government’s media regulatory body, or by the federal information ministry is cause for serious concern. The second is that several regular English-language columns critical of the skewed relationship between citizens and the state—written against the backdrop of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement—were deleted from newspapers’ online editions. Neither development augurs well at a time when the country is preparing to hold a general election in just under two months.”

Further, “apart from these attempts to muzzle reportage and analysis of sociopolitical developments that should count as instances of ordinary people exercising their constitutional freedom of assembly and expression, there has been little movement on the fate of people who have gone ‘missing’ after having written critically about pro-establishment narratives. On World Press Freedom Day, Pakistan needs to take stock and seriously consider the repercussions of attempting to gag its press when it needs the latter most.”

Articles Pakistan Media was Forced not to Run – V

New Pakistan is continuing its series of publishing those articles that Pakistan’s mainstream media was forced not to publish.

In this post we have Syed Talat Husain’s latest article, the first paragraph of his article is published below followed by the entire article.



Right or wrong

Syed Talat Husain

“Even a casual reading of the Islamabad High Court judgment (which for a change is written like a real judgment) cannot but leave you with a deep sense of bewilderment. How could a business-savvy dyed-in-the-wool politician like ex-foreign minister Khawaja Asif leave such gaping holes in his financial matters? How could he be so casual in explaining his employment with a UAE company? Why did he continue to be employed by a foreign entity drawing hefty salary even while he retained portfolios of defence and foreign ministry with him at home?

Author Diplomat Husain Haqqani on Why he wrote his new book: Pakistanis need to hear the real history

In an interview to The National Herald about his new book ‘Reimagining Pakistan’ former diplomat and author Husain Haqqani states: “It is important for many people in Pakistan to realise that a military-run judicial system, is not a judicial system. A political system that is constantly being manipulated and manoeuvred by Generals and judges will result in ineffective governance and poor politics”


Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, says the Pakistani judiciary has acted as a subsidiary of the military. Their decisions have not necessarily changed Pakistan’s politics

Is it possible to change the narrative in a country where most “people would rather gloss over inconvenient truths or be content with blaming different villains for their country’s plight? Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, says it is important to do so and one must examine the causes of Pakistan’s persistent dysfunction. Haqqani lives in the US and was in New Delhi recently to launch his book,“Reimagining Pakistan”. National Herald’s Ashlin Mathew caught up with him for a conversation. Excerpts from the interview:

Why have you decided to reimagine Pakistan?

The idea of this book was born in a conversation many years ago, when Salman Rushdie said, “If nations are imagined communities, Pakistan is poorly imagined.” There were some valid criticisms about how Pakistan was created in a hurry. The generation before us had to suddenly stop being Indian and start being Pakistani; they needed an ideology. I am a Pakistani by birth, so I don’t need it.

So, I thought how I could contribute to the process of reimagining Pakistan. The good thing about imagination is, that what is poorly imagined can be reimagined. That is why I wrote this book. As a kind of thought-provoking, idea-generating exercise. One thing is certain that the next 70 years of Pakistan have to be different from the last 70 years of Pakistan for the people of Pakistan to be genuinely prosperous and happy.

Do you think that is feasible?

I think nations can change very quickly; quite often entrenched attitudes do not change easily. But when they change, they change quickly; we saw that in the case of Soviet Union, Japan after the Second World War and China under Deng Xiaoping. China is run by the Communist Party, but it is run like a capitalist country. At the end of it, it is all about political vision.

In my experience, not many people in Pakistan spend time developing vision. A lot of Pakistani politics is about day-to-day outmanoeuvring of each other. And it goes back to the earliest period of Pakistan. Very few people who took part in the Pakistan struggle wrote books before the Partition. Somebody should have. Nehru wrote, Gandhi wrote; in case of Pakistan, there was nothing – no vision. If no vision existed then, can we have some vision now? I think the time is ripe right now.

You say the problem was in the conception of Pakistan? How do you hope to change that narrative?

Basically, it is important for people of the country to hear the real history and not the contrived history. The fact is that it is time to recognise that a lot of things were left unsaid before partition. I’m not the only one who says this. Ayesha Jalal, the historian, points out that in the 1945-46 period, the Muslim League deliberately kept its programme vague so as to appeal to all kinds of people; the more religious ones and the secular ones. But, we can try to clear things up. There are other countries which have clarified things, re-envisioned themselves and moved forward. So, why can’t Pakistan?

The way for a nation to move forward is to hear alternative courses open to the country. Unless and until multiple ideas are put forward, you will never have genuine, democratic choice. If you go on saying there is only one view, then you are actually trapping your people into moving in one direction.

Is a part of Pakistan’s problem embedded in the global Muslim problem?

The Muslim world is also going through a phase of stagnation and an unwillingness to rethink both historic and current issues. That said, there are stirrings in the Muslim world; when the crown prince of Saudi Arabia invites people to rethink, then maybe for a country that is partially democratic, has come out of a democratic country (India) and that has given birth to another country that is democratic (Bangladesh), it should not be difficult.

Can the Army in Pakistan ever be contained?

I think the Pakistan Army, like any other army, considers itself to be patriotic and a patriotic army maybe doing what it is doing because they believe it is in the country’s best interests. Maybe even they will be forced to rethink. By their own polices, they have forbidden discussion in Pakistan on Pakistan’s weaknesses. So, Unicef announces that Pakistan has the world’s highest infant mortality rate; if you watch Pakistan television channels, very few have discussed it. Everyone is discussing Nawaz Sharif and the Army is saying its own thing. There must be some Pakistani military officers, who will say, “Why do we have the world’s highest infant mortality rate?”, “Why are be lagging behind in education?” In a way, I am like the kid who told the emperor that he had no clothes.

