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!

Husain Haqqani Interfaith Iftar Speech (transcript)

The following speech by His Excellency Ambassador Husain Haqqani was delivered on the occasion of an ‘Interfaith Iftar Dinner’ hosted by the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC on 18 August 2011. The transcript is being posted here to encourage dialogue about the need to strengthen religious tolerance in our own nation.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani Excellencies, Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps, officials of the U.S. government, members of clergy of different faiths, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s my pleasure to welcome you all in the holy month of Ramadan to this interfaith iftar.

Ramadan, as you know, has a very special place in the annual calendar of Muslims. It’s the month about which our holy book, the Quran, says that it’s a month in which the revelation of the Quran started and it is the month in which Muslims have been given the gift of fasting and prayer, all of which is aimed at creating greater piety. But there is no piety if people do not respect each other’s religions and faiths. In recent years we have seen a lot of violence and a lot of anger in the name of Islam. But at the same time there are people who want to keep alive a tradition of Muslims breaking fasts with member of other faiths, of Muslims when we became divided into various denominations to actually respect each other’s denominations and break bread together. And at the Embassy of Pakistan, for the last three years that I have been Ambassador we have tried to keep this tradition alive.

Today’s interfaith iftar is particularly special for us because today we have here members of the Jewish Christian, Muslim, Ahmadi, Hindu, Buddhist and Sing Tao religions. And among Christians we have Catholics, we have Protestants, amongst Muslims we have all the various denominations as I said earlier and so it’s important for us, on this occasion, to dedicate this evening to the vision of a Pakistan in which sectarianism and bigotry will no longer be identified with Pakistan. A Pakistan in which nobody will be killed because of their faith, nobody will be persecuted because of their faith, nobody will be told what to call themselves in terms of faith, nobody will be marginalized because of their religion.

Interfaith Iftar at Pakistan Embassy USA

The President of Pakistan on the 11th of August, which was declared religious minorities day, pledged that the government will, in a phased manner, roll back all those laws, all those ordinances that have represented not the best in the Muslim tradition and certainly not the best in the Pakistani Muslim tradition but in some ways the worst of the anger and the denominational exclusivity that was brought into Pakistan during the period of dictatorship. Inclusiveness is how all faiths grow. Everybody who is here from different faiths, they will not lose their faith by sitting together and joining their Muslim brethren in the observance of the holy month of Ramadan. If anything, everybody will go back feeling more human, feeling more connected to human beings because after all what is the purpose of faith if it is not to bring human beings to a higher level of humanity.

So ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this occasion. Dinner will be served shortly. Try and make this an occasion on which you pray, according to your own faiths, for the prosperity of the United States of America, for the prosperity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, for the prosperity of all the countries that are represented here, all the nations of the word but above all for the community to which each one of us belongs not withstanding what our nationality is, irrespective of our religions and that is the community of humanity. Thank you all and welcome again to the Embassy.

Hate-Filled Zombies

The following quote is taken from a piece by Brig (R) Mehboob Qadir published in Daily Times on 17 August about the state of TV mullahs and the effect that these performers are having on our society.

Our faith is already badly mauled by their brutal brethren out in the street and is gasping for life. We need to be spared further torment. Their endless sermons and awfully circular reasoning that always tends to confirm and secure their own authority over our lives are oppressive. We have been deprived of our natural goodness towards others and we have stopped seeing people from differing faiths as human beings. Slowly we are being converted into faith-propelled, hate-filled zombies ready to pounce upon those who do not see what these mullahs have told us to see. We are being led blindfolded to the precipice of baseness and destruction. Please allow us to be simple practicing Muslims, just decent caring human beings. Leave us alone in our homes and let us live. We have had enough.

Click here to read the full piece.

The Turkish Path


APP reports that Pakistan and Turkey have agreed to explore further economic cooperation. This is fantastic news, and provides a great opportunity to re-orient the country onto a productive and prosperous path. Actually, looking at Turkey, we may find an alternative way out of the mess that we currently find ourselves in.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir praised Turkey’s important role for bringing peace and stability in the region. And he is not the only one singing Turkey’s praises lately. On a visit to Istanbul last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the country high marks.

“I just want to see Turkey get stronger and more prosperous and have your democratic institutions be even more durable and be an example for so many of the countries that themselves are trying to figure out how to make political and economic reforms,” she told the coffeehouse audience.

Clinton went on to note that Turkey can serve as a role model for other new democracies.

“I think across the region, people from the Middle East and North Africa particularly are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey’s experience,” Clinton said. “It is vital that they learn the lessons that Turkey has learned and is putting into practice every single day. Turkey’s history serves as a reminder that democratic development depends on responsible leadership, and it’s important that that responsible leadership helps to mentor the next generation of leaders in these other countries.”

This is important to think about not because it was praise from an American official, but because the American official is RIGHT. Turkey can be a great role model for how to develop a successful democracy without giving up religion and culture. Irene Khan, Consulting Editor for The Daily Star, made this same observation recently.

