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Book Reviews - Pakistan Under Siege by Masood H. Kizilbash, published by Royal Book Company, Karachi, 2017, pages: 288, price not mentioned.

Byline: Syed Jaffar Ahmed

One thing that is noticeably unique in the case of books written on the post-Partition history and political development of Pakistan is that almost all of them begin with discussing not just the background in which the country came into being but also set before them the task to first settle the question about the rationale of the creation of Pakistan. It could be understandable in the works which got published soon after Partition or in the first decade or so after the realization of the country but the fact that even after seven decades of Independence, political works on Pakistan still find it necessary to first address the issue of the country's rationale, testifies to something more serious than to an urge to look at things in historical background.

It would not be wrong to think that the question of the rationale of Pakistan's creation comes to the fore every now and then only because the real socio-economic and political factors which in fact shaped the emergence of the Muslim political separatism in India, have not been adequately acknowledged after Independence. The official narrative promoted by the successive governments and also accepted uncritically by a larger section of the intelligentsia has at best created wide segments of indoctrinated people, but has not been able to satisfy the thinking minds. It is the result of this ahistorical perception of the creation of Pakistan that every new writer either attempts to reinforce the official and conventional point of view or seeks to present a new one.

As Pakistan has passed through a series of crises since her inception, and particularly in the last twenty to twenty five years the manner in which it found itself struggling against religious and sectarian extremism perpetrated in the name of religion, and the violence resulting in thousands of casualties, almost all studies on Pakistan begin with why and how the country came into existence. It is the rationale of the creation of Pakistan which has come to engage almost all contemporary writers attempting to understand the political malaise of the country. The book under review also does the same. Pakistan Under Siege has been penned down by Masood H Kizilbash who has made a concerted effort to understand the political developments in Pakistan with the help of the literature he has come across, and the observations he had had of the political crises of the country, some of which he had the opportunity to observe quite closely.

The nature of the book and the background of the author who has taken to such writings after completing his long association with the civil service, would not justify us to see in this work a professional historian's approach or the use of tools of research which such historians employ as a general practice. This, however, does not lessen the importance of the book mainly because the author has something new and substantial to say and he has said it in a convincing manner. The book covers a long span of history beginning from the invasion of India by Britain, its passing through colonial phase, encompassing over 90 years, the type of contradictions which emerged during colonialism and how they shaped the diverse responses of the Indians. The author strongly follows the formulation that the British relied throughout their rule on a policy of divide and rule in order to ensure the continuity of the colonial subjugation of India.

Needless to say that not all historians take it as the unquestionable reading of the colonial strategy. Certainly a divide and rule policy did have a role in different phases of the colonial rule but this was not the sole approach adopted by the British rulers. No one can deny the fact that the British had not only provided a unified administrative system in India but the creation of a massive infrastructure and introduction of new means of communication also had a unifying role in India. Not only this but the politico-administrative arrangements, too, paved the way for the rules of the game which were adhered to by the political elite belonging to different communities. The roots of Muslim separatism were laid after some of the politico-administrative measures allowed different communities, and particularly the political elite, to organize themselves separately and ask for their distinct demands and exclusive political spaces so that they could accrue maximum benefits from them.

The author's emphasis on divide and rule policy lands him in another 'conspiracy theory' according to which partition happened at a juncture when international politics was witnessing a shift of world hegemony from Great Britain to the United States. The author holds that the Atlantic Charter of 1941 paved the way for United States' emergence as a super-power and as a contender of global supremacy. He further holds that United States sought imminent dissolution of British empire and thought that it should happen in a manner so that it facilitated the United States' emergence as a super-power. This scheme of interpretation of partition does not conclusively explain the whole episode of the partition of India. How can one overlook the fact that after the completion of the annexation of India in 1857, there had always been found very strong resentment of British rule. This reflected in periodical episodes of revolts taking place in different regions.

Of course there had been phases of passivity and demoralization yet these phases had always been followed by more volatile and proactive phases of political movements. The beginning of the 20th century saw such events in quite succession. The Balkan wars, The Khilafat movement, the Quit India movement, Jallianwala Bagh, hectic political activity across the subcontinent, the revolutionary uprisings such as the Ghadar movement - these and other events that occurred one after another paint a picture of an India where resentment of British rule was increasing and the erosion of colonial authority was quite manifest. The World War II had made India quite vulnerable from the British point of view. So whatever political measures were taken in this background, whatever constitutional parlays were realized, whatever solutions were suggested to resolve the communal issue and what dynamics led to the partition of India, all these cannot be set aside so easily.

