One might perhaps best approach The Future of Pakistan as one would an Agatha Christie novel. Read the opening chapter (Stephen Cohen’s comprehensive review of his own ideas and those of the other participants in the 2010 Bellagio workshop, and some others’, whose papers comprise the intermediate chapters) to find out who’s been murdered and where. And the last chapter, also by Cohen, in his capacity as this volume’s Hercule Poirot, to discover Who Did It and Why, systematically elucidating the various options and finally zeroing in on the suspect. Then, the reader might look in on the in-between chapters as a rich and tempting menu of dishes served up by twenty expert chefs from the US, Europe, Pakistan and India. Not, however, to be devoured at a single sitting but savoured over several meals.
The exercise essentially boils down to suggesting that several things might happen over the next few years in Pakistan—or that, just possibly, none of them will. A rather foggy crystal ball, for Pakistan’s future is as ambiguous and confusing as its past. The existential dil-emma appears to be that while Pakistan is not a “failed state”, if an ill-governed one, it has since its birth been a “failing nation”. Cohen in his afterword cites my favourite analysis of Pakistan, Farzana Shaikh’s Making Sense of Pakistan, who argues that while Pakistan is emphatically not a “country on the brink”, it is a nation without “a national purpose, notably the ambiguous but generous role accorded to Islam since 1947, which has restricted its progress ever since”.
My own view is that while Islam is what unites Pakistan, it is Islamisation that divides it—for, as Omar Khayyam wrote, “the two and seventy jarring sects confute”. Islamisation of the Zia-ul-Haq variety has only led to Pakistani communalism transforming itself from anti-Hinduism into vicious internecine sectarian rivalry, adding to the equally blood-letting ethnic rivalry among the various linguistic communities, thus calling into question its very nationhood. Pakistan being, as Cohen notes, a quintessentially South Asian nation, however strong the pull of West Asia, it is only as a nation that builds its unity on diversity, rather than by imposing unity through uniformity, that it can become a nation with a “national purpose”. Till that happens, it is the Pakistani state that remains the sole guarantor of the continuance of the Pakistani nation.
Cohen and most of his companions come to the conclusion that, doomsday scenarios notwithstanding, such as those portrayed by Benedict Anderson, whatever the failings of the Pakistani state, especially the unhappy role played by the military in its governance, it is the “establishment-dominated” state (Cohen’s phrase from his earlier The Idea of Pakistan) that ensures a future for Pakistan. That future would be much brighter if in place of the timid and transient “transformations” attempted by successive military and civil administrations, swinging between army-style authoritarianism and political bungling (brilliantly recited by Cohen in his opening chapter), the truly transformative one is undertaken of making Pakistan a fully participative democracy, Islamic in principle but pluralist in practice. That alone would cap, reverse and finally end the “failure of the economy, political incoherence, separatism, corruption and the rise of extremists” as the determining elements of Pakistan’s future.
It is the consensus of virtually all the contributors that for a pluralist democracy to stand a chance of taking root in Pakistan, the transformation of the India-Pakistan relationship is an essential prerequisite. The responsibility by no means rests on Pakistan alone. Cohen is as unsparing in his criticism of the intransigence of South Block (which houses PMO, MEA and Defence) as he is of the Pakistani military’s paranoia for the stagnation lurching towards crisis in the India-Pakistan relationship. On the one hand, there are the many social, political, military and even ideological imperatives, spelled out by Cohen and his colleagues, which point to an evolving change in the Pakistani mindset regarding the possibility of Indo-Pak reconciliation. Again and again, contributors to this volume almost stumble upon the growing realisation in all but the most extreme sections of Pakistani opinion that a reasonable modus vivendi with India would much better serve Pakistan’s long-term interests than barren confrontation. On the other is their clear articulation of the hurdles they see as insuperable in the way of achieving this consummation.
The choice is really up to India, for if hope is no substitute for policy, as former US secretary of state George Schultz is quoted as once having told Cohen, so also is despair no substitute, as a Pakistani diplomat retorted when Cohen passed on this remark. The velocity of change in mindset in much of Pakistan is greater than in most of India—for neither is the nature of our nationhood nor are the institutions of our state as tied in with the Indo-Pak relationship as they are in Pakistan. If public and parliamentary opinion in India were awakened to the immense benefits to our security, our development, our standing in the world and even the consolidation of our secular nationhood of putting behind us six decades of unremitting hostility, and the elimination of the dangers for India arising out of either the Talibanisation or break-up of Pakistan (clearly seen by the Indian intelligence expert, B. Raman, in his contribution to this volume), the stage would be set for the current “composite dialogue” to be restructured as “uninterrupted and uninterruptible”. This phrase has been picked up and frequently reiterated by the present Pakistan foreign minister since this book went to the press. This alternative thrust to the ongoing on-now-off-now dialogue remains the unwritten chapter of this otherwise penetrating analysis of all that bodes well and ill for our neighbour—and ourselves.
