Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, well known academic and expert on South Asian history and politics, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, Visiting Professor Government College University, Lahore and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is also author of two acclaimed publications - "The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed" and "Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011)"
In an e-mail interview with South Asia Monitor to mark Pakistan's 71st independence anniversary August 14, Dr Ahmed recalls how Pakistan's creation was a "last-minute decision", says any peace deal with India must include "approval of the Pakistan Army" and said the only way forward for the two countries is the "Kasuri Plan" of the former Pakistan foreign minister.
Q. Professor, what are your thoughts about Pakistan's evolution - as it celebrates, like India - the 71st anniversary of its Independence?
A. Pakistan was claimed in the name of Islam and Muslims being a political nation. The last 71 years are testimony to recurrent attempts to define the relationship between Islam, Pakistan and the Muslims primarily. However, inevitably that has meant controversy and debate on that relationship. In my doctoral thesis, The Concept of An Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan (London: Pinter, 1987, New York: St Martin's Press, 1990, Lahore: Vanguard 1991) I demonstrated that there are many views about the relationship between Islam, Pakistan and Muslims. No consensus existed. All spoke of the rights of minorities and protection but restricted them in some areas.
The creation of Pakistan was a last-minute decision by the British military and top civil servants and government to partition India and create a Pakistan which would play the role of a front-line state against the Soviet Union. But since the British were shattered by World War II it was the United States which could adopt Pakistan into its anti-Soviet international alliance. The founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah and all other civil and military high officers kept wooing the Americans to patronize them. US patronage began to be extended only after Nehru in 1951 definitively shunned all overtures (for India) to join the West against the Soviet Union.
Pakistan ostensibly agreed to be armed and trained to fight Soviet Communism but the Americans realized that in reality Pakistan needed them to assert itself in a war with the much bigger and better armed India. However, at the time of the so-called Afghan Jihad the role Britain had assigned to Pakistan became relevant and with American-Saudi sponsorship (enabled by old British hands and their experience of Afghanistan), Pakistan did finally play the role of a front-line state.
Such jihad inevitably resulted in the mushrooming of mujahideen groups and the spread of extremist ideas. After that war was won, Pakistan directed the mujahideen to the Indian-administered Kashmir and this in turn resulted in the proliferation of terrorism, which ironically hit Pakistan the most, killing some 50,000 of its innocent citizens when Pakistan joined the War on Terror of then US President George Bush.
One cannot speak in deterministic terms in social science but some sort of Muslim majoritarian or Islamic state was bound to emerge on the basis of the two-nation theory. The saddest part of it was that the more Islamic purity was sought, the more atypical Muslim sects came into conflict with the views of the Sunni majority ; during the Afghan jihad it was that of the Deobandi variety and currently of the Barelvi persuasion.
Q. As a leading public intellectual and academic who has written a definitive book on Pakistan as a 'Garrision State' - and given the centrality of the army in the power loop - what is your assessment of the future of the democratic aspiration in Pakistan ?
A. I understand democracy not only as procedural but also as a substantive concept. Elections, and free and fair elections are necessary but not sufficient to establish a democracy. Pakistan has again completed the procedural part successfully, notwithstanding allegations of rigging by the opposition which lost to Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). I think the National Assembly will address routine matters without a problem.
The fact is that the Pakistan Army does have a very decisive role in Pakistani politics. In my book I described it as having a veto right over internal and external politics. Anyone serious about bringing change in Pakistan will have to do it in consultation with the army and not in opposition to it. My understanding is that the Pakistan Army too understands that it is time to change and adjust. Neighbours such as India can help by not being so hostile to the new government and already sit in judgement on the military undermining all normalization. Indian hostility in talk shows is most offensive, although some wise and learned people also take part in them.
Now or in the future any stable peace deal with India must include the approval of the Pakistan Army. I am not a pessimist and therefore not despondent. Let's give peace a chance.
Q. How would you see the recent election victory of the former cricket captain Imran Khan who will soon assume office as the country's PM? What message does it give to the world?