Under nine years of AKP rule Turkey has changed radically, shedding its military past in favour of liberal democracy and combining strong economic growth and social development with Islamic conservatism and an assertive foreign policy.

Turkey’s economy is booming. A member of the G20 group of developed and emerging economies, last year its GDP grew by 9%. The Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) predicts Turkey will have the fastest-growing economy in the OECD until 2017. Unemployment has fallen from 14.4% in 2009 to 11.5% this year, and social development programmes are beginning to tackle poverty in some of the more remote and troubled areas.

This economic miracle has spawned a new political class of Sunni Muslim businessmen from Anatolia, committed to global market principles but fiercely conservative and deeply religious. They form the backbone of support for AKP and have replaced the military-backed urban elite as the new ruling class of Turkey.

Notice however that the “Islamic conservatism” that Khan speaks about is not the same as backwards-looking calls for medieval kalipha systems or Talibani brutality. Rather Turkey takes an approach of tolerance for individual religious practice. AKP has been a voice for women who want to choose to wear hijab, but they stop well short of suggesting that the state should be making that choice for women.

This is the way of the future for Muslim democracies. Even in Egypt, which many Westerners feared the Muslim Brotherhood would turn the country into a new Iran, the MB is disovering that being in power means that they have to move beyond organising street protests and learn how to govern.

As the Arab Spring turns to blazing summer, Islamist movements have quickly formed political parties and mobilized national campaigns designed to unveil their new image before elections in the fall and winter. Paranoid rhetoric about threats to Muslim identity have given way to political messaging that could have been lifted from the party platforms of any Western democracy: It’s all about jobs, investments, inclusiveness. A new broom to sweep clean decades of corruption. A new dawn of can-do Islamism.

And governance is the key because people take responsibility for their own souls – from the government they expect results.

The group has long been feared in the West as the source and exporter of radical Islamist ideology: violent groups like the Palestinian Hamas are direct offshoots of the Brotherhood. Some scholars trace the origins of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to the Islamists. In Egypt, however, the group long ago rejected the rhetoric of violent jihad, and it is seen as a social movement as much as a political entity. Egypt’s poor have long associated the Brotherhood with its social services, like free clinics and schools.

Now the Brotherhood needs to broaden its base to include middle-class and affluent Egyptians. Many of the young men and women hanging out on the October 6 Bridge on a Thursday evening — enjoying a cool breeze off the Nile and the chance for some mild flirting — seem comfortable with the idea of an Islamist-led government. “We know these guys. We go to school with them, eat with them, play soccer with them,” says Fadel, a 20-year-old university student. “If they come to power, we’ll judge them by their results, not the size of their beards.”

President Zardari is meeting with regional leaders like Ahmedinejad as he should. After all, these are our neighbors whether for better or for worse. But it is our ties with nations like Muslim nations that are looking to the future – not the past – that has the most promise for improving our own path. Turkey and Egypt are giving a glimpse at the future of Muslim democracies in Europe and the Middle East. Pakistan should follow this path of democratisation and restore its place as an example for Muslim democracy in South Asia. This was the dream of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is up to us to make it real.

The Problem With Using Religion in Politics

Imran Khan has built his political party largely on the basis of establishing a ‘truly Islamic’ Paksitan. While his party communications are careful to say comforting things like, ‘a truly Islamic society advocates tolerance, moderation and freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice without fear’, when Imran Khan speaks to the people it looks more like this.

Imran Khan supports sharia

But what happens when PTI officers find themselves faced with sharia restrictions? Recently Shireen Mazari was not allowed to renew her ID card because she appeared at the NADRA office in F-8 without a mehram.

Two prominent citizens of Islamabad, Tahira Abdullah, a human right activist, and Dr Shireen Mazari, CEO of Strategic Technology Resource, were both denied fresh ID cards because they did not bring their male members or their ID cards to provide to Nadra.

Obviously this is ridiculous and Shireen Mazari was right to protest. She is no teenage girl and she should be able to get her ID card renewed without being accompanied. But this just proves a larger point which is that when religion gets dragged into politics, it is bound to create problems. After all, if Shireen Mazari is a PTI officer and PTI supports implementing sharia…shouldn’t Mazari have thanked the NADRA workers for denying her?

Imran Khan likes to play the religion card to make up for his lack of political support. But it’s easy to say that you support shariat – when you get into trouble is when it comes time to define what that actually means. Unfortunately, extremists have the upper hand by terming anything they don’t like as bid’ah or shirk and manipulating people’s emotions so they will accept their own interpretations.

Shireen Mazari should not need a mehram to renew her ID card. If a woman wants to take a man to accompany her that should be her right, but if she wants to go by herself to the NADRA office that should be her right also. Let her decide based on her own faith, not the orders of the state.

The vision for Pakistan laid out by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was for a Pakistan that exemplified the beauty of Islam found in the names of Allah from the very first words of Qur’an: ar-Rahman (Compassionate), ar-Rahim (Merciful). Jinnah did not want to create an Islamic version of the intolerance that he saw in India, but sought to create a nation where all could be free from religion persecution – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.