A country of instability and resilience

There has been conformity on Christophe Jaffrelot’s genuine hold over the issues of South Asia; he reaffirms this further with his meticulously researched and narrated book The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience.

Oct 9, 2015
By Atul K Thakur
The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience
Author: Christophe Jaffrelot
Publisher: Random House India;
Pgs: 688;
Price: Rs 795 (Indian)
There has been conformity on Christophe Jaffrelot’s genuine hold over the issues of South Asia; he reaffirms this further with his meticulously researched and narrated book The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience. This one is a thick work but is unlike the familiar collections of op-ed pieces, which otherwise is becoming a trend with most South Asia projects, concerned with democracy and its challenges.
This book is on and about Pakistan; how it was made through the odd cycle of events and intents of the elite, and how it has been confronting a series of challenges. Nevertheless, it also taps into the imminent changes around the corner, with a new wave of reforms of most powerful institutions like the armed forces and judiciary. So, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Much at heart the book gets maximum span of attention from the author in recalling how Pakistan was born as the creation of the elite Urdu-speaking Muslims who sought to govern a state that would maintain their dominance. The book goes ahead to revitalise how Jinnah’s imposed a “unitary definition of the new nation state” that obliterated linguistic diversity and how the move of centralisation was justified in citing threats, which finally fostered centrifugal forces and resulted in Bengali secessionism in 1971 and Baloch (as well as Mohajir) separatisms today.
Christophe makes a strong point with another remarkable argument about the ruling class in Pakistan: “Concentration of power in the hands of the establishment remained the norm, and while authoritarianism peaked under military rule, democracy failed to usher in reform, and the rule of law remained fragile at best under Zulfikar Bhutto and later Nawaz Sharif. While Jinnah and Ayub Khan regarded religion as a cultural marker, since their time the Islamists have gradually prevailed. They benefited from the support of General Zia, while others, including sectarian groups, cashed in on their struggle against the establishment to woo the disenfranchised.” This para travels to past formative decades and establishes aptly how Pakistan met through incidents of instability.
The book moves further and captures the obvious points that make Pakistan face a series of existential challenges ranging from ethnic strife to religious fundamentalism — the sources of instability that go against the interest of age-old elite domination in different capacities. However, the other way around, sea changes are also offering signs of resilience and those surface in response to challenges. The hope is there, as the temptation for reform is far too strong to be suppressed. There is a better chance that Pakistan may have its social order as ‘aspirational’, which will keep on top citizenry concerns long overdue.
In retrospect, Jaffrelot finds Pakistan of this date less vulnerable with ‘ethno-nationalism’ than what it was in the 1970s when militancy gripped national movements. This instability endured in want of power transfer from the ruling elites to other blocks, which also characterised Pakistan’s democracy to a big extent. And in its present form, democracy in Pakistan cannot be seen setting apart precedents that actually shaped it effectively. Precisely, concentration of power remained stern and hence polity emerged with the quality of a unitary state.
While pondering over Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation policy, known for the state’s single-minded support for madrasas (seminaries), along with heavy funding from Saudi Arabia, Jaffrelot comes to the conclusion that Pakistan paid a heavy price for Zia’s Islamisation path. This is validated well by the facts that belie the rise of sectarian and terror incidents started during Zia’s rule in Pakistan.
In many ways, a new journey began in contrast to the visions of nation’s founding fathers, who dreamt to make this part of the world a modern Islamic country, not exactly what Zia attempted. Before Zia’s rule, Pakistan had a fair tryst with modernity.
The author recounts how Pakistan had a chance post-9/11to come down heavily on terror networks, which at times pose a serious threat to its own existence. He takes it further to counter the Pakistan army’s selective perception of the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Afghan Taliban and others as these forces combined wield such power that they can destabilise the core of the nation. Never to forget, Pakistan is a democracy and lawmakers there cannot refrain from carrying forward basic democratic tenets. The ruling class has to be in sync with civil society, which clearly seeks a peaceful homeland and neighbourhood.
As the book has a well-meaning reference to Pakistan’s “resilience” it figures out the ways in which India and Pakistan can have a trust-based relationship in the long run. This appears rational, as the basis of co-operation cited is economic, which essentially makes better strides than conventional matters, with strong “status quoists” features. Truly, India-Pakistan relations should go ahead from the old and not so helpful “whims and fancies”.
The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience is a refreshing read that acknowledges and highlights issues of high concern for Pakistan but also that without envisioning a clear case of constructive change, the country will never go on the path of stability and growth. This book is a must read for the enthusiasts of South Asia, who take special interest in the way democracy functions and affects countries.
(The reviewer is New Delhi based journalist and writer. He can be reached at
The Daily Times, October 9, 2015 

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