A. People wanted change and they voted for it. It is encouraging that a man without serious allegation of corruption will be Pakistan's new prime minister. Imran Khan wants to root out corruption and I fully support that. Without the rule of law and our rulers agreeing not to abuse public office to indulge in money laundering and other ways of ripping this impoverished nation of its scarce resources - no progress towards a rudimentary welfare state can be made.
Imran Khan had to play the Islamic card - this is a constant in Pakistani politics and its most accomplished player was Jinnah. However, now Imran Khan must act like a statesman and seek moderation and compromise and not resort to victimization of the opposition. Those guilty of criminal offences under Pakistani law must be tried fairly in a court of law and acquitted or sentenced to prison on the basis of evidence.
Imran Khan has considerable goodwill in India. His popularity with women is universal and that proves that nothing really matters when it comes to such choices. (This I mean in a light-hearted manner.) Many Indian film-stars helped Imran Khan with the donation campaigns for the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. He has many friends among top Indian cricketers. They have been rivals on the field and great friends off the field. That social capital should help a lot towards giving another chance to India-Pakistan rapprochement.
There is a lobby in India, a very vocal one and influential one which is hell-bent on sabotaging all peaceful overtures. The Pakistan Army, ISI and the so-called non-state actors get all the blame but from personal experience I know that in India too negative forces exist and are active and influential.
Q. How do you see the trajectory of Pakistan-India relations and what hope do you see of the future of ties from the initial signals emanating both from Islamabad and New Delhi post the elections?
A. Umeed pey duniya Qaaim hai: The world sustains itself on hope. I am hopeful that the last 71 years have provided enough evidence that India and Pakistan are there to stay. They gain infinitely from resolving their disputes, a legacy of the partition, than by perpetuating them. Free but mutually beneficial trade, can in the next 30 years transform this region from one of abject poverty, obscene wealth and power of the rich, to one of even-handed development and progress. SAARC already exists as the framework for such a process to be set in motion. India-Pakistan rivalry and zero-sum games negate the potential for cooperation and all-round prosperity.
The initial signals are good. If now Imran Khan allegedly, has been facilitated by the army to come to power - I am only using this argument to advance my own thesis - then that is fine. We have to understand that Pakistan's political class has been rotten, mediocre, corrupt and inefficient with few exceptions. The Pakistan Army, for good and bad, has had to step in to prevent things getting out of hand. They failed in East Pakistan because the West Pakistani politicians and the army were not willing to let the winner, the Mujibur led Awami League form the government. Thus the popular Bengali uprising which received support from India succeeded in breaking away from Pakistan.
Instead of self-criticism, the West Pakistan power elite blamed it as proof of Indian conspiracy. It was a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If India wanted to break up Pakistan during the 1965 war - capturing East Pakistan was like a walkover militarily. Pakistani military presence in East Pakistan was negligible. It was only when the people of East Pakistan turned against West Pakistani domination and a civil war broke out, India took advantage of that situation on grounds that 10 million refugees from East Pakistan were becoming a major burden on Indian resources.
No nation can move forward unless it learns to be self-critical. Nationalism, patriotism and all such ideas compel nations to deny their guilt but if and when they do so - they liberate themselves and move forward.
I hope in Pakistan the harsh and depressing experience of the last 71 years is enough to move on. ahead. Pakistan will always need a strong defence and deterrent capability as long as this region is ridden with ill-will towards neighbours and actions to express that.
Q. You have been a strong advocate of stronger people-to-people ties, but these have been vitiated by political bad blood and the dominance - on the Pakistani side of non-state actors. The Mumbai attack of 2008 remains unaddressed. How important do you think are these ties to bridge the perception gap and the trust deficit between the two countries in a way that restores the minimum of civil dialogue between the two?
A. I am fully aware of that. The vitiating role of terrorism emanating from Pakistan and hitting targets in India and Indian-administered Kashmir cannot be denied. However, as long as India does not work out what policy it must adopt on Kashmir, within Pakistan the repressive measure undertaken by the Indian Government to quell protests in the Kashmir Valley will always play into the hands of those against a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. I have written several times that the only way forward is the Kasuri Plan. A win-win-win resolution of it is ready. Now the will to implement it is needed.
(Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed can be contacted at email@example.com)