In the end, Pakistan would still need a new basis for its nationalism that is based on reality rather than engineered narratives of history, writes Husain Haqqani in his new book.
Pakistan’s ideology has not really enhanced its functionality even if it helped its first generation get through the transition of seeing themselves as Pakistanis. A favourable international environment, specifically Pakistan’s cold war alliance with the West, enabled the country to sustain hostility towards India and to justify its Islamic orientation as a barrier to communism. The current dependence on China might pay for anti-Indianism for a few more years but is unlikely to help Pakistan overcome its fundamental contradictions.
The rise in recent years of Hindutva in India will probably feed the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ for a few more years by setting up an oppositional idea to confront. In the end, Pakistan would still need a new basis for its nationalism that is based on reality rather than engineered narratives of history and aspiration. Currently, ideological reasons dictate that Pakistan remain implacably hostile to India, maintain an expensive military and support jihadi terrorist organizations. But the cost of these policies has debilitating effects like failing to invest in education that develops critical thinking, being less globally connected and losing the economic benefits of being a friendly destination for tourists or investors.
Like other states that defined themselves only through ideology, Pakistan cannot expect to go on forever on the strength of hatred or fear of ‘the other’ without the debilitating effects of such animosity. Nor can it expect its international alignments to constantly bail it out of domestic political and economic setbacks.
Pakistan is already plagued with political paranoia and many of its citizens ‘believe that a vast and subtle conspiracy exists to destroy their way of life’—Islam, whatever the form or sect of Islam they might belong to. Paranoids do not function well as global citizens and, considering the complexity of sectarian and theological arguments, Pakistan is likely to only descend further into intra-Islamic feuds.
The description of ‘the paranoid’s view of history’ offered by scholars of the phenomenon often applies to many Pakistani politicians, as well as religious and thought leaders. Their view, backed by the powerful state security machinery, is that corruption or weak leadership are Pakistan’s major issues, not the pursuit of an ideological abstraction.
Given Pakistan’s demographic profile, an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis does not hate or fear Hindus, India, Jews, Americans or Pakistan’s other supposed enemies because of personal experiences. There is little contact between young Pakistanis with ‘the enemies’ for them to have sentiments about them. Psychologists agree that prejudice is learned behaviour and in Pakistan’s case, it has methodically been nurtured as the bedrock of Pakistani national identity. Dealing with militarism and support for militancy, as well as their social, political and economic effects, requires amplification of Pakistani voices that question its national narrative and offer an alternative one.
Pakistan’s multi-ethnic reality, the prospect of conflict and fear of disintegration should encourage Pakistanis to seriously examine other states facing similar concerns and emulate successful models.
This is an excerpt from Husain Haqqani’s new book ‘Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a dysfunctional nuclear state” (Harper-Collins). Haqqani is former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, and Director, South & Central Asia at Hudson Institute