What’s Wrong with Pakistan [2 of 2]

Today’s Pakistan is not what the father of the nation Qaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned. He imagined a federalized state in which the various ethnically based provinces retained a high degree of autonomy. With such freedom, the angst of domination by Punjabis — and by each other — would not have existed, allowing for a civil society to emerge and, with that, a state with vibrant institutional capacity.
Indeed, history shows that central authority can only be effective if it is strictly delimited.
Regrettably, Pakistan has been what 20th-century European scholars Ernest Gellner and Robert Montagne call a “segmentary” society. Hovering between centralization and anarchy, such a society, in Montagne’s words, is typified by a regime that “drains the life from a region,” even though, “because of its own fragility,” it fails to establish lasting institutions.
This is the byproduct of a landscape riven by mountains and desert, a place where tribes are strong and the central government is comparatively weak.
Put another way, Pakistan , as King’s College London scholar Anatol Lieven notes, is a weak state with strong societies.
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PAKISTAN: A WEAK STATE BUT STRONG TRIBAL SOCIETIES

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by Robert D. Kaplan

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PAKISTAN’S GEOGRAPHICAL COHERENCE, albeit subtle and problematic, is mirrored in its subtle and problematic linguistic coherence. Just as Hindi is associated with Hindus in northern India, Urdu is associated with Muslims in Pakistan. Urdu — from “horde,” the Turkic-Persian word for a military camp — is the ultimate frontier language. Reflecting its geographical links to the Middle East, Urdu is written in a Persianized Arabic script, even though its grammar is identical to Hindi and other Sanskritic languages.

It is often believed that Urdu came into existence through the interaction of Turkic, Persian, and indigenous Indian soldiers in Mughal army encampments, not just on the Indus frontier but in the medieval Gangetic cities of Agra, Delhi, and Lucknow. Thus, it is truly the language of al-Hind.

Urdu is Pakistan’s lingua franca, even as Punjabi, with links to the non-Islamic Sikhs and Hindus, enjoys a plurality of native speakers in Pakistan. Under Pakistan’s military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, the combination of Urdu literacy programs in religious institutions and the teaching of Arabic in state schools gave Urdu more of a Middle Eastern and Islamic edge, writes Alyssa Ayres, now U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, in Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan.

The linguistic, demographic, and cultural organizing principle of the Indus Valley is Punjab, whose name means “five rivers”: the Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and Sutlej, all tributaries of the Indus. Punjab represents the northwesternmost concentration of population and agriculture before the ground starts to climb toward the wilds of Central Asia. As such, it is coveted because of its special access to Central Asian trade routes, though it was a frontier battleground in its own right relative to the rest of British India.

Because of Sikh uprisings, the Mughals had a difficult time securing Punjab. The British fought two wars to wrest the region from the Sikhs in the 1840s, after the rest of India had already been subdued. Once Punjab was conquered, however, the Pashtun northwest frontier, the gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia, beckoned for the British. Because Punjab abutted the northwest frontier zone, which in turn abutted southern Central Asia, its soldiers became known for their military prowess — the “sword arm of India,” contributing 28 of the 131 infantry units in the Indian Army by 1862.

But with the re-creation of an Indus state and a Gangetic state upon the demise of the British Raj in 1947, Punjab, rather than a frontier province of greater India, became the urban hub of the new Indus Valley frontier state: Pakistan. Although eastern Punjab fell within India, western Punjab still contains more than half of Pakistan’s population. With close to 90 million people, western Punjab would be the world’s 15th-largest country, putting it ahead of Egypt, Germany, Turkey, and Iran. Punjabis have accounted for as much as 80 percent of the Pakistan Army and 55 percent of the federal bureaucracy.

Punjab is like an internal imperial power ruling Pakistan, in the way that Serbia and the Serbian army ran Yugoslavia prior to that country’s civil war and breakup. “Punjab is perceived to have ‘captured’ Pakistan’s national institutions through nepotism and other patronage networks,” writes Ayres. Its rural female literacy rate is nearly twice that of Sindh province and the province on the northwest frontier with Afghanistan, and it’s more than triple Baluchistan’s. Punjabis, she adds, “are better off than everyone else [in Pakistan], with more productive land, cleaner water, better technology, and better educated families.”

Pakistani historian and anthropologist Muhammad Azam Chaudhary writes, “If the motherland of the five rivers [Punjab] had not been obtained, then in terms of geography, it would have been impossible to establish Pakistan.” Yet Punjab itself is not indivisible, for the southern part of the province is made up of speakers of Saraiki — a linguistic mixture of Punjabi and Sindhi — with their own separate identity. And while the rest of Pakistan sees Punjab as hegemonic, Punjabis themselves harbor an inferiority complex (again, like the Serbs), claiming that they have sacrificed much for a state that doesn’t work and, as a result, get insufficient respect from other Pakistanis.

The tension between Punjabis and other Pakistanis overlaps with the tension that exists among the other ethnic groups. Chronic urban conflict in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, pits local Sindhis against Balochis and Pashtuns, just as in Balochistan there are tensions between Balochis and Pashtuns. Islamic ideology, like communism in Yugoslavia, has proved an insufficient glue to form a prideful national identity. Instead, this frontier region between the Middle East and Hindu India has become an explosive amalgamation of often warring ethnic identities.

This is not, of course, how Jinnah envisioned Pakistan. He imagined a federalized state in which the various ethnically based provinces retained a high degree of autonomy. With such freedom, the angst of domination by Punjabis — and by each other — would not have existed, allowing for a civil society to emerge and, with that, a state with vibrant institutional capacity. Indeed, history shows that central authority can only be effective if it is strictly delimited.

Regrettably, Pakistan has been what 20th-century European scholars Ernest Gellner and Robert Montagne call a “segmentary” society. Hovering between centralization and anarchy, such a society, in Montagne’s words, is typified by a regime that “drains the life from a region,” even though, “because of its own fragility,” it fails to establish lasting institutions. This is the byproduct of a landscape riven by mountains and desert, a place where tribes are strong and the central government is comparatively weak. Put another way, Pakistan, as King’s College London scholar Anatol Lieven notes, is a weak state with strong societies.

Cooncluded.

Previous: What’s Wrong with Pakistan? [1 of 2]

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Robert David Kaplan is an American journalist, currently a Nattional Correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a writer for Stratfor. His writings have also been faetured in the Wasghington Post, The New York Times, the New Republic and the Wall Street Journl, among other newspapers and publications. 

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Next: What’s Wrong with Pakistan [2 of 2] […]

  2. excuse me PAKISTAN IS A PROSPEROUS and a PERFECT country so do not illustrate all rubbish of your mind


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