This new year a short piece and a book by Ahsan Butt, a young academic at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, has given a useful reminder of what led to the genocidal war in East Pakistan. The lessons from history are inescapable but if learned could change the shape of the future for this country.
Dr Butt rightly argues that the fundamental basis for military action against Bengali nationalist demands were the following assumptions by the Pakistani militarist state:
1) Bengalis are dark and not martial;
2) They are not real Muslims and have too many Hindu influences;
3) Teing not martial they could be terrorised into submission;
4) Bengali demands for linguistic recognition and basic cultural and democratic rights are a mortal threat;
5) Bengali demands are not genuine;
6) Bengali leadership are Indian agents; and finally and most lethally
7) India is stage managing the entire crises.
He argues, that almost all of these assumptions had more to do with the colonial nature and racialised ethos of the Pakistani state than anything in reality. Based upon rigorous academic research Dr. Butt demonstrates that India did not quite substantively insert itself into the East Pakistan crises before May 1971, about two months after the start of the brutal military operation in East Pakistan. The Pakistani state, by its actions made its dystopian fantasies about East Pakistan into a reality.
One has heard echoes of the above assumptions in the case of Balochistan, Taliban, and Afghanistan. The fact is that the Pakistani state never learned the lessons of East Pakistan. It never issued an apology to Bangladesh for its actions. It never made public the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission Report. And even recently spoke up for its Jamaat-e-Islamialies in Bangladesh, where it had no business.
Today as I engage with Pakistani foreign policy and military establishment in my role as an academic, and a researcher, I am absolutely surprised at how incredibly successful the religious right has been in shaping their world view. I am reminded of my research on Jamaat-e-Islami, where I found that the founder of the Jamaat Abu Al’a Maudoodi, never meant the Jamaat to be an electoral force. Instead he thought of it as an organisational weapon that will penetrate the upper and middle echelons of the society and perpetuate its world view from above. The Jamaat and its fellow travelers may never be electorally successful, they were never meant to be, and perhaps they don’t need to be. Their world view and thinking is already firmly in place in the Pakistani establishment.
The fact is that the Pakistani state never learned the lessons of East Pakistan. It never issued an apology to Bangladesh for its actions. It never made public the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission Report. And even recently spoke up for its Jamaat-e-Islami allies in Bangladesh, where it had no business
Couple the right wing view with almost God like faith that the Pakistani state and segments of its society hold in neo-liberalism inspired capitalist development, and you have the full picture. After all there are not a lot of countries where murder of children at the hands of terrorists is declared an act of martyrdom by the children, or mass murder of lawyers in Balochistan, is pronounced a conspiracy against a road project.
The India centric security narrative of Pakistan is the real enemy of Pakistan. Does India meddle in Pakistan’s affairs — of course it does. But only after the Pakistani state creates the conditions for it to meddle. Pakistan supported the Sikh insurgency in the Indian Punjab in the 1980s. It didn’t create it, it opportunistically inserted itself in it, after Indira Gandhi tried to undermine Akali Dal with extremist Sikh nationalists. Pakistan inserted itself in the Kashmir insurgency, not because it created it, but because the Indian state’s rigging of the 1988 state elections, created it. India too probably fans the flames in Pakistan, but only after the Pakistani state thoroughly alienated the Baloch youth, supported the murderous Taliban against the Afghan people and state, and created conditions for Talibanisation of the Pakistani society. The solution, therefore has to be found in reversing the state’s actions that created the problem in the first place. The state could keep looking for a black cat in a dark room, or switch on the light and only find itself, and no cat.
Donald Trump, the only politician in the world, who doesn’t lie about being a liar, threatened Pakistan with aid withdrawal this new year’s day. If Pakistani state could reign in the demons of its mind, it could ignore that liar. It can be done. There is a whole crop of young academics like Dr Butt and others, who could help shine some light into the ossified mental dungeons of the Pakistani state’s training academies. For every Qudratullah Shahab or Naseem Hijazi, there is an Eqbal Ahmed and Ayesha Jalal. If that intellectual capital is leveraged, there is no reason, why 2018 can’t be a happier year than 2017.
The writer is a reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research includes water resources, hazards and development geography. He also publishes and teaches on critical geographies of violence and terror
Published in Daily Times, January 4th 2018.