Ways of Pak Mani Shankar Aiyar’s review of Stephen Cohen’s book (Books, Mar 19) was an interesting read. Pakistan is a confused, corrupt and failed country. Founded by opportunist politicians who wanted power and didn’t hesitate to divide Hindus and Muslims, it can’t exist for long.
Anuj Acharya, Brampton, Canada
Pakistan was born out of British perfidy and the blatant power-hunger of Nehru and Patel, ably aided and goaded on by Mountbatten. It really never had a strong reason for its existence.
P.K. George, Houston
The review of Stephen Cohen’s book on Pakistan (Mar 19) indicates that Pakistan is at a decisive juncture. One route might take it through military supremacy, use of terrorism as an instrument of state power, open to jehadi influences, hatred for India, to gradual self-destruction. The other sees it down the path of deepening democracy, assertiveness of the civilian government and curbing of terrorism. Its leaders must decide which route to take.
Othman/Ramdas/Parbat/Thomas etc etc,
>> Pakistan is Arab whether you like it or not. And India is more and more HIndu.
You may fit yourself in such pigeonholes if you want to. With the multiple ethnic names that you have assumed in the past 8 years, the only pigeonhole you would fit in would be "Miscellaneous"!
Stephen P Cohen is a well known pusher of US interests which demand an alliance with Pakistan to prevent it becoming a base for destabilising US interests in the Middle East. The US and its pimps like Cohen have long been determined to overlook or fund the crimes of Pakistan as long as they thought this rabid dog would bite only India or Russia. It came as a big shock when their long petted dog bit Uncle Sam.
So here Cohen is telling Delhi it must give Pakistan all it wants. Tell him to eff off, will you, South Block?
Don't be a fool. Some lecturers playing with words cannot abolish a country's cultural identity. The Russians tried to abolish their Christian heritage with all the might of the state and then have had to go back to it.
India will always be Hindu.
The reality is that the Indian Muslims chose to have Pakistan in 1947 as their separate country with the agreement of Hindu leaders like Nehru and Patel who were simply sick to death of having to argue with characters like Jinnah all their lives. As Nehru said, we simply got rid of them to get rid of the headache.
So Pakistan chose its separatist Muslim identity and India chose its Hindu identity. Nothing can be done about this now. Nations cannot choose their cultural fates at will because some lecturers play with words. What detemines the cultural fate of a nation is what most of its people think and how most of its people behave. Most Indians behave like Hindus and think like Hindus and that means India is Hindu.
Similarly, that means Pakistan is Muslim.
We are 65 years away from Partition and because India's capital is Delhi which has a Punjabi majority and Pakistan is dominated by Punjab, India at times seems obsessed with Pakistan and regretting the Partition. In reality, most Indians except a tiny pesky minority of sentimental Lahori sycomphants and nostalgists have moved on. Most Indians sneer at the Wagah Whiners.
In 2047 who will be there who remembers pre-Partition days? Already you have to be in your nineties to remember anything much about that lost and gone India.
Forget nostalgia, man. Pakistan is Arab whether you like it or not. And India is more and more HIndu.
".... Islamic in principle but pluralist in practice."
Is there a role model? Is even Turkey this? I don't think this is realistic to expect any time in the foreesable future given the times we live in - Islam in regression, becoming more orthodox - more "khattar" as some would say, more assertive but with an impotent rage fueled by the "world is against us" overbearing sense of victimhood. Anyways as someone commented there might be hardly any plurality of the religious type left in Pakistan.
"It is the consensus of virtually all the contributors that for a pluralist democracy to stand a chance of taking root in Pakistan, the transformation of the India-Pakistan relationship is an essential prerequisite."
This appears to be more of putting the cart before the horse.
"The responsibility by no means rests on Pakistan alone. Cohen is as unsparing in his criticism of the intransigence of South Block (which houses PMO, MEA and Defence) ..."
I am no fan of the Indian establishment/government. Of course our establishment is intransient, unimaginative, etc. But let us not make a case of "rewarding" the bad boy ... all you will get is a brat. In fact the world has practically already done this and Pakistan has become an expert at being the "bad boy" who keeps getting rewarded (at least getting away). Pakistan is in need of a tough dose and a tough love of a parent - not the love of an indulgent parent. It must know that the world will keep going and keep existing, may be even get better off, whether Pakistan stays as it is or dismembers. They must look off the cliff into the precipe and then decide to step back themselves - they others can help getting further back from there.
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