This "Year of India" (5): … and the chronic crisis of Pakistan

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Farzana Shaikh (38 min, 17 mb mp3)

Salman Rushdie, no less, finished his packed public talk at Brown three weeks ago with the observation that Pakistan is the globe’s true nightmare nation — that if Pakistan doesn’t rescue itself from political collapse into extremism, “we’re all fucked.” In this “Year of India” at Brown, we are talking again about the Pakistan question next door — about India’s nuclear-armed neighor and sibling, on the verge, some say, of meltdown.

Farzana Shaikh is a child of Pakistan who writes about her country now as the daughter of a distressed family. The thread through her pithy analysis, Making Sense of Pakistan, is that Pakistan’s problem is not fundamentally with India, much less with the United States and the world, but with itself and Islam. She begins:

More than six decades after being carved out of British India, Pakistan remains an enigma. Born in 1947 as the first self-professed Muslim state, it rejected theocracy. Vulnerable to the appeal of political Islam, it aspired to Western constitutionalism. Prone to military dictatorship, it hankered after democracy. Unsure of what it stood for, Pakistan has been left clutching at an identity beset by an ambigous relation to Islam…

Farzana Shaikh, Making Sense of Pakistan, Columbia University Press.

Salman Rushdie’s irresistible prose is one touchstone of our conversation:

It is well known that the term ‘Pakistan,’ an acronym, was originally thought up in England by a group of Muslim intellectuals. P for the Punjabis. A for the Afghans, K for the Kashmiris, S for Sind and the ‘tan’, they say, for Balochistan. (No mention of the East West, you notice: Bangladesh never got its name in the title, and so eventually it took the hint and seceded from the secessionists….). So, it was a word born in exile which then went East, was borne across or translated, and imposed itself on history; a returning migrant, settling down on partitioned land, forming a palimpsest on the past. A palimpsest obscures what lies beneath. To build Pakistan it was necessary to cover up Indian history, to deny that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface.

Salman Rushdie, Shame, 1983. p. 87.

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  • Riaz

    Tidbit about Pakistan name is beyond stupid. All political entities are named somehow. It is certainly more creative than “United States of America”, a person of art should appreciate that. Rushdie is Indian patriot and of course he will bash India’s enemies. Don’t be a coward and hide bigotry using “child of Pakistan”. It is like foxnews using blacks to bash blacks.

  • Mujeeb

    While I agree with most of what Dr Shaikh is saying, I am a bit perplexed why she is introduced as a child of Pakistan. She was indeed born in Pakistan when East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh) was part of it. Her father was a proud Bengali civil servant. In a world, where ethnic identity often supersedes national identity, one would assume Dr Shaikh’s Bengali identity to be more important. This is more so important keeping in mind the acrimonious relationship between the East and West Pakistan.

  • Potter

    For these Western ears this interview Dr. Shaikh on Pakistan was exceptional. Immediately I noticed the (obvious if you are tuned) similarity of Pakistan’s struggle with that of Israel (secular vs. religious identity, how to deal with minorities, making peace with neighbors etc.) and of course it was mentioned. In both cases, as Dr. Shaikh noted, we cannot leave the situation to these people to solve or not solve in their own way because of their effects on the rest of us.

    She is wonderful to listen to – and it’s great conversation. Chris, you have done many other programs, and on Pakistan. You often manage something much better than the ordinary, and this was one of those…..thank you.

  • Jeech

    It’s surprising to know that the people who supported creation of Pakistan were secular Muslims. I’m skeptical. The people who lead the movement of creation were mostly secular but not majority. I must remind you guys that the Deobandi (neo wahabists) rejected the idea of the partition, Shiits and Sunnis were always to see the idea on ground. Dr. Farzan seems to hear only the most vocal voices instead of ground majority of the past.

    I would add, Urdu has been the language of Muslims of Indo-Pak. The majority speaker of the langauge resides in India no doubt, but this is the laguage of Punjabis, Pukhtoons Sindhis, Balochis and Kashmiris of Pakistan. The native Urdu speakers of Karachi now are hijacked by liberal facists. Such facists has really created anarchy amoungst the rest of the ethnic groups in Pakistan. Otherwise, only the religious groups represents the whole Pakistan. If the secular goups were not that racists and facists Pakistan would have been a secular state now. So, beside religious groups Urdu is the only hope for the united Pakistan.

  • chris

    From asjad, about a month ago — a comment that mysteriousy disappeared:

    Submitted on 2011/02/14 at 9:53 pm
    I can’t remember the name of British politician who suggested couple of years back that most of the current political problems in the world have been cause by the Britain in early 20th century. Partition of India on religious ground was one of them. Even it was not popular demand of Muslims. In 1940s Muslims of subcontinent were divided in three political ideologies:

    • Secular, unionists and nationalists
    • Muslim leaguers (with vague ideology but clear on the agenda to protect the economic interests of elite class of Indian Muslims
    • Pure religious Muslim groups

    Majority of Muslims were a part of secular, unionists and nationalists but when Muslims League under Mr. Jinnah start getting momentum in early 40s then number of British loyalists also went to strengthen Muslims league (e.g. Unionist Party of Punjab). Here some historians believe that it happened because of hidden backing from British establishment. Although on that time religious political groups of Muslims were very small but still they were also against the partition of India.
    I am in an opinion that the partition of India was a part of greater plan of British Empire’s new world order. They knew that Congress party under Gandhi and Nehru is very close to socialist ideology and they will go towards socialist block but newly created nation on the basis of religion would be their front line defense against communists. Every country has their social fault lines and India was not exception either even more complicated in terms of religious and ethnic contradictions. But the way British Empire exploited that religious fault lines to protect their long term interest was cruel and coldhearted decision. Immediate effect 12.5 million people displaced and close to one million people slaughtered and lot more other atrocities associated with that political decision. That was immediate effect and what we are looking now in region and especially in Pakistan and in Indian Kashmir and in Baluchistan is long term effect of that wrong diction of partition. The question now is how to stop this chain reaction?