Husain Haqqani: “I think the mullahs and jihadis would be less significant actors if the Pakistani deep state didn’t prop them up”

As we speak, Nawaz Sharif has been barred from holding an office for life. They have done it to the Bhuttos and now Sharif…

Well, Pakistani judiciary, for a very long time, acted as a subsidiary of the Pakistani military. The fact remains that their decisions of a political nature have not necessarily changed Pakistan’s politics. They have only postponed the inevitable. They sent Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to gallows, but that didn’t stop Benazir Bhutto from becoming the Prime Minister. They can disqualify Nawaz Sharif, but they cannot stop his party or members of his family to continue to be influential.

I have my differences with Nawaz Sharif. He and I don’t get along; twice at least he caused me great grief. Once by putting me in prison in 1999 and then by going to the Supreme Court for the ‘Memogate’ case. I have my disagreements, but I think, sometimes, one should not worry about who you like or dislike but worry about what you dislike.

It is important for many people in Pakistan to realise that a military-run judicial system, is not a judicial system. A political system that is constantly being manipulated and manoeuvred by Generals and judges will result in ineffective governance and poor politics.

How serious is the nuclear Pakistan state and can it be contained?

Pakistan’s nuclear status is an important part of Pakistan’s current national narrative. I don’t agree with those who say that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe. The real issue is, ‘Is the Pakistani state going to remain in safe hands forever?’ Extremists cannot take over the nukes unless the extremists take over the Pakistani state. And my point is, in 1950 someone wrote, the extremists won’t even come close to power, but now they are more than ever close to power. So, never say never.

Mullahs and Jihadists are a part of the major problem. How do you handle them?

I think the mullahs and jihadis would be less significant actors if the Pakistani deep state didn’t prop them up. Look at the protests that were organised by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) – 3,000 people in Islamabad. If anybody else had 3,000 people, the police would have come, dispersed them and sent them home. But, for them Islamabad was shut down, because the Army said they wouldn’t be able to disperse them. Similarly, Hafiz Saeed; you think he can win an election? He can’t. The point is, it is the state’s willingness to make them look larger than they are.

Husain Haqqani: “Young Indians being able to get on a train and say they were going on a holiday to Pakistani mountains, young Pakistanis saying they were going to go to Kerala… Why can’t that be our future?”

You have been persona non-grata in Pakistan. Do you think that will change?

My being anti-establishment is not going to change until the Pakistan establishment changes its views. When they call a person a traitor the first time, a lot of people take it seriously. Now, when they have called hundreds of thousands of people traitors for a long period of time, the law of diminishing returns comes to play. So, yes, they have the power. I would rather not go to prison or end up dead or end up missing like many people in Pakistan. I would rather have my voice outside. I am now at the point where I’m not bothered by epithets that emanate from Pakistan against me. Everybody misses home, but I am someone who has reconciled to his situation.

Do you think India and Pakistan can become friendly neighbours?

Part of my task for myself is not only changing the discourse on Pakistan in Pakistan, but also convincing enough Indians to not talk about Pakistan’s disintegration, but to wish for Pakistan to be reimagined.

Frankly, India and Pakistan can have a relationship like the United States and Canada, which is what Mr Jinnah said they would have. So, it may come 70 years too late or maybe in another five years, but it will benefit both India and Pakistan.

Pakistan can then be a looser federation of its nationalities, which guarantees the rights of Sindhis, Balochs, Pashtuns, Punjabis and Muhajirs, and everyone else who lives in that country, instead of being a centralised Islamist state. But, it might get there sooner if more and more Pakistanis can be convinced that Indians do not wish them ill.

One of the messages I come to India with is ‘I understand your concerns, I understand your anger over Pakistani support for terrorism, but we are your neighbour, so wish that we change rather than wish that we disappear’.

There is less than 5% of trade between us. Look at the opportunities. A Pakistani student being able to study in India and vice versa, Pakistani doctors being able to treat Indian patients, Indian doctors being able to treat Pakistani patients.

Young Indians being able to get on a train and say they were going on a holiday to Pakistani mountains, young Pakistanis saying they were going to go to Kerala… Why can’t that be our future?

Articles Pakistan Media was forced not to Run – IV


Continuing our series of articles that were not published by mainstream Pakistani media outlets here is an article by former Senator Afrasiab Khattak.

Here are a few paragraphs from the piece the rest can be found on the blog Alternative Perspectives http://www.alternativeperspectives.org/the-vanishing-freedoms/

The vanishing freedoms

Afrasiab Khattak

“The fiction of a civilian government has been cracking up under heavy burden of the reality of military control over the system during last few years. That the prolonged aggressive sit in in Islamabad in 2014 was scripted by elements in the security establishment was beyond any doubt as the sitting defense minister named names after the end of the aborted coup. The putschists had to beat a  retreat, at least temporarily, in the face of a joint call by all political parties in the parliament for unity against anti democratic forces. But the federal government was considerably weakened and it had  to concede vast swaths of governance, national security and foreign policy to the security establishment. From apex committees in all provinces for steering the anti terror campaign to manning checkpoints on the main roads through out the country, the army gradually came to occupy the driving seat in running the country in the era of war on terror. That the second installment of ambushing the civilian government would come from the judicial front was also predicted in advance by Javed Hashmi, a senior politician who parted ways with PTI in 2014 accusing it to be part of a future judicial coup plan.”

“So far the role of political parties has been disappointing in defending democratic freedoms. Their silence on the subject is deafening. They have failed to read the writing on the wall about the plan for fully controlled democracy even after the recent engineered Senate elections. Most of them are still busy in striking individual deals with the security establishment without realizing that vanishing of democratic freedoms for all practical purposes means end of democracy.”