The external factors did have a role; they may be taken as an important part of the story, but not as the whole story. The writer is quite right in indicating that Jinnah's primary concern was to find the solution of the communal issue within united Indian framework but his successive efforts in this regard were frustrated by his opponents who never showed an inclination for making use of the possibilities of compromise which almost all formulae presented by Jinnah tended to carry. After having been completely marginalized Jinnah was left with no option but to go for partition. With the passage of time more and more historians are consenting to it. The author also delves into great detail as to what has happened thereafter in Pakistan after independence. He thinks that Jinnah had a clear-cut liberal vision of Pakistan which he wanted to see as a modern democratic state.

He did evoke religious sentiments for building a Muslim political platform but his intention was to benefit from the moral values of Islam for the construction of a modern political edifice of the state. It was deviation from Jinnah's path which created problems for Pakistan which has remained vulnerable so much so that it has come to be a 'state under siege'. According to the author, it was the feudal and the civil-military nexus which has ruled the country since Independence. It was this combination of power structure which isolated East Pakistan which eventually resulted in the dismemberment of the country. The author holds that there were certain principles which one can discern from Jinnah's vision. He calls them the pillars of the state. To him the first pillar was the realization of a modern state that could make its presence felt in the comity of nations. The second pillar was democracy that ensures the sovereignty of the people through parliamentary institutions.

It is here that he talks about the civil-military axis and its over-centralizing policies which damaged the cause of the consolidation of the nation. The third pillar was the need of land reforms and agricultural taxation which were not done sincerely, and if some of the measures were implemented, their benefits could not be transferred to the common people. The fourth pillar was the rule of law. Jinnah paid great importance to this element and it was this pillar that could never get strong foundations in the country. According to the author, the fifth pillar of the state had to be non-discrimination amongst the citizens. This, unfortunately, remained a slogan as all sorts of discriminations could be seen in the country, creating cleavages among different segments of the society.

Here, while talking about the ethnic issues and discrimination against one or the other community the author does not hide his bias towards the migrants about whom he thinks that they had been subjected to severest of discrimination in Pakistan. This view may not be taken uncritically. There had been phases when the Mohajir elite was part of the power structure of the country and for a considerable period of time dominated the state institutions along with the elite from the Punjab. The sixth pillar, according to the author, is Urdu which he thinks should be the state language. Though he is quite brief while writing about the issue of the national language and does not shed light on how and why a language becomes the official language, who makes such decisions and what have other countries demonstrated through their examples in this regard. Such discussion could have shed light on the real thinking operating behind the language policy of the state in Pakistan.

The author devotes a chapter on the 'New Pakistan', a term coined after the dismemberment of the country in 1971. Again it is a very brief chapter in which the author shows his reservations about the policies adopted by the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He also criticizes the policies of General Zia ul Haq who accepted to make Pakistan a front-line state in the great game of the super powers thus weakening it from inside. While discussing the future of Pakistan the author once again goes back to his original approach to look at the domestic events and crises through the prism of external factors particularly the struggle for hegemony among the super-powers. He thinks that after the culmination of the Cold War Pakistan is no more as useful for the US and the West as it had been in the past.

Moreover, Pakistan's enthusiasm in establishing closer relations with China and establishing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through its land has also come to make the Americans hostile to Pakistan. How can Pakistan cope with this situation, where in Pakistan finds itself under siege. The author thinks that 'with centrifugal forces operating in full swing within and regional and international players at work to promote their national agendas in the region, there is serious skepticism that Pakistan can assert its national interests. This is only possible if national unity is forged under strong leadership' (p. 216). Certainly, through national unity alone can the existential crisis of the country be resolved but one may indicate that this would require a complete overhauling of the state system, and reorientation of its socio-economic, foreign and security policies.

If all these policies are grounded in the basic postulate that it is the people of the country who are sovereign only then a right and adequate engineering of the state institutions and their policies can be done. If this is done sooner than later Pakistan can come out from under the siege, and could embark upon the road to peace, progress and prosperity.
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Publication:Pakistan Perspectives
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 30, 2019
Words:2064
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